Friday, June 28, 2019

ISIS claims suicide attack on Sulu military camp

From Rappler (Jun 29, 2019): ISIS claims suicide attack on Sulu military camp

ISIS claimed the bombing was the work of two suicide attackers, according to Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities worldwide

SUICIDE BOMBERS? ISIS has claimed responsibility for the twin bombings on a military camp in Sulu, supposedly carried out by these two Abu Sayyaf affiliates. Screengrab from Twitter page of Rita Katz

SUICIDE BOMBERS? ISIS has claimed responsibility for the twin bombings on a military camp in Sulu, supposedly carried out by these two Abu Sayyaf affiliates. Screengrab from Twitter page of Rita Katz

The Islamic State (IS or ISIS) has claimed that the twin bombings that killed 8 people in a military camp in Indanan town in Sulu on Friday, June 29, was a "dual suicide" attack carried out by its local affiliate, the Abu Sayyaf Group.

ISIS claimed the bombing was the work of two suicide attackers, according to tweets from Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities worldwide.

Rita Katz  ✔@Rita_Katz
· 12h
Replying to @Rita_Katz

2)Esp. troubling, attacks come just days after #EastAsiaProvince #WestAfricaProvince #SinaiProvince videos showed fighters renewing pledges to #isis leader #Baghdadi - indicating ISIS cont’d dedication to the regions in wake of its losses in native lands. …

Rita Katz

3)#ISIS follows claim w/ photo report of both bombers. Important to note, the group continues to exaggerate casualty counts, claiming 100 k&w - FAR higher than the initial tally by officials, which states 5 killed and 9 wounded. Likely to rise, but not to levels claimed by ISIS
12:02 PM - Jun 28, 2019
Twitter Ads info and privacy

See Rita Katz's other Tweets

Katz said in a tweet on Friday night, June 28, that ISIS claimed the “dual suicide operation” in Sulu, “marking the 17th attack in the country in 2019.”

She added that this was “especially troubling” as the “attacks come just days after #EastAsiaProvince #WestAfricaProvince #SinaiProvince videos showed fighters renewing pledges to Isis leader Baghdadi – indicating ISIS continued dedication to the regions in wake of its losses in native lands.”

(READ: ANALYSIS: Global threat forecast 2019)

The military said the Abu Sayyaf was likely behind the midday blast on Friday, which killed 8 people, including the two bombers, and injured 22 others.

Military officials had confirmed that two bomb carriers executed the twin bombings. The first improvised explosive device went off at a military checkpoint outside the camp of the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), while the second IED exploded inside the camp as the second bomb carrier ran to enter the camp.

The Philippines has renewed its campaign against the Abu Sayyaf this year after a suspected suicide bomber struck the Jolo Cathedral in January, killing 21 people.

Army spokesman Colonel Ramon Zagala said the latest attack targeted the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), a new “super brigade” that arrived in the troubled province only a few weeks earlier.

"This attack is meant to disrupt the intensified security operations and our operational tempo following [(a] series of recent operational gains in the area," Zagala said.

The Abu Sayya had been active in the Philippines years before linking up with ISIS, and has supported its violent activities with kidnap-for-ransom activities.

CORDS turns over 50 houses to Bukidnon town

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 29, 2019): CORDS turns over 50 houses to Bukidnon town

NEW HOUSES FOR BUKIDNON TOWN. Communication Secretary Martin Andanar (left), Cabinet representative for CORDS-Northern Mindanao, leads the turnover of 50 houses to residents of Barangay Iba, Cabanglasan town in Bukidnon province on Friday (June 28, 2019). The turnover of the houses marked the start of a new program to counter insurgency by addressing poverty. (Photo courtesy of PCOO)

A new civilian counter-insurgency program to address poverty was launched on Friday with the turnover of 50 houses to residents of Cabanglasan town in Bukidnon province.

Cabinet Officers for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) 10 (Northern Mindanao) chose Cabanglasan for the launch of its program, “Convergence Areas for Peace and Development" (CAPDev), as the town was once infested with members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Communication Secretary Martin Andanar, the Cabinet representative for CORDS-10, together with regional stakeholders, led the turnover ceremony in Barangay Iba.

“I want to extend the promise of President Rodrigo Duterte of bringing the projects and assistance (of the government) to your barangay and to all other barangays across the Philippines that would lead us to progress,” Andanar said during the ribbon-cutting rite.

The PHP4.2 million housing project was co-funded by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the local government of Cabanglasan.

In October 2018, some 117 communist rebels and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ front organizations from Cabanglasan surrendered to the government after they were enlightened by army community support teams. As victims of communist deceptions and agitation, they were prioritized for humanitarian assistance through the enhanced comprehensive local integration program (E-Clip).

“While the concept of convergence is not new, what was obviously lacking in the past is institutionalization. Now, we are doing it the right way,” Andanar said.

He said that CAPDev heeds President Rodrigo Duterte’s call to prioritize the delivery of basic services and social development packages to vulnerable communities in conflict-affected, geographically isolated, and disadvantaged areas, while facilitating social inclusivity and ensuring the participation of all sectors.

“CAPDev stresses that all of us here have a stake in building peaceful and resilient communities, even as it recognizes the primary responsibility of the local government unit in pushing forward this agenda,” he said, noting that the target communities are both duty-bearers and claim-holders of peace and development.

Meanwhile, Andanar expressed confidence in the effective roll-out and implementation of the program.

CAPDev operationalizes the President’s Executive Order 70, which paved the way for the establishment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

CORDS-10 was the first to launch such a program since Duterte designated representatives for CORDS. Under the initiative, Cabinet members may be assigned to discharge their functions, duties, and responsibilities to a particular region in addition to their regular duties.

Soldier dead in clash with NPA in Samar town

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 28, 2019): Soldier dead in clash with NPA in Samar town

TACLOBAN CITY- A soldier was killed in a clash with New People’s Army guerrillas in Paranas town, Samar on Thursday (June 26.)

The soldier, only identified as Corporal Atencio, together with other members of the 87th Infantry Battalion, were on patrol when they
came upon a group of at least 10 guerrillas at the village of Santo Niño, Paranas.

The clash lasted for some 45 minutes.

Water Wars: A Sinking Feeling in Philippine-China Relations

From the Lawfare Blog (Jun 27, 2019): Water Wars: A Sinking Feeling in Philippine-China Relations

"Outrigger in Calauag Philippines" by AdamCohn is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Philippine and Chinese officials will launch a joint investigation into the at-sea collision that left 22 Filipino fishermen stranded in the South China Sea. On June 9—the official Philippines-China Friendship Day—a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Philippine fishing vessel near Reed Bank (known in Tagalog as Recto Bank), northeast of the Spratly Islands, and reportedly fled after the collision. A Vietnamese fishing vessel later rescued the Filipino crew members who had been left in the water. Philippine officials sought to downplay the collision, with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte calling it a “little maritime incident.” After several days of protests in the Philippines on both the streets and social media, however, the Duterte administration announced plans for a joint Philippine-Chinese investigation into the collision. Critics say the Duterte administration has prioritized Philippine-China trade and investment over rival territorial claims causing conflict in the South China Sea.

Philippine Senator Panfilo Lacson said a joint investigation with Chinese authorities would be tantamount to waiving Philippine ownership rights of Reed Bank. He noted that the 2016 Hague ruling on Philippine-China maritime disputes stated that the bank was within the Philippine’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

This is only the most recent of a series of collisions: According to the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), the China Coast Guard or Chinese fishing vessels were involved in at least 10 ramming incidents in the South China Sea from 2014 to 2016.The recent ramming shows how “gray-zone” conflict between Philippine vessels and the Chinese maritime militia can trigger U.S. intervention in the South China Sea. In January, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson warned his Chinese counterpart that the U.S. Navy would treat the China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia vessels as combatants in any provocations. In March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirmed that the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty applies to maritime conflict in the South China Sea, while U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim reiterated on June 14 that “any armed attack on Filipino vessels” would trigger U.S. obligations under the treaty. Kim said an “armed attack” would include those launched by “government-sanctioned militias,” adding that the recent ramming was a “very serious situation” and required a thorough investigation. Though such statements by the U.S., in theory, might deter gray-zone aggression from the Chinese maritime militia, such posturing could also lower the threshold for a U.S.-China conflict in the region.

In Other News...
In Military Deployments

In mid-June, China deployed four J-10 fighters to Woody Island (known in Chinese as Yongxing and in Vietnamese as Phu Lam) in the Paracel Islands (known in Chinese as Xisha and Vietnamese as Hoàng Sa), for the first time since 2017. Israeli satellite imagery spotted the Chinese fighters near the runway of the Chinese-occupied airpost on June 19. The aircraft were exposed, rather than inside the island’s hangars, causing some commentators to speculate that Chinese officials positioned them for the view of overhead satellites. The Paracels sit in the north of the South China Sea and have been occupied by the Chinese ever since the country’s naval forces defeatedSouth Vietnamese forces in 1974.

The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, ran an article covering the J-10 deployment. The article signals Chinese government approval, if not encouragement, in broadcasting news of the event. Interestingly, the Global Times cited a CNN source who postulated that the deployment may serve to get “the J-10 squadron operationally ready” for a Chinese declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea. China declared an ADIZ over the East China Sea in November 2013, imposing identification rules for flights through the area. The Global Times, however, refuted the CNN source and said that “China never confirmed that it may set up an ADIZ in the South China Sea, and there has been no indication of such.”

Meanwhile, on June 23, the Australian Broadcasting Company reported possible plans to build a new Australian port facility 40 kilometers northeast of Darwin to facilitate ongoing U.S. Marine deployments to the region. Reporting suggested that a new facility would be able to accommodate larger amphibious ships that transport Marines—such as the USS Wasp, which arrived in Sydney for a port visit on June 17. In 2015, Australia’s Northern Territory government leased the commercial port of Darwin to a Chinese company for 99 years.

In Politics

On June 22, Thailand’s foreign ministry announced that Southeast Asian nations were making “good progress” on a multilateral Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China first announced talks on the South China Sea COC back in November 2017. Foreign ministers from ASEAN had been meeting in Bangkok to negotiate the draft, with Thai officials reporting that they expect a first reading of the COC by the end of the year.

Phillipine President Duterte disagreed on the state of progress, “express[ing] concern and disappointment over the delay in the negotiations” for a COC. A statement from his administration said that the longer the delay, the greater the chance of maritime incidents and miscalculation in the South China Sea. Ahead of the ASEAN Summit, Duterte told reporters that he would “talk lengthily” about China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea. The Philippines is the coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership until 2021 and leads negotiations on the COC.

On June 23, the 34th ASEAN Summit held its opening ceremony in Bangkok. ASEAN leaders have committed to fast-tracking the completion of the COC, as the recent ramming of the Phillipine vessel looms in the background.

Also on June 23, Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced an agreement on boundaries between overlapping EEZs of the Philippines and Indonesia in the Mindanao Sea and the Celebes Sea. The two presidents made the announcement on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit, marking the end of more than 20 years of negotiations between the two countries. The bilateral agreement is set to go into effect later this year.

The G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, will occur from June 27 to 28. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet one-on-one at the summit, though the trade war, Huawei and North Korea will likely take precedence over the South China Sea.

At The Diplomat, Rick Joe summarizes the development of China’s aircraft carrier program. China purchased its first aircraft carrier, named the Liaoning (CV-16), from Ukraine in 1998. China’s second carrier, referred to as “Carrier 002” until it commissions, launched from the Dalian shipyard in 2017 and has been undergoing sea trials since mid-2018. Carrier 002 is China’s first domestically built carrier and is modeled after the Liaoning with its distinctive ski-jump flight deck. Additionally, China is building “Carrier 003” in the Shanghai shipyard of Jiangnan. Unlike China’s other carriers, Carrier 003 is a “Type 002” that will likely have electromagnetic catapults to launch its aircraft. All three of China’s carriers will use conventional, rather than nuclear, propulsion. Joe assesses that a future “Carrier 004” will likely arrive by the mid- to late 2020s, as either a second Type 002 carrier or China’s first nuclear-powered carrier. Chinese military experts predict that the country will operate at least five carriers within the next 10 years.

Linette Lopez from Business Insider argues that the real conflict between the United States and China centers on Taiwan, not the trade war. Reuters reported on June 5 that Congress received informal notification of a $2 billion sale of U.S. weapons to Taiwan. The potential sale includes 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks, more than a thousand anti-tank missiles and 250 anti-aircraft Stinger missiles. Other developments in U.S.-Taiwan policy include Taiwan’s National Security Council Secretary-General David Lee meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton in May—the first such meeting since the United States ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979. Additionally, the Department of Defense’s recent Indo-Pacific Strategy Report referred to Taiwan as one of “four countries” central to U.S. strategy, in apparent violation of the One-China Policy that avoids reference to Taiwan as its own sovereign state. Taken alone, the report’s reference to Taiwan as a country appears to be a bureaucratic oversight. In the context of other U.S. actions, however, the Trump administration may be doing its best to support Taiwan while wearing the straightjacket that is the One-China Policy.

Sulu blast is to disrupt ongoing anti-terror ops: Army spox

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 29, 2019): Sulu blast is to disrupt ongoing anti-terror ops: Army spox

The explosion at a 1st Brigade Combat Team checkpoint in Barangay Kajatian, Indanan, Sulu that killed five people, including three soldiers, and wounded nine others on Friday was aimed at disrupting anti-terror operations in the area.

"This attack is meant to disrupt the intensified security operations and our operational tempo following (a) series of recent operational gains in the area," Philippine Army (PA) spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, said in a statement forwarded to reporters late Friday.

The 1st Brigade Combat Team has been deployed to Sulu to boost the government's drive against the Abu Sayyaf terrorists whom President Rodrigo R. Duterte vowed to neutralize.

The Army also strongly condemned this latest atrocity against troops whose job is to promote peace in the island.

"Despite this unfortunate incident, these criminals have failed to deter our troops' resolve and operational verve. We vow to respond with formidable resolve," Zagala added.

He reiterated the Army’s and stakeholders’ full support for the 1st Brigade Combat Team’s intensified operation to crush these terror groups.

"We assure the Filipino people that we are mobilizing all our capabilities and resources in our effort to help the people of the island of Sulu's quest for peace and development," Zagala said.

Another suspected NPA rebel arrested

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jun 28, 2019): Another suspected NPA rebel arrested

Another suspect linked to the death of two Army soldiers and the injuries of six others, in an encounter, was arrested yesterday by the police and the military in Sitio Candi-is, Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental.

The arrested suspect was
identified by authorities as Jasper Aguyong, alleged to be a member of the local party branch of the Central Negros Front Yunit Militia in Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City.

The apprehension of Aguyong brought to seven the number of suspected NPA rebels accounted for by the police and the military in two days of serving arrest warrants in the area.

1Lt. Maria AlleinVeluz, Civil Military Operations officer of the 62nd Infantry Battalion, said yesterday that the seven suspects were involved in an encounter with Army soldiers in May in Brgy. Tan-awan, Kabankalan City.

Veluz added that the seven arrested suspects have pending warrants for two counts of murder and six counts of frustrated murder, issued by Kabankalan Regional Trial Court Judge Rodney Magbanua.

Other respondents in murder and frustrated murder complaints are Rodrigo Medez, alias Salvo, Jimmy Teves, Jodito Montecino, Jeppy Romano, Eliseo Andres and Jack Sabanal, who were apprehended simultaneously on Wednesday in Sitios Bito, Balatugan and Dawhan, all in Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City, by troopers of the 2nd Negros Occidental Provincial Mobile Force Company and 62nd Infantry Battalion.

The seven arrested suspects are now in jail.*

Battle-scarred Philippine general leads military command fighting terrorists

From Rappler (Jun 28, 2019): Battle-scarred Philippine general leads military command fighting terrorists

Major General Cirilito Sobejana assumes command of the military's Western Mindanao Command on Friday, June 28

MEDAL OF VALOR. Major General Cirilito Sobejana is the new commander of the military's Western Mindanao Command. File photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

MEDAL OF VALOR. Major General Cirilito Sobejana is the new commander of the military's Western Mindanao Command. File photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

If you see him, remember to shake his left hand. Major General Cirilito Sobejana, new commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) based in Zamboanga City, has quite a story that has made him a legend in military circles.

It was 1995. He was commander of the First Scout Ranger Company when he found himself in a heavy gun battle with Abu Sayyaf Group founding leader Abdurajak Janjalani and his men in Basilan.

The first bullet hit his right forearm as he was reaching out for the radio of a fallen soldier, desperate to establish communication with fellow Scout Rangers. A second bullet hit the same spot, almost severing it. A third shattered his rifle. He held his ground despite the blood and the pain, continuing to control fire directions to defend their position until reinforcement came.

It was an act that saved their lives, although he would take two years to recuperate. The right-handed officer was also forced to train his left hand to fire his rifle. He was in the middle of his rehabilitation when he was awarded the Medal of Valor in 1997, the highest combat award for bravery and heroism in combat.

(READ: Living Medal of Valor awardees)

More than two decades later, Sobejana continues to impress.

Guests at the 6th ID headquarters will see a long line of plaques on his shelves and framed newspaper clippings of his units' successful operations. He also attended courses at the US Army Logistics Management College in Fort Lee,Virginia, and The Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.

On Friday, June 28, he assumed command of a most critical military post that covers Western Mindanao, the bailiwick of terror groups.

Focus on ASG again

"I am very thankful to the leadership and President Rodrigo Duterte, most especially, for the continued trust and confidence in my competency as combat commander. I will do my best effort to transform the Bangsamoro region into a better place for the people and attractive investment destination for the businessmen,” Sobejana told Rappler. Duterte informed him of his appointment during his visit at the 6th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Malabang, Lanao Del Sur, for the June 12 Independence Day celebration.

Abdurajak Janjalani is long dead, but Sobejana has set his eyes on finally ending decades-long atrocities by his group. He said the military will work to gain the trust of the local population and seek its cooperation in fighting the terrorist group.

"Balik tayo sa Abu Sayyaf sa Sulu (Let’s return our focus on the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu),” Sobejana said. “We identified a sub-leader who is Islamic State-inclined. I won't name him for now," he said.

Two years since Islamic State-linked groups attacked Marawi, the biggest crisis to hit the Duterte administration, Sobejana said aggressive military operations have reduced the strength of terrorist groups in the country. He dismissed the Maute Group and the Basilan faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group – the two main forces behind the siege – as “almost non-existent.”

This leaves the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao, which have leaders who continue to fly the black flag of the Islamic State in the Philippines.

These two provinces were his assignments before his appointment on Friday as Westmincom chief.

Goal for Sulu

In Sulu, he will attempt to finish what he intended to do when he was appointed commander there in March 2017.

The war drums were beating for Sulu at the time and thousands of troops were deployed in the troubled province to fight the Abu Sayyaf Group. But the Marawi siege erupted and military operations were diverted to Central Mindanao.

It became Sobejana’s task to make sure to contain Sulu and Abu Sayyaf fighters did not join the fighting in Marawi.

Martial law had been declared and the general most certainly used his powers. An amused official of the now defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) spoke of how the general surprised local officials when he suddenly showed up in a government meeting and asserted his authority to make sure they cooperated with the military.

Sobejana said what he tried to do in Sulu was bring government services to many neglected areas. He said he knows that security problems cannot be solved solely through a military solution alone.

There was a time when he also ordered households to make sure all the family members were in front of their houses at a particular time in the afternoon where patrolling troops could see that no able-bodied fighter is missing from their homes.

Friendship with MILF

After a year in Sulu, Sobejana was promoted to lead the 6th Infantry Division (ID) based in Maguindanao, a position that allowed him to work closely with Chief minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the newly established Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“We are very close, actually. We are no longer two, he said. We are one in our fight against all the security challenges in the Bangsamoro region. They swore on the Koran that they will do their best in addressing all those practices that contribute to terrorism,” Sobejana said.

Murad is the chairman of the former rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front that negotiated a new government more powerful that ARMM.

As 6th ID commander, Sobejana also led security operations during the January 2019 plebiscite vote on BARMM and the May 2019 midterm elections. As violence threatened to sabotage these electoral processes, Sobejana gathered the politicians to ensure they cooperated with the military.

Sobejana, as Westmincom chief, will continue to play a key role in the continuing peace efforts with the MILF especially at a time that the former rebel group begins a process of setting aside its weapons.

“With my extended period of assignment here in the Bangsamoro region and adjoining Christian provinces, I can say that the level of my comprehension of the dynamics of conflict and dynamics of peace is high. We will come up with a very responsive security template,” Sobejana said.

But Sobejana’s success will not depend on his efforts alone.

Analysts said the fulfilment of government promises to BARMM – in terms of powers and financial support – is the key. They cited the need for attractive incentive packages for MILF combatants, to entice fighters of the breakaway BIFF who might still be lured back to the fold and support the new government.

What Sobejana doesn’t want to see under his watch are MILF fighters jumping to the BIFF because of failed promises and bigger financial offers from the other side.

At least 5 killed, 9 wounded in Sulu attack

From Rappler (Jun 28, 2019): At least 5 killed, 9 wounded in Sulu attack

(UPDATED) The explosion happens on the first day of the assumption of the new chief of the Western Mindanao Command

(UPDATED) – At least 3 soldiers and 2 civilians were killed while 9 others were wounded in an attack in Indanan town in Sulu on Friday, June 28.

The attack happened on the same day Major General Cirilito Sobejana assumed as chief of the Western Mindanao Command. He vowed to go after the Abu Sayyaf.

Army spokesman Colonel Ramon Zagala said an explosion was reported in Indanan town targeting the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), a new “super brigade” that arrived in the troubled province only a few weeks earlier.

Zagala said the perpetrators, who have yet to be identified, were “clearly threatened” by the arrival of the BCT.

The BCT is a new concept that is different from the regular infantry brigades. It carries a lot of firepower – combining two infantry battalions, one mechanized company, field artillery, and special operations forces. A regular brigade has 3 infantry battalions, one company of artillery, and one signal company.

Police reports showed that Army soldiers from the BCT were manning a checkpoint when they stopped a vehicle carrying armed men, who subsequently threw grenade at the troops.

Up to 3 BCTs are expected to arrive in Sulu as the military goes after the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“We will not be deterred by them,” said Zagala of the group behind the attack.

Duterte needs Murad’s OK before appointing Pinol to MinDA

From Politiko Mindanao (Jun 28, 2019): Duterte needs Murad’s OK before appointing Pinol to MinDA

President Rodrigo Duterte said he has to consult first with Bangsamoro government interim chief minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim before coming out with a final decision on whether he would transfer Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol to Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).

“Until after I shall have talked to Murad. Eh baka hindi niya tanggapin doon? Tapos ba ‘yung… What are you messing up with the…?” Duterte told reporters Thursday night in Malacanang after Pinol offered to quit as the Department of Agriculture (DA) chief.

In his courtesy resignation coursed through Senator-elect Christopher “Bong” Go, Pinol said he could be reassigned to any agency where he could be effective, such as MinDA.

“I want the Moro happy. We have promised everything and I want as early as I can complete it during my term. Kaya bilisan ninyo at use whatever your legislation would want about Liguasan Marsh and the others,” Duterte said.

Pinol, who was then the North Cotabato vice governor, opposed the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), which was supposedly the peace deal between the government and Murad’s Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008. The MOA-AD, which was declared by the Supreme Court as unconstituional, aimed to create Bangsamoro Juridical Entity that would include some areas in Pinol’s province.

BARMM Chief Minister elated over Sulu’s support, cooperation

Posted to the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 28, 2019): BARMM Chief Minister elated over Sulu’s support, cooperation

COTABATO CITY – Chief Minister Ahod (Murad) Ebrahim, of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said he was elated by the support of influential Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, who recently met with him together with his mayors.

“I’m very happy that the incoming Sulu governor expressed his willingness to cooperate and be a partner of the Bangsamoro government,” Ebrahim said.

Photos from MILF’s website show BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim with Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and his municipal mayors during a recent visit at the BARMM headquarters in Cotabato City.

Ebrahim cited the importance of unity and collaboration among local officials to meet the high expectations of the people on the newly-established region.

Tan said he and his municipal mayors were also happy to meet with Ebrahim and threw their support to the BARMM.

Tan was among those who questioned the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for BARMM. His son, Toto Tan, then governor of Sulu, filed a petition with the Supreme Court to review the legality and constitutionality of the BOL. The proposed law was the result of peace negotiations between the Filipino government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels headed by Ebrahim.

The respondents in the 48-page petition were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Interior and Local Government Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Año, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, and the MILF.

In the petition, Tan claimed that Congress committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it passed the Bangsamoro Organic Law. He said the Bangsamoro Organic Law violates Section 18 and 19 of Article X of the 1987 Constitution which authorized the enactment of only one Organic Act to establish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Since ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) is created by Constitutional fiat, Congress, by itself, has absolutely no authority to abolish ARMM. Only through an amendment of the Constitution may ARMM be abolished. This is so, because only the Constitution may create or abolish an autonomous region,” he said.

“Accordingly, when Congress, by enacting RA 11054, effectively abolished ARMM, and established BAR (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) in its stead, Congress committed an unconstitutional act, an unwarranted infringement of Article X of the Constitution,” he added.

The MILF, which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014, said it recognizes Tan’s rights to file the petition. But Muslims in Mindanao have ratified the BOL that paved way for the establishment of BARMM. BARMM is headed by a chief minister and two deputy ministers.

Its parliament will be composed of political party representatives, parliamentary district representatives, sectoral representatives and indigenous tribes and settler communities. All parliament members will have a term of three years and can enjoy a maximum of three consecutive terms.

The parliament can enact its own laws. The BOL also allows 75-25 wealth sharing between the Bangsamoro autonomous region and national government. And now, the Tan patriarch – also a staunch political ally of President Rodrigo Duterte – said: “Since it (BARMM) is already here, it is not right for us not to support it because we will suffer. We cannot afford to suffer for the next three years, six years or nine years,” Tan said. (Mindanao Examiner and Zamboanga Post. With additional report from Taher Solaiman.)

Army announces gains vs. rebels

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 28, 2019): Army announces gains vs. rebels

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division said it gained significant progress in its peace campaign in the South due to huge public support to the government’s efforts in ending insurgency in the troubled region.

Maj. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal, the division commander, said security forces had “neutralized” over 1,100 communist rebels during the first six months of the year. He said this number included 1,062 members of the New People’s Army who surrendered to the fold of the law. More than 2 dozen rebels were also killed in clashes and 17 others captured.

He said their relentless and focused security operations resulted in the significant reduction of the group’s terror threats. Government troops have captured 67 assorted firearms during encounters, while former rebels handed over 168 firearms of various calibers during the same period.

The last two quarters, he said, also saw a sharp increase in the number of surrenderees in Region 10 (Northern Mindanao) with 359 regular members of the Milisya ng Bayan and their underground mass organizations and supporters yielded to various military units and in Region 13 (Caraga) had 763 surrenders during the period.

“This is due to the convergence of efforts of stakeholders backed with the enhanced implementation of community support programs, especially in poor, marginalized, conflict-affected and conflict vulnerable communities. The program effectively bridged residents of these areas to the local government agencies resulting in enhanced delivery of basic services to the people,” Gacal said.

“Our army units across the region have deployed community support teams which help identify primary issues affecting communities and facilitate for its immediate resolution with concerned government agencies,” he added.

Gacal said that the massive surrenders of rebels can be attributed to the serious implementation of the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) which offers livelihood and financial assistance to all rebels who opted to abandon the armed struggle and surrender peacefully to the government.

He said additional remuneration is given to a former rebel who surrenders with a firearm. Nearly 1000 surrenderees have been enrolled in the ECLIP.

The program has so far distributed P10 million worth of assistance to 209 beneficiaries, according to Gacal. Gacal said efforts to rid communities of communist influence are rapidly paying off as local government officials and community leaders, including tribal chieftains, expressed their full support to the government’s campaign by denouncing, severing all forms of association, and withdrawing any kind of support to the NPA.

“The significant achievements of the division are also attributed to the strengthened stakeholder’s support and we encourage all local governments to continue with same vigor and enthusiasm, especially in the institutionalization and operationalization of EO 70. The fight against insurgency is a shared responsibility and we owe it to the next generation to work together,” he said.

The EO 70 refers to the Executive Order 70 or the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict signed by President Rodrigo Duterte. “We are seeing massive convergence of efforts among national government agencies, government and non-government organizations, civil society, religious, academe and private sectors in achieving our common aspiration that is to fully achieve peace and sustain development. We all want to create conflict resilient communities and put an end to the armed conflict which has plundered our country for five decades,” he said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Jihadists in the Caucasus, Philippines renew allegiance to Baghdadi

Posted to the Long War Journal (Jun 27, 2019): Jihadists in the Caucasus, Philippines renew allegiance to Baghdadi (By Thomas Joscelyn)

The Islamic State has continued to produce videos depicting small bands of jihadists renewing their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The latest such video was released yesterday (June 26), and featured jihadists from the Caucasus region. Just days earlier, the Islamic State’s so-called Caucasus province carried out a small-scale attack outside the home of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in Grozny.

On June 22, the Islamic State released a short production from its East Asia province, which has fighters in the Philippines.

The videos are part of the Islamic State’s “And the End Is Best for the Righteous” series, in which jihadists around the globe reiterate their fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The group previously released similar footage from West Africa and the Sinai. The short clips are clearly part of an orchestrated campaign designed to reinforce the Islamic State’s global presence, especially in the wake of the group’s loss of its territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Each of the videos, including the ones produced for the Philippines and Caucasus region, open with text emphasizing that the jihadists remain committed to their “pledge” to fight the infidels who “claim to have destroyed the caliphate.” The text reads: “We renew our pledge [of allegiance] to the caliph of Muslims, the Mujahid Shaykh Abu-Bakr al-Husayni al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi, may Allah protect him.”

A pair of jihadists in the Caucasus

The main speaker in the video from the Caucasus is identified as Sheikh Abu Abdallah al-Qawqazi. After making some brief remarks in Arabic, he switches to Russian, and his talk is translated into Arabic text at the bottom of the screen.

Abu Abdallah al-Qawqazi (right) does much of the speaking in the video from the Caucasus.

Abu Abdallah says that he and the other “mujahideen of the Islamic State in Russia” give their glad tidings to “our mujahideen brothers” elsewhere. The “ordeals” they’ve faced are part of a divine test, he explains, as Allah “purges” the mujahideen’s ranks of the “hypocrites,” apostates and cowards. Only after this will Allah’s “promise” be “fulfilled.”

The Islamic State and other jihadists have made this argument before, claiming that the so-called caliphate’s setbacks are part of a winnowing out process by which only the true believers are left standing. They apparently have not realized that by this logic, many of their own fallen comrades, men who were supposedly members of the chosen, were not really true believers at all.

Abu Abdallah cites Koranic verses to emphasize his claim that only after various trials and tribulations can one enter paradise, so patience and perseverance are necessary. He also says that he and his men haven’t “forgotten the blood of our Muslim brothers,” who will be avenged, as evidenced by various attacks in Chechnya.

Abu Abdallah awarns Russia and its allies, asking if they think they have defeated the Islamic State by bombing women, children and the elderly. He also threatens Russia’s leaders, as footage of Vladimir Putin, Ramzan Kadyrov and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plays on screen.

These jihadists do not take part in the oath renewal ceremony in the Caucasus, but they are briefly pictured on screen.

In addition to Abu Abdallah and his comrade, the video’s editor includes a brief clip of about a dozen jihadists dressed in camouflage fatigues and assembled in a wooded area. Curiously, unlike the other allegiance videos released by the Islamic State, the Caucasus jihadists did not convene to repeat their vow. It may be the case that the security environment currently prohibits such a meeting, as Russian authorities are hunting the caliphate’s representatives.

At the end of the video, only Abu Abdallah and his fellow Islamic State loyalist clasp hands, reciting the bayat (oath of allegiance). 

Abu Abdallah and his fellow believer cite the oath renewal together, without a band of their comrades from the Caucasus present. The other videos in the series show small gatherings — not just two men.

Islamic State in East Asia

The video recorded in the Philippines features a larger collection of Islamic State oath keepers gathered in a wooded area.

Another Abu Abdallah (who is difficult to see) leads the oath renewal in the Philippines.

They are led by another man known as Abu Abdallah, who organizes their pledge ceremony. Abu Abdallah’s words are translated at the bottom of the screen in Arabic. He calls on Muslims around the world to pledge their own fealty to Baghdadi.

The end of the production includes brief scenes of the jihadists fighting the Philippine Army. As in other Islamic State videos, the jihadists show the identification cards for various foes presumably killed in battle, along with other spoils. 

A small group of jihadists in the Philippines joins Abu Abdallah in reciting the oath to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

[Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.]

Sulu blast leaves dozen military casualties

Posted to the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 28, 2019): Sulu blast leaves dozen military casualties

SULU – At least a dozen soldiers were killed and wounded in a powerful explosion Friday at a military base in the southern Filipino province of Sulu.

Three soldiers were reported dead and 9 others injured in the blast, blamed by the military to the Abu Sayyaf, whose leaders have renewed their allegiance to ISIS.

The explosion inside the army’s combat base in Indanan town coincided with the assumption of Major General Cirilito Sobejana as the new chief of the Western Mindanao Command. Sobejana was earlier quoted as saying that he will finish of the Abu Sayyaf before the year ends.

The Western Mindanao Command confirmed the blast, but gave no details of the explosion at the base.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the blast, which happened barely a week after ISIS released a video showing Abu Sayyaf fighters gathered in a wooded area believed to be in Sulu.

The militants renewed their pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal. It reported Friday that the video opened with text emphasizing that the jihadists remain committed to their “pledge” to fight the infidels who “claim to have destroyed the caliphate.”

Screen shot from the ISIS video posted Friday by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal show Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu province renewing their allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The text reads: “We renew our pledge [of allegiance] to the caliph of Muslims, the Mujahid Shaykh Abu-Bakr al-Husayni al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi, may Allah protect him.”

It said the production of the video, one of several clips, are part of the Islamic State’s “And the End Is Best for the Righteous” series, in which jihadists around the globe reiterate their fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The end of the production includes brief scenes of the jihadists fighting the Philippine Army. As in other Islamic State videos, the jihadists show the identification cards for various foes presumably killed in battle, along with other spoils. (The Zamboanga Post)

Army helps settle land tenure concern in Ilocos Sur

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 28, 2019): Army helps settle land tenure concern in Ilocos Sur

STA. CRUZ, Ilocos Sur -- Elements of the army’s 81st Infantry (SPARTAN) Battalion helped the settlement of land tenure concern in Ilocos Sur.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles DZ Castillo, commander of the army’s 81st IB, said his troops successfully facilitated recently the series of dialogue between the landowners and tenants of Barangay San Antonio, Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur.

“Our troops made the initiative after the members of our Community Support Program (CSP) team learned that one of the prevailing issues and concerns in the village was the landowner and tenant relationship, which was being exploited by the CPP-NPA Terrorists in the area,” said Castillo.

“We are greatly optimistic that dialogue is the best way to settle disputes than result in unnecessary confrontation; thus, we invited the personnel from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) thru the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office of Ilocos Sur headed by Miss Christianne Suguitan to mediate the dialogue, which resulted to the successful signing of an agreement with a 'win-win' situation for both parties,” he said.

An army officer talks in front of the residents in Barangay San Antonio, Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur in a dialogue between the landowners and tenants to solve the land tenure concern in the village. ( Photo from Army’s 81st IB)

Landowner Elpidio Mendoza Jr. expressed his gratitude to the army and to the local DAR office for mediating and resolving the land tenure issue.

As stated in Section 34 of Republic Act 3844, the sharing of landowner and tenant in a land tenure activity should be 25 percent (for landowner) - 75 percent(for the tenant) after deducting the expenses like seeds, cost of harvesting, threshing, loading, hauling, and processing.

RA 3844 is an act to ordain in the agriculture land reform code and to institute land reforms in the Philippines, including the abolition of the tenancy and the channeling of capital into the industry, provide for the necessary agencies, appropriate fund therefore and for other purposes.

For his part, Eddie Dabalos, a tenant from Hacienda Encarnacion of Barangay San Antonio, Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur, thanked the army for facilitating the dialogue and the DAR for informing their rights as a tenant farmer.

“I am very glad that both parties manifested their willingness to solve the issue regarding land tenure in the villages in Ilocos Sur. I am also thankful to the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO) for enlightening the residents of their programs,” Castillo said. (JNPD/FGL,PIA 1)

PRRD attends PSG’s 122nd anniversary, commends elite group for service to nation

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 28, 2019): PRRD attends PSG’s 122nd anniversary, commends elite group for service to nation

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers his speech during the 122nd anniversary of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) at the PSG Compound on June 26, 2019. (YANCY LIM/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO)

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Wednesday joined the Presidential Security Group (PSG) in its 122nd anniversary celebration expressing his gratitude to the elite unit for securing him and his family as well as for serving the nation.

“I extend my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Presidential Security Group. Rest assured that this administration will remain committed to the continuing improvement and modernization of the PSG so you may perform your mandate more effectively and efficiently,” President Duterte said in his speech during the celebration held at the PSG Grandstand in Malacañang Park.

“Together, let us safeguard our nation, defend our people and march towards a brighter future for all,” he added.

President Duterte also recognized PSG’s unwavering commitment to defend the presidency and the country’s democratic institutions by going beyond its mandate of providing protection to the President and the First Family.

“The organization’s notable contributions, not only to the Office of the President, but also to the communities around Malacañang Complex, will be written in the annals of this institution’s long history,” he said.

PSG troopers, who have demonstrated excellence in the fulfillment of their respective duties within the organization, was honored by the President.

He also acknowledged agencies, corporations, and individuals who have served as the PSG’s reliable partners in its various undertakings.

President Duterte said he believes in PSG’s steadfast commitment to protect the presidency to the best of its abilities. “I am confident that through your professionalism, integrity, and courage, we can further serve our people during the remaining half of my Presidency.”

The PSG is a combined elite unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) complemented by the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), and civilian workforce.

Meeting with Misuari

President Duterte also discussed several domestic issues Wednesday, particularly the Mindanao peace process, the country’s financial standing, and the administration’s crackdown on graft and corruption.

With regards to Mindanao peace initiatives, he said he would organize a meeting with Moro National Liberation Front founder and leader Nur Misuari to put an end to MNLF rebellion, expressing his willingness to present Misuari’s group similar concessions offered by the government to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Central Mindanao medyo nagkalma na. We were able to really convince those guys. Sila Murad. And I’m trying to set up a meeting with Nur Misuari. I would conceive the same arrangement,” President Duterte said.

The President also reiterated his plan to open up barter trade in the Sulu archipelago to prop up economic activity and uplift the living conditions of the Moros there.

He said, however, that he would exclude Zamboanga since unscrupulous individuals and groups might use the system for smuggling. The navy has to intervene to fend off such activity.

During the 13th Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines – East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Summit in Thailand last weekend, President Duterte asked his Malaysian counterpart to speed up the negotiations on the barter trade system between the Philippines and Malaysia in time for the Philippine government’s implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) aimed at ending decades-long conflict in Mindanao.

The President believes that the institutionalization of the barter trade system in the area will help address poverty, conflict, and instability. (PND)

Tagalog News: Deklarasyon sa CNTs bilang persona non-grata, mahalaga ayon sa DILG

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 28, 2019): Tagalog News: Deklarasyon sa CNTs bilang persona non-grata, mahalaga ayon sa DILG

Ipinapaliwanag ni Juvy Tepico ng DILG, ang kahalagahan ng pagdedeklara sa mga CNTs bilang persona non-grata sa lalawigan. (Voltaire N. Dequina)

MAMBURAO, Occidental Mindoro — Mahalaga na maideklarang persona non-grata ang mga Communist New People’s Army Terrorists (CNTs) sa buong lalawigan, ayon sa Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), sa ginanap na pulong ng Provincial Peace and Advisory Council (PPOC) kamakailan.

Sinabi ni Juvilyn Tepico ng DILG, magiging daan ang deklarasyon upang ipaabot sa mga mamamayan na hindi dapat kupkupin at suportahan ang mga CNTs.

“Iwinawaksi natin ang mga CNTs,” saad ni Tepico, dahil aniya’y banta ang mga ito sa kaayusan, katahimikan at kaunlaran ng lalawigan.

Higit itong ipinaliwanag ni Jonathan Sevilla, isang namumuhunan sa San Jose at kinatawan ng business sector sa Provincial Advisory Council (PAC).

Aniya, isang halimbawa ng pagmamalabis ng CNT ay ang pangungulekta ng revolutionary tax sa mga negosyante at ilang contractors.

“Sa PAC, may ulat na sinunog nila (CNTs) ang ilang construction equipment dahil hindi nagbigay ang contractor.

Ang iba naman nakakatanggap ng death threats,” ayon pa kay Sevilla. Dagdag pa nito, dahil sa ganitong gawain ng mga CNTs, nasasakripsiyo ang mga proyekto ng pamahalaan.

Ayon naman kay Tepico hindi lamang mga negosyante at contractor ang napeperwisyo ng mga CNT,

“Pinagsasamantalahan din ng mga ito ang mga katutubo nating di kayang ipaglaban ang kanilang sarili", dagdag ni Tepico.

Aniya, sa ulat ng Philippine Army (PA) sa nakaraang pulong ng PPOC, kadalasang nare-recruit ang mga katutubo (IPs) dahil sa pananakot o maling paliwanag tungkol sa ancestral domain at agrarian revolution.

Paglilinaw pa ni Tepico, sa pamamagitan ng resolusyon ng isang munisipyo, na dinedeklarang persona non-grata ang mga CNTs sa kanilang bayan, mapapadali ang ugnayan ng lokal na pamunuan at mga ahensya, lalo na sa pagdadala ng tamang impormasyon at tulong ng pamahalaan sa kanayunan. (VND/PIA MIMAROPA/Occ Min)

Hunt on vs. gunmen in Maguindanao ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): Hunt on vs. gunmen in Maguindanao ambush

AMBUSH SURVIVOR. Lone ambush survivor, Kimboy Fernalino, a Teduray indigenous community member, undergoes treatment at the hospital following their ambush on Wednesday night (June 26) with two other companions who died in the incident at Barangay Saniag, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. The fatalities in the ambush were Teduray community chieftain Orlando Santos, and his son Michael, both residents of Saniag village. (Photo courtesy of Ampatuan MPS)

Police are in pursuit of armed men who ambushed and killed two persons, including an Indigenous People (IP) community leader, and seriously wounded another in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on Wednesday night.

Major Gilbert Acorbo, Ampatuan police chief, identified the fatalities as Teduray IP chieftain Orlando Santos, and his son Michael, both of Barangay Saniag in the municipality.

The surviving victim, Kimboy Fernalino, was rushed by neighbors to the Maguindanao Provincial Hospital in neighboring Shariff Aguak town but later transferred to the Cotabato Regional Medical Center in this city.

The victims were onboard a motorbike around 7:00 p.m. Wednesday en route to Barangay Saniag when waylaid by still unidentified armed men.

“The motive of the attack is yet to be determined by our police investigators,” Acorbo said in a radio interview Friday.

Ampatuan Mayor Datu Rasul Sangki has scheduled a municipal emergency meeting following the incident.

In a separate radio interview, Minister Melanio Ulama of the Ministry of Indigenous People Affairs of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (MIPA-BARMM) has called for sobriety in connection with the Barangay Saniag ambush.

He said the MIPA-BARMM is currently in close contact with Ampatuan town officials and police authorities to determine the cause of the incident.

“Rest assured that the IPs in the region are not neglected by the BARMM government. We are saddened by the incident and would like to get to the bottom of the problem to come up with appropriate solutions,” he said.

DPWH chief ground breaks facilities in Bulacan military camp

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): DPWH chief ground breaks facilities in Bulacan military camp

BREAKING GROUND. Public Works Secretary Mark Villar (center) leads the ceremonial groundbreaking of various infrastructure projects inside Camp Tecson at the First Scout Ranger Regiment in San Miguel, Bulacan on Thursday (June 27, 2019). Also in photo are (from left) Department of Public Works and Highways 3 (Central Luzon) Director Roseller Tolentino, Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Macairog S. Alberto, First Scout Ranger Regiment Commander, Brig. Gen. William N. Gonzales, and District Engineer Ramiro Cruz. (Photo courtesy of First Scout Regiment, PA)

SAN MIGUEL, Bulacan—Various infrastructure projects will soon start inside a military camp here as part of the government’s continuous support to the soldiers.

Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar on Thursday led the ceremonial groundbreaking of some facilities
inside Camp Tecson at the First Scout Rangers Regiment Headquarters in Barangay Tartaro.

He was assisted by Philippine Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Macairog S. Alberto, First Scout Ranger Regiment (FSSR) commander, Brig. Gen. William N. Gonzales, DPWH Regional Director Roseller Tolentino, and District Engineer Ramiro Cruz in laying a time capsule to officially signal the start of construction of the facilities.

Villar said the multi-facility project will include the construction of FSSR clubhouse, multi-purpose building and two-storey, 20-door transient quarters for use of Scout Rangers.

He said the DPWH is also set to do asphalt overlaying on the military base perimeter road as part of the project.

“The construction of several infrastructures in Camp Tecson is part of the government’s goal to show support to soldiers by modernizing and providing more capable facilities for their proper usage,” Villar added.

Tolentino, meanwhile, said all three projects will be completed within the year, except for the clubhouse which is targeted to be completed in 2020.

“We will make sure that we will not renege on the commitment made by the Secretary to provide our soldiers the quality facilities they deserve,” Tolentino said.

The First Scout Ranger Regiment is a unit of the Philippine Army specializing in anti-guerrilla jungle warfare, raids, ambushes, close quarters combat, urban warfare, and sabotage.

2 NPA rebels killed in CamSur clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): 2 NPA rebels killed in CamSur clash

Two New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were killed early Friday morning in a clash with Army soldiers in a remote village of Caramoan town in Camarines Sur, an Army report said.

Maj. Ricky Aguilar, Army 9th Infantry Division (ID) public affairs chief, said Army troops on patrol encountered a 20-man rebel group at around 5:15 a.m. in Sitio (sub-village) Mauban, Barangay (village) Mampirao.

The firefight between the Army soldiers and the communist rebel group led to the death of two NPA rebels whose identities are still unknown as of press time.

After the clash, government troops recovered five high-powered firearms at the site of the clash, Aguilar said.

Western Visayas has new top cop

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): Western Visayas has new top cop

NEW W. VISAYAS POLICE DIRECTOR. Brig. Gen. Rene Pamuspusa is the new Western Visayas police director. He formally replaced Brig. Gen. John Bulalacao during a turn-over of command ceremony at Camp Delgado on Thursday afternoon (June 27, 2019). (PNA photo by Gail Momblan)

The newly-installed regional director of the Police Regional Office in Western Visayas (PRO 6) vowed on Thursday to continue and sustain the strategic direction set forth by his predecessor.

Brig. Gen. Rene Pamuspusan, chief of Philippine National Police Headquarters Service Support Group, officially replaced Brig. Gen. John Bulalacao as PRO 6 regional director.

A turn-over of command ceremony was held at Camp Delgado in this city.

In his speech, Pamuspusan said he will “push for organizational discipline, unit integrity, and individual reform” being the strategic direction of Bulalacao.

“Let this be my first act as the regional director of PRO 6. I am commanding every policeman in Region 6 to continue and sustain the strategic direction set forth by my predecessor, our regional director, Brig. Gen. John Bulalacao,” he said.

Pamuspusan said it is also his job to ensure the programs from the national level will be implemented to the fullest in Western Visayas.

These include internal cleansing in the police force, an intensified campaign against criminalities specifically on illegal drugs, meritocracy programs, transparency in procurement and fund management, and the campaign on police and community relations.

Pamuspusan also directed the provincial directors and chiefs of police to continue its effort to fight terrorism.

“We must be marching in unison with our counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines to fight terrorism to end insurgency,” he said, noting Bulalacao’s achievements in the region.

Meanwhile, after serving the police force for 35 years, Bulalacao said he will be leaving the organization proud, blessed, and fulfilled.

“I maintained a good name, it made me proud. I valued those who helped me, it made me blessed. I carried out my duties having in mind what is good for the community, it made me fulfilled,” Bulalacao said in his speech.

Bulalacao’s notable accomplishments in the region are the improved crime environment, achievements in the fight against illegal drugs, proactive anti-insurgency efforts, internal discipline, peaceful midterm elections, among others.

Under Bulalacao’s stint, the PRO6 has a total of 1,664 anti-illegal drugs operations with 2,337 personalities arrested and filed 654 cases in court from June 1, 2018 to May 31, 2019.

From June 1, 2018 to present, the PRO6 was able to arrest 16 high-ranking Communist New People’s Army Terrorists (CNTs).

The leadership of Bulalacao has also resulted in generally peaceful mid-term elections. Overall, 28 persons were arrested and charged with vote-buying in the region.

Bulalacao reiterated that his achievements were due to the support and trust of the public.

He thanked the police and non-uniformed personnel, local government units, the media, and the community for the support given to him in his one-year stint as regional director.

Bulalacao said he does not have immediate plans to be employed in private or government agencies after his retirement. Instead, he said he will spend more time with his family.

“It’s a privilege to embark on a long journey and be able to finish strong,” he said.

5 killed, 9 hurt in Sulu military camp attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): 5 killed, 9 hurt in Sulu military camp attack

Three soldiers and two alleged suicide bombers were killed while nine others were wounded in an attack on a military camp in the province of Sulu, police said Friday.

The Sulu Police Provincial Office said the incident happened at the headquarters of the Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team in Sitio Tanjung, Barangay Kajatian, Indanan town at noon Friday.

Police did not say whether the alleged suicide bombers were members of the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

The two suicide bombers rushed one after the other into the Tactical Command Post of the 1st Brigade Combat Team and detonated the bombs they were carrying, police said.

Camp sentinels accosted but failed to stop the suicide bombers, with one of them detonating the bomb near the parking area of the 1st Brigade Combat Team commander, police said.

Police said a firefight that lasted for about an hour ensued after the bomb explosions, as other armed men believed to be companions of the two suicide bombers fired on the camp.

The identities of the slain suicide bombers and soldiers, as well as the nine wounded, were not immediately available.

Police said that body parts of unidentified male individuals were recovered inside the camp of the Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deployed the 1st Brigade Combat Team to Sulu last May 31.

Maj. Arvin John Encinas, the newly designated spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), confirmed the incident but did not say whether the attackers were members of the ASG.

Troops of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion and 6th Mechanized Battalion reinforced the 1st Brigade Combat Team while all units under the Joint Task Force Sulu were placed on red alert “to enact preemptive measures,” Encinas said.

Checkpoints and roving patrol were immediately deployed at Jolo, Sulu's capital after the attack.

The attack came on the same day Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana assumed as new Westmincom chief.

Sobejana replaced Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, who decided to bow out of military service nine months before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56.

2 more C. Luzon towns declare CPP-NPA 'persona non grata'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): 2 more C. Luzon towns declare CPP-NPA 'persona non grata'

BALER, Aurora – Two more towns in Central Luzon have declared the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as "persona non-grata", the Philippine Army’s 91st Infantry “Sinagtala” Battalion (91IB) said Friday.

Lt. Col. Jose Mari F. Torrenueva, 91IB commander, commended the municipalities of Laur in Nueva Ecija and Maria Aurora in Aurora for passing resolutions declaring through their respective Municipal Peace and Order Councils (MPOCs) the leftist movement “unwelcomed” in their jurisdictions.

He assured that the military troops will continue to support the local government units (LGUs) for their cooperation with President Rodrigo Duterte and the national government’s efforts to rid the country of communist-terrorist rebels.

“The Philippine Army will continue to support such unified move which aims to condemn the actions of the terrorists that disregard the country’s campaign in attaining peace,” Torrenueva said.

The MPOC of Maria Aurora approved the resolution declaring the communist organization as persona non grata during its meeting on Thursday at the town's Sangguniang Bayan Session Hall.

The MPOC of Laur, on the other hand, approved the resolution during its meeting Wednesday at the Mayor’s Office.

The meeting was presided by Mayor Alexander A. Daus and attended by different department heads of the local government, members of the Sangguniang Bayan, 91st Infantry Battalion led by 1Lt. Candidato S. Paduman and Laur Municipal Police Station led by chief of police Capt. Jonathan S. Romero.

“This is the LGU’s step in asserting that the municipality is ready for long lasting peace to attain sustainable development. In order to maintain peace and order in the community and suppress the lawless violence that creates havoc, fear and panic among the populace, members of CPP-NPA are now unwelcomed,” the resolution read.

Torrenueva is optimistic that the number of LGUs declaring CPP-NPA as persona non grata will continue to rise as the government is relentless in its efforts to end insurgency in the country.

He also encouraged other LGUs to stand up for the fight against terrorism by rejecting the presence or existence of the rebel group in their localities.

The two LGUs in Central Luzon that earlier declared the communist organization as persona non grata are Doña Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan under Mayor Ronaldo T. Flores, and Carrangalan, Nueva Ecija under Mayor Mary B. Abad.

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

4 suspected Reds yield explosives in NegOr

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): 4 suspected Reds yield explosives in NegOr

Four farmers believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), were arrested early Friday by soldiers of the 11th Infantry Battalion (11IB) in Sitio Maraja, Barangay Lamogong in Manjuyod, Negros Oriental.

The suspects were identified as Rea Casuyon Casido, 35, married; Teodor Academia Casido, 49, married; Danny Academia Casido, 41, married; and Venancio Acabal Cadeliña, 60, married, all residents of Sitio Maraja, a report from the Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office (NOPPO) said.

The four were arrested at about 3 a.m. as elements of the Alpha Company of the 11IB, led by Cpl. Benjamin B. Descotido, were conducting patrol and clearing operations in the area in relation to the June 23 encounter between government troops and suspected NPA members in Barangay Bantolinao in Manjuyod.

In that weekend encounter, an Army soldier and a suspected NPA member were killed while two other government troopers were wounded.

While the 11IB troops were patrolling the area, they spotted the four suspects who allegedly fled after seeing them, the police report said.

The soldiers put up a chase and apprehended them for questioning, after which they recovered allegedly from the suspects’ possession a number of explosives and ammunition.

The recovered items include two rifle grenades, two hand grenades, alleged subversive documents, six 30-rounds KG9 magazines, one 20-rounds KG-9 magazine, 90 rounds of live ammunition of caliber 9mm, a pair of binoculars, T-shirts printed with "PKP50" and "CPP 50", backpacks, and other personal belongings.

The suspects are now under the custody of the Manjuyod Police Station pending the filing of charges against them for violation of Republic Act 9516, amending provisions of Presidential Decree 1866 on the illegal/unlawful possession, manufacture, dealing in, acquisition, or disposition of firearms, ammunition, or explosives.

Medal of Valor awardee assumes Westmincom

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): Medal of Valor awardee assumes Westmincom helm

CHANGING OF GUARD. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, Armed Forces chief-of-staff (right) hands over to Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana the flag of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, as Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, outgoing Westmincom chief, looks on, during the turnover of command held Friday at Camp Basilio Navarro in Zamboanga City. (Photo courtesy of Westmincom Public Information Office)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has installed Friday Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana--a medal of valor recipient--to head the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), which has jurisdiction over the western part of the southern Philippines.

Sobejana, the 11th Westmincom chief, is the current commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Awang, Maguindanao. He replaced Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, who vowed out of military service nine months before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56.

Sobejana is a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class of 1987 while dela Vega belongs to PMA class of 1985.

Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, AFP chief-of-staff, who presided over the turnover of command ceremony here, directed Sobejana to "fully support" the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in attaining peace and development in the area of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Madrigal also ordered Sobejana to “finish off” the problem of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits and Daesh-inspired terrorist groups.

In response, Sobejana vowed he will try to eliminate the ASG bandits “by the end of the year”, citing “that the timeline has been specified by President Rodrigo Duterte.”

“We will beef our forces in Sulu,” Sobejana said, adding: “we have a template to follow to finally to put an end to the menace of terrorism particularly in Sulu.”

Dela Vega said he decided to retire early to give the opportunity to his junior officer to lead the Westmincom, as well as spend more time with his family.

“I enjoin every soldier, sailor, marine, and airman of this Command to continuously endeavor to adhere to the interplay of security, development, and good governance as the main component of our strategic framework in addressing the different threats and threat groups confronting the region,” dela Vega said.

Anti-sub helis capable of disaster response missions

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28, 2019): Anti-sub helis capable of disaster response missions

Aside from detecting, hunting and if necessary sinking hostile submarines, the Philippine Navy (PN)'s two newly-acquired AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) AW-159 anti-submarine helicopters are capable of doing tasks aimed at the preservation of human life especially in times of disasters.

This was stressed by Navy spokesperson Captain Jonathan Zata Thursday when asked what other missions can the AW-159s can do aside from its military missions.

"Secondary roles of the AW-159 include humanitarian assistance and disaster response operation/search-and-rescue(HADR/SAR) and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC)," he added in a message to the Philippine News Agency.

Such capabilities are considered very welcome as the PN is one of the first responders in times of calamities.

The two anti-submarine helicopters were commissioned into PN service last June 17, more than a month after these arrived in the country last May 7.

Zata said the two "Wildcat" helicopters will be deployed aboard the two Jose Rizal-class missile frigates, being constructed by South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries and scheduled for delivery in 2020.

The 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 (four hours and 30 minutes if fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks).

The AW-159s can also be armed with rockets, machine guns, missiles, torpedoes and depth charges and fitted with modern sonar systems for tracking down submarines.