Thursday, January 23, 2020

30 FRs undergo ALS skills training

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 24, 2020): 30 FRs undergo ALS skills training (By 23IB Philippine Army)

BUTUAN CITY, Jan. 24 -- Thirty former rebels (FRs) undergone 10 months Alternative Learning System (ALS) skills training at the headquarters of the 23rd Infantry (Masigasig) Battalion (23IB), Jamboree Site, P-6 Barangay Alubihid in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte.

The activity was made possible through the convergence effort of the Department of Education (DepEd) of Agusan del Norte headed by Dr. Romeo Aprovechar, Schools Division Superintendent of Agusan del Norte and the 23IB headed by Lt. Col. Francisco L. Molina, Jr., Commanding Officer.

In his message, Dr. Aprovechar inspires the FRs by citing his experiences in life that bring him to what he is now. He shares that it takes a lot of effort and hard work in order to reach their dreams as long as they do not lose hope, they will surely succeed in life.

Further, he said that education teaches the ability to read and write. It is extremely important for employment and an opportunity to make a decent living. This is due to the skills of a high paying job that Education provides. "Uneducated people are probably at a huge disadvantage when it comes to jobs. It seems that many poor people improve their lives with the help of Education," Aprovechar added.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Molina encouraged the participants to take advantage of the program to be enlightened and equipped for their future. The ALS provides an opportunity for the FRs to develop their knowledge and skills in communication and teaches them the value of education in applying what they've learned when they become reintegrated in mainstream society. (1Lt. Roel T. Maglalang, CMO Officer, 23IB, PA/PIA Agusan del Norte)

“Whole of nation approach” against insurgency gains ground in Region 1

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 24, 2020): “Whole of nation approach” against insurgency gains ground in Region 1 (By Freddie G. Lazaro)

SAN FERNANDO CITY, La Union, Jan. 24 (PIA) - The implementation of the Whole of Nation Approach to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) is gaining ground in Region 1 as many New People’s Army (NPA) rebels are yielding to authorities while government development projects and services continuous to pour in the far-flung communities.

At the end of 2019, a total of 31 NPA rebels who surrendered to government troops in the region, were validated as qualified recipients of the Enhanced Comprehensive Livelihood Integration Program (ECLIP). The ECLIP is one of the 12 lines of efforts (LoEs) or clusters of the Regional Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF– ELCAC).

According to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Region 1, 11 former rebels from La Union (10 rebels) and Ilocos Sur (1 rebel) have received the ECLIP financial assistance amounting to PHP826,000.00 before the end of 2019. The 20 other former rebels will still receive their cash assistance amounting to Php1.3 million this January 2020.

Out of the total ECLIP assistance for the 31 NPA rebel returnees, the reintegration assistance amounting to Php21,000.00 from each rebel recipient shall be deducted from it which will be given to the agencies or units where the rebel surrendered.

Of the number of surrenderees, 18 NPA rebels yielded to authorities in Ilocos Sur; 12 in La Union, and one in Pangasinan.

Colonel Audrey L. Pasia, the commander of the 702nd Infantry Brigade, cited that the whole nation approach on ELCAC as mandated by Executive Order Number 70 had played a big part in the motivation of the 31 NPA rebels in the region to return to the fold of the law.

“This is now the outcome of the collaboration and teamwork of all government agencies as stated in the EO 70. I’m expecting that more NPA rebels operating in the region will be encouraged to surrender this year,” Pasia said.

Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the National Security Adviser and the Cabinet Officer Responsible for Development and Security (CORDS) for Region 1, commended all government agencies for the initial achievement on the implementation of EO 70 in the region.

Secretary Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr., the National Security Adviser and the Cabinet Officer Responsible for Development and Security (CORDS) for Region 1, presides over the 4th Quarter 2019 Joint RDC-RPOC meeting in EM Royale, San Juan, La Union on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Joanne Namnama P. Dilim/PIA1) 

He is hopeful that all provinces in Region 1 will be declared as insurgency- free before the end of the term of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“Region 1 is in a better condition as compared to other regions as there is no major threat from the communist group. However, the region should not be complacent as the region is vulnerable to the influence of the legal fronts of the Communist Terrorist Groups (CTGs), particularly in the dissemination of their propaganda,” Esperon said.

“As we organized ourselves in the 1st Quarter 2019 and established the RTF- ELCAC, we were able to align our efforts to the focused areas in our region. We were able to implement our programs and activities not only to insurgency affected but also to the insurgency-threatened areas, particularly the Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs),” said Esperon.

To institutionalize the implementation of the EO 70 in Region 1, down to the barangay level, 46 local task forces were created which include four provincial task forces, 15 cities/municipal task forces and 27 barangay task forces in Ilocos Sur.

“The RTF1-ELCAC and its 12 LoEs or clusters implemented their plans in 2019 wherein programs, projects and activities in the affected areas and GIDAs were prioritized by various agencies in the region,” Esperon said.

Various infrastructure projects, provision of basic services and livelihood training were also implemented in the identified 11 insurgency-affected villages in Region 1, all located in the province of Ilocos Sur.

As of November 2019, nine of the 11 villages identified as insurgency-affected areas were cleared to be no longer influenced by the NPA rebels.

“Indeed, we can do more as we work together. As we look forward to the years ahead, let us continue this spirit of cooperation between the military forces and civilian government to fight against insurgency and most of all, provide services and good governance to our people,” Esperon concluded. (JCR/FGL-PIA 1)

PNP brings drive vs. crime, drugs, NPA to Samar schools

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): PNP brings drive vs. crime, drugs, NPA to Samar schools (By Roel Amazona)

TAPPING THE YOUTH AS PARTNERS. Students of Calbayog City National High School in Samar join a symposium against crime, drugs, and terrorism organized by the Philippine National Police (PNP) regional mobile force battalion. The strengthened advocacies against illegal drugs and terrorism aim to mobilize and organize the youth sector into a potent force organization and proactive partner of PNP. (PNA photo by Roel Amazona)

CALBAYOG CITY -- The Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Regional Mobile Force Battalion based in Samar brings the campaign against crime, drugs, and terrorism to campuses in the province with large student population.

In Calbayog City National High School, one of the most populated secondary school in Samar Island, some 5,248 students from Grades 8 to 12 have joined the Kabataan Kontra Krimen, Droga at Terorismo (youth against crime, drugs, and terrorism) symposium in five batches since last week until Wednesday.

On January 16, over 4,000 students of Northwest Samar State University attended a similar symposium spearheaded by the PNP Regional Mobile Force Battalion 803rd Maneuver Company based in Samar.

A similar gathering was also held by their company in various schools in Catarman, Northern Samar during the first week of January.

"The symposium is geared towards educating the youth about the ill effects of two major issues our society has today which are illegal drugs and terrorism," said company commander, Capt. Marval Diaz in an interview after the event in this city.

Malvar said the Calbayog City National High School was considered a priority given its large student population, making them a target of criminals, drug traffickers, and recruitment activities of the New People’s Army.

The city is close to the border of Northern Samar, a stronghold of the communist terrorist group.

"We have to tell them that they are the target for NPA recruitment and educate them on the negative effects of illegal drugs. We have to protect them, invest too much for them because they are our country's future," he added.

The campus has around 7,000 students this academic year, said Calick Arrieta, school principal.

The school official thanked the policemen for this initiative as this supports their vision to maintain a drug and crime-free school and shield students from the influence of NPA.

"These topics are so timely and relevant in the sense that our youth of today are facing a dilemma on how they can get away from these temptations," Arrieta said.

The strengthened advocacies relative to anti-illegal drugs and anti-terrorism symposium aims to mobilize and organize the youth sector into a potent force organization and proactive partner of PNP.

The holding of such symposium was first implemented in Region 11 (Davao Region) and was considered the region’s best practice in combating and shielding the youth from illegal drugs and terrorism.

Army exec lauds soldiers injured in southern Negros clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Army exec lauds soldiers injured in southern Negros clash (By Nanette Guadalquiver)

RECOVERED. The items recovered by troops of the Philippine Army’s 15th Infantry Battalion following an encounter with the New People’s Army rebels in Cauayan, Negros Occidental on Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 21, 2020). Two soldiers were injured while a female rebel was believed to have died. (Photo courtesy of Radyo Bandera Sweet FM Kabankalan)

The top Philippine Army official in Negros and Panay has lauded the two soldiers of the 15th Infantry Battalion (15IB) injured in a clash with New People’s Army in Cauayan, Negros Occidental on Tuesday afternoon.

“I commend the dauntless troops of the 15IB, especially those who were wounded and who shed their blood in protecting the people from the menace of the communist-terrorists. Wounds only motivate our soldiers to fight harder against oppressors of the Filipino people,” Brig. Gen. Eric Vinoya, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said in a statement on Wednesday.

A police report identified those injured as 2Lt. Elnard Alde, leader of Scout Platoon, and Pfc. Celmer Lampa, who sustained only minor injuries.

The troops encountered some 15 rebels believed to belong to the NPA’s Southwest Negros Front in Sitio Pinamay-an, Barangay Camalandaan around 2:20 p.m. on Tuesday.

A female rebel was believed to have died during the encounter, based on accounts of civilian witnesses.
Soldiers recovered four rifle grenades as well as two backpacks, personal belongings, including clothes, toiletries, and other items.
Vinoya, who also heads the anti-insurgency unit Joint Task Force-Negros, said the Army will continue to fulfill the desire of Negrenses for an insurgency-free Negros as he renewed his order to the troops to be relentless in hunting down the communist-terrorists.

He acknowledged the overwhelming support of the people of Cauayan to the anti-insurgency campaign by providing the troops vital information on the whereabouts of the enemy.

“This has boosted our relentless combat operations against these anti-people, anti-peace, and anti-progress communist-terrorists,” he added.

Soldier slain, another injured in NoCot ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Soldier slain, another injured in NoCot ambush (By Edwin Fernandez)

Google map of Midsayap town, North Cotabato.

MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato -- Military and police authorities here and in neighboring Maguindanao province are in pursuit of motorcycle riding-in-tandem who ambushed and killed a soldier and wounded another on Wednesday.
Lt. Col. John Miridel Calinga, Midsayap town police chief, identified the victims as Cpl. Earl Tabaranza, 31, and Pfc. Meljay Bernal, 30, both members of the Army’s 34th Infantry Battalion (34IB).

Bernal died while being treated in a hospital two hours after they were ambushed at 11 a.m. along the national highway in Barangay Central Glad, about five kilometers from the town center, police said.

"He (Bernal) succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds in the body,” Calinga said in an interview by reporters here.

Tabaranza, meanwhile, remains in critical condition at a local hospital as of posting time.

Col. Glenn Caballero, 34IB commander, said the soldiers were on board a motorcycle heading to the town proper when two gunmen aboard another motorbike opened fire on them.

The victims, who were in civilian clothing, fell from their motorbike on the roadside as the suspects sped off.

Police crime scene investigators found four .45-caliber empty shells at the ambush site.

Army and police intelligence officials are looking at the Islamic State-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) as possible perpetrators, pointing out that the 34IB was instrumental in the neutralization of several BIFF radicals in recent months.

Think of your children’s future, PRRD to Reds

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Think of your children’s future, PRRD to Reds

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PPD File photo)

SAN ISIDRO, Leyte – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Thursday called on communists to consider the future of their children and finally put an end to the decades-long armed rebellion in the country.

"Let's stop the armed conflict. Have mercy on your children," Duterte said, as he addressed active members of the New People's Army (NPA) during the distribution of government assistance packages to at least 33 former NPA rebels and 229 Militia ng Bayan members here.

Ending the cycle of violence

Duterte said the generational cycle of violence perpetrated by the communist terrorist group must come to an end.

The country’s youth, he said, must be educated in order to protect from the influence of the communists, who use armed violence to promote their outdated cause.

"What's important is for your children to have a quality education," he added.

He said the government is ready to help members of the communist group reintegrate themselves into mainstream society through programs under Executive Order 70 which institutionalized a “Whole-Of-Nation” approach.

"We cannot solve the problem of the Philippines by revolution. It has to be by evolution," Duterte he said. "My brothers and sisters in the NPA, our country could have been highly developed if not because of your violence.”

Duterte noted that through Executive Order 70 that created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the administration is carrying out initiatives to directly address the roots of the insurgency in the country.

Land reform: Key to ending rebellion

As part of its efforts to push forward the peace process with the rebels, Duterte vowed to distribute public lands to Filipinos in the countryside, especially to farmers.

"I will continue to distribute lands to you Filipinos," he said, adding that the government is doing everything to help uplift the economic well-being of the people.

The government is determined to implement its land reform program throughout the country, he added.

Duterte said under his administration, the government has already distributed at least 140,000 hectares through its land reform program. He directed Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary John R. Castriciones to expedite the processing of lands for the returning rebels.

Testimonials of ex-rebels
Among the rebel returnees who have benefited from the government's interventions is Rochelle Etol, 52, who was an NPA cadre for 30 years.

Etol said he was finally convinced to surrender when one of the rebel group’s top leaders who was captured by government forces was given socio-economic projects.

"Let's not waste the government's help to us,” he said in the vernacular, as he urged his former comrades to give up armed struggle.

Another returnee whose life has turned around for the better is Librado Bongato, 60. He joined the insurgency movement in 1983.

"I have been fighting the government since Marco's time. It's only now that I decided to surrender under the administration of Duterte because of the government’s sincerity," Bongato said.

He said the difficult conditions in the mountains made him decide to return to the folds of the law and start a new life with his family.

"I am old. We are hungry. We did not have enough sleep. The military’s continuing operations took a toll on us," he said.

He said he never felt threatened when he peacefully turned himself to authorities.

"I am glad about how the military has accepted me," he said, adding that the great sense of professionalism displayed by members of the armed forces and the sincerity showed by President Duterte has been instrumental in the reformation process of former rebels like him.

"We feel we have a father," he added.

The 262 former rebels received a total of P11, 905-million immediate cash assistance from the government under various programs such as Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

This is on top of the P5, 000 and cellular phone that will be given each to the former rebel from the Office of the President.

Another P5-million was also provided to the local government unit for the construction of a halfway house for the former rebels.

A total of 52.2 hectares of land was also distributed to the former rebels.

Addressing the roots of the insurgency

Meanwhile, Leyte Governor Dominico Petilla said the government has been working hard to address poverty in the province, which he described as the "root cause" of the communist insurgency in the area.

"To the NPA members, you have been with the communist movement for years, so how are your living conditions? I doubt, it is still the same -- poor," Petilla said.

He said the provincial government is implementing "Leyte economics" which involves not only providing livelihood assistance, but also health and education programs to the former rebels.

"Ngayon, malaki itong tulong sa Province of Leyte kaya malaki ang pasalamat ko kay President Duterte na gumawa siya ng EO 70 para ang local government, kasama ang mga mayors at mga barangay officials nagsanib pwersa na sa national government, (Now this is a big help to the Province of Leyte. We are thankful to President Duterte for EO 70. The local government and barangay officials have joined forces with the national government)," Petilla said.

"Lahat na mga ahensya sa national government andito na para tumulong (All government agencies are here to help)," he told the surrenderers.

"Let me remind you that we are in the business of building a better nation. And also, do not forget that the greatest resource of our country walang iba kundi ang ating mga katauhan, our people,” Petilla added. “So let us build on our people. Let us take the people out of poverty, God-loving people, people loving people, and nation loving people -- that's what makes our country great.”

EO 70 gains traction

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez said the success being experienced in the province of Leyte in addressing the communist rarmed conflict shows that EO 70 works and is the best strategy of the government in fighting the five decades-long conflict.

"The implementation of EO 70 is a major component of the peace process, and is designed to end the influence of the communist rebels in the country," Galvez said.

He added that through localized peace engagements being conducted under the Whole-Of-Nation approach, the communist movement is fast losing ground following the mass surrender of members Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, New People's Army (NPA).

Accompanying President Duterte during the event were Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Interior Government Secretary Eduardo Año, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, DAR Secretary John Castriciones, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario, and Peace Adviser, Secretary Carlito G Galvez Jr. (OPAPP)

Duterte rejects Trump’s invite; wants VFA scrapped

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Duterte rejects Trump’s invite; wants VFA scrapped (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

President Rodrigo Duterte (Presidential Photo)

President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected United States (US) President Donald Trump’s invitation to attend the Southeast Asian leaders’ summit in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 4, Malacañang announced on Friday.

The cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s US visa prompted the President to refuse to fly to Washington this coming March, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told Palace reporters.

“What he said is he’s not going,”
he said in a chance interview.

“(The President rejected the invitation due to) many reasons which I’ve already stated earlier and the other reason was the cancellation of Senator Bato’s visa. That added to the other factors,”
he added.

This developed a day after Panelo said Duterte was “pondering over” Trump’s invitation to attend a summit between the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Las Vegas.

Panelo on Thursday said the President was likely possible to visit the US since the invitation was meant to bolster ties between the Asean and the US.

But in his latest interview, Panelo said Duterte changed his mind, as he was piqued by the “demand” of the US Senate to release Senator Leila de Lima.

He said the Chief Executive would not allow American lawmakers to “bully” the Philippine government.

“Syempre ayaw niya (Of course, he doesn’t want it). For one, as we said earlier, the demand of the US senators to release Ms. de Lima is an intrusion into our sovereign rights as a state because they cannot dictate on us or bully us into releasing a citizen of this country who is lawfully detained,” he said.

Panelo was referring to the move of US Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy to introduce an amendment to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Section of the US budget program.

A provision of the US 2020 budget earlier signed by Trump, titled “Prohibition of Entry,” gives US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the authority to prevent Philippine officials involved in de Lima’s detention from entering the United States.

De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017 following her alleged role in the rampant narcotics trade inside the national penitentiary during his stint as Justice secretary.

VFA termination being processed

Panelo, meanwhile, said the President has ordered the “Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) committee” to “start the process of terminating” the pact between US and Philippine troops.

“Tinanong ko siya kagabi (I asked the President last night), ‘When will the process start?’ (He said), ‘Tonight,’” he said.

“I will leave it to Secretary Locsin. The process of starting (revocation of VFA) it has commenced,” the Palace official added.

The VFA committee is chaired by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and vice-chaired by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Following the rift between the Duterte government and American senators, the President on Thursday warned that he would terminate the VFA with the US, unless Washington “corrects” the cancellation of dela Rosa’s visa in one month.

The President made the threat in a speech delivered in San Isidro, Leyte, a day after dela Rosa announced that the US canceled his visa.

“Unya karon si Bato di nila paadtuon sa America. (Now they won’t let Bato go to America) That’s… I’m warning you. This is the first time. ‘Pag hindi ninyo ginawa ang correction diyan (If you do not make any correction), one, I will terminate the Bases Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said.

“I’m giving notice and they begin to count. I’m giving government and the American government one month from now, mag-istorya mi, pahawaon nako sila sa ilang Visiting Forces Agreement (for us to talk. I will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement),” Duterte added.

Manila and Washington signed in 1998 the VFA, which gives clear instructions on how visiting American troops should be treated in the Philippines.

Under the agreement, US forces are not subject to passport and visa regulations when entering and leaving the Philippines. Their permits and licenses are also deemed valid in the Philippines.

The US also has jurisdiction over its military personnel when they commit crimes in the Philippines, unless these are punishable in Manila.

The VFA can be terminated by writing to the other party about their desire to scrap the deal.

Esperon urges LGUs to pursue localized peace talks

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23, 2020): Esperon urges LGUs to pursue localized peace talks (By Sarwell Meniano)

ANTI-INSURGENCY MEETING. Key officials listen to question from the media during a meeting on Thursday (Jan. 23, 2020) that tackled efforts to end local communist insurgency in Eastern Visayas at the Department of the Interior and Local Government regional office in Tacloban City. In photo (from left to right) are Philippine Army 8th Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. Pio Diñoso III, Northern Samar Governor Edwin Oncgchuan, Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. (PNA photo by Sarwell Meniano)

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has urged local government units (LGUs) to pursue community consultation and localized peace talks as a strategy to end the decades-long insurgency in their provinces.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with officials of the Eastern Visayas regional task force on ending the local communist insurgency on Thursday, Esperon said localized peace talks have been yielding good results in several provinces.

“There may not be a need anymore for national peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front since we are doing it at the local level. The results are simply coming in faster than the national peace talks,” Esperon said during a press briefing at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) regional office here.

Consultations and localized peace talks have been yielding results in Leyte, Panay, Negros, Surigao, Agusan, Davao, Zamboanga, and Bukidnon.

This development would not happen if done at the national level since there are many conditions set by the NPA leadership, whose ultimate goal is to establish a coalition government, according to Esperon.

“They have been demanding socio-economic reforms at the national level, which have been implemented by local government units. We can go local and talk among ourselves to understand each other better,” he added.

In Leyte alone, 262 former New People’s Army fighters and die-hard supporters surrendered to the local government last year through localized peace talks.

As of this posting, former rebels are set to receive PHP6.25-million assistance from the central government and PHP2.69 from the provincial government. President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to arrive Thursday afternoon to lead distribution in San Isidro, Leyte.

Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone, the chair of the Eastern Visayas regional peace and order council, has expressed support to community dialogue and localized talks saying these are “viable approaches.”

“We believe that these approaches will contribute to ensuring peace and development in our province,” Evardone said.

Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Pio Diñoso III said there are ongoing local peace talks in Samar provinces after some rebels expressed their intention to surrender.

“Some local leaders are willing to talk to the government and help in our campaign to capture remaining fighters,” Diñoso added.

The NPA, which has been waging a five-decade armed struggle against the government, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

As of October 2019, the NPA in Eastern Visayas has 506 active members and 447 firearms, infiltrating the region's 144 remote villages, the Philippine Army reported.

Army chief confident of meeting ELCAC deadline

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23, 2020): Army chief confident of meeting ELCAC deadline (By Mary Judaline Partlow)

FIGHTING INSURGENCY. Maj. Miguel Andeza, OIC operations officer of the Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office, Col. Noel Baluyan, commander, 302nd Brigade of the Philippine Army, and Lt. Col. Randy Pagunuran, commander of the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (from left to right), are shown during the "Kapihan sa PIA forum" in Dumaguete City on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Baluyan said he is optimistic that the Negros Oriental Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NOTF-ELCAC) will be able to achieve its goals on or before the deadline set by President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo by Judy Flores Partlow)

The commander of the Philippine Army's 302nd Infantry Brigade is optimistic that the Negros Oriental Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NOTF-ELCAC) will achieve its goals on or before the deadline set by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Speaking at a "Kapihan sa PIA forum" Wednesday at a local hotel here, Col. Noel Baluyan said under the President’s Whole-of-Nation Approach under Executive Order No. 70, the NOTF-ELCAC has so far initially reported gains through the recent "Dagyawan: Talakayan sa Mamamayan" where issues and concerns in the conflict-affected villages were discussed and submitted to the different government agencies for immediate action.

He said at the regional level of the TF-ELCAC, all its resources, focus, and efforts are poured in Negros Oriental, considering that it is the only province in Central Visayas that is facing the insurgency problem.

Baluyan admitted, however, that a vacuum was felt following the pull-out of military troops from Negros Oriental for deployment to Mindanao.

The province of Negros Oriental was declared "conflict manageable and development ready" in 2014 by the military and police.

“This time, we have told higher headquarters that once an area has been cleared. ‘Hawakan na natin’ (Let us take hold of it) to prevent the insurgency problem to re-surface,” Baluyan said.

While it is difficult as yet to give a total assessment of the gains of the NOTF-ELCAC because of its continuing efforts, the Army commander said the insurgency problem is at a manageable level in the second and third districts of Negros Oriental.

It is in the 1st district of the province that the problem posed by the Communist New People’s Army continues to be a “concern”, he said, but with reassurances that the military and the police are pursuing the insurgents.

The recent encounters in Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental show that the government’s ELCAC program is gaining ground, Baluyan said.

The efforts should be island-wide and not “kanya-kanya” (to each his own), referring to collaboration and coordination between the two Negros provinces that share a common boundary, he added.

“I don’t see any reason why we cannot achieve the end goal of EO 70 as we are seeing a positive response already to the TF ELCAC’s efforts at this time,” he said.

After the first round of the NOTF-ELCAC’s Dagyawan in the 16 villages identified as affected by the communist insurgency, Baluyan said additional barangays are recommended for inclusion on the list although it is up to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency to make the final recommendation.

Army officer killed in clash with Reds in CamNorte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23, 2020): Army officer killed in clash with Reds in CamNorte (By Mar Serrano)

The 9th Infantry Division headquarters in Pili, Camarines Sur (Photo courtesy of 9ID, Philippine Army)

A Philippine Army officer was killed on Wednesday in a clash between soldiers and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in a remote village in Labo, Camarines Norte, a military official said.

Maj. Gerjim Dimalibot, officer-in-charge of the 9th Infantry Division public affairs office, identified the slain soldier as 2nd Lt. Jose Henry Nopueto Jr., 28, of Zamboanga Sibugay province and assigned at the 96th Infantry Battalion operating in the said province.

"The family of 2nd Lt. Nopueto Jr. was already informed," he added.

Dimalibot said elements of 96th Infantry Battalion (96IB) and 2nd Provincial Mobile Force Company (2PMFC) of the Camarines Norte Police Provincial Office were conducting combat operations in Barangay Malaya when they engaged a group of rebels in a firefight.

He said the exchange of gunfire lasted for about 30 minutes, resulting in the death of Nopueto. Bloodstains along the terrorist group's withdrawal route indicate that the rebels also sustained casualties.

Military intelligence report showed the rebels belonged to the same group that was encountered by government troops in Barangay Submakin also in Labo town a few days ago where a communist terrorist group leader, Marlon Asis alias "Pots" was killed and several high-powered firearms were seized.

Maj. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, 9ID commander and leader of the Joint Task Force Bicolandia (JTFB), in an interview, assured the public of the military's intensified security operations to hunt down the fleeing armed insurgents.

"JTFB is not putting its guard down as it continues to implement full military force against the NPA rebels," he said.

The task force reiterated its call to the members of the NPA to return to the fold of the law and avail of the various programs of the government while living a peaceful life with their loved ones.

AFP resets timeline to dismantle Abu Sayyaf Group

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23, 2020): AFP resets timeline to dismantle Abu Sayyaf Group (By Teofilo Garcia, Jr.)

RESET. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has reset to March 31 this year the timeline to dismantle the Abu Sayyaf Group. Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Western Mindanao Command chief (center), vows to deploy more troops to pursue the ASG bandits. Photo shows Sobejana visiting the troops in Marawi City on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Westmincom Public Information Office)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has reset the timeline of its campaign to dismantle the terrorists Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an official said.

Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said Thursday the new target date to dismantle the ASG has been reset to March 31, this year, from December 31, 2019.

Sobejana said the ASG has been "significantly decimated" in terms of firepower and manpower although they were not able to meet the December 31 deadline in completely dismantling the terrorist group.

Maj. Arvin John Encinas, Westmincom spokesperson, said the estimated strength of the ASG bandits is around 300 in the areas of Basilan and Sulu.

Sobejana expressed confidence they can meet the new deadline in dismantling the ASG since the bandit group has already lost mass-based support.

Sobejana said the residents realized that the campaign of the government is geared towards peace and development that is why they shifted their support to the troops.

“The challenge before was that the Abu Sayyaf was popular with their Robin Hood-style of sharing the bounty they get out of the ransom being paid,” he said.

Sobejana said they have deployed more troops to Sulu “without necessarily leaving vacuums in other areas of Westmincom.”

“There is a readjustment in our campaign plan,” the Westmincom chief said, without elaborating further.

In the fight against the Abu Sayyaf, he said the military is engaging the participation of other stakeholders “in our peace and security efforts to make the Executive Oder 70 works.”

President Rodrigo Duterte issued EO 70 in 2018, institutionalizing the "whole-of-nation" approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a national task force to end local communist armed conflict, and directing the adoption of a national peace framework.

700 new volunteers join Zambo Salaam police force

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23, 2020): 700 new volunteers join Zambo Salaam police force (By Teofilo Garcia, Jr.)

FORCE MULTIPLIERS. Maj. Karib Muharra, chief of the Salaan Police Center in Zamboanga, administers the oath of the new members during the 10th General Assembly of the Salaam Police Force Multipliers on Saturday (Jan. 18, 2020). The 700 volunteers are expected to boost the police force in the Zamboanga Peninsula. (Photo courtesy of Police Regional Office-9 Public Information Office)

The Philippine National Police (PNP) got a boost in terms of strength in its anti-terror campaign as 700 volunteers have joined as new members of the Salaam Police Force Multipliers.

Brig. Gen. Froilan Quidilla, Police Regional Office (PRO) 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula) director, said Thursday the existing strength of the Salaam Police Force Multipliers has increased to 6,700 with the entry of the 700 new volunteers.

Maj. Karib Muharram, chief of Salaam Police Center, and Imam Solem Hamid, Salaam Police Force Multipliers regional president, officiated the oath-taking of the 700 new volunteers last Saturday, which coincided with the 10th General Assembly of the Salaam Police Force-9 in Sitio Mulu-Muluan, Barangay Mercedes here.

Muharram said PRO-9 continues to organize Salaam volunteers as they recognize the significant contributions of the volunteers to the PNP, particularly in preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism, crime monitoring, and crime reporting.

He said the Salaam Police Force Multipliers has been a partner of the PRO-9 in maintaining peace and order in the region.

Israel, PH armies eye stronger ties to combat terrorism

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23, 2020): Israel, PH armies eye stronger ties to combat terrorism (By Priam Nepomuceno)

BOOSTING ANTI-TERROR COOPERATION. Col. Shimon Edri, Israeli defense attaché to the Philippines, and Army commander, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay exchange pleasantries during the former’s visit to the Philippine Army headquarters on Wednesday (Jan. 22, 2020). Edri and Gapay discussed future plans on exchange trainings between the two armies to strengthen their capabilities.

The Philippines and Israel vowed to boost cooperation in terms of curbing terrorism.

This came after Israeli defense attaché to the Philippines, Col. Shimon Edri paid a visit to Philippine Army (PA) commander, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay Wednesday.

Edri and Gapay discussed both armies’ future plans on exchange trainings to strengthen their capabilities.

They also talked about PA’s plans of conducting a longer training period as well as coming up with an army-to-army working group in order to further capacitate the force in addressing terrorism, PA spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

“Marawi is a major challenge for the Philippine Army to build its forces. [It] is a huge experience, but the main issue here is, not [to again face] another situation,” Edri, who also looks forward in sharing and gaining knowledge as well as techniques in countering terrorism threats, said.

The two officials also talked about PA’s equipment acquisition and transfer to be utilized in future exchange trainings.

Edri also assured to bring the right people to train PA troops.

“It is also the direction of the Army to really invest in these things and activities. Prospects are very bright for our army-to-army cooperation,” Gapay said.

Air Force troops build temporary latrines for Taal evacuees

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23, 2020): Air Force troops build temporary latrines for Taal evacuees (By Priam Nepomuceno)

ENSURING SANITATION. Troops from the Philippine Air Force's 355th Aviation Engineer Wing build latrines for evacuees in Sto. Tomas Batangas on Jan. 19, 2020. These temporary latrines will be replicated in other evacuation centers to help ensure sanitation. (Photo courtesy of Air Force Public Affairs Office)

The Philippine Air Force (PAF), through its 355th Aviation Engineer Wing (355th AEW), has started the construction of temporary latrines for the evacuees in Batangas displaced by the eruption of Taal Volcano last January 12, a spokesperson said Thursday.

In a statement, Maj. Aristides Galang said the contingent from the 355th AEW deployed at the Fernando Air Base in Lipa City moved to Sto. Tomas town on January 19 to construct temporary latrines in the main evacuation center of the municipality.

The 355th AEW was deployed upon the instruction of ranking government and military officials who requested these sanitation facilities for the evacuees.

The construction of the temporary latrines is expected to be completed by Friday.

Galang said the plans and programs branch of 355th AEW formulated the design of the latrines.

He added that these simple, easy to build, inexpensive and environment-friendly temporary latrines will be replicated in other evacuation centers as ordered by Joint Task Group Taal once the project in Sto. Tomas is completed.

Binag named new PNP directorial staff chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23, 2020): Binag named new PNP directorial staff chief (By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)

NEW DIRECTORIAL STAFF CHIEF. PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa (center) appoints Maj. Gen. Cesar Hawthorne Binag as the new Chief of the Directorial Staff in a press briefing in Camp Crame on Thursday (Jan. 23, 2020). As chief of the directorial staff, Binag will supervise and synchronize the functions of the PNP's directorial staff offices in support of the operations of the police regional offices and national support units. (PNA photo by Lloyd Caliwan)

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Gen. Archie Gamboa on Thursday named Maj. Gen. Cesar Hawthorne Binag as the new Chief of the Directorial Staff, the police force's fourth-highest post.

Binag, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Hinirang Class of 1987, replaced Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, who was promoted to the PNP's third top spot as deputy chief for operations (DCO).

He is formerly the chief of the Directorate for Information and Communication Technology Management (DICTM), the implementing unit of the SMART Policing Program which is included in the police force’s six-year Digital Transformation Roadmap.

“As TCDS (The Chief of Directorial Staff), he will supervise and synchronize the functions of the PNP Directorial Staff Offices in support of the operations of the Police Regional Offices and National Support Units. Compared to a corporate structure, the Chief PNP is the president and CEO (chief executive officer); the DCA (deputy chief for administration) and DCO are the SVPs/CFO (senior vice presidents/chief financial officer) and COO (chief operating officer), respectively, while the TCDS is the General Manager,” Gamboa said in a press briefing in Camp Crame.

Binag also served as regional director of the Police Regional Office 6 (Western Visayas), deputy police commissioner of the United Nations Mission in Liberia and senior executive assistant at the Office of the Chief PNP.

Gamboa said Brig. Gen. Dionardo Carlos will replace Binag as DICTM chief while Brig. Gen. Eliseo Cruz was promoted from deputy director to director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

Col. Rhoderick Armamento, current deputy regional director for operations of the Police Regional Office 3 (Central Luzon), will take over as CIDG's acting deputy director.

“I am expecting the Senior Officers Placement and Promotion Board (SOPPB) to submit further recommendations for the series of projected reorganization of PNP officials to key positions in different levels of the organization in anticipation of the retirement of some senior officers in the coming months,” Gamboa said.

Gamboa said the latest round of reorganization is part of the continuing reform in the command structure of the police force. (