Friday, January 24, 2020

MILF leader, wife, two others nabbed in Cotabato City drug sting

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 23, 2020): MILF leader, wife, two others nabbed in Cotabato City drug sting (By Chito Chavez)

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said Thursday that a platoon leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), his wife, and two other female cohorts were arrested in a buy-bust operation in Cotabato City on Wednesday (Jan. 22) where P3.4 million worth of shabu (crystal meth) was also seized.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron N. Aquino (KEVIN TRISTAN ESPIRITU / MANILA BULLETIN)

PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino identified the suspects as Johare Adam Talib, alias Alex/Sare, platoon leader of MILF 105th Base Command and his wife, Rahma Kalibu Talib, alias Bai Rakma/Machulig; and the two female cohorts, Kandong Pait and Norma Panes.

The suspects were apprehended at around 4:35 p.m. by joint elements of PDEA Regional Office BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) under the supervision of Director Juvenal B. Azurin, PDEA Regional Office XII, and local police at the vicinity of Cotabato City Plaza on Makakua Street.

Talib’s two children, aged four and two. who were with them in the multi-cab van during the buy-bust operation were turned over to the City Social Welfare and Development Office.

The arresting team also confiscated from the suspects a sando bag containing 10 pieces of heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets containing suspected shabu weighing more or less 500 grams, one green tactical bag containing one mobile phone, Talib’s passport, six identification cards, the multi-cab van, and the buy-bust money.

The suspects will be charged for violating Section 5 (Sale of Dangerous Drugs), Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Kidnappings at Sea by Abu Sayyaf Militants Persist Despite Trilateral Patrols

From BenarNews (Jan 22, 2020): Kidnappings at Sea by Abu Sayyaf Militants Persist Despite Trilateral Patrols (By BenarNews Staff)

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (left), then-Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (second from right), and then-Indonesian military chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo (third from right) inspect a map after a signing ceremony for trilateral maritime patrols, in North Kalimantan, Indonesia, June 19, 2017. Handout/Indonesian National Armed Forces/AFP

Kidnappings in Malaysian waters bordering Indonesia and the Philippines – largely blamed on Abu Sayyaf militants – are still happening despite joint air and sea patrols launched in 2017, a Filipino military official conceded Wednesday, saying it remains a challenge to secure the local seas because of their sheer size.

While the Trilateral Maritime Patrols (TMP) launched in 2017 have had some effect in combating the threat, the region is lawless as pirates and militants reign with impunity, said Maj. Arvin Encinas, spokesman for the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command.

“We have our ongoing operation right now. We cannot just do it alone – it’s coordinated with our counterparts,” Encinas told BenarNews. “It’s effective, but it’s not enough since the area we cover is too big.”

His counterparts in Indonesia and Malaysia offered similar comments.

They spoke about strengthening patrols to protect civilians, less than a week after suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen abducted five Indonesian fishermen from a fishing boat in Malaysian waters in eastern Sabah state, close to Tawi-Tawi province in the southern Philippines.

A spokesman for the Indonesian military (TNI) said the countries were hampered by boundaries.

“The kidnappings happened in Malaysia, so we couldn’t do anything. Malaysia is responsible there,” TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Sisriadi told BenarNews.

“We cannot go there because it is Malaysian territory. We must respect the sovereignty of each country,” said Sisriadi who goes by one name.

Indonesian Security Minister Mahfud MD said he planned to discuss maritime security concerns with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, adding there was a reason for why the kidnappings were still happening.

“Because Abu Sayyaf has not died,” he told reporters.

He also planned to speak to Malaysian officials about Indonesians being taken hostage in Malaysian waters.

“We have many thoughts. We managed to free three hostages and, suddenly, they took five more. Since when do we lose to pirates,” he asked.

Philippine troops on Jan. 15 rescued the last of three Indonesians who were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants in September, about a month after his two compatriots were rescued. A day later, the five fishermen were taken hostage.

Hazani Ghazali, commander of Malaysia’s Eastern Sabah Security Command, which oversees the waters where the five fishermen were kidnapped, had little to say but confirmed that the joint patrols were operating under the trilateral agreement signed in 2017. The maritime patrols began in June that year and air patrols began four months later.

“So far, the Philippines Armed Forces is giving us full support and cooperation,” Hazani told BenarNews before ending the conversation.

After the air patrols were launched in October 2017, there was a long lull in maritime kidnappings off Sabah, but at least five separate incidents of abductions from boats and ships sailing in area waters have been reported since September 2018.

Public engagement

Along with the patrols, Philippine officials are targeting advocacy and public engagement efforts at residents who live near Abu Sayyaf militant camps.

There has been “a relentless advocacy campaign conducted on residents of remote areas about the terrorists’ threats,” Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told BenarNews.

Sobejana, the commander of the Philippine Army’s Western Mindanao Command, said he had ordered his officers to dismantle Abu Sayyaf.

“They were a bit popular before with their Robin Hood-style of sharing the bounty that they get out of the ransom being paid. They got the support of the locals,” Sobejana said of Abu Sayyaf. “Now, they don’t have any kidnap victims except the latest ones.”

As for the five fishermen captured last week, Charles Honoris, a lawmaker with Indonesia’s ruling Democratic Party of Struggle, called on the government to make every effort to free them.

“Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have signed a trilateral agreement related to securing territorial waters in the region,” he said, adding that fishermen and others remained vulnerable because the agreement had not been fully implemented.

“The government must urge Malaysia and the Philippines to carry out security cooperation that has been agreed upon. Cooperation can also include the placement of sea marshals or armed personnel on ships that pass through vulnerable lanes,” Honoris said.

Analysts’ concerns
Ramli Dollah, a security analyst at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, said kidnappings were lucrative and would go on as long as issues in the region were not resolved, especially in the nearby southern Philippines where Abu Sayyaf is entrenched.

Those issues led the nations to establish the trilateral agreement, he said.

“However, such cooperation is not a guarantee in dealing with such threats,” Ramli told BenarNews.

“The situation becomes increasingly difficult as geographical factors, especially the proximity of the Philippines and Malaysia, facilitate the activity and make it difficult for the authorities to deal with the issue,” he said, adding that trilateral cooperation could reduce but not eliminate the threat.

Because of this, it is unfair to blame weaknesses in any specific country in dealing with the cross-border security threat, he said.

Deka Anwar, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in Jakarta, said the trilateral patrols could be effective in intercepting pro-Islamic State fighters returning to Southeast Asia from the Middle East.

He does not think patrols can be as effective against kidnappers linked with Abu Sayyaf and other groups.

“It’s critical to try and understand why these kidnappings at sea started, stopped and resumed. It almost certainly had little to do with the TMP,” he told BenarNews, referring to the agreement on joint patrols.

“Anyone watching the Philippines should understand that as commanders are killed, their sons, brothers and nephews sooner or later will take their place, motivated by vengeance as much as profit,” he said.

[Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Cotabato City, Philippines, Tia Asmara in Jakarta, and Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.]

Kalinaw News: Army appeals for unity amidst protest during relief operations

Posted to Kalinaw News (Jan 24, 2020): Army appeals for unity amidst protest during relief operations (By Philippine Army)

FORT BONIFACIO, Metro Manila – The troops of the Civil Military Operations Regiment (CMOR) were met with protesters as they were entering the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Sta. Mesa, Manila, on Thursday, January 23, 2020, to pick-up relief goods for Taal evacuees.

The rally was dispersed by the security personnel of the university. The troops were able to haul the goods and had it delivered on the same day in PUP Maragondon, Cavite and Maragondon Municipal Hall.

“We appeal to the protestors to set aside political differences as we endeavor to provide immediate assistance to the affected families. We assure everyone that despite such incidents we will not be distracted from our mission to hastily bring this much needed relief to our people,” said Lt. Col. Ramon P. Zagala, Army spokesperson.

[Kalinaw News is the official online source of information on the pursuit for peace in the Philippines This website is a property of the Civil-Military Operations Regiment, Philippine Army located at Lawton Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Contact us:]

Kalinaw News: Well-accomplished General to Assume Eastmincom Leadership

Posted to Kalinaw News (Jan 24, 2020): Well-accomplished General to Assume Eastmincom Leadership (By Eastern Mindanao Command)

NSFA, Panacan, Davao City – A well-accomplished military General will assume as the 12th Commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) in a Change of Command Ceremony that will be presided by the Chief of Staff, Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP), Gen. Felimon T. Santos Jr. in the morning of January 25, 2020, here.

MGen. Jose C. Faustino Jr., the current Commander of the 10th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, is expected to assume the Command from BGen. Alfredo V. Rosario who is currently designated as Acting Commander when Gen. Santos Jr. was appointed as AFP Chief of Staff on January 4, 2020.

At the helm of the 10th Infantry Division (ID), MGen. Faustino made strides in the conduct of focus military operations which resulted in the dismantling of various New People’s Army formations and their shadow government in the different communities in Region XI and XII.

He was also at the forefront of pushing the “whole-of-nation approach” to end local communist armed conflict in the said regions and fully supported the localized engagement framework being initiated by the different Local Government Units (LGUs) in his Area of Responsibility. This pushed further 10th ID’s peace gains, leading to the betterment of the security landscape in the region.

Likewise, MGen. Faustino is adept in a wide range of peace and security programs not only in Mindanao but in the whole country, having been assigned in the different units of AFP in various capacities.

He once headed the 11th Intelligence Service Unit based in Davao City and fought terrorists in Western Mindanao when he led the 35th Infantry Battalion, and subsequently the 501st Infantry Brigade as Brigade Commander.

Furthermore, after his graduation in the Philippine Military Academy in 1988, MGen. Faustino spent his junior years with the First Scout Ranger Regiment, an elite unit of the Philippine Army deployed in various conflict-affected areas in the country.

His experiences and mentorship skills were also shared in molding future leaders and soldiers of the AFP when he was assigned as Tactical Officer and later on as Commandant of Cadets of the Philippine Military Academy.

He likewise overseer the Philippine Army soldiers training when he was assigned as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Training of the Headquarters Philippine Army.

Aside from his experience, MGen. Faustino is also equipped with knowledge and skills gained from his schooling both local and abroad.

[Kalinaw News is the official online source of information on the pursuit for peace in the Philippines This website is a property of the Civil-Military Operations Regiment, Philippine Army located at Lawton Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Contact us:]

Duterte: 'Let time heal' West Philippine Sea dispute with China

From Rappler (Jan 24, 2020): Duterte: 'Let time heal' West Philippine Sea dispute with China (By Sofia Tomacruz)

'We might as well just be friendly, improve our commerce, and let time heal,' says President Rodrigo Duterte as he again shuns the option of asserting the Philippines' rights

COMMANDER IN CHIEF. President Rodrigo Duterte salutes officers of the Philippine Navy at the Port Area in Manila on January 14, 2020. File photo from Malacañang

Downplaying the likelihood of the Philippines asserting its rights in the West Philippine Sea during this administration, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would instead leave it up to time and economic cooperation when dealing with China's expansive claims in the maritime area.

"We might as well just be friendly, improve our commerce, and let time heal. Tomorrow will take care of itself, (that's) one thing for sure and like any other historical claim, the world is always changing and we did not really do it at the expense of the lives of Filipinos," Duterte said in an interview with Russian news outlet RT News that aired on Friday, January 24.

Before making the statement, Duterte again refused to take an aggressive stand similar to other Southeast Asian countires such as Vietnam when asserting the country's rights in the West Philippine Sea.

Like the Philippines, Vietnam is a claimant state in the South China Sea and actively defends its waters against China's aggressive tactics to claim the entire maritime area. 

(READ: [ANALYSIS] Will Vietnam take China to court?)

In declining to take a similar approach to Vietnam, Duterte stuck to the line that asserting the Philippines' rights in the West Philippine Sea would only make China declare war. It's a false option that experts such as retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio – a staunch defender of the West Philippine Sea – have refuted, saying Duterte's insistence on such is a "hollow attempt to scare our people into submission to China."

Carpio, who played a pivotal role in securing the Philippines' victory against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, earlier said Duterte's projection of war "shows a dismal lack of understanding of international law and international relations."

The Philippines and China have engaged in talks on the sea dispute since May 2017, though critics and maritime experts have pointed out that these have not stopped China's militarization in the South China Sea; the buildup of artificial islands in Philippine waters; and aggressive tactics against fishermen, among others.

Duterte has likewise been criticized for downplaying the Philippines' decades-long sea dispute in exchange for loans and grants from Beijing.

Seeking new friends. Duterte was also asked why he sought for a change in the Philippines' foreign policy characterized by turning away from traditional allies such as the United States to countries like Russia and China instead.

Duterte said there was nothing to it except that Russia and China "respected" other countries' sovereignty. He placed the two countries against the US, whom he believed still viewed the Philippines as a vassal state.

"If I cannot get a credible posture from the Americans, I can get it from the Russians and the Chinese government. It's because they respect the sovereignty of a country which America is totally, totally lacking," he said.

Duterte has frequently expressed his dislike for the United States, particularly under the administration of former president Barack Obama, who was critical of his war on drugs. Even with the assumption of US President Donald Trump, who he described as a "very nice person," Duterte repeatedly lashed out at America for "interfering" in the Philippines' affairs.

The latest escalation of his tirades against the US saw Duterte renew threats to scrap the Philippines-US long-standing visiting forces agreement, which outlined guidelines for the conduct of American troops visiting the Philippines.

He also threatened to deny entry to more US senators who approved a measure seeking sanctions against Philippine officials involved in extrajudicial killings and the detention of Senator Leila de Lima.

Lorenzana says it’s within PH right to scrap defense pact with U.S.

From Rappler (Jan 24, 2020): Lorenzana says it’s within PH right to scrap defense pact with U.S.

The defense chief he will discuss with President Duterte ‘various scenarios’ and 'future actions' that the military may undertake if and when the visiting forces agreement is terminated

JOINT DRILLS. In this photo from October 9, 2019, the Philippine Marines and US forces open the 3rd KAMANDAG joint exercises at Subic Bay International Airport. Photo by Nappy Manegdeg/

The Philippines can “unilaterally” initiate the termination of its visiting forces agreement with the United States, consistent with President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

It doesn’t need congressional approval either, he added.

In a statement on Friday night, January 24, Lorenzana said,
“[It] is well within the right of the Philippine government to do so if it determines that the agreement no longer redounds to our national interest.”

Still, Lorenzana said he would “discuss with the President the various scenarios concerning the possible termination of the VFA and what future actions may be undertaken by the DND Department of National Defense) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) regarding this matter.”

The defense chief said he was constantly consulting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, who earlier said it was a “good move” on the part of Duterte to threaten to scrap the military pact in response to the cancellation of Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s American visa.

Locsin tweeted that he had started “terminating” the VFA, while Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said his department is studying the “proper procedure to terminate the VFA.”

Lorenzana, in his statement, said: “All that is required is that a notice of termination be served to the US government. The termination shall take effect 180 days after the date of the notice.”

Dela Rosa’s visa is believed to have been canceled because of his involvement in the extrajudicial killings related to the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. Dela Rosa was previously the chief of the national police, the architect of the drug war. Under the Magnitsky Act, the US can deny entry to people suspected of human rights violations in their own countries.

Some have opposed the scrapping of the VFA, including Senator Panfilo Lacson, who had cited the benefits of continued technical assistance from the US under the VFA, especially in Philippine efforts against terrorists.

US assistance led to the neutralization of Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorists, in 2015; and Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya in 2002.

Lacson questions ending VFA to get Dela Rosa's visa back

From Rappler (Jan 24, 2020): Lacson questions ending VFA to get Dela Rosa's visa back (By Aika Rey)

(UPDATED) Senator Panfilo Lacson says the Supreme Court needs to 'act soonest' on whether a two-third vote by the Senate is needed to terminate international treaties

PH-US WAR GAMES. This file photo shows US soldiers and their Filipino counterparts joining forces in an Amphibious Landing operation as part of the 2015 Balikatan Exercises. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

(UPDATED) – Senator Panfilo Lacson questioned President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to end the Philippines' Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) following the cancellation of the US visa of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa.

"Where is the connection?" Lacson asked on Friday, January 24, saying that bargaining VFA with Dela Rosa's visa are two different things.

"The Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and United States is a BILATERAL accord that went through some back-and-forth diplomatic discussions prior to ratification by the Senate, after some intense plenary deliberation," Lacson said.

"On the other hand, the US visa is a conditional authorization UNILATERALLY given to a visiting foreigner which may be granted, canceled or even denied outright, without need for explanation or justification," he added.

Lacson, whose US visa was also canceled, said he didn't make an issue out of it. His visa was revoked after the 2000 case where he got classified information from then-White House security specialist Leandro Aragoncillo.

"I never make an issue out of it for the same reason that I am saying now – it is the US government’s right, as it was only my privilege to be granted the same," he said.

In another tweet, Lacson also cited the significant help that the Philippines had been receiving from the US under the VFA.

"International terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir Marwan was neutralized with the technical assistance extended by the US. The VFA has provided our AFP the military training and equipment, thus upgrading their capability. That and more may be missed," he said.

Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya was also neutralized in June 2002, also with the help of US tecnical assistance.

Dela Rosa, meanwhile, said that the President's bargain is "not all about him."

"He is a leader who doesn’t want his people treated unfairly. I don't deserve this bargain, but it's not all about me. It is about a one-sided foreign relations," said Dela Rosa, who has a lot to lose with the visa cancelation as he has relatives in the US.

Issue on Senate concurrence

Several lawmakers had raised the issue of treaties that may easily be revoked by the President as he wished, because of the lack of safeguards such as Senate concurrence.

"While Senate ratification was needed to make the VFA valid – which the Senate did during presidency [of Joseph Estrada] – it can now be terminated without concurrence of the Senate," Drilon said.

During the 17th Congress, at least 14 senators had filed a resolution declaring that the Senate has a say in the termination of any treaty or international agreements.

The resolution was filed in 2016 after Duterte had declared intentions to scrap the VFA and withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The same justification led to the actual withdrawal of the Philippines from the ICC.

The Supreme Court has yet to issue a decision on the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC, which may set the guidelines on terminating international agreements.

"In the absence of a Philippine Supreme Court ruling on the President’s power to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement like the VFA without the consent of a 2/3 supermajority vote of the members of the Senate, the President can do that without the Senate’s approval or consent," Lacson said.

"The Supreme Court should act soonest on whether the Senate’s consent is needed before the executive department can terminate a treaty or bilateral agreement – an issue raised in a petition filed before it by members of the Senate," Lacson added.

Foreign interference?
Senator Francis Pangilinan said that ending the VFA is in line of Duterte's pivot to China.

"Pabor sa China ang pagterminate ng VFA, kaya hindi na katakataka ito. (The termination of the VFA is in favor of China, so this is not surprising)," Pangilinan said.

The senator also added that the President should have focused on other things such as the welfare of the residents affected by the Taal Volcano eruption and the threat of a new coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said that he understood the decision of the President even if it sounds "personal."

"The reason stated by the president for terminating the PH-US VFA may sound "personal" but I see the point of the President. He believes Sen Bato is being punished by the US for having once been the implementor of his main program of government – the all-out war against drugs," Pimentel said.

Pimentel added that such punishment reeks of foreign interference to domestic policy.

"Since that is domestic policy (war on drugs) then punishing someone – even if indirectly – for a domestic policy shows the intent to interfere by a foreign state with PH domestic policy," Pimentel said.

The VFA, which took effect in 1999, outlined guidelines for the conduct of American troops visiting the Philippines and is the foundation for military exercises between the Philippines and the US, some of which the Duterte adminstration has already stopped.

Duterte first threatened the abrogation of the VFA in 2016, when the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US aid-giving body, did not renew its grant to the Philippines over human rights concerns on the Philippines' war on drugs.

MGen Jose Faustino is new Eastmincom chief

From MindaNews (Jan 24, 2020): MGen Jose Faustino is new Eastmincom chief (By FROILAN GALLARDO)

MGen Jose Faustino. Photo courtesy of Eastmincom
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 24 January) — An Army general who spent his early years with the elite Scout Rangers has assumed command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) Friday.

Eastmincom spokesperson Lt. Col. Ezra Balagtey said Maj. Gen. Jose Faustino assumed the post from Brig. Gen. Alfredo Rosario, the acting commander.

Faustino commanded the 10th Infantry Division while Rosario led the Eastmincom in acting capacity after its former chief, Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos, became the AFP Chief of Staff.

Balagtey said Faustino will retain the concept of focused military operations against the communist rebels in Mindanao.

At the same time, Balagtey said Faustino would continue to push the “whole-of-nation” approach in dismantling the “shadow government” of the rebels in Mindanao towns and cities.

The 55-year-old Faustino was the former chief of the 11th Intelligence Service Unit in Davao City.

He was the former commander of the 35th Infantry Battalion and 501st Infantry Brigade based in Sulu province.

Faustino was also the former Commandant of Cadets in the Philippine Military Academy in Fort del Pilar, Baguio City. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)

Misuari is officially Special Envoy to OIC

Posted to the Mindanao Examiner Blog (Jan 24, 2020): Misuari is officially Special Envoy to OIC

FORMER LIBYAN firebrand Nur Misuari’s name is officially included in the list of new presidential appointees after Filipino leader Rodrigo Duterte named the chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front as the country’s Special Envoy to the influential Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Manila released the list recently along with the names of other officials now holding various government positions. Duterte first announced his choice of Misuari in December.

Muslims in Mindanao, especially in Misuari’s stronghold in Sulu province, welcomed Duterte’s official designation of the former rebel leader, saying, his expertise in Islamic diplomacy will greatly boost the Philippines’ relations with Arab and Muslim countries.

Nur Misuari (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Duterte vowed to continue talking peace to Misuari and both have agreed for the establishment of a coordinating committee between the MNLF and the national government.

Misuari has previously asked Duterte to include OIC in the peace talks. The OIC, which has 57 member states, had played a vital role in the peace process between the Philippine government and MNLF in the past.

Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the peace accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.

Under the peace accord, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in Mindanao, and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.

In 2001, Misuari’s loyal forces and former rebels, who joined the military and police following the signing of the peace deal, attacked a key army base in Sulu’s Jolo town and civilian targets in Zamboanga in an effort to stop the government from calling an election in the Muslim autonomous region where Misuari wanted to be a perpetual governor.

He then escaped by boat to Malaysia where he had been arrested and deported to the Philippines and was eventually pardoned and released by then President Gloria Arroyo in exchange for MNLF support to her election bid, as well as her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004.

And in September 2013, MNLF members attacked Zamboanga City for the second time, sparking fierce clashes that lasted for weeks, and left hundreds of people dead and wounded, and displaced over 300,000 civilians. Many of the raiders were killed, but the others managed to escape following the failed rebellion.

Misuari, who is accused of rebellion by authorities for the deadly attacks, is being protected from arrest by Duterte, who interceded to the police and military on behalf of the former rebel chieftain so he would be free to move around without any fear of being arrested.

Misuari is also facing graft charges at the Sandigan Bayan over the alleged anomalous purchase of education materials when he was governor of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He denied all criminal and graft accusations against him.

Despite all the charges against Misuari, the OIC continues to support him. And in 2017, the OIC Secretary General, Dr. Youssef Al Othaimeen, in support of the peace process even convened the 4th Session of the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire on the margins of the 44th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers.

The OIC said it continues to deal with the MNLF through the Jeddah formula. The meeting discussed the prospects of the peace process under the Duterte administration and is part of the efforts of the OIC to close ranks between the MNLF and MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front which also signed a peace accord with Manila in 2014) and to help in the process of merging the two peace tracks and to consolidate realization of the inalienable rights of the Muslim minority in southern Philippines for a peaceful, just and durable settlement of their problem. (Zamboanga Post. With additional reporting from the Mindanao Examiner.)

“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)

Caraga RTF-ELCAC reaches out to Bayugan villagers during Peace Caravan

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Caraga RTF-ELCAC reaches out to Bayugan villagers during Peace Caravan (By Jennifer P. Gaitano)

BAYUGAN CITY, Agusan del Sur, Jan. 24 (PIA) -- Thousands of villagers in Mt. Carmel, this city have availed and benefited from the free basic social services from various government agencies during the Peace Caravan conducted by the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) Caraga.

With the presence of Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexie Nograles, Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) Caraga, the provincial government of Agsuan del Sur led by Governor Santiago Cane, Jr., and local officials in Bayugan City headed by Mayor Kirk Asis, have converged their efforts to meet the objectives for the conduct of Peace Caravan, as well as the host for the scheduled 4th RTF-ELCAC Meeting at the city gymnasium.

Diosdado Cabilogan, 55 years old and a resident in the said barangay, came early morning at the barangay gymnasium of Mt. Carmel to avail of the free medical checkup and medicines from concerned government stakeholders. He expressed his gratitude to the officials of the city government and all the regional and national line agencies for visiting their place and for bringing to them the services they need.

“Despite living in a remote area, away from the metropolis life, the government took extra miles to reach us and bring to us the services we need for free. I’m very thankful that our mayor and barangay officials are really working hard in ensuring our welfare,” said Cabilogan.

Imerald Narra, together with Junde Faith Tacio, and Charlie Verra, all in Grade 8 of Mt. Carmel National High School also participated in the orientation and lectures on the ill effects of illegal drugs, recruitment of the New People’s Army, including the programs and services of the government for the children and youth sectors.

“I’m happy that we’re able to join in this event here in our barangay. We were given seedlings for our backyard gardening and even for our school. My peers have also availed of the free haircut and beauty care services from the government agencies. This is really a fun experience for us,” cited Narra.

Eager to go home after availing the free consultation/check-up and free vitamins from the Department of Health (DOH), Dionisa Lariosa, four months pregnant, also received a buntis kit, which she could soon use for her baby.

“This is really a blessing for me and for all of us here in Mt. Carmel. We always feel that the government really cares for us. I hope this kind of activity will continue and even reach other remote areas like us,” shared Lariosa.

Merla Ajan, punong barangay of Mt. Carmel also appreciated the government’s effort and initiative for continuously providing the necessary services in their community.

She also asked the government for a Farm-to-Market Road which will improve their livelihood and a building for their secondary school. (JPG/PIA-Agusan del Sur)

Army's 301st Brigade sends troops to secure Dinagyang Festival

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Army's 301st Brigade sends troops to secure Dinagyang Festival (By 301st Infantry Brigade-Philippine Army)

CAMP HERNANDEZ, Dingle, Iloilo, Jan. 24– The Army's 301st Infantry (Bayanihan) Brigade, together with PNP Region VI and other Local Government units of Iloilo, sent-off security forces for Dinagyang Festival on January 23, 2020.

The send-off ceremony, held at Plaza Libertad, Iloilo City, was part of the preparation for Dinagyang Festival to ensure that the Ilonggos and other tourists will enjoy a safe, peaceful and meaningful festivity.

The ceremony was attended by Iloilo City mayor Jerry Treñas, Iloilo Representative Julienne Baronda, Police Regional Office 6 director PBgen Rene Pamuspusan, 301Bde Commander Col Marion R Sison, and Iloilo City Director PCol Martin Defensor.

Last year, more than 200,000 people attended and witnessed the Dinagyang celebration. With this data, the Security sector commenced its preparation weeks before the festivity tapping all available security forces to include PNP, Philippine Army, Philippine Airforce, Philippine Navy, Philippine Coastguard, BFP, K9, and other volunteer (NGOs).

Col. Sison said that this is a collaborative efforts of all available forces that agreed to work hand-in-hand in order to form Dinagyang Security system.

"We have to tighten our watch since we are expecting influx of revelers," he said.

He said“We are asking the people's outmost cooperation and understanding while we are securing the festivity. They should expect checkpoints and heavy traffics in the implementation of our security system, but we must endure all of these inconveniences since threats may occur in an unexpected time and place. We cannot sacrifice safety over convenience.” (JBG/Capt. Ruel S. Llanes/301IB CMO-PA)

More NegOr villages eyed for ELCAC coverage

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): More NegOr villages eyed for ELCAC coverage (By Mary Judaline Partlow)

Col. Noel T. Baluyan, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, based in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental. (Photo by Judy Flores Partlow)

The commander of the Philippine Army's 302nd Infantry Brigade based in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental on Friday said they are recommending the inclusion of additional barangays under the government’s program to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC).

Col. Noel Baluyan, however, said that the final decision will be made after a seminar to be conducted by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) tentatively scheduled here next week.

Initially, 16 barangays in six towns and cities in the province were identified as priority areas following the creation of the Negros Oriental Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NOTF-ELCAC).

These are Barangays Bayog and Lumapao in Canlaon City; Trinidad, Binobohan, Sandayao, Tacpao, Imelda, Hinakpan, Humay-humay, and Planas in Guihulngan City; Dobdob in Valencia; San Pedro and Talalak in Sta. Catalina; Tayak in Siaton; and Calango and Mayabon in Zamboanguita.

The Task Force, chaired by Governor Roel Degamo, in coordination with the Department of the Interior and Local Government in Region 7 and the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Visayas, held a series of "Dagyawan: Talakayan sa Mamamayan" dialogues and government services caravans last year in the six local government units (LGUs) where these barangays are located to identify priority projects and various issues and concerns in these areas.

Baluyan said they are now waiting for the implementation of the consolidated list of programs and projects for these areas that were already forwarded to the national agencies.

In the meantime, he said the Army would be recommending additional barangays, such as Talalak in Sta. Catalina, for inclusion in the next round of NOTF-ELCAC activities.

Baluyan said he could not give an exact number as this would be decided on later, with inputs coming from the different Army commanders in the province, the Philippine National Police as well as the LGUs concerned.

He believes there are still many barangays that need to be covered by the ELCAC program because of the presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) and/or their supporters.

Some villages where encounters have taken place between government troops and suspected NPA members, such as those in Ayungon and Manjuyod, were also not included in the first batch, he said.

The creation of the Task Force (TF) ELCAC is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 promoting a Whole of Nation Approach to attain inclusive and sustainable peace in ending the communist armed conflict.

Negros Oriental is the only province in Central Visayas that is still facing the insurgency problem and was the first to create its TF ELCAC patterned after its national counterpart.

MinDA to assist 3 IP villages in Zambo Sibugay

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): MinDA to assist 3 IP villages in Zambo Sibugay (By Digna Banzon)

LIVELIHOOD PROJECTS. Mindanao Development Authority Secretary Emmanuel Piñol discusses the agency's livelihood programs for tribal communities during the Serbisyo Caravan held in Titay town, Zamboanga Sibugay on Friday (Jan. 24, 2020). The caravan was organized by Zamboanga Sibugay's Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. (Photo courtesy of MinDA)

The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) said it has expanded assistance to three more Indigenous People (IP) barangays in Zamboanga Sibugay.

In a statement on Friday, MinDA said the barangays of Pulidan, Kipit, and Tugop Muslim in the town of Titay will be the next recipients of the agency’s agricultural livelihood projects.

MinDA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the decision came following the "Serbisyo Caravan"
organized by Zamboanga Sibugay's Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) on Friday, during which the three barangays were identified as among the province's conflict-affected areas.

“Genuine development can only happen in Mindanao if peace and security become our priority, allowing people to work at their farms and go home peacefully,” Piñol said.

The caravan is an initiative of various local government units, national government agencies, and government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) to provide a one-stop shop for various social services needed by constituents of these barangays.

"Our government service providers are here because we want to prove that the Duterte administration is sincere. That you have a government that listens and cares for you," Piñol added.

He said the residents of the identified barangays would be trained for egg production, vegetable farming, and goat multiplier farming.

MinDA's Western Mindanao team will also work together with the Provincial Agriculture Office for vegetable farming, and other agricultural-based economic activities that would uplift the quality of lives of the area's Subanen communities, he added.

"We will develop these barangays into agricultural learning center communities with the assistance of TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) for technical trainings and skills programs," Piñol said.

MinDA will also engage the barangays for its water supply program through its solar-powered irrigation initiative.

Meanwhile, Zamboanga Sibugay Governor Wilter Yap Palma called on the province's communities to be a partner of the government in attaining collective peace and development.

"Those who are still on the hills, let the government help you. Let us help one another. We brought to you this caravan because we want to show you that you have the government that you can trust and rely on. If there is no peace, there is no development," Palma said.

Davao Norte guv declares NPA persona non grata

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Davao Norte guv declares NPA persona non grata (By Che Palicte)

Davao del Norte Gov. Edwin Jubahib. (PNA file photo)

Davao del Norte Gov. Edwin Jubahibhas has declared the Communist Party of the Philippines, its armed wing the New People’s Army, and political arm National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) as persona non grata.

Jubahib signed Executive Order No. 14 Thursday declaring the CPP-NPA-NDF persona non grata for "sowing terror in the communities."

In a statement on Friday, Jubahib said the declaration constitutes a total ban on the communist rebel group and its allied organizations from holding "various activities" in the province.

"They are no longer welcome in Davao del Norte and the Dabaonon people will support them no more and will no longer tolerate the presence of armed rebels in the province,” he said.

During the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC-11) meeting last week, Jubahib moved for the reclassification of the communist rebel movement as an organized crime group.

He also called on the members of the NPA and their mass supporters to return to the fold of the law and "join the movement for peace and progress."

He said there is no reason for anyone to support the rebel cause, as "the government is now extensively addressing the issues being used by the NPA, such as poverty, inequality, and discrimination."

In a previous interview, Jubahib noted that the government has been delivering services even in far-flung areas, "and there is no way the NPA can stop government programs."

He said President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 70, which institutionalizes a 'whole-of-nation approach in fighting insurgency, is fully supported by the provincial government.

Last year, Jubahib established the Davao del Norte Local Peace Engagement Framework to strengthen efforts in ending local communist armed conflict (ELCAC) in the province.

The province also hosted the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC), which now coordinates all activities of the region's local government units for the full implementation of EO-70.

New Eastmincom commander named

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): New Eastmincom commander named (By Che Palicte)

CHANGE OF COMMAND. Maj. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr., the current commander of the Army's 10th Infantry Division, is expected to assume the reigns of the Eastern Mindanao Command on Saturday (January 25). He will replace Brig. Gen. Alfredo Rosario who was designated as acting commander when Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. was appointed as Chief of Staff of the Armed Force of the Philippines earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Eastmincom)

The current commander of the Army's 10th Infantry Division (ID) will assume as the 12th commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) during a change of command ceremony on Saturday (January 25) at the Eastmincom headquarters here.

Maj. Gen. Jose Faustino, Jr. will replace Brig. Gen. Alfredo Rosario,
who was designated acting commander when Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. was appointed as chief of staff of the Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP) earlier this year.

Lt. Col Ezra Balagtey, Eastmincom spokesperson, said the ceremony will be presided by Santos.

Balagtey said Faustino is a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Maringal” Class of 1988.

"A well-known leader of character, he was designated to command the following units of the Philippine Army: the 7th Scout Ranger Company, First Scout Ranger Regiment; Training Group, Scout Ranger Training School, FSRR; 11th Intelligence and Security Unit, Intelligence and Security Group, Philippine Army wherein he greatly contributed to the tracking and neutralizing of enemy personalities of the Mindanao Regional Committee in Davao Region," Balagtey said.

Balagtey said Faustino made strides in military operations which resulted in the dismantling of various Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (NPA)-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) units and their shadow governments in the different communities in Regions 11 and 12.

The new Eastmincom commander, he added, also led the dismantling of three NPA guerilla fronts and four Pulang Bagani units of the NPA, including local revolutionary committees composed of 1,060 NPA members.

"He also led the declaration of CPP-NPA-NDF persona non grata in some local government units and the neutralization of high valued targets like Rachel Daguma alias Jasmine, the head of the Communist-Terrorist Group’s Regional Peasant Bureau, Southern Mindanao Region Command," Balagtey said.

Faustino is also credited with pushing the "whole-of-nation approach" to end local communist armed conflict in both regions and supported the localized engagement framework initiated by the different local government units (LGUs) in his area of responsibility.

"Faustino is adept in a wide range of peace and security programs not only in Mindanao but in the whole country, having been assigned in the different units of AFP in various capacities," Balagtey said.

Faustino once headed the Army's 11th Intelligence Service Unit and fought terrorists in Western Mindanao when he led the 35th Infantry Battalion, and subsequently the 501st Infantry Brigade as brigade commander, Balagtey said.

P180-M road seen to spur dev't in Agusan Norte's remote areas

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): P180-M road seen to spur dev't in Agusan Norte's remote areas (By Alexander Lopez)

ROAD FOR DEV’T. Agusan del Norte Governor Dale Corvera leads the groundbreaking ceremony of the PHP180-million road project in Carmen town on Friday (Jan. 24, 2020). The road project is seen to spur development in the conflict-affected barangay of Manoligao and nearby villages. (PNA photo by Alexander Lopez)
CARMEN, Agusan del Norte -- The rehabilitation of a road network that would traverse far-flung communities in the hinterlands of the Agusan del Norte town of Carmen is seen to boost the agriculture sector and help weaken the communist movement in the area.
Agusan del Norte Governor Dale Corvera and Agusan del Norte 2nd District Rep. Ma. Angelica Amante-Matba led the groundbreaking ceremony of the road project in Barangay Rojales, Carmen on Friday.

The project will involve the upgrading and improvement of the Manoligao Provincial Road with a cost of PHP180 million.

Expected to be completed in 241 calendar days, the project will be implemented by the provincial government of Agusan del Norte and will begin in the first quarter of the year, Corvera said.

Upon completion, the road network would provide the people of Barangay Manoligao access to Carmen, he said. The project is funded under the Local Government Support Fund (LGSF).

“Manoligao is considered a secluded village. This road is the only access of the people to Carmen,” Corvera said, adding that Manoligao and its nearby villages are among the sources of mango products in Agusan del Norte.

“We are providing more support to mango production in the province. This road network will help our farmers improve their mango production,” he said.

An increase in mango production would also attract investors to establish processing facilities in Carmen, he said.

He noted that the absence of processing facilities in the area force mango farmers to ship their produce to other provinces, such as Cebu.

“Manoligao is also affected by insurgency problem,” Corvera added. “This road network will help the government achieve its goals and objectives, especially in ending insurgency and local communist conflicts.”

The groundbreaking ceremony was also witnessed by the top officials of Carmen town led by Mayor Jovitte C. Calo and Vice Mayor Ramon M. Calo

The ceremony was part of the one-day immersion program and service caravan activity that was also held in Barangay Rojales on Friday. It was organized by the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) of Agusan del Norte to bring the government and its services to remote communities.

More than 1,200 residents of Rojales, Manoligao, and other villages joined the one-day activity, which involved various government agencies, providing medical and dental services, free haircuts, distribution of seedlings and seeds, and free legal consultations.

In her message during the activity, Amante-Matba called on residents to help government address the communist insurgency problem in the province.

“Our problems cannot be solved by the government alone. The insurgency problem we are facing in Agusan del Norte has grown with the support of some people, especially those who live in far-flung barangays,” she said.

Amante-Matba told the residents that the presence of communist rebels has driven away potential investors wary of peace and order concerns.

“We need big investors in Agusan del Norte to provide more job opportunities to the people. But if the problem of insurgency will continue to persist, big investors will not pour in their capital in our province,” she said.

“We have seen the effects of insurgency in our communities. The communist movement has brought nothing but destruction into the lives of our people. Those who benefit from the movement are the few, particularly those in the higher organs of their organization. But the great number of NPA rebels continue to suffer in the mountains, killed during clashes, and their families continue to remain poor,” she added.

The lawmaker also asked the officials of barangays Rojales and Manoligao to help convince NPA rebels to return to the fold of the law.

“Let us support each other and help save lives of those who are still in the communist movement that has no clear direction,” Amante-Matba said.

Gov’t services caravan benefits Aurora town

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Gov’t services caravan benefits Aurora town (By Jason De Asis)

GOV'T SERVICES CARAVAN. Residents in Dianawan village, Maria Aurora town in Aurora province avail of free haircut as part of the "Pulong-Pulong and Serbisyo" caravan on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. The activity is part of the implementation of the Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) that aims to bring basic government services close to the people. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Army's 91st Infantry “Sinagtala” Battalion)

BALER, Aurora -- Hundreds of residents in Barangay Dianawan, Maria Aurora town in the province benefitted from the grand “Pulong-Pulong and Serbisyo” caravan of government services on Thursday.

The activity was facilitated by the 91st Infantry “Sinagtala” Battalion (91IB) of the Philippine Army through its Community Support Program.

The giving of services that included free haircut, medical, and dental services as well as tree planting and “pulong-pulong” (meeting) is part of the implementation of the Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC).

The PTF-ELCAC aims to bring the basic services offered by different government agencies including the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), and local government unit (LGU) of the municipality of Maria Aurora closer to the people.

“It was also part of the 'whole of nation approach' of President Rodrigo Duterte’s initiative in bringing various services to the grassroots, especially in the far-flung areas,” said Lt. Col. Reandrew Rubio, 91IB acting commanding officer.

The caravan started with a tree-planting activity in Barangay Dianawan at around 6 a.m. This was followed by the grand pulong-pulong and rendering of various services of the different government agencies to address the identified issues and concerns in the community.

Afterward, a flag of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) was burned as the residents' way of showing their support and commitment to the PTF ELCAC, denouncing the atrocities of the communist rebels.

Rubio thanked those that contributed to the success of the caravan.

“I thank the stakeholders and soldiers in their efforts in serving the far-flung barangays,” he said, pointing out the importance of unity in ending local communist armed conflict.

Rubio assured that the 91IB, in partnership with LGUs and other stakeholders, will continue to implement the Serbisyo Caravan to effectively address the issues exploited by the rebel groups.

Maria Aurora Mayor Amado Geneta, meanwhile, thanked the Army unit and the participating agencies for the delivery of basic services to his constituents.

He also assured his commitment to help in the implementation of ELCAC programs and services.

DILG local government operations officer Ariel Espinosa said the village of Dianawan is a pilot test barangay for Executive Order No. 70 Retooled Community Support Program (RCSP).

The RCSP targets 30 barangays in the province this year.

New reservist bats for financial literacy among soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): New reservist bats for financial literacy among soldiers (By Christine Cudis)

SERVE THE SERVANTS. Army chief, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay leads the donning of ranks ceremony for Lt. Col, Leilanie Casa at the headquarters of the Philippine Army in Taguig City on Thursday (Jan. 23, 2020). Casa, senior vice president of the Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association Incorporated (AMWSLAI), advocates for financial literacy among troops. (Photo courtesy of Officer Marco Baliña)

As one who has been working in the financial planning industry for more than two decades, a new reservist envisions that soldiers should be financially literate to help ease their burden in the field.

Lt. Col. Leilanie Casa said being a wife of an Air Force soldier herself, balancing a soldier’s work and making sure to provide for the family is a real struggle.

“It is enough stressor to be in a war, it is another to be there having to defend your country and yet the thought of providing financially for your family troubles you. There was a time that some of the soldiers even go AWOL (absent without leave) because they ran out of cash,” she said in an interview Thursday.

On Thursday, Casa was donned with her rank by Philippine Army chief, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, after completing her Masters in National Security Administration (MNSA) at the National Defense College of the Philippines at the Headquarters of the Philippine Army in Taguig City.

Along with her were Lt. Col. Dennis Domingo Villaseñor, director III at the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and Lt. Col. Ramp Nielson Uy, former vice governor of Northern Samar.

The official rank to be conferred an applicant under this program of vital government and private utilities which have been affiliated in the Reserve Force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Although she may have just finished the MNSA course, Casa has spent her professional years introducing the men in uniform to various investment programs where they can put their hard-earned money into and helping them to keep it growing.

“I have been inclined to serving the people who serve us. We teach them frugality and savings so they do not just splurge on buying something with value that will only depreciate over time. We teach them to purchase appropriately,” she said, adding that some would apply for several loans to get a car that has no return on investment (ROI).

Casa is the senior vice president of Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association Incorporated (AMWSLAI), a non-stock savings and loan association authorized by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

She oversees the strategic, operational, and corporation management of the company that serves men in uniform-- the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and Bureau of Fire Protection.

She climbed her way up the ladder starting as an accounts assistant in AMWSLAI in 1997.

In AMWSLAI, there are products and services that are specially designed for the military, police, and their families for future needs, be it an emergency or not, Casa added.

Members of the association bind themselves by contributing capital funds and by lending such funds among themselves (Sec 2, RA 8367, Revised NSSLA, 1997). Hence, to be a member one has to invest a capital amount required by the association.

The investment earns dividends semi-annually. Once a member, the savings, loan, and welfare products; including special services may be availed of provided each entry requirement is satisfied.

“The goal is to make the soldiers financially literate. It’s the most we can do in return for their heroic efforts in nation-building,” she added.

PRRD just keeping word to back cops in anti-drug drive: Lorenzana

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): PRRD just keeping word to back cops in anti-drug drive: Lorenzana (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. (File photo)

President Rodrigo R. Duterte is just keeping his promise to back police officials at the forefront of his administration's anti-drug campaign, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday.

Lorenzana made the remark following the President's warning to the United States that he would scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement if Washington DC does not rectify the cancellation of retired Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's US visa within a month.

"He ordered Bato, then the newly installed Chief PNP, to launch the drug war and enjoined the entire PNP to do their duties and pledged to back them up. That he would take responsibility for their official actions. That he would go to prison for them. He is just being true to his promise,"
Lorenzana said in a message to reporters.

Earlier, dela Rosa confirmed that the US Embassy canceled his visa but did not disclose the reason for the cancellation.

Dela Rosa, who served as PNP chief from 2016 to 2018, said it could be because of his role in the Duterte administration's anti-drug campaign.

"I can understand why PRRD is peeved by the cancellation of Senator Bato’s visa because of alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the drug war. Most especially, that Bato was specifically targeted. It is a direct affront to PRRD being the architect of the drug war that he started upon his assumption of office," Lorenzana said.

He also said the issue is in the hands of the US government.

"Let’s see how they (US government) react to PRRD’s statement,"
Lorenzana said.

Meanwhile, PNP Chief, Gen. Archie Gamboa, declined to comment on the issue.

"I cannot give any comment because I really don't know the reason for cancellation and I think the good senator will also clarify kung ano yung dahilan (the reason) for (the) revocation. That's why I cannot comment," he added.

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.

‘Very dangerous’ for PH to wage war vs. China over WPS: PRRD

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): ‘Very dangerous’ for PH to wage war vs. China over WPS: PRRD (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

West Philippine Sea. (File photo)

President Rodrigo Duterte has deemed it unwise for the Philippines to pick a fight with China over the control of disputed islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

In an exclusive interview aired by Russia Today on Friday, Duterte maintained that it would be “very dangerous” to take a hostile approach to the Philippines’ long-standing dispute with China in the resource-rich waters.

“I cannot afford a stand where I would be drumming my war drums because we cannot afford it. It would annihilate the Philippines and so it’s a very dangerous (move),”
Duterte said.

“And I said, the war with China at this time is of no use for us,”
he added.

Manila on July 12, 2016 won the arbitration case it lodged against Beijing after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands invalidates Beijing's nine-dash line claim over the contested waters.

China, refusing to acknowledge the arbitral ruling, has continued to claim ownership over nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea.

Apart from the Philippines, China also has competing claims with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The President said he could not be as aggressive as Vietnam, because the Philippines and China might only end up being engaged in a “bloody” battle.

“Because you know the other side (Vietnam) really wants to do a more aggressive stance and I cannot afford to do it,”
he said.

“Spratly Island is near our islands, our provincial islands. Local government of the Philippines is near them and so it would be a reckless move if I send out, just like Vietnam, small vessels only to get a bloody nose at the end of the day,” Duterte added.

Vietnam and China got into a heated dispute when a Chinese energy survey ship began patrolling near Vanguard Bank, a seabed tract around 352 kilometers off the coast of southern Vietnam, in July last year.

Despite China’s sweeping maritime claims, Duterte maintained that he prefers to keep friendly negotiations with Beijing with regard to the ongoing sea disputes.
“We want as well just be friendly, improve our trade and commerce, and let time heal (everything),” he said.

“Tomorrow will take care of itself, one thing we are sure of. And like any other historical claim, the world is always changing. And we did not really do it at the expense of the lives of the Filipinos,” the President added.

DOJ reviewing procedure on VFA termination

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): DOJ reviewing procedure on VFA termination (By Benjamin Pulta)

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. (File photo)

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday confirmed that his office has started to study how best to implement President Rodrigo Duterte's order to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the United States and the Philippines.

"The DOJ has been tasked to study the proper procedure to terminate the VFA. We are doing it now,"
Guevarra told reporters without giving any further details.

This came after the cancellation of the US visa of former PNP chief and now Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, who used to be one of those who implemented the government's anti-drug campaign.

On Thursday, Duterte warned the US government that he will scrap the agreement if the cancellation of dela Rosa's visa is not rectified within a month.

Signed by the Philippines and the US in 1998, the VFA is an executive agreement that stipulates how visiting American troops should be treated in the Philippines.

Aside from exempting US forces from passport and visa regulations, the agreement also states that their permits and licenses are also deemed valid in the Philippines.

The same policy also applies to Filipino troops in US military installations.

It also allows Washington to retain jurisdiction over US personnel accused of crimes committed in the Philippines.

Soldier dead, 2 cops hurt in Marikina shootout

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): Soldier dead, 2 cops hurt in Marikina shootout (By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)

MARIKINA SHOOTOUT. The body of Army Staff Sgt. Marvin Balucas at the scene of the shootout in Marikina City on Friday (Jan. 24, 2020). Two policemen were wounded in the shootout. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Police District)

MANILA -- A soldier was killed on Friday while two cops were wounded in a shootout in Marikina City.

In a report, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief, Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas identified the fatality as Army Staff Sgt. Marvin Balucas.

The two wounded policemen were Executive Master Sgt. Demetrio Sarita Magpali Jr. and Master Sgt. Edward Yap, both from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), the report said.

Initial reports showed Balucas blocked the way and fired at the two policemen who were onboard a motorcycle on A. Bonifacio Avenue in Barangay Barangka at around 11:30 a.m.

Magpali was hit on the head and body while Yap sustained a gunshot on the left leg.

The two police officers, however, were able to fire back at Balucas.

The three were brought to Amang Rodriguez Hospital in Marikina City but Balucas died on the spot.

The two police officers were later transferred to the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center in Manila.

An investigation on the motive of the incident is ongoing.

PRRD can terminate VFA sans Senate consent: solon

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): PRRD can terminate VFA sans Senate consent: solon (By Jose Cielito Reganit)

President Rodrigo Duterte

Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Friday President Rodrigo Duterte can unilaterally terminate a treaty or a bilateral agreement without the consent of the Senate, unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise.

“In the absence of a Philippine Supreme Court ruling on the President’s power to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement like the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) without the consent of a 2/3 super-majority vote of the members of the Senate, the President can do that without the Senate’s approval or consent,”
Lacson said in a statement.

Lacson said this is possible because the High Court has yet to act on an earlier petition filed by several senators during the 17th Congress regarding the withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In the May 2018 petition, opposition senators argued that the concurrence of the Senate is needed before the country could withdraw from the treaty.

Lacson said there is a need for the SC to speedily act on the petition, to clarify once and for all, the limitations of the President’s powers on international accords and agreements.

“Having said that, the Supreme Court should act soonest on whether the Senate’s consent is needed before the executive department can terminate a treaty or bilateral agreement,” Lacson said.

Lacson made the statements following President Duterte’s threat to scrap the VFA after the US revoked the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa.

According to Malacañang, the Philippine government has already started Friday the process of terminating the military deal that came into force in 1999.

Under the VFA, the accord will only be deemed terminated 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party written notice of its desire to terminate the agreement.

PH starts process of terminating VFA: Locsin

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24, 2020): PH starts process of terminating VFA: Locsin (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. on Friday has asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to start the termination process of the country's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States following the order of President Rodrigo Duterte.

"Leaving for Washington DC on unrelated matters. But called Defense Secretary Lorenzana as Vice Chair -- I am Chair of VFA -- to start (the) process of terminating US VFA. Step 1 calling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because on our side it is a treaty; on US side Executive Agreement,"
he said on his official Twitter account.

The VFA committee is chaired by Locsin and vice-chaired by Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

"I as Chair of the Visiting Forces will merely send a note signed by me because the authority was transferred to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Simple. I am leaving tonight for Washington and New York on another matter,"
he noted.

On Thursday, the Chief Executive threatened to terminate the accord with Washington after it revoked the US visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, the former Philippine National Police chief who implemented the administration's crackdown against illegal drugs.

The government's campaign against illegal narcotics had been criticized by the US, with some American lawmakers introducing a Senate resolution castigating the Duterte administration for the deaths related to the program.

In his succeeding tweets, Locsin said: "Duterte happens to be the President with the power to cancel Senate-ratified treaties unilaterally. So it is the President of the Republic that is taking responsibility for the drug war".

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.

NDF/Sison: On Senator Go’s statement that Duterte is open to peace negotiations with the NDFP

Jose Maria Sison propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP or NDF) Website (Jan 24, 2020): On Senator Go’s statement that Duterte is open to peace negotiations with the NDFP

By Jose Maria Sison, NDFP Chief Political Consultant

I welcome the desire for resuming peace negotiations, as expressed by Senator Go on behalf of President Duterte, But it is best for the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels to prepare for my one-on-one meeting with Duterte by formally resuming the peace negotiations and accomplishing the Interim Peace Agreement in a neutral venue abroad.

They need only a few weeks to work and realize these objectives. Subsequently, the NDFP will have high confidence to agree to my one-on-one meeting with Duterte. It would be premature for me to meet Duterte while the peace negotiations are terminated and the militarist peace spoilers around him are still hell-bent on sabotaging the prospect of peace negotiations.

The main purpose of this meeting is for Duterte and me to agree on the ways and means to accelerate the completion of the comprehensive agreements on social, economic, political and constitutional reforms and ensure the implementation of these reforms against foreign powers and local reactionary forces that are adverse to them.