Thursday, June 11, 2020

Cordillera CPP-NPA leader surrenders to gov't

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): Cordillera CPP-NPA leader surrenders to gov't (By Liza Agoot)

SUPPORTING THE GOV'T. National Security Adviser and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict vice-chairman Hermogenes Esperon (right) joins Anne Margarette Tauli, a member of the Executive Committee and former Secretary of the Regional White Area Committee of the Ilocos-Cordillera Regional Committee (ICRC) who surrendered to the government. Tauli and two of her friends flew with military and police officials from Besao, Mountain Province to Baguio where she met with Esperon and Cordillera Peace and Order Council chairman Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong. (PNA photo by Liza T. Agoot)

BAGUIO CITY – A high ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) has surrendered to the government to start a normal life, National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. said on Thursday.

Esperon said
Anne Margarette Tauli, a member of the Executive Committee and former Secretary of the Regional White Area Committee of the Ilocos-Cordillera Regional Committee (ICRC) voluntarily yielded to authorities last Thursday in Kin-iway, Besao, Mountain Province.

In the communist movement, Tauli provides shelter to high-ranking officers of the CPP-NPA-NDF during their stay in Baguio,
Esperon said.

Tauli helped Julius Soriano Giron, CPP-NPA Military Commissioner, and his two companions, who were later killed in a firefight with government forces on March 13 in Baguio after resisting arrest.

Esperon, who is also vice-chairman of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), said Tauli’s surrender was facilitated by her sister, former UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and 503rd Infantry Brigade (503rd IB) led by Brig. Gen. Henry Doyaoen under the 5th Infantry Division (5ID) of the Philippine Army and the Police Regional Office Cordillera (PROCOR) led by Brig. Gen. R’Win Pagkalinawan.

"This is a sign that the more than 50 years of nonsense armed struggle is nearing closure," Esperon said.

Esperon said members of the CPP-NPA-NDF who want to embrace the law are afforded assistance but the government is also always ready to counter the atrocities perpetrated by enemies of the government.

Esperon was with Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council chairman and Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong when the PNP and the Philippine Army in the Cordillera formally turned over Tauli to the government.

Tauli and two of her friends flew with the officials from Besao, Mountain Province to Baguio to meet with Esperon and Magalong.

She will be assessed for availing of the benefits under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

In a media statement, Tauli said she came forward to clean her name and have a peaceful life.

Government officials have reiterated their call to the NPA rebels to surrender and abandon their lost cause.

Esperon helps ex-classmate clear ties with communist rebels

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 12, 2020): Esperon helps ex-classmate clear ties with communist rebels (By: Inquirer Northern Luzon)

BAGUIO CITY—A former high school classmate of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Thursday returned to this city with his help so she could clear her name after being linked to the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

Anne Margaret Tauli, 70, sister of Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the former United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, was flown from her house in Besao town, Mountain Province, in a government helicopter.
Militant activists here thought Tauli, a member of the Cordillera People’s Congress that founded the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in 1984, had been arrested.

But at a news conference here, Tauli said Esperon, her classmate at Philippine Science High School (PSHS) in 1968, helped facilitate her travel back to Baguio so she could defend herself against allegations that linked her to the communist rebels.

Tauli owns the house in Baguio where Julius Soriano Giron, supposed chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was killed in a clash with policemen and soldiers in March.

Giron reportedly replaced detained CPP chair, Benito Tiamzon, also head of the NPA finance committee.

FRIENDS National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and Mountain Province elder Anne Margaret Tauli share a moment after he helped fly her back to Baguio on Thursday (June 11) so she could clear her name, after being linked to communist rebels. —EV ESPIRITU
Legal bind

“I will not speculate,” Esperon said when asked how deep Tauli was allegedly entrenched in the NPA.

He added: “For harboring an avowed enemy of the state, Ms Tauli is in a legal bind. What was her role [in the NPA]? Does she know Giron? People have speculated.”

Esperon said Tauli would be under his custody although she would be temporarily staying in the city.

During the press briefing, Tauli insisted that she had no ties with the NPA.

According to the CPA, Tauli had retired and had been active in arranging clan reunions and organizing the documentation of the “batangan” system (indigenous forest management system) of her hometown. An elder, Tauli is president of Batil-ang Peypeyan clan in Besao.

She completed her elementary education at Easter School here and was among the first graduates of PSHS in 1968. She taught at Brent School and was coordinator of the Cordillera studies program of the Cordillera schools group in Easter School until 1984.

Tauli said her return to Baguio took time because of the Luzon lockdown. Leaving Besao required a strict quarantine process “because Mountain Province remains free of COVID-19 (new coronavirus disease),” she said.

She submitted to a medical test as soon as she landed at the Loakan Airport here as part of the city’s quarantine procedures, said Police Gen. R’Win Pagkalinawan, Cordillera police director.

“The general idea was to let her come in peacefully and she came to us peacefully,” Esperon said, adding that the government would also help his former classmate if she had difficulty proving that her alleged links to the NPA were not true.

“Others who are still out there [in the mountains], I hope you see the point that your 52-year struggle has brought us nothing but hardships in the countryside,” Esperon, a former general and Armed Forces chief of staff, said.

“Let us help each other improve lives,” he added. —REPORTS FROM EV ESPIRITU, KARLSTON LAPNITEN AND KIMBERLIE QUITASOL

Alleged BIFF member falls in drug bust

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 11, 2020): Alleged BIFF member falls in drug bust (By Joseph Jubelag)

An alleged member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter yielded some P3.5 million worth of illegal drugs during a drug entrapment operation conducted on Thursday by government’s anti-narcotics agents in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

via Joseph Jubelag / MANILA BULLETIN

Juvenal Azurin, regional chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, identified the suspect as Jordan Mamasapano Rakim, 39, said to a member of the ISIS-linked BIFF who was involved n illegal drug trade and carnapping.

Azurin said PDEA agents backed by soldiers and policemen arrested the suspect during a drug bust in Barangay Datu Pangiaman, Datu Odin Sinsuat and yielded some 500 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride locally known as “shabu’ worth P3.5 million.

Azurin said the local drug network of Rakim was believed to be busted following the suspect’s arrest. Authorities said aside from illegal drug trade the suspect was also involved in a series of carnapping activities in Maguindanao province.

The PNP-Regional Highway Patrol Group listed the suspect as number one most wanted carnapper in the region. Charges for selling and possession of illegal drugs were filed against the suspect who is presently detained at the PDEA detention facility in the city.

Anti-terror bill addresses 'mutating' global terror threat

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): Anti-terror bill addresses 'mutating' global terror threat (By Teofilo Garcia, Jr.)

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, chairperson of the Regional Peace and Order Council in the Zamboanga Peninsula. (PNA file photo)

The Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula) has expressed support for the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, saying the measure would further boost the authorities' capability to protect civilians from the increasingly evolving terror acts.

In a June 10 letter addressed to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, the RPOC-9, chaired by Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, described terrorism as a global threat to peace and human life.

It noted that in the Philippines, numerous terror-related attacks have been perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group, communist New People’s Army (NPA), and the Islamic State-inspired Maute group in 2017, claiming hundreds of lives and displacing thousands of civilians.

The RPOC-9 also took note that even this city has suffered from terror-related attacks in the past years, citing the 2015 bombing of a bus terminal in Barangay Guiwan here, which killed two persons and injured 52 others.

“Clearly, there is a need to enact drastic measures to protect our country and its citizens from terrorism, which is constantly a mutating global threat that has no place in our society today,” the peace council said, adding that the legislation would enable law enforcers to effectively preempt terror acts.

Preemptive measures, it said, include the legal conduct of surveillance and intercepting and recording communications of terrorists who now use social media to promote violent ideologies and recruit new members.

The RPOC-9 noted that no less than the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 1624 calls upon all states to adopt measures as may be necessary and appropriate and based on their obligations under international law.

“Nevertheless, we reiterate that while we support the passage of the anti-terrorism bill in order to enable our law enforcement and security personnel to protect civilians, especially from terrorist recruitment and operations in the region, we will yield to the rule of law, the Constitution, and the judiciary,” it added.

Kalayaan: A question of sovereignty and joint business opportunity

Posted to CNN Philippines (Jun 12, 2020): Kalayaan: A question of sovereignty and joint business opportunity (By Roberto R. Romulo)

[Editor's note: Roberto R. Romulo was Foreign Affairs Secretary in the early 1990s. After decades of work in the private business sector both abroad and in the country, he joined government service in June 1989 when he was appointed Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the Commission of the European Communities. As a diplomat, he has been decorated by the governments of Belgium, Thailand, Spain, Chile, France and the Philippines. Mr. Romulo is a board member of several corporations and is chairman of the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development.]

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 12) — The recent visit of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to Pagasa Island in the West Philippine Sea brings back a time when I was Foreign Affairs Secretary in the 1990s. It was during that period when we were blindsided by the incident on Mischief Reef in the same contested waters, where Beijing built a structure that it labelled as a resting house for fishermen. I described it as “blindsided” because the United States knew all about it with their satellite capability, so secret that they chose not to tell us about it.

It was around that period that former Defense Secretary Rene de Villa recalled: “During the early days of President Fidel Ramos, we noticed that the Chinese were putting small concrete markers with Chinese characters in some of the reefs and shoals that are part of our claimed area in the West Philippine Sea. I ordered the navy to remove those Chinese markers and then recommended to FVR that we should task the Philippine Navy to put up lighthouses in some of the islets/reef/shoals we are claiming and man them with navy personnel as a means to occupy them and establish our possession and ownership of the addition to their basic function as aids to navigation in the area.”

Unfortunately, we never got the budget for the project. I suspect that the prevailing sentiment at the time echoed by our ASEAN partners was not to disturb the status quo but to push for a code of conduct on the South China Sea. This code is still being negotiated today, decades later — and is looking more and more like a lesson in futility.

Lorenzana’s visit to inaugurate a beach ramp that will facilitate delivery of supplies to the island is a strong manifestation of our claim on Pagasa, which we occupy but is also claimed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

It’s about time we do so.

As early as 1978, we already had a municipality on Pagasa, with a local government in place and a permanent population of 334 souls. The municipality of Kalayaan predates Sansha City which the Chinese government set up only in July 2012 to administer the disputed islands that China has claimed.

Yet Kalayaan has been left to wither in the vine. Its population has dwindled to a little over half of its peak of 365 in 1995. And no wonder. Other than a school, a five-bed hospital and a municipal hall, there is not much by way of significant infrastructure on the island.

More important, there is little by way of opportunities for livelihood on Pagasa to keep people there.

Kalayaan should be given special status, its growth encouraged and supported by the government and private business as well. A fish landing and processing plant, an ice plant, an ecotourism facility (like the one Malaysia has built), a marine biology laboratory affiliated with a university, and greenhouse farming can, I think, make the island self-sustaining and remain ecologically viable. A public-private sector endeavor should be encouraged.

Needless to say, our military installations on the island should be upgraded and modernized. The air strip should finally be upgraded. All of this, of course, would not be possible without good telecommunications infrastructure which only the private sector can provide. Perhaps it would be too much to expect Smart and Globe to go there to inaugurate a joint cell tower, much to the delight of DICT Undersecretary Ramon Jacinto. But I hope the two Philippine telcos can consider such a venture to assert our ownership of the broadband space that apparently Vietnamese and Chinese mobile operators have been using to charge roaming rates.

The commercial significance of such a joint venture is minute but the symbolic value for our country is very significant.

In sum, Chinese actuations in the West Philippine Sea today pose a threat to regional security and to freedom of navigation. It behooves us—the government and private sector—to support Kalayaan, a fifth-class municipality in the province of Palawan.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law!!!

Ranking ‘NPA leader’ arrested

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jun 11, 2020): Ranking ‘NPA leader’ arrested

An organizer of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and an alleged ranking leader of the New People’s Army in northern Negros, was arrested at a monitoring control point in Brgy. Caduha-an, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, Tuesday night.

Nabbed for disobedience and illegal possession of explosives was Gaspar Davao, alias Aldong, Lt. Col. Robert Mansueto, acting Cadiz City police chief, said.

Upon checking with the Philippine Army and a government intelligence agency, Mansueto said they found out that Davao, who is a resident of Brgy. Pinapugasan, Escalante City, is the secretary of the Northern Negros Front (NNF) White Area and Section Committee Tabacco, as well as the NNF finance officer.

Mansueto said that the arrest of Davao yielded a fragmentation grenade, subversive documents, P14,000 in cash, eight cellular phones, cash transactions, newsletters of the Roselyn Jean Pelle Command, receipts and confidential documents.


Davao and his four other companions were on board a public utility van that was flagged down by the police for a routine inspection and contact tracing activities in line with the COVID-19 preventive measures of the Cadiz City government, Mansueto said.

He said that Davao, who was not wearing a face mask, insulted and disobeyed police officers, who had asked him to fill out COVID-19 contact tracing forms as required by the Cadiz City government for commuters passing the Cadiz City area.

While his companions complied, Mansueto said that Davao for still unknown reasons pulled out a fragmentation grenade, which prompted police personnel, backed up by 79th Infantry Battalion soldiers, to subdue and disarm him of the explosive.

The NFSW and the NPA Apolinario Gatmaitan Command yesterday condemned what they called the illegal arrest of Davao, who is an organizer of the NFSW in northern Negros.


Ka Juanito Magbanua, spokesperson of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command, issued a statement yesterday alleging that Davao is not a member of the NPA, and that the military claims that he is a ranking rebel leader is yet another one of their classic lies, red-tagging of legal organizers, imprisoning them through trumped-up cases and planted evidence.

NFSW secretary general John Lozande claimed that Davao was accosted by police personnel without telling him what violations he had committed.

Several hours later, according to Lozande, Davao was told that he had been arrested because a fragmentation grenade was recovered from a bag he had been carrying.

“We see this arrest of Gaspar Davao as another form of trumped-up cases which the Duterte regime adds up to its long list of repressive records against the progressive leaders of the sugar workers,” Lozande claimed in a statement.

Lozande, who is demanding the immediate release of Davao, said that they will not be cowed by this brazen attempt to silence Duterte’s critics through this unlawful arrest perpetrated by the state agents”.

Col. Inocencio Pasaporte, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, yesterday recalled that Davao was among the subjects of the search warrants for violation of RA 10591 during a raid in Bacolod City, which was issued by Quezon City Regional Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert, who managed to escape during the raid.

Pasaporte lauded the efforts of 79IB troops and Cadiz City that resulted in the apprehension of Davao during the joint AFP-PNP checkpoint operations in the area.

"The AFP-PNP will continue to intensify its efforts to hunt down members of communist NPA terrorists in Negros to preempt their terroristic and extortions activities”, Pasaporte said, as he encouraged Negrenses to cooperate with them through their Whole of Nation Approach in Ending the Local Communist Armed Conflict in Negros Occidental.

Alleged ranking CPP member in CAR returns to the fold of the law

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): Alleged ranking CPP member in CAR returns to the fold of the law  (By Redjie Melvic M. Cawis)

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BAGUIO CITY, June 11(PIA) -- An alleged high ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines(CPP) voluntarily returned to the fold of the law.

National Security Adviser and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Vice Chairman Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council Chairman, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, presented Anne Margarette Tauli, an alleged Executive Committee member and former secretary of the Regional White Area Committee of the Ilocos- Cordillera Regional Committee (ICRC), in a simple ceremony in Baguio City today.

According to Esperon, Tauli’s voluntary return to the fold of the law was facilitated by her sister, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

“I came here (Baguio) from Besao, Mountain Province and the Generals here facilitated my safe arrival here after being locked down for three months due to the COVID-19 protocols” Tauli said during her presentation at Navy Base here.

“I came here to clear my name from the various charges that have been hounding me since I have been there as a law abiding citizen in Besao for the past years,” she said.

National Security Adviser and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Vice Chairman Hermogenes Esperon Jr. presents Anne Margarette Tauli, an alleged Executive Committee member and former secretary of the Regional White Area Committee of the Ilocos- Cordillera Regional Committee (ICRC) , in Baguio City on June 11, 2020..(RMC- PIA-CAR)

Philippine Army 503rd Infantry Brigade (503rd IB) Brigadier General Henry Doyaoen, Police Regional Office - Cordillera (PRO-Cor) Brigadier General R’Win Pagkalinawan with retired Army General Ramon Yogyog fetched Tauli in Besao thru the Philippine Air Force Tactical Operations Group 1 after she turned herself to the law enforcers in the area.

Esperon said the action of Tauli is a good gesture to support the effort of the government under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte in ending the more than 50 years of insurgency and the nonsense deaths of Filipinos.

He added that Tauli’s willingness to return to the fold of the law should serve as an encouragement to others.

“We hope that for those others that are still out there, you see the point that your more than 50 years of struggle has brought us nothing but depravation and some hardships especially for those in the countryside,” he added.

Esperon said Tauli has provided abode and shelter to high ranking officers of the CPP-NPA-NDF including the late Julius Soriano Giron, chairman of the National Military Commission and the National Finance Commission of the CPP-NPA.

Giron together with Lourdes Tan Torres, also known as “Ma. Lourdes Dineros Tangco,” a member of the CPP Executive Committee and a security aide were killed in a joint police and military operation in Barangay Queen of Peace in Baguio City on March 13 after resisting arrest.

“By providing shelter to the enemy of the state, she is liable for having violated the laws of the land and she has come out to be with the force of the law, and to be able to clear her name,” Esperon added.

He said Tauli will be processed for entitlement to the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), a government program to encourage members of the CPP-NPA-NDF to have a new life with their families.

E-CLIP provides a complete package of assistance to former rebels who were members of the CPP-NPA-NDF as well as their family members who have abandoned armed struggle and become productive members of the society.

E-CLIP and Amnesty Program is one out of the 12 clusters under Executive Order 70 dubbed as the “Whole-of-Nation Approach” to end local communist armed conflict in the country. (JDP/RMC- PIA-CAR)

Army's 44IB clashes with NPA; recovers 2 high-powered firearms in Zambo Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): Army's 44IB clashes with NPA; recovers 2 high-powered firearms in Zambo Norte (By Capt. Sotero P. Abrito III (TDPC))

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DIPOLOG CITY, Zamboanga del Norte, June 11 (PIA) - The 44th Infantry Battalion clashed with the Communist New People's Army Terrorist (CNT) in Sitio Waloangka, Barangay Tinuyop, Leon B Postigo, this province on Tuesday afternoon, June 9.

In a statement, LtCol Don Templonuevo, commanding officer of the 44IB said the troops have received an information from the locals of the continued extortion activities of the CNT in the farflung sitios of the said barangay.

The 5-minute firefight incurred no casualties on the government side and resulted to the recovery of one AK47 and one M16A1 rifles and subversive documents with intelligence value.

"The battalion is now conducting pursuit operations on the fleeing CNT group that escampered after the firefight," said Col Leonel Nicolas, commander of the 102nd Infantry Brigade.

"The active participation of the local populace is vital in our campaign in ending communist armed conflict as evident to the positive results brought about by the timely and accurate information on the presence of the CNT in their communities," stressed Col Nicolas.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Gene Ponio, Commander, 1st Infantry Division commended the troops for the laudable accomplishments.

"Our troops again displayed commendable competence in warfighting against the CNT guerrilla tactics," he said.

"We are now regaining the grounds of CNT exploited communities as well as gaining the trust and confidence of the local populace with the sincerity of the government in its pursuit of genuine peace," he added. (NBE/EDT/PIA9-Zamboanga del Norte)

AFP vows to protect, preserve PH Rise

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): AFP vows to protect, preserve PH Rise (By Priam Nepomuceno)

PROTECTING PHILIPPINE RISE. AFP chief-of-staff, Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. (2nd from right) leads the send-off for the Philippine Navy’s maritime vessel BRP Quezon (PS-70) and the Naval Task Unit 11.6.1. in Sta. Ana, Cagayan on Wednesday (June 10, 2020). The contingent is tasked to navigate and safeguard the areas of the Philippine Rise (formerly Benham Rise). (Photo courtesy of AFP Public Affairs Office)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday said it will continue to uphold the protection and conservation of the Philippine Rise.

“We are celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Philippine Rise and for the years that our dedicated soldiers have continued to protect one of the country’s most precious maritime areas. We commemorate this anniversary to raise awareness of its importance, to maintain marine conservation and protection, and to assert our sovereign rights,” said AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Felimon Santos in his speech during the event commemorating the fourth anniversary of the maritime area in Sta. Ana, Cagayan.

In line with this, Santos also presided the send-off ceremony for the Philippine Navy’s maritime vessel BRP Quezon (PS-70) and the Naval Task Unit 11.6.1.

The contingent led by Commander Junmar Sales is tasked to navigate and safeguard the areas of the Philippine Rise.

“With confidence and pride, we are also sending-off a maritime patrol vessel to navigate and safeguard these areas of the Philippine Rise. As a pioneer in maritime protection, the Armed Forces is certain that Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) will vigorously pursue all possible means to strengthen the protection of the area/in order to achieve their purpose of securing our State and protecting our people,” Santos said.

In previous anniversaries the AFP, through the Nolcom, successfully achieved historical milestones to assert that the maritime feature belongs to the Philippines.

An all-Filipino maritime scientific research was made possible in 2019 while an underwater flag was successfully placed on the plateau in 2017 and 2018.

The Philippine Rise (formerly Benham Rise) region, comprising the 200-nautical-mile continental shelf from the baselines of Luzon, extends 118 nautical miles beyond the legal continental shelf limits.

On May 16, 2017, Duterte signed Executive Order (EO) No. 25 changing the name of the undersea feature to Philippine Rise.

“The Benham Rise Region is subject to sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines pursuant to relevant provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, national legislation, and the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and applicable international law,” the EO read.

In 2012, the United Nations, through recommendations of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, approved the Philippines’ claim that the Philippine Rise is within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines first sought recognition for its claims to the maritime area on April 8, 2009.

AFP urges Pinoys to see freedom as opportunity to serve

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): AFP urges Pinoys to see freedom as opportunity to serve (By Priam Nepomuceno)

AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. (File photo)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday called on Filipinos to cherish the gift of freedom and take it as an opportunity to better serve the country.

"Side by side, let us not take for granted the gift of freedom, instead use it to make ourselves better citizens capable of serving our country above self; and when the circumstance calls for it, offer our lives with pride and honor," said AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. in his Independence Day message.

He also thanked Filipinos for helping the government contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

"We give our snappiest salute to the Filipinos who are with us in the struggle to overcome these trying times. This only shows that each of us is vital to our nation’s overall well-being, and is the primary contributor to national development," he added.

As of Wednesday, Covid-19 cases in the country have reached 23,732, with 4,895 recoveries and 1,027 deaths.

Aside from the dangers posed by the pandemic, Santos said the country is also facing threats to its democratic principles which Filipino national heroes and martyrs have fought for and defended with their lives.

"These threats are beyond physical harm and are trying our resolve to stand up united and are testing the strength of our will to take our place in the defense of our nation," he added.

Santos also assured that every soldier, sailor, airman, marine is committed to protecting freedom and preserving the people's ability to live without fear and trust the country's institutions.

"As protectors of the People and the State, the AFP is first in the front-line in preserving this freedom. With the support of every Filipino — from whom our mandate emanates — we will continue to work tirelessly to this end," he added.

PH will prevail over Covid-19 threat

Meanwhile, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, said the country will prevail over the Covid-19 pandemic thanks to the cooperation between government and Filipinos from all walks of life.

"While we continue to battle with a treacherous adversary that remains unseen, our unity and cooperation will fortify each and every Filipino’s first line of defense. No matter how much harm the pandemic is bringing to our nation, we shall fight together and defeat it in the end just like our forebears who fought until our freedom has been won. The government’s efforts, complemented by the support from the private sector and our citizens – our Bayanihan, will lead us to victory," Lorenzana said in his message for the occassion.

With the theme, "Kalayaan 2020: Tungo sa Bansang Malaya, Nagtutulungan, at Ligtas", Lorenzana said this year's celebration highlights the concerted efforts to keep the people safe and secure through the "Bayanihan" spirit.

He added that responding to challenges is nothing new for Filipinos as the country's history proves the willingness of its defenders to go to battle to fight for its independence.

"Now the same call for courage and self-sacrifice echoes in our land as we grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have bravely responded to the call and dispensed their patriotic duties selflessly, and many have also paid the ultimate sacrifice," Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana also urged Filipino to take the opportunity to honor the valor of all front-liners engaged in containing the Covid-19 threat,

"This Independence Day, as we once again salute our heroes, our noble fighters of old who secured for us the freedom and liberties that we enjoy today, we also honor the valor of our front liners in the battle against Covid-19 – our doctors, nurses and other health workers, our soldiers and reservists, our civil defense workers and the many others who put their lives on the line to deliver the basic supplies and services that our households and communities direly need. Isang marubdob na pagpupugay ang aming alay para sa inyong lahat (We offer a warm salute to all of you)," he added.

Parlade hits continuing defense of 'Morong 38' despite Red links

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): Parlade hits continuing defense of 'Morong 38' despite Red links (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) chief, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. (PNA File photo)

As another member of the so-called "Morong 38" was buried Wednesday after being killed in an encounter with military troops, Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) chief, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. took potshots at people who continue to claim that these individuals are just simple health workers and not hardcore terrorists.

Parlade was referring to "Moro 38" member Lorelyn Saligumba alias "Ploy"/"Fara", a political instructor of the New People's Army (NPA)'s Platun Dos, KLG ICM, Sub-Regional Military Area 4th Division, who was killed during an encounter in Baco, Oriental Mindoro on June 4.

Recovered from her possession were caliber .45 pistol, an improvised explosive device (IED), a Garmin GPS, 13 cellphones with text messages incriminating local officials, and containing Makabayan Bloc contacts, he said.

Also seized were subversive documents and paraphernalia of Anakbayan, Bayan, and other legal-front organizations, a Commission on Human Rights primer, assorted medicines, and acupuncture paraphernalia.

"What goes around comes around. So where are the people who claim that the Morong 38 are simple health workers and not (Communist Party of the Philippines) CPP-NPA terrorists? Where are the Kamatayan (Makabayan) bloc propagandists who hailed their release in 2011 by (then Justice) Secretary (Leila) de Lima as à victory for justice and the rule of law?" said Parlade, who is also a member of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, in a statement forwarded to the Philippine News Agency Wednesday.

Saligumba, who was laid to rest in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, also has at least five pending murder charges.

"Also recovered was the AR-4 5.56mm rifle of Jessie Almoguerra alias 'CJ', 'Yam-ay' and 'Aja', Vice Platoon Leader of 'MRGU' who was wounded in his right thigh in that same encounter. Almoguerra's rifle belongs to Sgt. Malusalem Manlapaz who was killed during an encounter in Bulalacao on March 2017. In that encounter in Bulalacao, another 'Morong 38' (member) Lilibeth Donasco alias 'Mok' was also killed together with four other NPAs. This brings to 12 the total number of 'Morong 38' who were actually killed after they were released," he added.

He dubbed these terrorists "Morong 38" as five out of the original 43 earlier admitted their affiliation to the CPP-NPA.

"Tell me Glenda Gloria of Rappler, didn't I say in 2011, before I was sacked as Army Spokesman by PNoy (President Benigno S. Aquino III) that these NPA medics and bomb makers are not health workers? Where are the liars who rejoiced when these terrorists were released? Dr. Alex Montes? Dr. Merry Mia Clamor? Atty. Edre Olalia of NUPL (National Union of Peoples Lawyers) and the former chairperson Leila de Lima of CHR?" he said.

He also urged other supporters of these alleged health workers/NPA fighters on whether the AFP was wrong on its earlier assessment that these individuals are terrorists and that the recovered evidence, which includes IEDs, were only planted by authorities during their arrest in February 2010.

"Anong masasabi mo Ka Satur? Ka Sara Elago? Ka Caloy Zarate? Ka Inday Varona? Nagkamali ba ang AFP sa aming sinabi na Morong 38 ay mga terorista? 38 yan at hndi 43 kasi ang lima ay umamin na nga na sila ay teroristang NPA? Planted ba kamo ang mga bomba? Hayan, meron na namang dalang IED si 'health worker' Lorelyn. Nagkamali ba kaming sabihin na ang mga lider (Makabayan) Kamatayan bloc ay hindi mga terorista?" Parlade asked.


He also blamed loopholes in the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 that allowed these terrorists to be released then and laughed at the expense of the police and military personnel responsible for their arrests.

"Yan ang problema sa HSA of 2007. Pinagtawanan nyo lang ang mga pulis at AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) ng mapawalan ang teroristang 'Morong 38' dahil sila ay pawang mga aktibistang 'health workers'," Parlade said.

This, he said, is the reason why the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 needs to be approved as soon as possible so that the government can crack down hard on terrorists masquerading as health workers and such.

"Ito ang dahilan kaya dapat isulong at maging batas na ang Anti-Terror Bill. Tapos na ang araw ng mga nagpapanggap na mga health workers. Tapos na ang araw ng mga nagpapanggap na Makabayan (bloc) This is the reason that that the Anti-Terror Bill should be passed. The days of pretension are over)," he added.

Parlade also urged genuine and patriotic activists to continue to seek legitimate reforms that will truly benefit the country and its people and reject the terrorism being espoused by the Makabayan bloc.

"Sa mga totoong aktibista na nagsusulong lng ng totoong reporma sa bansa, sabay sabay nating itakwil ang karahasan ng mga teroristang (Makabayan) Kamatayan bloc. Tayo ay tumiwalag na sa Makabayan bloc kung totoong katahimikan at reporma ang inyong nais. Ngayon na ang panahon para maghiwalay ang pula sa puti. Bago maging batas ang anti-terror bill, ipakita natin ang mga totoong makabansa," he added.

He added that now is the proper time for those professing to be real and patriotic activists peacefully advocating for change and those pretending to be such and yet actively pushing for violence and armed conflict.

"So Glenda Gloria, I don't care about your sophistication. I am not an elitist like you. My lens is simple enough even for elementary kids to view, because it is the young children aged 13 and above who are targeted by these terrorist recruiters and we want them protected. I don't care about your prose or if you graduated from London or where else, money or wealth is not my agenda. Sayang magaling ka sana but no wala kang pinagkaiba kay Ellen Tordesillas na isa pang nagpapagamit sa mga oligarkiya at propaganda bureau ng CPP," Parlade said.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom, the European Union, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

"I cannot accept the way you vilify me and (Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo) Año. Sorry PMA (Philippine Military Academy) English lang alam namin. Rappler's franchise and legal issues are not ours to fight about. At this critical juncture of our nation's historical fight against terrorism, I hope you will side with the truth and the winning side – the Filipino people," he added.

HSA inefficient to classify ASG crimes as acts of terror: ex-guv

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): HSA inefficient to classify ASG crimes as acts of terror: ex-guv (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

Former Tarlac Gov. Margarita "Tingting" Cojuangco

The former governor of Tarlac and now a reserve colonel of the Philippine Army found loopholes in Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007.

In a statement Wednesday, former Tarlac Gov. Margarita "Tingting" Cojuangco stressed the need to replace HSA with a new law that has more teeth to curb terror threats and acts.

Cojuangco lamented that to date, leaders and members of terror groups like
Abu Sayyaf Group continue to commit unlawful activities since they were only charged with “ordinary crimes” under the Revised Penal Code.

“The Human Security Act was inefficient to classify their crimes as acts of terrorism,” she said.

Cojuangco issued the statement amid strong opposition of some individuals and groups to the passage of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act that would effectively repeal HSA.

Expressing support for the enactment of the anti-terror bill, Cojuangco noted that only one person has been convicted since RA 9372 was signed into law in 2007.

Cojuangco also cited the case of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who died in a bloody encounter with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.

Frightening reminder
She said the 2015 Mamasapano clash should serve as a “frightening reminder of the danger afflicted on government troops; fathers, brothers, and sons in law enforcement.”

“The Human Security Act of 2007 has done an injustice to the SAF 44,” she said.

She added that even the widows of SAF commandos have sought revisions to HSA.

Quoting the families of the slain SAF troopers, Cojuangco said Section 50 of RA 9372 is “anathema to the principle and underlying constitutional policy of affording protection to life, liberty, and property”.

Section 50 of RA 9372 states that an acquitted person accused of being involved in terror acts is entitled to the payment of damages worth PHP500,000 for every day he or she has been detained or deprived of liberty or arrested sans a warrant.

The same provision of the law provides that the amount of damages will be automatically charged against the appropriations of the police agency or the Anti-Terrorism Council that brought or sanctioned the filing of the charges against the accused.

Injustice to SAF 44 widows

“The widows of SAF 44 felt the brunt of this injustice,” Cojuangco said.

Cojuangco said the widows are likewise dismayed that the indemnification under RA 7309 is only up to PHP10,000.

Under Section 4 of RA 7309, the Board of Claims may approve a claim not exceeding PHP10,000 to reimburse the expenses incurred by the victims of violent crimes for “hospitalization, medical treatment, loss of wage, loss of support or other expenses directly related to the injury, whichever is lower”.

“Our law should mean to deter wrongdoings, and its penalty is a discouragement for the commission of crimes ahead. In the same manner, our laws, to be effective, should be just and fair for everyone. Our laws should not be the source of exaltation and refuge for known terrorists and criminals,” Cojuangco said, citing the widows’ letter to Solicitor General Jose Calida included in her book "Oplan Exodus: The Story of The Gallant 44”.

An enrolled copy of the anti-terror bill from Congress was already transmitted to Malacañang on Tuesday.

The legal department of the office of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has started reviewing the provisions of the proposed anti-terror bill.

Anti-terror bill deters crime that destroys society's structures

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): Anti-terror bill deters crime that destroys society's structures (By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno)

Mayor Andres Dangeros of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro 

The anti-terrorism bill, once passed into law, deters crime that could destroy the country's fundamental structures, a Mindoro official said Wednesday.

"With this law, no one could do a crime to intimidate the general public, destroy the fundamental, political, economic or social structure of the country if this anti-terrorism bill will be a law," said Mayor Andres Dangeros of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro in a statement on Wednesday.

Dangeros is among the many local officials who have expressed steadfast support to the anti-terrorism bill, saying that his mandate is to protect and safeguard his constituents from violence.

Dangeros said threats from terrorist attacks happen in a "never-ending cycle", resulting in the death of uniformed men during clashes. But with the passage of the bill, violence would be controlled.

"I do believe that threat of violence, or violence will be controlled," he said.

He said contrary to the claims of its critics, the anti-terrorism bill does not curtail freedom of expression.

"I'm certain that our country with the power of the president will defend our freedom of expression not in an abusive means but in a correct and useful criterion," he said.

Some groups have opposed the passage of the bill, saying it would affect freedom of speech and give law enforcers a leeway to apprehend even those who are just expressing dissent.

Under the anti-terrorism bill, persons who voluntarily and knowingly join any organization, association, or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization, shall suffer imprisonment of 12 years.

Suspected persons can be detained for 14 days without a warrant of arrest with an allowable 10-day extension. A 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists can also be conducted by the police or the military, with an allowable 30-day extension.

The bill is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature.

UN report excluded IP leaders' testimonies vs. CPP-NPA: NCIP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): UN report excluded IP leaders' testimonies vs. CPP-NPA: NCIP (By Christine Cudis)

National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Chair Allen Capuyan (NCIP file photo)

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has raised concerns over a recent report released by the United Nation’s Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights (UN-OHCHR), saying statements provided by chieftains and elders of Philippine tribal communities could have served as a "strong testament" of their resistance against the presence of New People's Army (NPA) rebels in their ancestral domains.

NCIP Chair, Secretary Allen Capuyan, expressed his dismay through a response letter sent to the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, saying the report has “failed to correctly depict" the situation of indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples (ICC-IP) of the Philippines.

“IP communities have similarly expressed deep sadness and frustration that their testimonies have been disregarded in favor of the reports from groups claiming to be civil society and non-government organizations from the Philippines,” Capuyan said in the letter dated May 30.

Bachelet, in the UN report dated June 4, 2020, reminded the Philippine government "that its response to major challenges such as poverty, inequality, armed conflict, natural disasters, and the Covid-19 pandemic should be grounded on human rights approaches and meaningful dialogue”.

“People who disagree with government policies and criticize them, including in international fora, should not be vilified as terrorist sympathizers. Indigenous peoples should not be victims of a tug-of-war between the state, non-state armed groups, and business interests,” the report added.

Affidavit of tribal chieftains, elders

Supposed to be included in the report, chieftains from various tribes in Mindanao signed their sworn statements to voice out the human rights violations and deception of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as well as their armed wing, the NPA, against IPs in Mindanao.

Datu Angelito Omos, 66, seventh generation leader of the Mangguangan tribe in New Corella town, Davao del Norte province, said he was “lured into joining” the CPP-NDFP-NPA sometime in the 1980s through the church, but resigned from being a church worker when he and the parish priest had a misunderstanding regarding its management.

“I first started my active participation as an activist during the IP Assembly in 1982. This was the first assembly of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) in EDSA, Quezon City. During this assembly, the Consultative Assembly of Minority People of the Philippines (CAMPP) was created,” Omos said in his statement.

He added that his legal participation as an activist started in 1983 when he was elected as a representative of the Sector of Tribal Filipino/Indigenous People.

Shortly after, a general assembly of multi-sectoral groups was gathered to organize a larger organization that was later named Mindanao-Sulu Interfaith Peoples Conference (MIPC) in Talomo, Davao City.

He was elected to represent the group.

Still blinded by the group’s real motive at that time, Omos said during the assemblies of the MIPC that were covered by the media, discussions floated that the MIPC would be able to get assistance from European funding agencies.

“In July 1987, in the middle of my term as the secretariat of the Lumad Mindanao, I was tasked by the CPP-NDF-NPA to attend the fifth session of the UN Conference of Indigenous Peoples Population in Geneva, Switzerland, with Fr. Eduardo Solang, a representative from Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) of Tadian, Bontoc, Mountain Province, assisted by the couple Cesar Taguba and Yvon Carinio (a political refugee living in The Netherlands), and the sister of Joanna Carino who was holding important positions in the CPP/NPA,” he added in the statement.

Official letter to Datu Angelito Omos as attached in his affidavit

After the conference, he said they continued to travel to 10 European countries for the International Alliance for Solidarity Campaign in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

Establishing networks, campaign for funding

For four months from July to October 1987, he said they attended different meetings, conventions, assemblies, and other gatherings.

“The purpose of which was to deliver negative speeches and highlight false issues on human rights violations, killings, and militarization committed by the Army, the police and armed groups allegedly connected and supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Government of the Republic of Philippines,” he said.

He added that their objectives in going to Europe were: to attend the fifth session of the UN Conference on Indigenous Populations; to promote/spread issues and concerns of human rights violations in the Philippines against the IP; to establish networks with the minority population/IPs from other countries, especially with IPs who were members of the UN; to promote the struggle of Filipinos in line with the armed struggle of the leftists; to campaign for financial support of the funding agencies; to halt the Nobel Peace Prize of the late President Corazon Aquino for being human rights violator; to create an impression that the Philippine government is abusive, specifically with its militarization; and to be a permanent member of the UN for the IPs to have a voice in the international community.

As part of their mission, Omos said along with Father Eduardo Salang and United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Pastor Cesar Taguba, who is also an NDFP leader, submitted a protest letter to oppose Aquino’s nomination, citing a massacre incident initiated by the Philippine government against civilians.

“However, the truth of the matter was, there was no massacre committed. What really happened was an encounter between the military and the NPA which led to the killing of more or less ten NPA members,” he added.

Before the letter was submitted, Omos and Taguba first requested the tour guide for a dialogue with the committee of the Nobel Peace Prize.

“President Aquino was number one in the list of nominees at that time and that was the last week of October 1987, the period in which the committee is required to come up with the decision,” he said.

Recruitment tactics, media mileage

In a separate statement, Dioleto Diarog, 38, shared a much recent brush with death experience with the CPP-NPA.

Diarog is part of the Bagobo Clata Tribe of Calinan District in Davao City.

He was also recruited to the CPP-NPA in the wake of his resentment upon knowledge that a group of armed men ambushed and killed his uncle, then tribal chieftain Datu Dominador Diarog in his residence on April 29, 2008.

He assumed that the older Diarog was murdered after not coming to terms with businessman and Pastor Apollo Quiboloy's desire to own their ancestral domain.

This prompted him to approach Bagong Hukbong Bayan (BHB) also known as NPA where a certain Komander Bobi “influenced him into thinking that joining the rebellion would be the only way to give justice to the sudden death of his uncle".

Quite hesitant to carry arms, Diarog was instead recruited into the Paskaddoy Salugpuang Kalimudan (PASAKA).

He became spokesperson of PASAKA and started appearing in television, radio, and newspaper media to communicate their woes as natives.

"Kami sa (PASAKA) ay nag-aklas at nag-rally laban sa iba't-ibang ahensya ng gobyerno para matugunan ang problema ng mga katutubo at para ipakita sa publiko at sa kumunidad ang kawalan ng tulong ng gobyerno (We in (PASAKA) rebelled and rallied against different government agencies aimed at conveying a message to the public that government authorities do not help us)," he said in his statement.

In Sept. 21, 2008, he pledged his loyalty to the CPP.

Later, he became a full-time NPA member under the Front Guerilla Unit 20 with Crucifino Oballas as commander.

Salugpungan schools

From 2012 to 2016, he worked as a recruiter for carpenters in the community to build Salugpungan schools, the school that was shut down by the Department of Education in 2019 for alleged irregularities and links with the communist rebel movement.

"Itinayo ang Salugpungan para mahikayat ang mga bata sa ideolohiya ng CPP-NPA. May mga pagkakataon din na pinapapunta sa posting ng mga NPA ang mga estudyante ng Salugpungan para turuan papaano humawak ng armas (Salugpungan was built to plant the seeds of CPP-NPA ideology to the children. There were times when children would be ordered to go to NPA postings so they can learn how to use guns)," Diarog narrated.

Diarog cited an instance when he and his colleagues were using the vehicle of UCCP and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines' (RMP), religious institutions that helped build the Salugpungan schools, when he found a document that shows a record of financial transactions.

He said he also saw the logo of the European Union on the document.

They were "organizing bakwits" where they gather IPs from various municipalities in nearby provinces to collect in Davao City and begin wave of protests against the government, he added.

"Ang layunin nito ay mapakita na madaming problema ang mga tribo at komunidad na hindi tinutugunan ng gobyerno kahit ito ay walang katotohanan (Our mission is to make others see our many struggles, that we are not getting any support from the government)," he said, adding that they were also the ones who stormed the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 11 office in Uyanguren, Davao City in 2014 to rob sacks of rice that were meant as assistance to Typhoon Pablo victims.

He said his life as a rebel revolved around extortion and harassment against government agencies and businesses.

After some time, he realized that he steered away from his reason of joining the group and after a long time, the promise of bringing justice to his departed uncle was not made.

That time, he said he grew doubtful of the group's goals.

In 2015 to 2016, he said the NPA's Southern Mindanao Regional Command (SRMC) noticed change in his actions.

He was then suspected as a deep penetration agent of the government.

"Ako ay pinagbantaan ng SRMC. Kanilang kinuha ang aking bag at pitaka. Dahil sa kanilang pagdududa, naramdaman ko na ako'y wala nang silbi sa CPP-NPA at ang aking buhay ay maaaring nanganganib na (SRMC threatened me, they took my bag and wallet. I think they see realized I am no longer of use to them, that my life is in danger now)," he shared.

Datu Dioleto Diarog's signed affidavit

Questioning the non-inclusion

Capuyan, for his part, raised concerns on the UN report, citing its heavy focus on "third party statements."

“We raise serious concerns on the report's unsubstantiated claims of militarization and increase in killings, which, as the report itself concedes, relied heavily on third party statements, accepted without any form of verification on the ground, where we continue to stand with the IPs,” he said.

The UN’s report, he added, should also account for the CPP-NPA's utter disregard for human rights, as they seek to impose their communist ideology and control over vast indigenous lands, people, and resources.

“We question the non-inclusion of sworn testimonies of our IP leaders and we urge this body to take cognizance of the voluminous submissions of the IPs concerned. If this UN report hopes to fully describe the situation of the IPs of violence and displacements due to "armed conflict and radicalization arising from the absence of progress in transitional justice and reconciliation,” he added.

Among the atrocities of the CPP/NPA during the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic that were not taken into account by the OHCHR are as follows: Burning of houses and a church in an IP community in Opol, Misamis Oriental on May 28, 2020; Brutal murder of Datu Astudillo on March 19, immediately after President Rodrigo Duterte declared suspension of military operations and at the height of the battle against Covid-19; Raid and harassment of Talipayon IP community in Davao del Norte March 24; Brutal murder of Manobo tribesman, Wilson Behing April 14; Landmine explosion incident in Paquibato hitting a government convoy delivering aid to IP families in Paquibato, Davao on April 19; Brutal murder of Datu Arman Mangumihay on April 21; and murder of Subanen Tribesman, Barley Gumilid in Tudela, Misamis Oriental on April 25.

"By being silent on the CPP/NPA’s grave abuses, while lending credence to unsubstantiated claims of aggression, violence, and abuse by so-called civil society groups, this OHCHR report would be aiding certain groups in their commission of grave abuses as reprehensible as the systematic and organized killing of our indigenous peoples. This is worse than supporting the CPP/NPA/NDF’s stated aim of subverting and overthrowing the democratically-elected government of the country," he said. "Any state, group, or individual that values human life, equality, democracy, and the rule of law certainly would not want this happen."

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

Australia donates P35-M worth of medical supplies to AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11, 2020): Australia donates P35-M worth of medical supplies to AFP (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

DONATION. Australia donates hospital and personal protective equipment valued at PHP35 million (AUD 1 million) to support the 30-bed expansion at the Victoriano Luna Medical Center-AFP Medical Center infectious disease ward. The donation is seen to increase the capacity of AFP to deal with Covid-19. (Photo courtesy of DND)

Australia is donating PHP35-million worth of medical supplies to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to further aid the military's coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response.

The donation includes hospital and personal protective equipment, and support for the 30-bed expansion of the Victoriano Luna Medical Center- AFP Medical Center infectious disease ward.

“I am pleased to join Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to formally handover this assistance. What better way to invoke the spirit of mateship and bayanihan between our countries, than by supporting the health and welfare of AFP members, who are carrying out such a challenging role for the people of the Philippines," said Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson AO on Thursday.

Lorenzana and the envoy were joined by AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. and Col. Edgar Cardinoza, commanding officer of the AFP Health Service Command.

During the turnover ceremony, Lorenzana thanked the Australian government.

“We are very thankful for this assistance to the V. Luna Medical Center, especially during this pandemic. Now, more than ever, we need to increase the capacities of our hospitals to combat the virus,” Lorenzana said.

Earlier, Australia’s Defence Minister Linda Reynolds cited Manila and Canberra's “long-term commitment" to work as partners in advancing regional security and stability as well as addressing the pandemic.

China Uses Cabbage to Advance Disputed Asian Sea Claim

From the Voice of America (Jun 19, 2020): China Uses Cabbage to Advance Disputed Asian Sea Claim (By Ralph Jennings)

FILE - Chinese tourists disembark from an inflatable boat upon arrival in Quanfu island, a Paracels of Sansha prefecture of China's Hainan province.

A cabbage crop being grown on a tropical islet will help China solidify its claims in a wider, disputed Asian sea by allowing more people to live there and proving that the tiny feature can sustain itself.

Chinese navy personnel last month harvested 750 kilograms of crops on Woody Island in the South China Sea’s Paracel archipelago, Beijing-based Global Times online reported. The personnel used domestically developed “sand-to-earth” technology to grow bok choy cabbage, baby cabbage and lettuce among other vegetables, the news outlet says.

Vietnam and Taiwan claim the same islets as well as the surrounding sea. Further south in the 3.5 million-square-kilometer waterway, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines compete with Chinese claims in the Spratly Islands. Rival governments prize much of the sea for fish and energy reserves. China has taken a military lead over the other parties since 2010. 

FILE -A vendor weighs cabbage in Beijing, China.

The crop will help China prove economic activity on a disputed island, a plus in its search for an internationally recognized legal basis to control the Paracels ,scholars believe.

“Other than military usage, you need to do something substantive in order to bolster your sovereignty claims,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “You need to do something which can advance (the) so-called local economy.”

Technology behind China’s crop on Woody Island can “support communities” there, the Global Times said, citing experts. About 1,000 people already live on the islet. They rely largely on food shipments from mainland China.

The Permanent Court of International Justice considers a continual display of authority over a land feature as an effective administrative use of the South China Sea. 

FILE - Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy patrol at Woody Island, in the Paracel Archipelago, Jan. 29, 2016.
China lost a world court arbitration case in 2016 to the Philippines over the legal basis for its maritime sovereignty claims. Officials in Beijing cited historical records to argue that about 90% of the waters belong to them.

China’s installation of hangars and radar equipment on some islets – following a multi-year land reclamation effort – had alarmed Manila among other claimants.

The farming breakthrough on Woody Island goes against a court statement in 2016 that islands in the sea could not support “communities of their own”, the Chinese government-run Global Times said.

“You can factor this in as part of a holistic strategy to demonstrate habitation capability,” said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines have promoted crop planting on islands under their control in the contested sea but without any clear legal gains, analysts say.

Taiwan ex-president Ma Ying-jeou argued in 2016 that the consumption of corn, sweet potatoes and chickens raised on Taiping Island in the Spratly chain proved that the Taiwanese coast guard-administered feature could support a human population. The islet is therefore entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone in the sea around it, Ma said.

Some of the 300 Filipinos living on Thitu Island in the same chain plant their own crops. Vietnamese strive to raise crops on South China Sea islets under their control, said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

China had grown crops on its maritime holding even before the recent cabbage harvest announcement, he said.

Eventually, farming will run up against a lack of space given each islet’s tiny size and competing land uses such as human habitation, he suggested. “Where is the crossover point where you can make enough to feed everyone on the island and significantly reduce the imports?” Thayer asked. “I’m being skeptical that we’re making a leap.” 

US wishes Philippines a 'prosperous' Independence Day amid VFA uncertainty

From the Philippine Star (Jun 11, 2020): US wishes Philippines a 'prosperous' Independence Day amid VFA uncertainty  (By Bella Perez-Rubio)

The American state department on Wednesday released a statement in anticipation of Philippine Independence Day on June 12.

“On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I wish the people of the Republic of the Philippines a happy and prosperous independence day on June 12,” US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said.
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Pompeo went on to celebrate the strong partnership between the two countries.

“The U.S.-Philippine alliance is fortified by our shared history, rich people-to-people ties, and deep bilateral cooperation. As we stood together during World War II and in the global fight against terrorism, our nations are partnering again to contain and mitigate COVID-19. Our friendship and cooperation stand as a model for ensuring peace, stability, prosperity, and health across the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

This statement comes amid some uncertainty over the future of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which the Philippines has terminated.

The VFA allows Filipino and American forces to hold joint trainings on Philippine soil. It was signed by the Philippines and the US in 1998 and ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999.

Last January, President Rodrigo Duterte announced his plan to terminate the VFA after his political ally and former police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa was cancelled.

Officials claim that the move was also in response to the US Senate resolution condemning the human rights violations in the Philippines and the call made by some American senators for detained opposition senator Leila de Lima to be freed.

The decision to scrap the VFA was made formal in February, kicking off a 180-day countdown for it to expire.

However, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. announced earlier this month that the president ordered the suspension of the termination of the VFA. The suspension is for six months but can be extended for another six.

Locsin said the coronavirus pandemic and "heightened superpower tensions" had prompted Duterte to make the decision.

Gen. Gilbert Gapay, commander of the Philippine Army, welcomed the chief executive’s decision, saying it would help the country as it continues to face the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also stressed the long-established relationship between the two states, anchored on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has clarified, however, that Duterte has not changed his mind about the termination of the agreement.

“When it comes to the VFA, what was suspended was the process of termination. The president has no new decision when it comes to the termination,” he said at a press briefing.

Middle Powers in Great Power Rivalries: The Case of the Philippines

Posted to the Geopolitical Monitor (Jun 10, 2020): Middle Powers in Great Power Rivalries: The Case of the Philippines (By Don McLain Gill & Joshua Bernard B. Espeña)


The study of power politics has often centered on the activities of great powers; however, this paper argues that middle powers can also be game-changers based on their geopolitical features. As the United States (U.S.) and China continue their battle for influence in the Indo-Pacific, the Philippines can play a critical role in the overall power equation.

The following sections seek to substantiate this claim by discussing the concept of middle powers in the international system and how it can be applied to the Philippines, identifying the geopolitical properties of the Philippines, understanding the importance of the Philippines in the power equations of both the U.S. and China, and highlighting the future trajectory of the Philippines as an important middle power.

Middle Powers in the International System

The concept of a middle power has often been marginalized, if not overlooked, in great power struggle in the international system. According to Allan Patience, the definition of a middle power is vague due to the lack of attention given in the literature. However, Patience suggested three ways to classify middle powers:

First, there are dependent middle powers that are “treated warily by partners and contenders alike because of their alliances with great powers.” This kind of middle power will likely align its policies to its allied great powers with respect to signed treaties, thus softening its sovereignty in terms of military doctrine and defense industries. Second, there are regional middle powers that lack substantial influence outside a regional arrangement, but are considered important and relevant within it. Third, there are middle powers as “global citizens.” These are states that pose little or no military threat to neighbors and their respective regions but have a leadership influence in regional and international settings, as reflected by optimum domestic performance.

In arguing for the Philippine case, these three descriptions provided by Patience confirms its status as a middle power. In a world ravaged by a global pandemic, in addition to the growing uncertainty of great power politics, the Philippines can provide a path forward in explaining developments in the international system.

The Philippines as a Middle Power

The Philippines currently holds a middle power status in Asia. According to the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index 2019, the Southeast Asian state ranks 17th among other states in the region; however, the Philippines ranks the lowest middle power, after North Korea. In this context, the Lowy Institute operationalized eight indicators of power, namely, economic resources, military capability, institutional resilience, future resources, diplomatic influence, economic relationships, defense networks, and cultural influence. The Philippines ranks low in terms of military capability and institutional resilience; however, the remaining indicators can be applied to the Philippines. Hence, this proves that the Philippines is a middle power.

The low credibility of the Philippines’ institutional resilience and military capability can be traced back to history. During the post-Martial Law period, the heralded fifth Republic of the Philippines in 1987 saw the erosion of its institutions marked by several coups, nationwide electric and water shortages, a devastated economy, agrarian issues, and the long overdue justice for martial law victims. Regarding military capability, the Philippines was understandably a strong military power due to its security alliance with the United States. Its force projection was significant thanks to the 1947 Military Bases Agreement (MBA). However, after the Senate rejected to extend the MBA, the Philippines lost its formidable security deterrent. This left a gap in the 1951 Philippines-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), eventually resulting in China filling the power vacuum in the region with the promulgation of its domestic sea lane law of 1992, and its occupation of the Mischief Reef in the contested Spratly Islands in 1995. Consequently, the Philippines reacted by inviting the Americans back through the 1997 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Moreover, the devastation caused by the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, the enduring counterinsurgency against Muslim separatists and local communists, and widespread corruption, prevented the Philippines from becoming a strong middle power in the region.

In the third decade of the 21st century, the geopolitical conditions faced by the Philippines continue to present opportunities to maximize its status amid the great power rivalries in the Indo-Pacific. As a treaty ally of the United States, the Philippines is a dependent middle power. As a member of the ASEAN, it is a regional middle power, and as a staunch advocate of international law, it is a global citizen middle power. Arguably, the Philippines’ existing elements of power and its navigation in the international system can provide ways forward on how to hedge in the age of uncertainty, particularly in the context of the post-COVID-19 era.

The Geopolitics of the Philippines in the Context of the US-China rivalry

The Philippines is a collection of more than 7,000 islands situated at the intersection of the South China Sea, the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippine Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. It forms the outer edge of maritime Southeast Asia, and for much of its modern history has served as a gateway between the Pacific and the rest of Asia. The proximity of the Philippines to China and Japan also provides the former with access to vital sea routes for trade and commerce. Being at the entrance of maritime Southeast Asia, the Philippines has cemented its geopolitical role not only in the sub-region but also in the greater Indo-Pacific.

The strategic location of the Philippines serves as a tipping point in the great power rivalry between the U.S. and China. Looking at the geography of the Philippines, it has the potential to change the balance of power between the two states. For the U.S., engaging closely with the Philippines will allow it to effectively encircle China’s assertive maritime ambitions in the Indo-Pacific and limit it from expanding its influence outward. However, for China, forging stronger relations with the Philippines at the expense of the U.S. will allow it to break out of its cage. As a result, the geography of the Southeast Asian state can cause major power shifts in the greater Indo-Pacific region.

The Philippines in the U.S. Equation

With the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the assertive actions of China in Asia, the U.S. seeks to check the latter’s influence and power projection capabilities in the greater Indo-Pacific. However, after entering a period of economic and military decline, the U.S. cannot commit to its global ambitions effectively. As a result, it has forged closer relations with states that have the potential of checking China’s steady rise. Among these states are Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India. What is important to note is that the Philippines too can play a critical role in forwarding U.S. strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific vis-a-vis China.

Looking at the map of Asia, the Philippines is perfectly positioned to check China’s growing presence in the Indo-Pacific and keep it locked in the South China Sea. Being a treaty ally, it may seem that the U.S. has it all in the bag with its strategic ambitions vis-a-vis China; however, under the Duterte administration, the Philippines has had a wavering relationship with Washington. After a series of negative statements by President Duterte targeted at the U.S., it may seem that the Philippines is slowly gravitating away from its traditional treaty ally; however, the rhetoric does not always match the practice.

Despite the order to terminate the VFA by the Duterte administration in February 2020, the U.S. still remains committed to helping the Philippine military become a modern fighting force. During his visit to Manila in 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly clarified that any armed attack by China on Philippine military personnel or public vessels in the disputed South China Sea would trigger Article 4 of the MDT. Considering that the Philippines has not yet severed its alliance with its traditional security ally, it would be in the best interest of the U.S. to engage more constructively with the former and boost its military capacity in order to effectively check China on its behalf. The road for Washington, however, would not be easy considering that the Philippines remains wary of U.S. intentions of using it as a pawn in its great power competition against China. This goes against the current Philippine administration’s so-called independent foreign policy.

China’s Growing Relations with the Philippines
In 2016, President Duterte announced the Philippines’ separation from the U.S. in a speech before a Beijing economic forum. The event reflected a new age of closer relations between China and the Philippines. True enough, the Philippines has subsequently made strides to enhance and develop its cooperation with Beijing in a multi-dimensional platform. In fact, President Duterte’s first major foreign policy decision, barely a month into office, was to effectively disregard the Philippines’ historic legal warfare victory against China. Moreover, he nonchalantly announced that he will “set aside” the arbitral tribunal ruling at The Hague which rejected the bulk of Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

In 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in the Philippines for a two-day state visit. It was the first state visit by a Chinese President to the Philippines in 13 years. The visit served as a milestone for China-Philippines relations. During Xi’s visit, both states decided to raise the bilateral relationship to one of comprehensive strategic cooperation; in addition, they witnessed the signing of 29 cooperation documents. Improved bilateral relations has also elevated China’s status as the Philippines’ largest trading partner, second-largest source of inbound tourism, and biggest growth driver in local property development.

As the Philippines is actively seeking both foreign and domestic capital to upgrade and expand infrastructure, China has simultaneously been making efforts to channel more investment into the country in areas that revolve around infrastructure and manufacturing. These sectors are considered as extremely sensitive considering that China has a record for taking over critical and strategic infrastructure projects when states are unable to pay back their investment loans. In addition, China seems to be getting closer to the Philippines in order to escape from the encirclement of the U.S. Through the Philippines, China would be able to project its influence outward.

China still faces hurdles in realizing its goals. Despite rosy relations, the Philippines remains wary of China’s intentions. In a survey done by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), most Filipinos still do not trust China. The Philippines has also shown its discontent with China’s increasingly assertive maneuvers in benign ways. The state has expressed support and solidarity with Vietnam after the ramming and sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat by a Chinese coast guard ship in the South China Sea. The Philippine government has also lodged two diplomatic protests in April 2020 against China’s assertive actions. These illustrate how the Philippines is not readily jumping onto the Chinese bandwagon just yet, which poses a strategic challenge to China’s long-term power ambitions.

Future Trajectory in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused states to react with panic and aggression; however, it is important for middle powers like the Philippines to weigh their options and critically assess the situation. As both China and the U.S. continue to grapple for power and influence to constrain one another, the Philippines must use its geography as leverage in this tumultuous power equation. It is crucial for the Philippines to pursue its national interest; as a result, it must carefully tread vis-a-vis its relations with both the U.S. and China. Moreover, it is not necessarily the Duterte administration alone that will keep this balance going; rather, it is the enduring elements of power that the Philippines has that will make a difference.

The pandemic has brought unprecedented damage to the Philippines and the rest of the world. Unwanted shocks may temporarily remain. As a middle power, the Philippines has the potential economic and human resources due to a thriving economy and a rising middle class. Its international prestige continues to endure thanks to its defense networks, economic relationships, and diplomatic influence. Although lacking in resilient institutions, its cultural influence through information flows, people exchanges, and cultural projection continue to increase its relevance thanks to its existing, albeit struggling, democratic system. Although lacking in strong military capability, its modernization efforts remain unhampered and force projection continues to develop despite claims of defeatism. To attain an upward trend as a middle power, the Philippines needs to strengthen its military capability and the resilience of its institutions. This is an opportunity for the Philippines to maximize its geopolitical potential in the context of the current great power rivalry.

[Don Mclain Gill is a current graduate student under the Master’s in International Studies Program in the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He has written on regional geopolitics and India-Southeast Asia relations.]

[Joshua Bernard B. Espeña is a defense analyst in the Office for Strategic Studies and Strategy Management, Armed Forces of the Philippines (OSSSM, AFP). He is a current graduate student under the Master’s in International Studies Program in University of the Philippines, Diliman.] 

Troops thwart NPA extortion in remote Zambo Norte village

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 10, 2020): Troops thwart NPA extortion in remote Zambo Norte village (By Teofilo Garcia, Jr.)

EXTORTION THWARTED. Troopers of the Army's 44th Infantry Battalion clash on Tuesday (June 9, 2020) against a group of communist New People's Army in Sitio Waloangka, Barangay Tinuyop, Leon Postigo, Zamboanga del Norte. Soldiers recovered two high-powered firearms and other war materials following the encounter. (Photo courtesy of 44th Infantry Battalion) 

Government troops have thwarted an extortion activity of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels after engaging the guerillas in a firefight in the hinterlands of Zamboanga del Norte, officials said Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Don Templonuevo, the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion (IB) commander, said
the encounter broke out Tuesday afternoon while the troops were checking on the reported extortion activities of the NPA in Sitio Waloangka, Barangay Tinuyop, Leon Postigo town.

“Our troops received information from the locals (residents) of the continued extortion activities of the NPAs in the far-flung sitios of the said barangay,” Templonuevo said.

He said no one was killed or wounded on the government side during the five-minute firefight that led to the recovery of an AK-47 assault rifle, an M16A1 “baby Armalite”, and subversive documents with high intelligence value.

Col. Leonel Nicolas, commander of the Army's 102nd Infantry Brigade, said the 44IB has deployed troops to track down the fleeing NPA rebels, who scampered at the height of the firefight.

Nicola underscored the "active participation of the local populace" in the government’s campaign to end the communist armed conflict.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Generoso Ponio, commander of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, commended the troops for displaying "competence in warfighting against the NPA rebels".

“We are now regaining the grounds of NPAs exploited communities as well as gaining the trust and confidence of the local populace with the sincerity of the government in its pursuit of genuine peace,” Ponio said.

Remains of CAFGU and councilor allegedly killed by NPAs exhumed in Surigao

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 11, 2020): Remains of CAFGU and councilor allegedly killed by NPAs exhumed in Surigao (By Mike Crismundo)

Authorities exhumed on Tuesday the remains of a member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and a village councilor who were allegedly abducted and killed by communist-New People’s Army (NPA) rebels sometime in April last year.

30th Infantry Battalion / MANILA BULLETIN

The skeletal remains of the victims were discovered in a shallow grave at Barangay Ima, in Sison town, Surigao del Norte province following the revelation of a former NPA rebel who recently surrendered to the government.

The victims were identified through the belongings found in the gravesite.

Present during the exhumation were barangay officials and health workers, soldiers from the Army’s 30th Infantry Battalion (30th IB), Philippine National Police (PNP), some local government unit officials, and members of the families.

“The families of the victims want justice. Those responsible for these killings must face charges,” Sison town Mayor Karissa R. Fetalvero-Paronia said.

The municipal government of Sison has already extended support to the families of the victims especially in the processing of papers for the proper turnover of the remains and burial.

Maj. Gen. Andres C. Centino, commanding general of the Army’s Northeastern and Northern Mindanao 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division, ordered the 30th IB command group to step up their peace and development program in Surigao del Norte province and also assist the victims of harassment of the communist terrorists.

The 4th ID chief also ordered the dismantling of all the remaining guerilla fronts in the province.