Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Palace refuses to comment on Sulu ‘misencounter’

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30, 2020): Palace refuses to comment on Sulu ‘misencounter’ (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

Malacañang on Tuesday refrained from making comments on the “misencounter” between military and police in Jolo, Sulu that led to the death of four soldiers.

This, after Interior Secretary Eduardo Año ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to disarm and place the four police personnel under restrictive custody following their involvement in the killings of four Army intelligence officers.

In a virtual press conference aired on state-run PTV-4, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he would not make any statement, pending the results of the investigation conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

“Hintayin muna natin ang imbestigasyon. Parehong ang kapulisan at hukbong sandatahan ay humingi na ng tulong sa NBI para maimbestigahan nang maintindihan natin kung ano talaga ang nangyari (Let us wait first for the results of the investigation. Both the police and military already asked NBI to conduct probe for us to understand what really happened),” he said.

According to reports, police officers on Monday killed four armed men who turned out to be military officers on an official mission in Jolo, Sulu.

The slain soldiers were members of an Army intelligence unit conducting covert operations in the area to locate reported suicide bombers affiliated with Abu Sayyaf Group bomb maker Mundi Sawadjaan.

Both the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have sought the NBI’s help for a separate and impartial probe into the reported misencounter in Sulu.


Roque opted to exercise fairness, as he acknowledged that Jolo is considered as hotspot for terrorism.

“Let’s be fair. Hotspot po talaga ang Jolo ngayon. Patuloy po ang aktibidades ng mga terorista diyan (Jolo is considered as hotspot now. Terror activities in the area continue),” he said.

Roque said he would only give an official statement, once NBI is done with its investigation.

“Sa tingin ko po, medyo nag-iingat at medyo mataas ang tensiyon diyan sa area na iyan. (I think, they are just being careful there because the tension in the area is a little high). So I will not make any conclusion sa ngayon po hangga’t hindi pa natatapos ang imbestigasyon ng NBI (until NBI completes its investigation),” he said.

Possible PRRD visit

The incident happened after President Rodrigo Duterte recently announced his plan to visit military camps despite the threat posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

Roque said Duterte might visit the slain soldiers in Jolo, Sulu.

He, however, refused to spill further details due to “safety reason.”

“If he (Duterte) can, he will. Pero I’m not at liberty to say kung kailan talaga ang bisita ni Presidente sa Jolo (But I’m not at liberty to say as to when the President will visit Jolo), obviously, for safety reason,” Roque said.

NBI given 10 days to submit report

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NBI regional office in Zamboanga will look into the incident.

"The NBI Zamboanga regional office will handle the investigation. I will issue a department order and ask for an initial report in 10 days." Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

This came after both the police and the military agreed that the NBI Zamboanga will conduct and lead the investigation.

"When the incident happened yesterday (Monday). I immediately called up (AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.), and we both agreed that the NBI is going to do the investigation. The PNP together with the AFP are both open to the investigation and my request for the NBI is an impartial investigation so that the truth would come out and readily whatever would be the findings of the NBI, the PNP and the AFP will together embrace whatever the recommendations," PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said in a statement.

Gamboa, however, said the incident will not affect ties between the police and the military.

"As a matter of fact, me and the (AFP) Chief of Staff are both flying to Cebu tomorrow (Wednesday) for an (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases meeting) to show the people that although we grieve, our condolences to those who died in that encounter, it’s an isolated case and the PNP, together with the AFP, still continue to enjoy the confidence between each other," he added.

The nine police officers involved in the incident -- Staff Sgt. Almudzrin Hadjaruddin, Pat. Alkajal Mandangan, Pat. Rajiv Putalan, Senior M/Sgt. Abdelzhimar Padjiri, M/Sgt. Hanie U Baddiri, S/Sgt. Iskandar Susulan, S/Sgt. Ernisar Sappal, Cpl. Sulki Andaki, and Pat. Mohammad Nur Pasani -- are now under the custody of the Sulu Provincial Police Office pending investigation.


Army enraged; police shot 4 intel soldiers in Sulu without gunfight

From Rappler (Jun 30, 2020): Army enraged; police shot 4 intel soldiers in Sulu without gunfight (By JC Gotinga)

The Philippine Army says there was 'no provocation' on the part of the soldiers to 'warrant such carnage'

SLAIN SOLDIERS. Four soldiers were gunned down by police in Jolo, Sulu, on June 29, 2020. Photo from the Philippine Army

The military on Tuesday, June 30, accused Sulu policemen of killing 4 intelligence soldiers without a gunfight or provocation in Jolo on Monday, June 29.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Major General Edgard Arevalo said in a CNN Philippines interview on Tuesday that photos and information they have gathered showed that the police shot at the soldiers while they were inside their vehicle, except for their commander who had walked to the cops unarmed to explain their presence in the area.

Army chief Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay is “enraged” by the incident and wants a full-blown investigation, the Army said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The soldiers were on a mission to identify the location of known terrorists in the area. Based on eyewitness accounts, no altercation transpired between the two parties nor was there any provocation on the part of Army personnel to warrant such carnage. Furthermore, no agents from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency are involved and this is not an anti-drug operation. The Army grieves and condoles with the families of our fallen men. There will be no let up in our quest for truth and justice," Gapay said.

Civilian clothes

The 4-man team of the Army's 9th Intelligence Service Unit (ISU) was led by Major Marvin Indammog, 39. He was killed along with:
Captain Irwin Managuelod, 33
Sergeant Jaime Velasco, 38
Corporal Abdal Asula, 33

According to a miltary report, the 4 were conducting a signals intelligence or SIGINT operation in the Sulu capital on Monday to track down alleged suicide bombers affiliated with the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf bomb expert Mundi Sawadjaan.

As they were driving an SUV through Barangay Bus-Bus, Jolo, at around 2:30 pm, they came upon a checkpoint where police flagged them down.

The intelligence men – all in civilian clothes – introduced themselves as members of the military, but the cops doubted the claim and asked them to report to the nearby police station. The soldiers agreed.

Major General Corleto Vinluan Jr, commander of the Army’s 11th Infantry Division that has supervision over the 9th ISU, told Rappler that the soldiers were in plainclothes because they were doing intelligence work.

What the police should have done in a situation like that, said Vinluan, is to call the soldiers' battalion or mother unit and verify their identities.

Instead, the cops ordered them to drive to the nearest police station.

The Army soldiers followed in their SUV but went past the station by about 50 meters, deciding instead to park their SUV in front of a fire station.

“Apparently for security reasons, they moved a little further away from the police station pero huminto rin sila (but they stopped eventually),” Arevalo said.

An initial police report released Monday night said the soldiers tried to flee, prompting the cops to open fire. Arevalo denied this.

In fact, the unit commander, Major Indammog, got off the SUV and left his gun in the vehicle to speak to the police, who apparently had also gotten off their vehicle to talk to the soldiers, the military said.

The military said Indammog's men were left in the SUV.

A police report said that at this point, the soldiers "lifted and pointed their firearms" at the cops, prompting the cops to open fire.

Arevalo said even that claim indicates there was no gunfight to begin with. “Kung 'yun ang ating titingnan, ay malinaw na walang naganap na barilan. Hindi nagkaroon ng exchange of fire (If we base it on that, then it’s clear there was no gunfight. There had been no exchange of fire),” Arevalo said in the CNN Philippines interview.

Photos showed the victims’ bodies splayed near or inside their vehicle, he added.


"Hindi namin alam ano motivation ng mga pulis kasi pag ganyan.... Itong mga pulis, alam nilang walang armas 'yung sundalo, pinagbabaril na lang.... Hindi namin maisip na gagawin ng pulis 'yun e," Vinluan told Rappler. (We don't know what the police's motivation was.... These cops, they knew the soldiers were unarmed but just shot them.... We couldn't imagine cops doing that.)

The military and police top brass earlier agreed to let the National Bureau of Investigation probe the incident, to ensure “impartiality” and avoid stoking tensions between the two uniformed services.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a former military chief who now supervises the Philippine National Police (PNP), on Monday night ordered the detention and disarming of the cops involved in the incident.

Arevalo said the PNP leadership has expressed its condolences over the killing of the 4 military intelligence officers.


South China Sea Is Not Beijing's Maritime Empire, Pompeo Says As Philippines Pushes Back Against China

From the International Business Times (Jun 29, 2020): South China Sea Is Not Beijing's Maritime Empire, Pompeo Says As Philippines Pushes Back Against China (By James Patterson)
06/29/20 AT 7:40 AM

  • Michael Pompeo's Twitter message praised the 36th ASEAN summit, saying: "China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS as its maritime empire. We will have more to say on this topic soon"
  • This could be a sign that Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte was seeking to move toward the U.S. and away from China concerning the situation in the South China Sea
  • Duterte had taken a soft stance toward China, and was described by some as Beijing-friendly
The United States Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, like his boss President Donald Trump is a regular Twitter user. On June 2, he tweeted he had sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General to protest China’s “unlawful South China Sea (SCS) maritime claims”.

On Saturday (June 27), he posted another tweet: “The United States welcomes ASEAN Leaders’ insistence that South China Sea disputes be resolved in line with international law, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea). China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS as its maritime empire. We will have more to say on this topic soon.”

The tweet was a message in response to a joint statement from the 36th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit that was held the previous day.

The statement expressed the concerns among the ASEAN leaders over the situation in the South China Sea. Some of the concerns were:
  • The importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea
  • Upholding international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the South China Sea
  • Working actively toward the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety
  • The early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS
  • Emphasizing the “importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation”
Of the ASEAN nations, the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte’s stance toward the Communist giant seems to be the key as to how China’s attempts to dominate the international waterway will play out.

In 2016, Duterte was elected to his six-year term and was handed an “ace card” in July when the Philippines won an arbitration award by The Hague’s Arbitral Tribunal that ruled against China’s “nine-dash line” claims to the sea, including those within Philippine’s exclusive economic zone. Beijing rejected the ruling and there was no enforcement mechanism in place.

Duterte has taken a soft stance toward China, described by some as Beijing-friendly, since his tenure as president. He shrugged off the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by the Chinese Coast Guard vessel as an accident and agreed to put discussions of the 2016 Hague ruling aside while negotiations over the exploration of oil-rich waters were ongoing.

The COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China and has caused a virtual shutdown in the Philippines may have hardened Duterte’s stance. The negotiations have stalled, and China continues its attempts in the South China Sea.

Now, the Philippine Department of Energy and Department of Foreign Affairs officials are lobbying Duterte to reassert the country’s sovereign claim to seabed energy resources contested by China and push for Chinese compensation for Filipino fishermen from the fishing boat incident.

Pompeo’s tweet is an indication that Duterte and Philippine diplomats are shifting back toward the U.S., the country’s long-time ally. Duterte even reversed his position on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) a mutual defense treaty that he sought to cancel in February before anyone knew the full impact of COVID-19. 

Who Exactly is a Communist Rebel? Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act Has Answers

Posted to the Voice of American (Jun 29, 2020): Who Exactly is a Communist Rebel? Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act Has Answers (By Ralph Jennings)

A protester holds a caricature of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during an anti-terror bill rally at the University of the Philippines in Manila, Philippines as they observe Philippine Independence Day on Friday, June 12, 2020.

Legislators in the Philippines have passed an anti-terrorism law that broadens President Rodrigo Duterte’s power to squelch armed rebels along with backers of the Communist party linked to a widespread violent struggle.

The House of Representatives passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in early June and Duterte has indicated he will sign it.

Critics of Duterte, who’s known for a deadly anti-drug crackdown since taking office in 2016, worry that authorities will interpret the law to stop any kind of dissent. People connected with the communists would be particularly targeted, analysts say.

“It’s very ambiguous, and it’s also subject to abuse even if they have a provision there saying that rallies and criticisms against governments are not included, given that there’s a very vague definition of terrorists and it’s subject to a lot of interpretations,” said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

The 2020 act replaces a 2007 law by adding “proposal” to commit terrorism, along with training of terrorists as violations. It also expands the government’s means of surveillance against suspected terrorists. Suspects can be held 14 days under the new law without an initial court appearance, and judges can give life prison sentences to people convicted of terrorism.

The new act says terrorism means acting to kill or cause bodily harm to another person or attempting to take a life. It covers damage to public property as well, if done to spread fear.

Authorities will use the law to go after the New People’s Army, a branch of the Communist Party of the Philippines, analysts believe. The army operates mostly in rural areas where some among the poor favor communism. The army, believed to be about 4,000 strong, finds some of its recruits at universities.

A protester gestures as she talks to the crowd during an anti-terror bill rally at the University of the Philippines in Manila, Philippines as they observe Philippine Independence Day on Friday, June 12, 2020.

Insurgencies were taking place in 219 towns in 31 of the country’s 81 provinces as of April 10, the Communist party said on its website. The army has killed about 30,000 people total over its 50-plus years and the party called off a cease-fire May 1.

The government has already “targeted” hundreds of activists, farmers, environmentalists, trade union leaders and journalists among others “on suspicion of being communists or communist sympathizers,” New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch says in a June 5 statement.

Activists overall suddenly face a “real and grave threat”, said Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the Manila-based Bagong Alyansang Makabayan alliance of leftist causes. Arrests can be made and bank accounts frozen on “mere suspicion”, he said.

“It’s quite easy to do since critics are routinely branded as communist affiliated or front organizations of the communists,” Reyes said. “It is going to extend to the legal activists and all other critics and even ordinary people.”

Manila’s new act will “open the door to arbitrary arrests and long prison sentences for people or representatives of organizations that have displeased the president,” Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director said in the statement.

The Philippines is hardly alone in using the law to combat terrorism. Saudi Arabia’s law came under fire in 2017 from the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights for targeting writers and human rights advocates over non-violent views. A law that Singapore rolled out in 2018 lets police ban reporting and posting videos from any terrorism scenes.

Philippine officials show no sign so far of abusing the law, said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.

Just one person has been convicted under the 2007 law, and legislators made a special point to exclude common rallies and protests from the 2020 act, Araral said.

“They know the backlash against this bill, so I think they’ve done their job to make sure that civil rights are amply protected,” he said. For Duterte, he added, “the purpose of this bill is really to give the government the tools to put a final end to the communist insurgency.” 

Rebel killed in Miag-ao clash

From Panay News (Jun 30, 2020): Rebel killed in Miag-ao clash (By Ruby Silubrico)

A suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebel was killed in an encounter with government troops yesterday morning in a remote village of Miag-ao, Iloilo.

The body of the still unidentified rebel was recovered at the clash site in Sitio Lay, Barangay Daleji, Miag-ao,
said Lieutenant Colonel Joel Benedict Batara, commander of the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion (61IB).

The clash happened at around 11:10 a.m. There were around 30 rebels believed belonging to the Suyak Platoon of NPA Panay’s Southern Front Committee.

The firefight lasted for some 15 minutes.
“The encounter site was a mountainous area and really rebel-infested. It was about 25 kilometers away from the town proper of Miag-ao. The fatality has yet to be identified kasi malayo talaga at walang signal ang tao natin sa doon,” Batara said.

The rebels withdrew to the mountains and left their dead comrade.

Soldiers also recovered flags and an M16 armalite rifle.

The 61IB deployed reinforcements for a follow-up and clearing operations.

Batara told Panay News he received information from the community last week about armed men in the towns of San Joaquin, Miag-ao and some villages in Antique province.

He said rebels were recruiting new members in the 1st District, targeting mostly youngsters in mountainous areas.

“We will continue to hunt them,” said Batara.

Last week, at least 12 rebels in Antique surrendered to the 61IB and the Antique Police Provincial Office after long years of armed struggle.

They claimed hunger and deception forced them to surrender and they wanted to avail themselves of the government’s reintegration program.


Clans in Maguindanao’s biggest ‘rido’ bury hatchet

From MindaNews (Jun 29, 2020): Clans in Maguindanao’s biggest ‘rido’ bury hatchet

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 29 June) — The biggest “rido” or clan war in Maguindanao, which pitted against each other commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has been settled after dragging on for years and causing untold miseries to civilians.

“Impossible yet we made it possible,” said Abdulraof Macacua, executive secretary of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Macacua, known by the pseudonym “Sammy Gambar,” is also the chief of staff of Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing.

Macacua facilitated the reconciliation of warring Muslim clans, who swore before the Holy Quran to religiously abide with the localized peace agreement that ended four years of animosity and bloodshed.

According to him, the settlement between the warring Moro families in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town “eliminates half of the rido problem in Maguindanao.”

On Saturday, June 27, Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Resty Sindatok, along with his relatives headed by Commander Hawn of the MILF 105th Base Command, and the clan of Commander Wahid Tundok of the MILF 118th Base Command, signed a peace agreement at the office of Macacua at the BARMM complex in Cotabato City.

Tundok is a close relative and ally of the past administration led by the Dimaukom family in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.

The reconciliation was brokered and witnessed by Sultan Kudarat Governor Suharto Mangudadatu, who represented his wife Maguindanao Governor Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu, and representatives from the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and the Maguindanao Peace Monitoring and Investigation Team.

Religious and traditional leaders were also instrumental in ending the conflict that was settled without blood money.

“We are thankful that our efforts with BARMM Chief Minister Kagi Murad (Ahod Ebrahim) have worked. This (settlement) will give better direction for the Bangsamoro government to focus on development,” Governor Mangudadatu said.

Mangudadatu said the truce “was reached because by blood, the warring factions are also related.”

Macacua reminded the parties to adhere to the peace agreement, stressing those who will violate it will be considered “enemies of the BARMM, the MILF and Maguindanao province.”

“Whoever violates the agreement will be penalized accordingly…if the violators are MILF members, they will be delisted outright from the ranks and will be charged,” Macacua said.

Mayor Sindatuk lauded the efforts of the MILF leadership to facilitate the reconciliation.

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank the MILF leadership and the governors of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat because this conflict is finally settled,” Sindatuk said in the vernacular.

Butch Malang, chair of the MILF-CCCH, said the rido settlement “was unprecedented since previous efforts to reconcile the warring families have failed.”

Malang said they have been also working to settle other clan wars involving MILF members in Pikit, North Cotabato and other communities.

PNP allays fears of terror attack in Metro Manila

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 29, 2020): PNP allays fears of terror attack in Metro Manila (By Aaron B. Recuenco)

The Philippine National Police (PNP) allayed fears of a terror attack in Metro Manila following a bloody clash in Parañaque City that led to the death of four members of the finance unit of the international terrorist group Daulah Islamiyah.

Philippine National Police (MANILA BULLETIN)

This developed as a supporter of the Maute Group who took part in the bloody Marawi City siege was arrested in a raid in his house on Sunday.

PNP chief Gen, Archie Gamboa said that they have not monitored any serious threat in Metro Manila despite the operation last week that resulted in the death of the finance officer of the Mindanao-based local terror group supporting the Daulah Islamiyah.

“I want to make it clear that the apprehension made last week is the financial conduit so this is more on finances. There is nothing yet about operations, offensives in Metro Manila,” said Gamboa.

“Let’s emphasize that it was financial conduit that were neutralized last week and operation is entirely another topic. No need to worry,” he added.

Meanwhile, Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) director Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo identified the arrested suspect in Marawi City as Nadil Sandab Tomara, who uses the aliases Nabel Sandab and Abu Khalifa.

He is facing a string of criminal charges that include murder and illegal possession of firearms.

Estomo said the suspect is now under the custody of the Marawi City Police Station and was already presented to the court which issued the arrest warrant.