Tuesday, December 8, 2020

PNP forms board of inquiry to probe Datu Piang attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 8, 2020): PNP forms board of inquiry to probe Datu Piang attack (By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)

PNP chief, Gen. Debold Sinas. (PNA photo by Lloyd Caliwan)

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has created a board of inquiry (BOI) to probe the attack by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Datu Piang, Maguindanao last week.

In a press briefing in Camp Crame Tuesday, PNP chief, Gen. Debold Sinas, said Maj. Gen. Marni Marcos, Director of Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM), will lead the BOI with the assistance of five other police officials.

"The purpose of the BOI is to determine what really transpired," Sinas said.

He added that the board would review the facts and circumstances regarding the incident and delve deeper into the operational, strategic, or tactical lapses in the operational procedures and existing policies.

The probe also aims to identify policy and program interventions to be undertaken by the police "to prevent similar incidents from happening again".

Sinas also said the BOI would determine whether there are intelligence lapses, best practices, and commendable actions in terms of responding to the incident.

Initial investigation showed that factions of the BIFF led by Esmael Abubakar alias 'Kumander Bungos' and Imam Minimbang alias 'Kagi Karialan' conducted the harassment in the town last December 3.

Sinas added that terrorist group Dawlah Islamiya allegedly teamed up with the two groups in staging the attack.

Marcos said they are coordinating with the Police Regional Office-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (PRO-BAR).

"We are collating all facts gathered. Those were the reports of the chief of police and the commanders in the area. We will find it out later, we would analyze what their motives are. We are not just relying on their statements, we are also using the open source, social media, we have interviews (on information) about these perpetrators," Marcos told reporters in a press briefing.

Marcos assured that they would immediately submit the report on the harassment soon as they get all the data needed.

Sinas has ordered to momentarily relieve Capt. Israel Bayona, police chief of Datu Piang, Maguindanao, while the investigation is ongoing.

“He was momentarily relieved while the investigation is ongoing and he would also undergo stress debriefing. He would be reinstated once the results are out and I think he has done his best. He was able to show the residents his good leadership and the town mayor requested to retain him,” Sinas said.

The harassment incident transpired around 9:25 p.m. last December 3 at Barangay Poblacion, Datu Piang town allegedly by the BIFF. No casualty was reported in the incident.

Authorities are looking at political rivalry among local executives of Datu Piang, particularly between Mayor Victor Samama and Vice Mayor Nasser Abpi over certain political issues as one of three possible motives behind the attack.

Other possible motives are vengeance for the death of BIFF member Abu Suffian in a police operation in Cotabato City on Dec. 1, and the personal grudge of some BIFF members against Bayona for the recent arrest of its two members on drugs and firearms charges.

Sinas said the personal grudge is most likely the motive because the chief of police was sought out by the armed men over the earlier arrest of two BIFF members who are relatives of the vice mayor.

Police earlier identified Salahudin Hasan alias "Salah" and Muhiden Animbang Indong alias "Commander Karialan" as the leaders of 50 men who stormed the town center of Datu Piang.

Aside from the minor damage, no casualty was reported in the attack, according to the police.


PH gets P1.38-B military equipment from US

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 8. 2020): PH gets P1.38-B military equipment from US (By Priam Nepomuceno)

BOOSTING DEFENSE TIES. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (right), Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., (2nd from right), and acting US Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller (2nd from left) take a look at the military equipment donated by the US government to the Philippines in a ceremony at the defense department’s main office on Tuesday (Dec. 8, 2020). The donation highlights the strong defense alliance between the Philippines and the US. (Photo courtesy of DND Defense Communications Service)

The Philippines' defense capabilities got a much-needed boost upon receiving a military hardware donation, including snipers’ and anti-improvised explosive device equipment, worth USD29 million (about PHP1.38 billion), from the US Defense Department on Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. accepted the donation from visiting acting US Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller during a short ceremony held at the Department of National Defense (DND) building in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Miller also informed Lorenzana that one C-130 military transport aircraft would be delivered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on December 17.

Both Lorenzana and Miller have agreed to boost further the military-to-military engagement between Manila and Washington DC.

“We are grateful for the support provided by the United States as we continuously work on the enhancement of the Philippines’ defense capabilities. The modernization of the AFP will ultimately allow us to respond more effectively to both traditional and non-traditional security threats to our maritime nation. Our government expresses our deep appreciation for the US government’s assistance in protecting our borders from external threats," Lorenzana added.

Miller met with his Filipino counterpart and other government officials to highlight the long-standing and steadfast alliance between Manila and Washington DC, and the US government’s commitment to helping the country secure its national and regional security.

Aside from the turnover of the defense articles, he also mentioned the US government’s PHP1.1 billion (USD23.4 million) Covid-19 assistance and disaster relief for recent typhoon victims, as well as ongoing support for Philippine counterterrorism and maritime security efforts.

The United States has earlier transferred defense equipment to several special mission units of the AFP to support its modernization goals.

The new equipment will strengthen the AFP’s joint precision strike, sniper, riverine, and counter-improvised explosive device capabilities.

US Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett had also handed over to the Philippine Navy a ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial System, while US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien donated PHP868 million (USD18 million) in supplementary military equipment and training to the AFP.

The Philippines is the largest recipient of US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific region.


NBI counter-terrorism head dies of gunshot wound inside office

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 8, 2020): NBI counter-terrorism head dies of gunshot wound inside office (By Benjamin Pulta)

The head of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Counter-Terrorism Division has died from gunshot wounds inside his office at the agency's main office in Manila.

In a spot report released Tuesday, the Manila Police District said Raoul Manguerra, 40, was declared dead on arrival (DOA) by Dr. Gabriel Cabatan at the Manila Doctors Hospital midnight Monday after succumbing to a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

A certain “Bert”, the victim’s driver, and a certain “Dads”, a casual employee in the agency rushed the victim to the hospital after hearing a gunshot inside his office.

Lawyer Ma. Rosario Bernardo, the victim’s partner, told police investigators that Manguerra had been suffering from Stage 3 colon cancer.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra expressed grief over the incident.

“I’d rather (have) the NBI make the public statement after they have exhaustively examined all possible angles. Baka tonight may linaw na yan (Maybe all the facts will be known by tonight. But one thing sure, the DOJ and the NBI have suffered another major loss. Chief Manguerra was the head of the anti-terrorist division of the NBI that was responsible for the arrest of scores of Abu Sayyaf fighters throughout the country, including Metro Manila,” Guevarra said in a statement.


Lorenzana to lead acceptance, christening of 6 Black Hawk helicopters for Air Force

From the Business Mirror (Dec 8, 2020): Lorenzana to lead acceptance, christening of 6 Black Hawk helicopters for Air Force (By Rene Acosta)

One of the six Black Hawk helicopters at a Philippine Air Force hangar.

Philippine Air Force (PAF) officials will formally accept and christen into service on Thursday six of the 16 Sikorsky S70i Black Hawk helicopters that it has acquired under the military’s capability upgrade program.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is the event’s guest of honor, will lead other defense officials and the military’s top brass in witnessing the acceptance and blessing of the helicopters by the PAF at the Clark Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga.

This is the third of the big ticket items that the PAF has so far received under the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program after it has already acquired a squadron of brand-new FA-50 fighter jets from South Korea.

PAF has also procured Super Tucano attack planes from Brazil.

Five of the Black Hawk helicopters, ordered and procured from Poland in a government-to-government contract arrived in the country last month aboard an Antonov plane while another one arrived weeks later aboard a ship, as earlier disclosed by Lorenzana.

The remaining 10 units are expected to be delivered within the first quarter of next year.

The 16 Black Hawks, with a contract price of $241,461,699.39, were built by Polish firm Polskie Zaklady Lotnicze Sp.z.o.o.

The defense department, through its spokesman Arsenio “Popong” Andolong, said earlier that the helicopters will greatly boost the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s capability to conduct various operations, including combat missions, humanitarian assistance and disaster response and help in the government’s efforts against Covid-19.


AFP chief sees new fighter jets for PH military before Duterte steps down

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 7, 2020): AFP chief sees new fighter jets for PH military before Duterte steps down (By: Frances Mangosing)

A deal that would bring multi-role fighter jets to the Philippine military, one of its big ticket projects, could be signed before President Rodrigo Duterte steps down in 2022, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay on Monday (Dec. 7).

The defense department has yet to make public its choice between two types of fighter jets—Saab JAS 39 Gripen or Lockheed Martin F-16V–but Gapay dropped hints it could be the US-made F-16s.

“Soon, before our President steps down, we will finally have multi-role fighters in the likes of the F-16 in our Air Force inventory,” said Gapay at a Laging Handa press briefing held online.

READ: As fate of VFA hangs, PH and US forces take to the skies for exercise

The potential acquisition of F-16 fighter jets was among the topics discussed by American and Philippine officials during the visit to Manila of US Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett in November, a security official privy to the meeting told INQUIRER.net.

READ: Top US Air Force exec visits PH for boost to military partnership

The new fighter jets would add to the Philippine Air Force’s fleet of 12 South Korean KAI FA-50 light fighter jets, the PAF’s first supersonic aircraft after the retirement of Northrop F-5 Tiger jet fighters in 2005.

The PAF was once among the finest in Asia, but its inventory of aircraft had deteriorated over time without replacement because of funding problems and the painstaking process involved in modernizing the military.

But Gapay said the Philippine military is now “60 percent at par” with those of its neighbors in the region as it modernizes its systems, equipment, materiel and personnel.

READ: Lorenzana says 2nd stage of PH military upgrade won’t be completed on time

“Once those in the modernization pipeline materializes, we will somehow be at par,” said Gapay.

The continuing effort to modernize the Philippine military comes as the country is confronted with an aggressive enforcement by China of its discredited claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Gapay said at the same briefing that AFP has monitored an increasing number of Chinese vessels in disputed waters with some found to be inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“There are some intrusions in our territorial waters that were monitored and our armed forces challenged them,” said Gapay. “We are challenging these vessels which are entering our territorial waters,” he said partly in Filipino.

The upgraded capability of the Philippine military had allowed continued patrol of Philippine territory, Gapay said.

“Before we didn’t have the capability to monitor but now because of modern equipment we got through the AFP modernization program, we were able to monitor,” Gapay said in Filipino.

“We improved our maritime domain awareness capability and we have established an effective military presence in West Philippine Sea,” he said.


PH has no cybersecurity operations center, says Esperon in Dito Telecom hearing

From Rappler (Dec 7, 2020): PH has no cybersecurity operations center, says Esperon in Dito Telecom hearing (By JC GOTINGA)

Senators ask whether renewing Dito Telecommunity's legislative franchise would give the Chinese government a foothold in the Philippines through Dito's partner, ChinaTel

The Philippines has no "operations center" to defend against cyberattacks on a national level, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr told a Senate panel on Monday, December 7.

Esperon admitted this as senators raised questions on the cybersecurity implications of the pending renewal of the legislative franchise of Dito Telecommunity, during a hearing of the Senate committee on public services led by Senator Grace Poe.

Dito, led by Filipino businessman Dennis Uy, is a consortium that includes China Telecom (ChinaTel), a company owned and controlled by the Chinese government. ChinaTel has a 40% stake in Dito.

At the hearing, Senator Risa Hontiveros cited findings that a China-linked hacking group called Naikon has been "quietly carrying out a cyber espionage campaign" against governments in the Asia Pacific region, including the Philippines, for 5 years.

Esperon said the National Security Council (NSC) is "aware" that many states, third-party actors, proxies, and terrorists "have the capability" to conduct such operations, but that he "did not know the particular name." Later on, after conferring with his staff, Esperon confirmed that "there is a group, Naikon, that really targets…the Philippines."

"So, Secretary Esperon, there is a threat. If something happens, what is the mechanism we have in place? Who are the people in charge?" Poe inquired.

"It should be incumbent upon the companies to also comply with the national cybersecurity plan," Esperon replied.

"So parang iniiwan natin sa mga kompanya (So we're leaving it up to the companies)?" Poe followed up her query.

"No, not only that. That is why we need to fund the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) so that they could have an operations center for lawful intercepts," Esperon said.

"So right now, we don't have that?" Poe asked.

"We don't have that. That is why we need some funds for that for DICT," Esperon answered.

Poe noted that the Senate has pushed to increase the allocation of the DICT in the proposed P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget. The Senate's version of the budget bill allots P15.3 billion to the agency, which is mandated to create the country's cybersecurity infrastructure.

Poe then pointed out that all China-based companies like ChinaTel are mandated by law to provide information and intelligence to the Chinese government.

"This is the problem. We're talking about the franchise of Dito Telecommunications. One of the issues being brought forth – and I think, fairly – is how do we protect ourselves knowing that a certain percentage of ownership is owned by a foreign national?" Poe said.

"How can the government assure us that they've given a fair assessment of the safety to our sovereignty if we don't even have a cybersecurity group that does the assessment?" she added.

Esperon said his council has formed technical working groups for telcos, for the national ID system, and for the national power grid. They "may have to create other technical working groups in the name of cybersecurity," the former military general added.

"Listening to Secretary Esperon – they're drafting this and that – but when it comes to the actual mechanism in place, should we have a threat, there's really no plan. So papaano natin masasabi na safe tayo (So how can we say that we're safe)?" said Poe.

No published doctrine on cyber defense, either

At the hearing, engineer Pierre Tito Galla, co-founder of the cybersecurity advocacy group Democracy.Net.PH, pointed out that in 2019, the DICT launched a "cybersecurity management system" intended as an operations center to guard 10 government agencies including the NSC, the Department of National Defense (DND) which oversees the military, and the Office of the President.

However, it is unclear whether this operations center has been functioning, Galla said, because there are no published reports about its status or accomplishments from government channels or in the media.

"It seems that because of the lack of mention of this security operations center, maybe it's not running. Maybe it's an expensive paperweight that we thought of setting up but we are not operating it? Because we are not getting any report," Galla told the panel.

As part of international "best practices," other countries' cybersecurity management groups publish monthly or yearly reports on how many threats they detected and defeated, even without naming the identities or sources of such threats.

Military report confirms spying risks in deal with China-backed telco

Galla also noted that the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have not published a doctrine on "what is the cyber defense posture of the Philippines."

Cyber defense is different from cybersecurity, Galla emphasized. Cybersecurity is about individual and collective protection from threats. Cyber defense is about actively resisting attacks, from taking down hacker networks to actually arresting terrorist hackers, for example.

"There is a kinetic aspect to [cyber defense]," said Galla.

Esperon said the NSC and the military do not openly discuss matters of cyber defense or cybersecurity because they consist of classified information.

The AFP has a cyber defense unit with 40 personnel led by a Philippine Navy captain, he added.

"We have a lot of people into this. It's just that we don't discuss them openly, especially operations. We will have, of course, manuals later on," Esperon said.

Poe and Hontiveros said that with the Naikon threat going on for the last 5 years, and questions over possible Chinese influence on Dito, the NSC should go beyond making general statements on cyber threats in general.

Poe said people "would expect at least a minimum discussion on the general makeup of the cybersecurity plan."

Hontiveros: ChinaTel a 'proxy' for Chinese government

Dito Telecommunity has an agreement with the AFP to set up transmission facilities in military bases all over the country. In its own risk analysis conducted in late 2019, the AFP identified spying risks presented by its deal with Dito: electronic and radio frequency eavesdropping, interception, and signal jamming.

Lawmakers and experts have raised the alarm over this, but the deal is pushing through. The AFP recently said it would require free access to Dito's facilities inside military properties, aside from other "safeguards" including equipment inspections and background checks on personnel.

Dito is preparing to roll out services in 2021. It has so far built around 2,000 cell towers, the company's chief administrative officer Adel Tamano told the Senate panel. Telcos Globe and Smart each have around 10,000 cell towers all over the country.

Besides accessing military information through intercepts, ChinaTel might also harvest big data and demographic information through its role in Dito, which could allow China to sabotage the Philippine economy, cybersecurity experts earlier said.

Hontiveros said her "theory" is that ChinaTel is a "proxy for the Chinese government."

"By allowing it to set up a communications network in the country as well as facilities in military bases, hindi ba ito katumbas na pagpayag sa mga state-sponsored hacking groups na magkaroon ng isang foot in the door dito sa Pilipinas (isn't this tantamount to allowing state-sponsored hacking groups to have a foot in the door here in the Philippines)?" Hontiveros asked Esperon.

Esperon said Globe and Smart have foreign investors, too. Hontiveros then pointed out that Globe's Singaporean and Smart's Indonesian partners are not bound by their governments to supply intelligence, unlike ChinaTel.

Singapore and Indonesia, unlike China, do not have interests in the Philippines' national power grid, or overreaching claims in the West Philippine Sea, Hontiveros added.

With the Philippines at best still drafting a cybersecurity or cyber defense doctrine, the government should not precede it by granting a franchise to Dito, knowing full well its partner ChinaTel's links to the Chinese government, the opposition senator said.

Pangilinan proposes closed-door session

Because of the sensitivity of the subject, Senator Francis Pangilinan proposed holding an executive session – a closed-door meeting – to discuss national security concerns surrounding Dito's business connection with ChinaTel.

Senators, security officials, and resource persons would be able to talk more freely and comprehensively about the matter in an executive session, Pangilinan said.

ChinaTel, he noted, is one of 20 companies listed by the United States Department of Defense as having direct links to the Chinese military, the People's Liberation Army. It is also mandated to spy for its government.

"How is Dito going to address this in terms of the security concerns of the country, given that China Telecom, precisely has a 40% stake [in] their company?" said Pangilinan, who was among the first senators to call attention to the risks posed by the company positioning to be the Philippines' 3rd major telco.

Poe agreed that the national security aspect of renewing Dito's francise, which will expire in 2023, should be taken up in an executive session. She said she would call one "eventually."

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri proposed that such a session should be done face-to-face – observing health safety protocols – and not online as Monday's hearing was conducted.

Those who have been wanting to hack into the Philippine government's communications "will be listening in, for sure," if the executive session were to be held online, Zubiri warned.

Go gives 'full support' to Dito franchise renewal

After the discussion on Dito's national security implications, Senator Bong Go made a manifestation – a statement of his position – before the panel.

"I just want to express my full support to the grant of a legislative franchise to Mindanao Islamic Telephone Company or Dito Telecommunity. I know that Dito can be of great help in bolstering the telecommunications and internet services in the country especially during these times that such services are needed more than ever," said Go, who is President Rodrigo Duterte's closest associate.

Duterte had Dito's Uy among major contributors to his presidential campaign in 2016.

Go reminded Dito that should its franchise to operate be renewed, it would only be the start of its work, and that it should deliver on its promise to provide better communication services to Filipinos.

The Senate committee ended Monday's hearing without yet approving the proposal to renew Dito's franchise for another 25 years. The new telco must first prove its capability by providing 27 mbps of data service to 37% of consumers, as it had said it would.

Also, the concern about Dito's national security implications "is paramount," said Poe.


Gov’t clears names of 36 persons wrongly tagged as Abu Sayyaf in Sulu

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 7, 2020): Gov’t clears names of 36 persons wrongly tagged as Abu Sayyaf in Sulu (By: Julie Alipala)

OMAR, SULU –– Abduka Isah, 49, a father of 11 children, has been in hiding for five years after some families in his place falsely accused him of being a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

This week, town and military officials cleared his name, along with those of 35 others earlier tagged as followers and supporters of ASG subleader Alhabsy Misaya.

“Their backgrounds were thoroughly investigated and there were no cases (against them), just wrong tagging,” said Mayor Abdulbaki Adjibon of Omar town, as he assured the 36 they were cleared after they went through a series of screening and evaluation.

“As far as I am concerned, they are not Abu Sayyaf, they are not lawless (elements) but victims of circumstances,” said the mayor. “They were just accused by some groups (of being Abu Sayyaf members) and because of fear, they went into hiding and were forced to abandon their families,” Adjibon said. “Their families suffered from wrong tagging and accusations,” the mayor said during the group’s acceptance ceremony at Barangay Lahing-Lahing here on Saturday, Dec. 5, where each of the 36 persons received a sack of rice and a bag of essentials to tide them over during the pandemic.

Isah said his constant hiding in the last five years for a crime he never committed had taken its toll on his family’s health and resources.

“(Before), I (used to) feed my family through the income I got driving a wooden hull,” he said. “But when I was tagged, I went in hiding and could hardly support my family,” he added. “I worried about the lives of my children.”

He said the terrorist-tagging started during the 2016 elections when he avoided aligning himself with a certain political family. During election time, villagers were usually expected to support a particular group or family, he said. “(But i)f you say, ‘no,’ they would get back at you or your family, but we merely avoided them,” he said.

When he failed to show up with the group during one of the occasions, a powerful family had spread the word that he was a member of the ASG.

This forced him to flee and seek the help of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) for protection. Isah thanked the MNLF for sheltering him during his time of distress.

This week, military and town officials cleared Isah, along with 35 other people falsely-accused as Abu Sayyaf supporters, and offered them livelihood to aid their return to normal lives.

The mayor said it was the MNLF who informed the local government about the ordeal of the falsely-accused townspeople, with some of them turning over seven M1 Garand rifles and an M653 rifle.

Colonel Allan Angelo Tolentino, battalion commander of the 8th Marine Battalion Landing Team, gave the assurance that, except for those charged with arson, those who surrendered have been cleared. “It was fear that forced them to hide without even verifying their names at the police station,” said.

The town of Omar, which belonged to the second district of Sulu, had eight barangays. Created in 2007 under Mindanao Autonomy Act No 194, Omar has 25,000 people, most of them living on farming and fishing.

Commodore Toribio Adaci Jr., commander of Naval Forces Western Mindanao, said the government would assist the 36 persons to return to their normal lives with fund aid from the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process.

Adaci expressed regret that the wrongful (terror) tagging had deprived some families of a father or head of the family.


Chief of NBI’s counterterrorism division dies from gunshot wound

Posted to Politiko (Dec 8, 2020): Chief of NBI’s counterterrorism division dies from gunshot wound (By Nancy Carvajal)

The head of the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) counterterrorism division died Tuesday dawn (December 8) from a gunshot wound to his stomach, the agency’s top official said.

NBI director Eric Distor confirmed the death of Raul Manguerra and said the circumstances surrounding his passing are being investigated.

“We mourn his passing. He is one of our decorated CTD operative who was instrumental in the capture of 39 Abu Sayyaf members. He also led his men in preventing attempted terror attacks in the country,” Distor said.

Manguerra was reportedly alone in his office when he was shot Monday night (December 7). He was brought to a hospital for treatment but succumbed to complications from the gunshot wound.


Philippine Leader Backs Term Extension for Transitional Authority in Autonomous Muslim Region

 Posted to BenarNews (Dec 7, 2020): Philippine Leader Backs Term Extension for Transitional Authority in Autonomous Muslim Region (Dennis Jay Santos)

Murad Ebrahim, then chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, gestures during a press conference on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on Jan. 21, 2019.  [AFP]

President Rodrigo Duterte backs former guerrilla leader Murad Ebrahim’s request to extend the tenure of the transition government in an autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines by three years, his spokesman said Monday.

Congress, however, would have to agree to prolong the term of the transitional authority in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that is due to end in 2022, presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.

“The president is supportive, sympathetic. But it is beyond his jurisdiction because Congress will have to make the decision to amend the law,” Roque said.

However, he said Duterte would likely endorse an extension as a priority measure because he “wants to help the transition” authority.

Murad, as head of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, leads the interim government in five provinces and a handful of districts that make up the autonomous region.

On Friday, he told BenarNews that he needed his term extended to put in place reforms required before BARMM voters elect their own government in 2022. He said he had recently asked Duterte for an extension of his term till 2025.

“The president’s advice [to Murad] is to talk to lawmakers. I specifically know that he singled out the senators from Mindanao that those from Bangsamoro need to talk to,” Roque said.

“Of course, the congressman from the area should also spearhead the initiative in the lower house.”

Last week, Esmael Mangudadatu, a Muslim congressman from the south, filed a bill seeking to amend a law to allow extending Murad’s term.

The coronavirus pandemic and ongoing threats from Islamic State-linked militant groups in the south have slowed the reform process, Ebrahim had told BenarNews on Dec. 4.

“Initially, we wanted six years [of transition] but the Moro Islamic Liberation Front had agreed to a compromise of three years. However, we see that time as very short,” said Murad, the former chief of the guerrilla group.

He was referring to negotiations that ended MILF’s decades-long armed separatist campaign and led to the creation of BAARM.

Since taking power in February 2019, the transitional government has put in place a working government, brought relative peace to the area and initiated some development there, Murad said.

“Due to COVID, the implementation [of reforms] has slowed down. We could not implement certain agreements that we had committed to,” Murad said.

However, threats from groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group and its various factions have thwarted a major reform goal – decommissioning the weapons of former MILF fighters, Murad said.

His group had fought for a separate Muslim state in Catholic Philippines since 1978. It eventually dropped its demand for an independent state, and agreed to expanded autonomy for the region.

And in February last year, these guerrillas, led by Murad, assumed leadership of the autonomous Muslim region.

The handover of weapons, in phases, is a condition of the deal with the government that led to the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro region.

Currently, only 30 percent of the estimated 40,000 such arms, said to be held by Moro Islamic Liberation Front members, have been surrendered and destroyed, Murad said on Friday.

Former guerrillas are reluctant to give up their weapons amid ongoing attacks from IS-linked militants, said Murad.

Still, he had said he was certain that the remaining 70 percent of weapons would “be decommissioned in the next two years.”

Mariel Lucenio contributed to this report from Manila.


Marawi Rehabilitation Delays Could Cast a Dark Shadow over Duterte’s Peace Legacy

Posted to The Diplomat (Dec 7, 2020): Marawi Rehabilitation Delays Could Cast a Dark Shadow over Duterte’s Peace Legacy (By Katrina Auditor)

The glacial pace of the city’s reconstruction could fuel disillusionment among the region’s population.

The aftermath of the Philippine army’s five-month siege of Marawi.Credit: Flickr/Bongbong Marcos

The revelation wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it put into sharp focus the need for the Filipino government to get its priorities in order when it comes to the restive region of Mindanao. On November 19, the head of the government’s task force for the reconstruction of the city of Marawi, razed to the ground in 2017 during heavy fighting with jihadists, disclosed that only “about 20 to 30 percent” of the targeted reconstruction has so far been accomplished. This not only implies that the process will not be completed before the promised deadline of December 2021, but most likely that it will not happen before the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in 2022, casting a dark shadow over what could arguably be his greatest legacy: lasting peace in the country’s troubled south.

Three years after the end of the Marawi siege, which saw the Philippine military fight to take back a town captured by ISIS-affiliated fighters for a full five months, not only is the city still largely in ruins and 125,000 of its inhabitants still displaced, but public disaffection toward the government’s rehabilitation plans now threatens to fuel militancy and radical views that could lead to more violence in the region. The government has released only half of the budget required to rebuild the city, and earmarked a meager 5 billion pesos for next year, making it unlikely things will speed up in the near future.

Duterte appears unconcerned: his spokesman recently stated that he was “satisfied” with the rehabilitation efforts but would “appreciate” if it could be hastened. Back in July, the president’s failure to mention the Marawi rehabilitation in his State of the Nation Address had already raised concerns that it was no longer a priority of his administration. Since, he has further angered locals by blaming the delays on property ownership issues related to cultural practices and traditional clan structures of the Maranaos, the ethnic group living in the Marawi region.

Apart from alienating the local population, these delays bode ill for the prospect of lasting peace in the wider Mindanao region, presently undergoing a fragile political transition. Led by the ex-rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the new autonomous Bangsamoro government established last year is touted as one of Duterte’s greatest achievements – often presented as an “antidote to extremism” after decades of militancy. But failure to address the grievances of the Maranaos, one of the largest Muslim-majority ethnic groups that make up the Bangsamoro people, could undercut the community’s fragile confidence not only in the national government but also in the regional transitional authority. Worse, it could fuel polarization among diverse ethnic groups in the Bangsamoro, and push some former fighters to question the value of the ongoing political transition. Some of the jihadists who fought in Marawi were MILF deserters disillusioned with their leadership’s cooperation with the Philippine government at the time.

With the Marawi rehabilitation moving at snail’s pace, risks grow that such disillusion could resurface, particularly among the youth. The Maranaos increasingly perceive the delays as part of the central government’s centuries-old marginalization of the Bangsamoro people. Historical injustices, a general sense of alienation, and a series of failed peace processes have, over the years, provided fertile ground for the growth of violent extremism in Mindanao, leading to the emergence of groups such as those who took over Marawi in 2017. Following the siege, the surviving members of these ISIS-affiliate groups fled to other provinces, but have continued their recruitment efforts, waiting for a chance to strike back.

Well aware of these threats, the Bangsamoro government has recently taken steps to show the Maranaos that the rehabilitation of their capital remains a crucial component in the ongoing transition. The region’s Special Committee on Marawi held public hearings and, last September, released a comprehensive report on the rehabilitation process – a welcome step in building accountability. Going further, the transition authority then launched its own 500 million peso Marawi rehabilitation program.

The Bangsamoro transitional government’s primary task, however, remains to set up institutions for the future autonomous region. With limited resources and time, it can at best support the coordination of the rehabilitation process and implement programs that complement the efforts of the national government, but it remains incumbent on Manila to get the job done.

Duterte must fast track the process, and pursue a comprehensive approach that is sensitive to local culture and gives an active role to local communities. The national government should set up a collaborative system to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness and timeliness of all rehabilitation initiatives. As part of its ongoing efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism, it also needs to engage religious leaders who can help steer their communities away from violent doctrines.

International actors also have a role to play. While international funding has so far focused on providing aid to displaced communities, foreign donors could support smaller infrastructure projects, such as building sanitation facilities, water supply systems, solar driers, and health clinics. These, coupled with community-based capacity-building programs, would also enable domestic economic activity at a time when locals’ livelihoods have been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immediately after the Marawi siege ended, President Duterte claimed that the city was “liberated from terrorist influence” and would soon “rise as a prosperous city again.” With only a year and a half remaining in his term, the president urgently needs to deliver on his promises.

[Katrina Auditor is a Fellow at the International Crisis Group]


What you need to know about ‘Memoirs of A Teenage Rebel’

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 7, 2020): What you need to know about ‘Memoirs of A Teenage Rebel’ (By Robert Requintina)

“Memoirs of a Teenage Rebel,” produced by RCP Production and directed by Robin Padilla, is a documentary that follows the character of Ivy as she reveals her dark past as a former rebel in the New People’s Army (NPA).

It begins from her recruitment, to her rise as being one of the leaders of the NPA. However, her life changes when she is tasked to recruit a new member – a student named Ira.

They unexpectedly become best friends and Ira is eventually persuaded to join the NPA. Once within the organization though, Ira begins to witness the horrors – and be the victim of – the NPA.

She is raped multiple times, the revelation of which disheartens Ivy. Both start to slowly lose their belief in the organization, which is aggravated by them witnessing the rampant corruption within the organization.

One night, they are handed a mission to ambush a military officer. It would be Ira’s first and would fulfill the NPA’s murderous initiation rite.

But what was considered an easy mission turns into a bloody battle, with Ira dying in Ivy’s arms. This finally awakens Ivy into realizing that she’s fighting the wrong war.

Ivy then comes out on this documentary to tell her story, in her own words, and to give advice to the youth: to not follow the same path she and Ira did.

Other supporting interviewees for the documentary include:
  • A former female NPA urban poor recruiter who was sexually abused while in the organization.
  • A recruiter who manipulates the farmers and the indigenous people.
  • An NPA extortionist who explains their violent ways of extorting money from businesses nationwide.
  • A former NGO finance officer for the CPP NPA who explains the process of how they get international funding through exploitation.
  • Tribal leaders of the indigenous people who express their fear from being oppressed by the rebels.
  • Captured rebels that were unharmed and were given a new chance for a better life.
  • A mother that is still searching for her teenage daughter who is assumed to have joined the rebellion.
  • A Catholic priest who explains the value of parents spending time with their children to avoid possible recruitment.
Others who confirmed these facts were: General Cirilito Sobejana, the Commanding General of Philippine Army; General Gilbert Gapay, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; and Hermogenes Esperon, National Security Adviser and Director. General of the National Security Council.
RCP Production, which stands for Robin Cariño Padilla Productions is a Philippine production company focused on quality storytelling, documentaries and films.

Founded by Mr. Robinhood Padilla, the actor-director and one of the sought-after endorsers in the Philippines was involved from concept stage, editing up to post-production.

RCP Production has produced numerous films and documentaries that best represent the culture and current situation in the Philippines.


Opinion: Don’t call them ‘progressives’ or ‘nationalists’; they’re neither

Opinion piece posted to The Manila Times (Dec 7, 2020): Don’t call them ‘progressives’ or ‘nationalists’; they’re neither

By Rigoberto D. Tiglao

SO how do we collectively refer to organizations with such diverse avowed aims as feminism (Gabriela), youth welfare (Anakbayan), trade unionism (KMU) or “people’s economics” (Ibon Foundation)?

There is something certainly common to them, and therefore, they are a class that deserves its own name: they are all against any administration; they all adhere to the program first espoused by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as the struggle for “national democracy,” which will put an end to the evils of “imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism.”

Don’t call them “progressives,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s preferred term for them, which is really an indication of that paper’s sympathy and even admiration for them. That’s an old, old term that disguised the nascent communist movement, which CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison in the 1960s used to camouflage his political views drawn from his readings of Mao Zedong. In fact, his first printed venue for such writings on this was titled The Progressive Journal.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “progressive” as “making use of or interested in new ideas, findings or opportunities.” Progressive may have been appropriate in the 1960s to describe the kind of views Claro M. Recto espoused, which was for the country to move out of the American colonizers’ economic, political and cultural hold.

In this day and age, however, there is nothing “progressive” in the political program that the CPP and its fronts espouse, which is to establish the party’s dictatorship and implement a Cuba or North Korea kind of system.

How can Marxism-Leninism be progressive, when it has been thrown to the dustbin after causing the deaths of hundreds of millions of East Europeans when they were under the USSR and Chinese under Mao due to the disastrous economic and political programs it espoused?

Even the term the Left uses for its supposed program, “national democracy” with its three evils of “imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism” is such an outdated term, first used by Mao Zedong to describe (quite accurately at that time) China whose coastal areas were grabbed by European imperialists, whose main form of economic organization was a medieval-type of feudalism and its huge bureaucracy to run a vast country.

The Left’s bible, Philippine Society and Revolution (PSR) was written by Sison in 1968, plagiarized from Indonesian communist leader’s D.N. Aidit’s 1957 work Indonesian Society and Indonesian Revolution. To this day, PSR has not been changed in the slightest. How can such an analysis and prescription for Philippine society written 52 years ago, from which the Red fronts deduce their stand on all issues facing us today be “progressive”? Haven’t they noticed tectonic changes in the Philippines and in the world?

Official list of Red fronts — by Sison himself?


Don’t call them “nationalists,” which is simply their expropriation of a term that created our nation and inspired our heroes. How can these Red organizations be “nationalists” when they haven’t gone against the colossal telecoms, power and infrastructure conglomerate owned by a foreigner, Anthoni Salim, through his First Pacific conglomerate? Why haven’t they demonstrated against Globe Telecoms whose major stockholder is Singtel, owned by Singapore’s investment fund Temasek Holdings? Or is their nationalism for sale, especially to telecoms which need to secure their cell sites in far-flung areas the New People’s Army can easily destroy?

They claim to be nationalists in protesting against China’s alleged encroachment on our exclusive economic zones. But they refuse to see that it is their old enemy, US imperialism, which maneuvered the stupid Aquino regime into adapting a belligerent stance against China and file a suit against it.

Why did the US do so? Because China is an emerging superpower in Asia, and for the first time, US imperialist hegemony is being challenged.

“Militant” may be an appropriate term for these Red fronts, as that adjective means “combative, violent, or confrontational” which they certainly have proven again and again in their street demonstrations in which they try to provoke police violence. They are also undoubtedly espousing the violent overthrow of our democratic government. The word’s etymology is from the Latin “militare,” meaning “serving as a soldier” — the term reminding us that they are serving the New People’s Army.


But they are not the only militants here. The secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, before they agreed to lay down their arms, and the still-existing Abu Sayyaf are certainly militants. If we ever use that word to describe the Red fronts, we have to be more precise and describe them as communist militants or Red militants with the Abu Sayyaf as “jihadist” (or Islamic) militants.

“Activist” could be another appropriate term for these Red fronts, as that “means a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” But then there are activists of all kind, from tree-huggers, to animal lovers, to revolutionary-government proponents, to gay rights activists, to even anti-oligarch Duterte lovers. Many columnists really are activists in this sense.

So, if we ever use that term, we have to qualify it, that is, “communist-led activists” or “Red activists”. Leftist writers use “natdem” activists, which of course is another way of concealing their being communist-led: There is just no national democrats independent of the party or its fronts.

“National democracy” is the CPP’s bait to lure people to support its cause. But the CPP’s “Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution” clearly categorically states that the people’s democratic government will be led by the party, a euphemism for its dictatorship.

It is Sison himself though who provided us with a list of the organizations the party leads or controls, one which is so publicly known as to be in a website (www.ilps.org) accessible to anyone.


In 2007, he organized the so-called International League of People’s Struggles. Because of his bloated ego, he wanted to be viewed not just as the supreme leader of the Philippine communist movement but as the leader of current communist-led struggles in the world.

It was also one of Sison’s many ways to fool armchair revolutionaries all around the world to give him money for his upkeep in the Netherlands. Member-organizations were charged a membership fee of $50 for organizations in developing countries, and $150 for those in developed ones.

To organize the ILPS, Sison ordered all of the organizations that the CPP controlled to become members of the “league,” excluding the formal members of the National Democratic Front (NDF) so as to conceal its true nature as a party-controlled entity. Sison was its chairman from 2001 to 2019, when he retired to be designated as chairman emeritus, the same title he has in the CPP now.

Its Philippine members are in the list accompanying this column. Call it red-tagging or whatever, I extracted it from the publicly accessible ILPS website. If your organization is not a member, write Sison to demand that your group be deleted from the list, and cc me your letter.

So, would these Red fronts prefer to be called “Sisonites”? That octogenarian megalomaniac in Utrecht would love that. “Stupid Sisonites” would have a nice, alliterative ring and quite accurate.


Bangsamoro gov't continues decommissioning process

From Anadolu Agency (Dec 6, 2020): Bangsamoro gov't continues decommissioning process (By Riyaz Ul Khaliq)

$1.5B budget for 2021 undergoing parliament reading, expected to be approved before year's end, says chief minister

The decommissioning process for former combatants in the autonomous Bangsamoro region in the southern Philippines continues as more than 64 have completed vocational training earlier this week.

“They were part of the first decommissioning batch of 12,000 former combatants and the process will continue until the end of normalization,” Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told Anadolu Agency.

Ebrahim said the decommissioning of a second batch of 14,000 former combatants was underway.

“We expect to decommission 40,000 former combatants until the normalization process is complete but there is no time limit as the decommissioning process is also linked to other things like the creation of the Bangsamoro police,” he said.

A historic referendum was held on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 last year in southern Mindanao granting autonomy to Moro Muslims in Bangsamoro.

On Feb. 26, 2019, Ebrahim of the newly-formed autonomous region received his post from the central government’s regional governor in an official ceremony.

He was appointed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to administer the Bangsamoro Transition Authority through 2022 when normalization is expected to be complete.

Former combatants were part of the Ebrahim-led Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which currently runs the autonomous government.

Under the transition plan, former fighters of the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will be eligible to join the armed forces of the region.

‘Urgent budget undergoing debate’

Ebrahim said he marked the 2021 budget as “urgent” because of the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget bill for 2021 -- the fiscal year starts in January and ends in December in the autonomous region -- amounts to around $1.5 billion.

“The budget is undergoing second readings and is expected to be put to vote before this month ends,” according to the chief minister.

Bangsamoro regional parliament has 80 members -- 41 belong to the MILF and the remaining 39 are handpicked by the Philippine president.

Some members nominated by the president belong to MNLF. The MILF and MNLF operated together in the past.

The two factions are aligned in parliament.

The budget bill will be presented to the Department of Budget and Management in the national capital Manila, which will release the money, said Ebrahim.

“The Bangsamoro budget is a block grant from the national government and is equal to 5% of the entire national tax and the coastal fee collected annually,” he said.

Besides, he said, “for the next 10 years until 2029, the Bangsamoro regional government will collect all taxes from the region of nearly 5 million people and is not required to share that amount with the national government.”

Under the transition agreement, after 2029, the Bangsamoro government will share 25% of taxes collected in the region with Manila.

In 2019, it collected around 2 billion pesos ($41.6 million) in taxes.

Extension sought in transition phase

Ebrahim said his transition government sought an extension until at least 2025 so that “we get enough time to normalize.”

“Normalization cannot be completed until 2022, and the period needs to be extended before we conduct the elections for the autonomous government,” he said.

The need for an extension in the transition phase comes after the Ebrahim-led government in October launched the Bangsamoro Administrative Code [BAC] which will define the structural, functional and procedural principles and rules of governance of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Our assessment says normalization can’t finish until 2022,” Ebrahim said. “President Duterte affirmed his support but it requires amendment in the central law for which we need to engage with the Philippines Congress.”

Under the transition plan, the region will enjoy comprehensive autonomy where Muslims will be free in their internal affairs, being able to establish and administer courts of Islamic law within their jurisdiction and manage their surrounding waters jointly with the central government.

"We are going to Manila to engage with the two houses of the Philippines Parliament next week," he said.

The autonomous government will be bound to the Philippines in foreign policy, though with some flexibility.


1,000 IS-linked militants to join Bangsamoro

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 7, 2020): 1,000 IS-linked militants to join Bangsamoro (By: Jeoffrey Maitem)

HIDEOUT Members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in their hideout in the remote village of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao province. About 1,000 BIFF men are reportedly ready to join the Bangsamoro government. —JEOFFREYMAITEM

More than 1,000 pro-Islamic State (IS) militants have decided to rejoin their comrades in the Bangsamoro, convinced of the headway that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)-led regional autonomous government had been making in the Moro homeland, the head of the former rebel group said.

Murad Ebrahim, chief minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), told the Inquirer by phone on Saturday that the MILF had been reaching out to their comrades in the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), about a thousand of whom agreed to return to their fold and join the Bangsamoro government.

The BIFF broke away from the MILF when the latter signed a peace deal with the government in 2014 and formed the core of the expanded Bangsamoro autonomous government. “We are still open for negotiation. The BIFF is divided into three splinter groups, but now there are 1,000 of them ready to return,” he said.

Ebrahim said the attack staged on Friday by a faction of the BIFF in Datu Piang town of Maguindanao, where a police car and part of a police detachment were burned down, would not affect those who chose to join the BARMM.

Reaching out

Murad, 71, said the Bangsamoro government had been forming a joint peace and security body composed of the police, military and the MILF to respond to security threats in the region.

He said the group was also reaching out to the Abu Sayyaf Group, which is responsible for the deadly suicide bombings in Sulu but no longer had a strong central leadership.

Both the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF remain a threat, Murad said, but “we are also trying to reach out to them, convincing them [to return to the government while] strengthening our security measures on the ground.”

In November, BARMM leaders passed a resolution urging the central government to extend their term for three years and postpone the regional parliament election set in 2022.

Ebrahim said more time was needed to put in place reforms that were slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the peace agreement, an appointed interim government, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, will administer the BARMM for three years until its first set of officials are elected in 2022.