Wednesday, April 7, 2021

CPP-NPA leaders yield in Isabela

From the Manila Times (Apr 6, 2021): CPP-NPA leaders yield in Isabela (By Leander C. Domingo)

GAMU, Isabela: Leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in this province have voluntarily surrendered to the Army’s 86th and 95th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the 5th Infantry Division (5th ID) over the weekend.

Major Jekyll Julian Dulawan, 5th ID public affairs officer, said Alias Popoy of NPA’s Squad Uno, Regional Sentro De Gravidad (RSDG), Komiteng Rehiyon-Cagayan Valley (KR-CV) was the first one to surrender to the 86th IB in Sitio Jet in Barangay San Guillermo in Isabela province.

Dulawan said
Alias Popoy was recruited to the CPP-NPA in October 2020 by a certain Alias Andong.

Intelligence records show that Alias Popoy was among the CPP-NPA members and whose group had an encounter with the 86th IB in San Guillermo town in Isabela on March 15 where a certain Alias Yuni, a high ranking CPP-NPA official in Cagayan Valley, was killed.

Alias Popoy said he was able to sneak out, leaving his former comrades who threatened him if he left their organization.

“I am too tired having to hide from government authorities, experiencing starvation, moving from one place to another for food and shelter,” he said.

Alias Popoy said that while he felt bad fighting government troops, he was pressured and intimidated by his CPP-NPA cadres.

“With these, I decided to leave the terrorist movement and I was grateful that I was accepted by the government despite my affiliation with the terrorist group,” he said.

In San Mariano town, Isabela, Alias Kalahati/Rocket/Rudy also surrendered to authorities.

Alias Rudy, a leader of the Squad Dos of RSDG, KR-CV, was recruited in 2017 by a certain Alias Bang and Alias Kevin/Ron-Ron/Benjamin, a supply officer of Squad Tres of RSDG, KR-CV and who were recruited by Aliases Mandy, Rona, Zaldy and Lopez in 2016.

These NPA surrenderers said they have suffered enough since they joined the CPP-NPA movement which did not do them good and as promised by their recruiters.

Dulawan said the surrenderers are now under the custody of the authorities for their security while they are processing the benefits from the government under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program.

Westmincom, Comelec officials visit MILF camp

 From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Apr 7, 2021): Westmincom, Comelec officials visit MILF camp

ZAMBOANGA. Military, election and local government officials visit Tuesday, April 6, a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) community in Tumanggong, Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay. A photo handout shows Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan, Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) (standing, left), addressing the community during the visit. (SunStar Zamboanga)

LIEUTENANT General Corleto Vinluan, Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), along with officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), visited Tuesday, April 6, 2021, the former training camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Tumanggong village, Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay.

During the visit, Vinluan met with Commander Suaib Edris, the Base Commander of 113th Company, Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); Barahama Ali, Base Officer of the same unit; and; Esmael Mamiscal, representative of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities-MILF (CCCH-MILF).

The election officials who accompanied Vinluan include: Lawyer Wilfred Jay Balisado, Comelc regional director; Lawyer Teopisto Elnas, Jr., Comelec assistant regional director; and, Lawyer James Jimenez, education and information department director of the Comelec central office.

“This (visit) is very important because they will be able to assist you in preparing for next year’s election especially in exercising your right to vote,” Vinluan told the MILF leaders.

Vinluan further said Westmincom and the local government of Tungawan are always ready to provide assistance on the security and development aspects of the community.

Meanwhile, Edris ensured that the unit is in full support of the peace process.

He also expressed his gratitude to Vinluan, Tungawan Municipal Mayor Carlnan Climaco, and all the visitors for taking the time to visit and check on the situation of the community.

The visit of Vinluan Salman community aimed to establish a better relationship between the military and the MILF for sustainable peace and development in Tumanggong village.

Also present during the historic event were Brigadier General Antonio Nafarrete, Westmincom deputy commander for administration; Major General Generoso Ponio, Joint Task Force ZamPeLan commander; Brigadier General Leonel Nicolas, 102nd Infantry Brigade commander; Colonel Antonio John Divinagracia, 102nd Infantry Brigade deputy commander; Colonel Jessie Montoya, Westmincom assistant chief of unified command staff for operations; Colonel Yasser Bara, Westmincom assistant chief of unified command staff for intelligence; the local government and barangay officials; and other guests. (SunStar Zamboanga)

Special Report//Hashim Salamat led like Nelson Mandela, says doc

Posted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 7, 2021): Special Report//Hashim Salamat led like Nelson Mandela, says doc (By: Fernando del Mundo)

SERVANT-LEADER Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Hashim Salamat, speaking to MILF guerrillas in one of their strongholds in the jungles of Mindanao in this undated photo, lived by the principles of servant leadership, according to the physician who now heads the Bangsamoro Development Agency. —AFP

(Third of a series)

COTABATO, Maguindanao, Philippines — In a tree-shaded camp on the edge of the Liguasan Marsh, Hashim Salamat summoned a group of 10 doctors and young professionals to what one participant described as a monthlong course on bridging leadership.

“You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but you were highly recommended,” Dr. Danda Juanday recalled Salamat as telling him during his meeting with the then chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). “Will you help me help the poor Bangsamoro?” said Salamat, who asked the doctor to head the MILF’s Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA).

Juanday was then at the peak of his practice as an obstetrician. But he could not refuse the request.

During a ritual called “Mubaya,” he pledged he would carry out his mission with the commitment, accountability and good governance that Salamat had spelled out.

That was a year before the MILF leader died of illness in July 2003 at the age of 61.

With funding from donor countries administered by the World Bank, Juanday set up people’s organizations and worked with other agencies in relief and rehabilitation in war-devastated communities.

He stepped down in 2009, after two terms as BDA chief, with a positive track record. He never carried a gun, and was regarded as an MILF outsider.

Mandela’s lesson

“The truth is that in the history of the world, revolutionaries who took over the realm of government mostly failed,” said Juanday.

“The only exception is Nelson Mandela of South Africa. But Mandela was never an armed revolutionary,” he said, adding that Mandela just knew “how to use his assets well, be it black or white.”

Juanday recalled Salamat quoting from the Quran and telling him: “God does not change the condition of the people from good to bad, or from bad to good, from ease to hardship and from hardship to ease, unless they change their condition themselves.”

Salamat was working on a doctorate in theology at Al-Azhar University in Cairo before he returned to join Nur Misuari in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the early 1970s.

Salamat broke away from the MNLF in 1977.

When the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) was formed in 2019 and the majority of its seats went to the MILF, there were voices raised that it was too “exclusive,” that it needed to enlist professionals and tap the pool of leaders trained over nearly two decades by the BDA and its partners.

The BTA is seeking an extension of its three-year term, pleading that lack of funding and the Covid-19 pandemic had derailed its plans and programs as a self-governing entity. The pandemic also prevented the national government from fulfilling some of its peace commitments, including those related to the decommissioning of 40,000 MILF combatants.

A whole new world

During the peace negotiations, the MILF asked for a five- to six-year transition, said Windel Diangcalan, an agricultural engineer and incumbent BDA executive director. “They were given only three years. And then they are transitioning from a revolutionary group to a bureaucratic arena. It’s a different world. That’s where you have gaps.”

The “gaps” have begun to be felt—in Cotabato City, for example, in the slow approval of business permits, the disposal of medical wastes from Covid-19 protocols, and the recurrent power outages that disrupt not only internet and communications services but also online education.

Cotabato City joined the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the 2019 plebiscite —a result that is being contested in the Supreme Court for alleged irregularities. BARMM supplanted the MNLF’s Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The city is second after Tagum in business competitiveness in Mindanao and requires a higher level of bureaucratic management. “We’re used to moving fast at 80 kilometers per hour, [but] they’re doing 20,” said one resident.

In the BARMM, there is practically no development outside of Cotabato City.

Fears of errant ways

Fears have begun to surface, of errant ways similar to those experienced during the ARMM years, which had no development agenda and public accountability and transparency were often disregarded.

The meager contribution of the ARMM in the education of the young is felt even today, in Piagapo in Lanao del Sur. There, nonresident teachers were hired by the ARMM only to transfer them to another municipality, leaving a vacuum in Piagapo’s teaching staff, said Vice Mayor Ali Sumandar, 48.

Under the BTA, he said, senior positions in school divisions had begun to be filled without the required competence and proper screening of the local school board.

“We do not want a repeat of what happened during the ARMM time,” said Sumandar, who had served three terms as mayor and worked as an electrical engineer in five countries.

He was enjoying a good life in Australia, with leisure time for off-road driving and skydiving, when he heeded his family’s call to return and improve conditions in his impoverished hometown.


It’s the kind of commitment Salamat stressed in the seminar Juanday attended, where the MILF chief emphasized the value of a servant-leader not only in his lectures but also in practical ways. Once, Salamat invited participants to tea and began to serve them himself. He rejected offers of help from his guests. “I am just trying to get some blessing from God, that’s why I am serving you,” he said.

While sweeping the courtyard, Salamat turned down a guest’s plea to do the task for him. Instead, Salamat asked him to take another broom so they could cover more ground.

During a morning prayer, Salamat thrice ignored an attempt to correct mistakes in the recital he was leading—a normal practice. When a leader makes a mistake and still proceeds on his course, it means that he has to be followed because he has to do the job, Salamat later told them.

Those were the guideposts, said Juanday. INQ

Special Report//Children’s playtime leads to MILF rehabilitation

Posted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 6, 2021): Children’s playtime leads to MILF rehabilitation (By: Fernando del Mundo)

(Second of a series)

COTABATO, Maguindanao, Philippines — It all began at playtime in a camp ran by aid workers for people who fled their homes following President Joseph Estrada’s all-out war in 2000 against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In “harmony spaces,” children were encouraged to play, sing, draw and talk about pent-up emotions as a result of the tragedy they had gone through.

Soon mothers joined what the workers describe as “psycho-social” gatherings, paving the way for an internationally funded reconstruction initiative managed by the World Bank to help move forward a peace process between the government and the MILF.

The therapy program was initially opposed by MILF leaders as an attempt at “brainwashing.”

But Noraida Abdullah Karim of the humanitarian Community and Family Services International (CFSI) told them, “We don’t tell them not to join the revolution.”

What was alarming, she said, was children getting used to the notion of violence. They had become unafraid of gunfire. “They have become immune. The abnormal has become normal for them,” she said.

After sending observers, the MILF decided to form “child protection units” in its communities.

Workers from MILF’s Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) and CFSI also were allowed to begin the World Bank’s “transformation” program for six acknowledged MILF camps under the 2014 comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro.

In response to a request from the Philippine government in 2003, the bank had set up the Mindanao Trust Fund-Reconstruction and Development Programs (MTF-RDP) to consolidate international assistance for the war-battered region.

Joint Task Forces on Camp Transformation (JTFCT) and people’s organizations were organized and given training in project proposals, financing, managing and executing them.

Changing the mindset

Abdullah Karim, as CFSI program director, has established links with MILF communities over 20 years of work in areas stricken by typhoons, earthquakes and violence.

Armed men had once attempted to seize at gunpoint rice she was delivering to a besieged community; a town mayor had threatened to burn her and her workers alive after evacuees declined his order to return to their still insecure homes, citing UN principles on internal displacement.

There were moments of joy as well.

A woman at a camp opted for a P400-grant instead of fishing gear to buy watermelon seeds. In three months, businessmen bought her watermelons for P50,000, making her instantly rich.

The MTF-RDP projects were modest—roads, water systems, warehouses with solar dryers for rice, corn shellers, training centers with accommodations, clinics and markets for agricultural products.

“The idea is to change the mindset,” said Windel Diangcalan, BDA executive director. “We are just beginning. What we are doing is like an appetizer. We are not yet doing the main dish.”

Hossana Manabilang, 47, said at Barangay Nabalawag in Midsayap town houses were burned during the all-out war. There were no roads. “Pregnant women were put on horseback. Many of them bled on the way to the hospital and died,” she said.

Tired of war

Most roads have been concreted in the area, a part of Camp Abubakar, stronghold of the late MILF chair Hashim Salamat and his deputy Murad Ebrahim. Houses of wood, concrete and corrugated iron have mushroomed there.

“We are tired of war,” said Tess Atong, 48, an MILF commander at Camp Bader’s Barangay Kinebaka. “This farm is forever,” he said. “We used to walk two kilometers to fetch water. Not anymore. We have a water reservoir. Horses carried sand and cement up the mountains to build solar dryers. Before, we used cogon grass on which to dry corn and upland rice.”

Atong has put up a P200,000 internet antennae in his house and charges P1 for 15-minute use. Called the “pisonet,” the service is used by Roger Usman, 30, a volunteer high school teacher downloading Department of Education modules online for his 200 students. He said he did not want them to go through the rigors of getting an education as he did.

Reconstruction demonstrated that the peace agreement was “not just a piece of paper;” said Ayobhan Usman.

“For the first time, the people felt government presence,” said Usman, 51. “The young have something to do, getting skills training and jobs.”

Soldiering on

Usman had worked as a cashier in Saudi Arabia. He returned home a year before Estrada’s all-out war that forced more than 900,000 people from their homes.

He recalled the day helicopter gunships hammered Camp Bilal as Muslims celebrated Eid al-Adha. Each night at the bunker, he wrote a letter to his wife and tucked it in his backpack, hoping that upon his death, someone might find the letters and give them to his family.

“I did not know I would survive and be a part of this now,” he said.

Over almost two decades, the World Bank says its program has benefited some 638,000 people in 332 barangays in 114 municipalities in 19 provinces. It ended this month. With the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao now in place, the development initiatives will be transferred to its various ministries.

CFSI’s Abdullah Karim is likely to have an active role in a future arrangement in Mindanao. She has seen it all. Growing up in Cotabato, she and her family have fled countless times to escape an earthquake and tsunami, communal and tribal clashes. She had fled to Manila in the 1980s, landing in a Muslim squatter colony. There, she helped defend shanties from armed goons out to evict them.

And why has she soldiered on?

Abdullah Karim recalled queues she had joined in evacuation centers for food, for nutribuns and used clothing. Often, these were gone before she reached the breadline.

“There was that feeling of helplessness, that you cannot get mercy. I wanted a job so I can see to it that everyone will get help. If nobody helps you, you will die of hunger.”

Special Report//Commander Bravo builds his Shangri-la

Posted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 5, 2021): SPECIAL REPORT//Commander Bravo builds his Shangri-la (By: Fernando del Mundo)

TOUGH TRANSITION Abdullah Macapaar, aka Commander Bravo, admits being a parliamentarian is more difficult than being a guerrilla. —CONTRIBUTED/ OFFICE OF MACAPAAR

(First of a series)

CAMP BILAL, Lanao del Norte, Philippines —The “Aha!” moment came to Abdullah Macapaar during a visit to Baguio City in February 2019.

Macapaar, popularly known as Commander Bravo of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), toured the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), accompanied by Carlito Galvez Jr., the presidential adviser on the peace process, while on a three-day trip to attend the graduation of a son from an Islamic school for religious leaders.

“I saw the parade ground. I am going to have one like that,” Bravo said in an interview, his hands excitedly drawing his vision of a Shangri-la in this sprawling MILF sanctuary in the forested mountain hamlet of Kura-­Kura in Lanao del Norte.

Unlike the PMA, Camp Bilal does not have the government’s financial attention to flesh out Bravo’s plans for his redoubt — pounded by aerial and ground bombardment in former President Joseph Estrada’s all-out war against the MILF in 2000.

But with the business savvy of a Maranao, Bravo has begun seeking funds from politicians and businessmen to build a madrassa, buildings for elementary, high school and university, dormitories, a health clinic, housing and jobs for his troops and civilians.

And always, there was his parade ground—with an amphitheater and terraced seats like that of the Roman coliseum.

For now, the infrastructure at Camp Bilal was a result of a modest program administered by the World Bank, called the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development Program (MTF- RDP). It is being implemented by the humanitarian Community and Family Services International and the MILF’s Bangsamoro Development Agency not only at Bilal, but in five other major MILF camps.
Camps transformation

These projects—a solar dryer for corn and palay, a livelihood training center with accommodation, 400- and 300-meter concrete roads, a water system and a health clinic—received grants from the MTF-RDP, supported by the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Sweden and Spain. Begun in 2005, the projects, worth $19 million, were to be completed by the end of March.

The MTF-RDP initiative was part of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which led to the formation in January 2019 of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), in place of the old ARMM.

The CAB envisioned the “transformation” of camps Abubakar, Bilal, Omar, Bader, Bushra and Rajamuda, which represent geographic subdivisions of the MILF in four provinces affected by the all-out war.

Commander Bravo returned to Camp Bilal in 2015 and began his plan to build a modern community out of the forest.

“This was where my father hid me,” said the son of a Maranao sultan, recalling the bloody land-grabbing wars waged by the Moro-led Baracudas and the paramilitary Ilagas.

Full-scale uprising followed after then President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. It was led by political science professor Nur Misuari and the religious leader Hashim Salamat under the Moro National Liberation Front. The MILF later broke away from Misuari’s MNLF in 1977.

Bravo, 68, speaking in Maranao and Filipino, his unruly curly hair streaked with gray flowing to his shoulder, was interviewed in his three-room wooden house in the outskirts of Iligan City.
Mujahideen in Afghanistan

He recounted his life story—as a grade school dropout, a teenage motorcycle racing enthusiast, a taxi driver in Saudi Arabia while pursuing religious studies, a student of Salamat in the MILF chair’s Islamic Academy in Pakistan in the early 1980s, a mujahideen in Afghanistan in a jihad against Soviet occupation troops.

On his return, he took over from his late brother, Commander James Bond, the MILF’s northwestern command. He imposed Islamic discipline, declaring a war on drugs, which he said antedated President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody campaign. In a video shown on TV networks, Bravo is shown directing the firing squad execution of three men purportedly convicted of murder.

In 2008, Bravo went on a rampage after the Supreme Court nullified an arrangement on a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity that included lands of the ancestral domain. The decision torpedoed the signing of a peace agreement, a product of 11 years of negotiations. In the ensuing violence, 400,000 people fled their homes.

After the 2014 peace agreement, Bravo devoted his energies into transforming his community.

He asked Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri to donate P5 million to buy a backhoe, which he secured at a bargain from a Chinese admirer.

An American businessman from Bukidnon has agreed to help cultivate a 20-hectare abaca plantation and develop 1,000 hectares of the fast-growing Brazilian Falcata trees used to manufacture plywood and paper.

Bravo was named to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, formed in January 2019 as an interim regional government with executive and legislative powers.

Being a parliamentarian is so much more difficult than being a guerrilla, he rued. Muslims and Christians come to his office to seek help and jobs. “Before I used to ask for food, now I am being asked for food,” he said.

On the floor, he denounces allegations of corruption. He said he remained poor, unlike colleagues who have built stone houses with marble tiles and acquired fancy cars.

When in Manila, Bravo, used to the hard ground on his back in the bush, sleeps on the floor of luxury hotel rooms. He was once found there on the mat, during a visit by actor Robin Padilla, who has offered to turn his life into a blockbuster TV series.

At the Malacañang palace banquets, he could not eat, thinking of his starving constituents in Mindanao. “My conscience bothers me,” he said.

“God allowed me to live this long, maybe so I can be a servant of the people,” Bravo said.

Bulatlat: Human rights defender, daughter, arrested in Quezon on trumped-up charges

 From the pro-CPP/NDF online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Apr 6, 2021): Human rights defender, daughter, arrested in Quezon on trumped-up charges (By Justin Umali)

A member of Gabriela joins a protest action condemning the crackdown of activists in Southern Tagalog. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan) 

CALAMBA CITY, Laguna – Human rights defender Genelyn Dichoso and her daughter Jennifer were arrested by suspected elements of the 201st Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army on charges of attempted homicide, in Calauag, Quezon province, April 5.

Dichoso is the secretary general of human rights group Karapatan Quezon. The group stated that Dichoso has been the victim of black propaganda and red-tagging for years before the onset of the Duterte administration.

“There is a clear and systemic pattern of vilifying human rights defenders as ‘terrorists’ or ‘subversives’ that has started even before the Duterte regime,” said Kyle Salgado, spokesperson for the group. “Tita Jen’s illegal abduction only proves that Duterte is no different from the fascists that came before him.”

According to initial reports, Dichoso and her daughter were taken while undergoing a routine medical check-up. Karapatan is currently organizing a fact-finding mission to ascertain further details.

Dichoso was charged with attempted homicide last year, with claims that she was involved in a previous encounter between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the revolutionary New People’s Army.

Despite the charge, Dichoso continued performing her duties as secretary general of the organization, assisting in human rights cases such as the murder of Armando Buisan, chairperson of CLAIM in General Luna, Quezon, and the arrest of two CLAIM organizers in Atimonan.

Dichoso’s arrest comes as the latest in a series of attacks against activists and human rights defenders across the Southern Tagalog region. Quezon, in particular, has been the target of focused military operations since February 2021.

Since March this year, no less than nine activists were arrested in Southern Tagalog on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Dichoso marks the tenth.

The Department of Justice has since committed to creating a task force to investigate the spate of arrests and killings in Southern Tagalog, by virtue of Administrative Order 35. However, justice remains elusive for the victims.

Karapatan ST insists that Dichoso’s arrest is another instance of the “state proving its insincerity.”

“While the Department of Justice drags its feet on fulfilling its mandate, state forces continue to act with impunity,” said Salgado. “How can we expect justice from the state when the state blatantly denies it from us?”

Karapatan is demanding that the 201st Infantry Brigade surface Dichoso and her daughter immediately, and to drop all charges against her.

US Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group Back in South China Sea

Posted to The Diplomat (Apr 6, 2021): US Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group Back in South China Sea (By Abhijnan Rej)

This is the second time this year the strike group has entered the contentious body of water.

Aircraft take off from the USS Theodore Roosevelt.Credit: U.S. 7th Fleet

The U.S. 7th Fleet announced on April 6 that the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group had entered the South China Sea two days before, on April 4, to conduct “routine operations.” This would be the second time this year that the strike group – consisting of flag ship carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Carrier Air Wing 11, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, Destroyer Squadron 23, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Russell – has entered that body of water as part of its tasking within the 7th Fleet’s area of operations.

According to the 7th Fleet statement, “While in the South China Sea, the strike group will conduct fixed and rotary-wing flight operations, maritime strike exercises, anti-submarine operations, coordinated tactical training, and more.”

“It is great to be back in the South China Sea to reassure our allies and partners that we remain committed to freedom of the seas,” the statement quoted Rear Admiral Doug Verissimo, commander, Carrier Strike Group Nine as saying.

“Over the course of the strike group’s deployment, we have demonstrated our commitment to the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region by operating with our friends from Australia, India, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. We look forward to continuing to sail together with all those that embrace our collective vision of security and stability in one of the most important regions in the world,” Verissimo added in the statement.

The strike group had exercised with the Indian navy and air force in the Bay of Bengal at the end of March. According to a 7th Fleet statement on the occasion, the exercise focused on anti-submarine warfare, joint air operations, and command and control integration.

The Theodore Roosevelt’s return to the South China Sea comes amid growing regional tensions that – if left unchecked – threaten to boil over, as analysts continue to be apprehensive about China’s coercive posture toward Taiwan, and its use of maritime militia to enforce illegal claims in the South China Sea, most recently within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Media reports suggest that a Chinese strike group around aircraft carrier Liaoning is now exercising in Taiwan’s vicinity. An April 6 Japan Times report quoted a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy statement as saying that the purpose behind this “routine” exercise is to “enhance its capability to safeguard national sovereignty, safety and development interests,” going on to add that “[s]imilar exercises will be conducted on a regular basis in the future.”

According to the newspaper, Taiwan also reported a PLA Air Force incursion into its air defense identification zone on April 4.

Meanwhile, dozens of Chinese “shipping vessels” (44, by Manila’s count on April 3) still remain near the Whitsun Reef, a feature within the Philippines’ EEZ in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. While China claims that these ships are commercial vessels stuck there due to inclement weather, the United States and the Philippines – as well as international analysts — maintain that they form part of China’s maritime militia tasked with incrementally enforcing the country’s expansive maritime claims without triggering military retaliation.

According to a White House readout of a call between U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Philippine National Security Advisor Hermogenes Esperon on March 31, the two discussed the Whitsun Reef events, with Sullivan reaffirming “the applicability of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea.”

On April 1, the Philippines claimed to have discovered illegal constructed structures on the Union Banks, a collection of reefs in the Spratlys that include the Whitsun Reef, while conducting maritime patrols. Manila has not provided further details about the locations of these structures which, if independently confirmed, are likely to have been erected at the behest of China to further its territorial claims.

[Abhijnan Rej is Security & Defense Editor at The Diplomat and Director of Research at Diplomat Risk Intelligence.]

Water Wars: Philippines 'No Fool' about Chinese Maritime Militia, While China Keeps Pressure on Taiwan

Posted to Lawfare (Apr 6, 2021): Water Wars: Philippines 'No Fool' about Chinese Maritime Militia, While China Keeps Pressure on Taiwan (By Sam Cohen, Alex Vivona)

Whitsun Reef (Chinese: Niu’e Jiao; Vietnamese: Đá Ba Đầu; Philippines: Julian Felipe Reef), the site of recent tensions between the Philippines, Vietnam and China. (NASA)

Testing Taiwan

On March 26, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense reported the incursion of 20 Chinese military aircraft in Taiwan’s southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ). This is the largest incursion yet reported by the ministry. The Chinese aircraft included four nuclear-capable H-6K bombers, 10 J-16 fighter jets, two J-10 fighter jets, two Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft, and a KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft. In response, Taiwan’s air force scrambled jets and deployed missiles to “monitor” the intruding planes.

Some of the Chinese planes flew over the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan and the Philippines. U.S. warships often sail through the channel when moving between the two countries, and a source close to the Taiwanese military said that this maneuver was to simulate attacking U.S. warships.

On April 1, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) announced that Chinese drones had flown above the Taiwanese-controlled Pratas Islands (Chinese: Dongsha Dao). The islands lie about 400 kilometers southwest of mainland Taiwan and 300 kilometers east of Hong Kong. A subsequent CGA report to Taiwan’s legislature claimed that the unmanned aerial vehicles may be gathering information on the area. The report also stated that the number of Chinese incursions on Taiwanese airspace has increased in past months. Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang has labeled the incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ as “unnecessary” and “thoughtless.”

The Chinese government has not commented on either the March 26 or April 1 incursion.

Japan’s “Two Plus Two” Meetings

With growing concern about Chinese military influence in the region, Japan is strengthening key military alliances and entering new defense pacts. In March, Japanese defense and foreign ministers held “two plus two” meetings with their American and Indonesian counterparts. Both meetings involved sharp criticism of China’s “coercion and aggression” in the region.

On March 16, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi met in Tokyo. The defense chiefs agreed to maintain close cooperation if a military conflict arises between China and Taiwan but did not discuss how the countries would coordinate, according to Japanese government sources.

President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga are planning to meet in person this week. In preparation for the meeting, Suga reiterated that “it is important for Japan and the United States to cooperate and use deterrence to create an environment where Taiwan and China can find a peaceful solution.”

Japanese officials also took part in a “two plus two” security talk with Indonesia’s foreign and defense ministers on March 30. The meeting resulted in the signing of a pact allowing Japan to transfer “defense equipment and technology” to Indonesia.

Showdown in the Spratlys

Tensions between China and the Philippines increased significantly in the past few weeks, as Chinese maritime militia vessels began massing at Whitsun Reef (Chinese: Niu’e Jiao; Vietnamese: Đá Ba Đầu; Philippines: Julian Felipe Reef) in the Spratly Islands (Malay: Kepulauan Spratly; Chinese: Nánshā Qúndǎo; Philippines: Kapuluan ng Kalayaan; Vietnamese: Quần đảo Trường Sa), well within the Philippines’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Whitsun Reef is a low-tide feature (above water only at low tide) of Union Banks, a large atoll in the Spratly Islands. Both China and Vietnam already have military outposts in Union Banks: Vietnam on Grierson Reef (Chinese: Ranqing Shazhou; Philippines: Julian Felipe Reef; Vietnamese: Đảo Sinh Tồn Đông), Collins Reef (Chinese: Guihan Jiao; Philippines: Roxas Reef Vietnamese: Đá Cô Lin), Lansdowne Reef (Chinese: Qiong Jiao; Philippines: Pagkakaisa Reef; Vietnamese: Đá Len Đao) and Sin Cowe Island (Chinese: Jinghong Dao; Philippines: Rurok Island; Vietnamese: Đảo Sinh Tồn); and China on Hughes Reef (Chinese: Dongmen Jiao; Vietnamese: Đá Tư Nghĩa; Philippines: McKennan Reef) and Johnson Reef (Chinese: Chiguo Jiao; Vietnamese: Đá Gạc Ma; Philippines: Mabini Reef). According to Gregory Poling at the Asia-Maritime Transparency Initiative, China is using Whitsun Reef as “a parking lot—their preferred anchorage to keep an eye on the larger piece of real estate called Union Banks.”

The Philippine National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea confirmed reports that beginning on March 7, approximately 220 Chinese vessels—described by China as fishing vessels and by other observers as a Chinese maritime militia fleet—were gathered at the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef. While the number fluctuated slightly throughout March, by March 29 only 44 Chinese vessels remained at Whitsun Reef.

Though China claims that the hundreds of vessels were simply seeking shelter from storms, the Philippines’s task force noted that “[d]espite clear weather at the time, the Chinese vessels massed at the reef showed no actual fishing activities and had their full white lights turned on during night time,” lending credence to the analysis that the vessels’ real purpose is to “reinforce [China’s artificial islands and South China Sea claims] by swarming the disputed waters with vessels, effectively defying the other countries to expel them.”

This strategy appears to be the latest response to the Philippines’s victory in the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration (brought by the Philippines against China’s activities in the South China Sea). In this arbitration, a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arbitral tribunal rejected China’s “nine-dash line” claim to sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea. Instead, the tribunal ruled that “to the extent China had historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the [UNCLOS] Convention.” Thus, China is now relying on a pure might-makes-right strategy to pressure Southeast Asian states to accept its otherwise-rejected claims in the Spratlys.

Delfin Lorenzana, Philippine Secretary of National Defense, announced on April 3 that 44 Chinese vessels remained in the vicinity of Whitsun Reef. The secretary’s terse statement underscored the tension between the Philippines and China: “Umalis na kayo diyan,” he said—“Get out of there.” The defense secretary’s statement comes on top of diplomatic protests from the Philippine government to the Chinese ambassador on March 21. On Twitter, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. analogized the protests to artillery shelling: “I got the coordinates [from the military], so to speak. And relayed to my legal artillery, “Fire at will.” Shell should be flying at first light.” In addition, on March 25, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his concern to the Chinese ambassador about the Chinese fleet at Whitsun Reef—an unusual display of concern from the usually pro-Beijing Philippine president.

In addition to the legal and diplomatic protests, the Philippines also engaged its military assets in response to the Chinese fleet. Each day over the course of the Chinese incursion, the Philippine military has sent navy warships and fighter aircraft to monitor the Chinese fleet at Whitsun Reef. Lorenzana reiterated in a March 28 statement that the Philippines is “ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines.”

Vietnam, which also claims Whitsun Reef, followed Manila’s lead and launched its own diplomatic protest, demanding “that China cease its violations” of UNCLOS and Vietnamese sovereignty. Vietnam also sent a Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel to the vicinity. The United States, meanwhile, firmly backed its ally, the Philippines. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on March 28: “The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of the PRC’s maritime militia amassing at WhitsunReef [sic]. We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order.” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held a call with Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon in which Sullivan “underscored that the United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order, and reaffirmed the applicability of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea.” The tensions at Whitsun Reef come just days after the heated first meeting among Blinken, Sullivan and Chinese chief diplomat Yang Jiechi, during which the U.S. side also emphasized the “rules-based order that maintains global stability.” Not surprisingly, the Chinese Embassy in Manila demanded the United States stay out of its dispute with the Philippines, accusing the United States of “[f]anning flames and provoking confrontation in the region” and stating that “China and the Philippines are sovereign and independent countries” with the “will, wisdom and ability to properly handle relevant issues through bilateral channels.”

In an interview with The Diplomat, Poling compared the recent activities at Whitsun Reef to the situation in December 2018, when China deployed its maritime militia to occupy the waters around Thitu Island (Chinese: Zhongye Dao; Philippines: Pag-asa Island; Vietnamese: Đảo Thị Tứ). Since then, China has had a permanent maritime militia presence around Thitu Reef, though the Philippines still notionally controls Thitu Island. Poling suggests that China will take a similar approach in Union Banks, which is what is evident now at Whitsun Reef.

So far, this prediction seems accurate. Even as the Chinese maritime militia vessels dispersed from Whitsun Reef, they did not travel far: 155 relocated to nearby Kennan Reef (Chinese: Ximen Jiao; Vietnamese: Đá Ken Nan; Philippines: Chigua Reef), 45 shifted to Thitu Island, and another 50 traveled to Mischief (Chinese: Meiji Jiao; Vietnamese: Đá Vành Khăn; Philippines: Panganiban), Fiery Cross (Chinese: Yongshu Jiao; Vietnamese: Đá Chữ Thập; Philippines: Kagitingan) and Subi (Chinese: Zhubi Jiao; Vietnamese: Đá Su Bi; Philippines: Zamora) Reefs. Thus, even in beginning to defuse the Whitsun Reef tensions, China is still using the maritime militia to lay claim to disputed territory in the South China Sea. The Philippine National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea continued to “call[] on China to immediately withdraw these vessels flying its flag.” Or, as Lorenzana put it in his April 3 statement: “I am no fool. … These vessels should be on their way out.” He reiterated that sentiment on April 4, calling China’s disregard for the UNCLOS arbitral award “appalling” and warned that the “continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea.”



In his interview with The Diplomat, Poling suggests that China’s increased presence at Union Banks, by which it hopes to force out its Southeast Asian neighbors by “sheer weight of numbers,” is “geared probably toward the Vietnamese,” given that Vietnam—not the Philippines—occupies features in Union Banks. Vietnam has refrained from too much protest regarding China’s activities at Whitsun Reef because it prefers to “keep its powder dry for the big blow-ups over oil and gas exploration in particular.” That the Philippines responded so vociferously to the Chinese presence is more surprising and potentially signals a new approach from Manila. If this more vocal protest from Manila is “the beginning of a new strategy of publicly documenting Chinese militia activity …, trying to impose diplomatic costs, that would be a significant change,” says Poling. “The thing that has worked out best for Beijing over the last five years has been the quiescence of the Duterte government. That changing will fundamentally alter the discussion around the South China Sea.”


The CGA has stated that increased Chinese incursions are likely a response to developments in the United States-Taiwan relationship. The Trump administration dispatched high-level diplomatic envoys; removed restrictions on contacts with Taiwanese officials; and signed the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020, which supports the transfer of “defense articles” to Taiwan and the inclusion of Taiwan in certain international organizations. The Biden administration has signaled an interest in continuing to strengthen relations with Taiwan. However, China’s recent incursions may also signal an increased likelihood of future military conflict between mainland China and Taiwan.

Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned during a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing in March that China may use military force against Taiwan within the next six years. This timeline is based on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2019 speech that stated reunification is part of China’s rejuvenation plan.

Some experts are also drawing comparisons between China’s interest in the Pratas Islands and Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Both areas are strategically located and remain relatively soft targets. The Pratas Islands provide access to the Bashi Channel, which Chinese nuclear submarines use to access the Pacific Ocean and which U.S. warships pass through en route from the Philippines to Taiwan. The Pratas Islands are also located within Hong Kong’s airspace, making them a comparatively soft target for China.

Pagtutulungan ng AFP at LGU, kailangan para masugpo ang rebeldeng NPA

From Palawan News (Apr 6, 2021): Pagtutulungan ng AFP at LGU, kailangan para masugpo ang rebeldeng NPA

Mahalaga ang pagtutulungan ng Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at mga local government unit (LGU) para mabigyan ng tulong ang mga mamamayan na nasa liblib na lugar at masugpo ang problema sa New People’s Army (NPA) na siyang nag-iimpluwensya sa kanila para umanib sa kilusan.

Ayon kay Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr., pinuno ng Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) at tagapagsalita ng National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC), kapag mayroong pagtutulungan ay matutugunan ang mga pangangailangan ng mga mamamayan at lubos na masusugpo ang armadong kilusan lalo na’t madalas na puntirya ng mga ito ang mga katutubo.

Aniya, kapag ito ang nangyari ay magiging matagumpay ang pamahalaan sa pagwawakas ng problema sa rebelde at walang dapat ikabahala ang mga mamamayan sa ilalim ng Republic Act 11479 o ang Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

“Makakaasa ang mga Pilipino na mas pinaigting na mekanismo ang ilalatag ng gobyerno upang mahadlangan ang mga banta at mga pagtatangka ng mga terorista sa sambayanan kabilang na ang mga dayuhang terorista na nagtatangkang magtatag ng kanilang lokal na grupo sa ating bansa,” ayon kay Parlade.

Idinagdag pa niya na binigyang diin din sa batas na maaaring magkaroon ng activism sa ating bansa pero hindi maaaring magkaroon ng terorismo o ano mang uri ng panghihikayat patungo sa armadong pakikibaka.

Ayon pa kay Parlade, malaking pondo man ang binibigay dito ng gobyerno, malaking responsibilidad din ang bitbit ng NTF ELCAC at AFP dahil nakasalalay dito ang malaking parte ng pag-unlad ng bansa.

Samantala, ayon naman kay Cpt. Christopher Jorquia ng Philippine Air Force (PAF), dahil sa malaking papel ang ginagampanan ng sandatahang lakas sa paglunsad ng mga gawain at proyekto ng NTF ELCAC, nararapat lamang na mapabilis ang modernisasyon ng AFP upang mas matugunan nila ang kanilang mga katungkulan.

Ang modernisasyon ng AFP tulad ng patuloy na pagtaas ng kalidad ng mga kasangkapang militar at mas matalinong sandatahan ang pinagtutuunan ngayon ng pansin ng NTF-ELCAC upang maisakatuparan ang matagal nang layuning mawakasan ang komunismo at itaguyod ang kapayapaan at kaunlaran ng bansa, dagdag pa niya.

“Ang magandang pamamahala, mahusay na paghahatid ng mga pangunahing serbisyo, at paglikha ng matatag na komunidad na humahadlang sa mga komunistang grupo ang siyang kailangan ng mga mamamayan. Ito ang ginawa, ang ginagawa, at patuloy na gagawin ng sandatahang lakas katuwang ang NTF ELCAC para sa mamamayan at para sa bansa,” ayon kay Cpt. Jorquia.

Ang NTF ELCAC ay itinatag ng pamahalaan upang tuldukan ang mga gawain ng mga armadong grupo na nagnanais pabagsakin ang gobyerno, na matagal nang problema ng bansa.

Matapos ipawalang bisa ng mga kabilang partido ang peace talks, idineklara ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte ang Communist Party of the Philippine-National People’s Army (CPP-NPA) bilang isang terrorist organization at itinatag ang NTF-ELCAC sa pamamagitan ng Executive Order No. 70.

Makalipas ang ilang taon, isa ang NTF-ELCAC sa mga pangunahing task force na layuning pabagsakin ang mga armadong komunista at tulungang paunlarin at pasaganahin ang pamumuhay ng mga taong nakatira sa mga liblib na pamayanan – mga lugar na siyang madalas na ginagawang kuta ng mga komunista.

“Katuwang ang iba’t ibang ahensya ng gobyerno kasama ang AFP, ang NTF ELCAC ay patuloy na ngayong naglulunsad ng mga programang pang-kaunlaran,” ayon sa kanya.

“Dahil nga isa ito sa mga pangunahing mandato ng pangulo na ang AFP dapat ang may mahalagang responsibilidad sa pagsasagawa ng mga proyekto ng gobyerno, binigyang diin ng mga pinuno ng AFP na magiging kaakibat sila ng taumbayan sa pagpapaunlad ng bansa sapagkat ito ang kanilang sinumpaang tungkulin,” dagdag pa niya.

Dagdag pa rito, kumpara sa ibang ahensya ng gobyerno na nangangasiwa ng seguridad at kaunlaran ng bansa, ang AFP ang nasa posisyon upang maging magandang katuwang ng mga local government units at iba pang kalinyang mga ahensya para magbigay ng serbisyong publiko at magsagawa ng mga proyektong pangkaunlaran.

“Lingid sa kaalaman ng karamihan na nagsasabing ang tungkulin lamang ng mga sundalo ay humawak ng baril at makipagdigma, ang ilan sa mga sundalo ay kasapi ng Kongreso at nagsisilbing department heads at mga kalihim mula sa iba’t-ibang ahnesya ng gobyerno, na siya namang tumutulong sa paggawa ng mga polisiya at programa upang pagtibayin ang seguridad at kaunlaran sa bawat panig ng bansa,” sabi ni Jorquia.

‘Female NPA members sexually exploited’

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 7, 2021): ‘Female NPA members sexually exploited’ (BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

The anti-pregnancy pills recovered at the encounter site in Negros Oriental recently

A ranking official of the Philippine Army has claimed a continuing existence of sexual exploitation of female combatants of the New People’s Army, as previously revealed by those who have surrendered, following the recovery of anti-pregnancy pills, among others, in a recent encounter in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.

Col. Michael Samson, 303rd Infantry Brigade acting commander, said
many former NPA amazons have shared their stories of being victims of sexual advances and harassments by their local leaders, an accusation vehemently denied by the NPA in Negros.

Samson said that several boxes of anti-pregnancy pills and some stubs of contraceptives were among the items recovered together with assorted high-powered guns at the encounter site during the March 23 gunbattle, where 10 NPA members died. “Many NPA amazons have surrendered and bravely came into the open because they could no longer stand such a hopeless situation, and became living testimonies to the sexual abuses that occur in their organization,” he added.*

Rebel returnees receive financial assistance from the government in OrMin

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 7, 2021): Rebel returnees receive financial assistance from the government in OrMin (By Luis T. Cueto) 

Gov. Humerlito A. Dolor (in green) explains to rebel returnees that ‘peace and order’ is an essential ingredient in maintaining economic development, social order and political stability during the awarding of livelihood assistance held at Tamaraw Hall, Provincial Capitol, Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro on April 5. (Photo credit: 203rd Bantay Kapayapaan/Alakdan Troopers)

CALAPAN CITY, Oriental Mindoro, Apr. 7 (PIA) – Under the Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), three rebel returnees of the province on Monday received P210,000 financial and livelihood assistance from the provincial government.

E-CLIP is a government program that aims to help members of CPP-NPA-NDF and Militia ng Bayan (MB) to restore their allegiance to the Philippine government.

Provincial Task Force-to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) Chairman Gov. Bonz Dolor led the awarding of livelihood assistance to the rebel returnees.

The three rebel returnees were former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in the province of Oriental Mindoro. They all received P65,000 each and the other one who is also a member of MB received additional P15,000. The amount given by the government will solely be used by the rebel returnees in reintegrating back to their community, reunite with their families and start new, normal lives.

Also with the governor during the awarding ceremony was the presence of the representative from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Provincial Social Welfare and Development Officer Zarah Magboo and a representative from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

In his message, Gov. Dolor emphasized to rebel returnees to join with the government in maintaining peace and order and cooperation with the government to truly achieve the vision of inclusive and lasting peace.

“Though the government cannot give everything you needed, we assure you that our government is doing its best to serve people in the utmost level with the necessary services for the people,” said Gov. Dolor.

Aside from the financial and livelihood assistance, the rebel returnees will also receive benefits from the PhilHealth’s PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) program, scholarship programs from the Department of Education (DepEd) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and housing program from the National Housing Authority (NHA).

All of these programs of the national government for the rebel returnees support the President Duterte’s issuance of Executive Order No. 70, series of 2018, which is institutionalizing the whole-of-nation approach attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a national task force to end local communist armed conflict, and directing the adoption of a national peace framework. (LTC/PIA-OrMin)

Serbisyo caravan brings gov't services to barangays in Abra town

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 7, 2021): Serbisyo caravan brings gov't services to barangays in Abra town (By Xandro Alexander D. Carino)

DTI, BFAR and TESDA in Abra led a Serbisyo Caravan in bringing government services closer to the people in barangays in Malibcong,

MALIBCONG, Abra, Apr. (PIA)--With the goal of bringing government services closer to the people, the Serbisyo Caravan led by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) reached several barangays of this fifth class municipality.

DTI Abra led by Engr. Francis D. Pacio, Officer-In-Charge and Senior Trade and Industry Development Specialist Marvin Arcangel awarded livelihood kits worth P8,000 each to 30 qualified micro, small and medium entrepreneurs from barangays Buanao, Bayabas, Dulao, Duldulao, Gacab, and Lat-ey. This is under the Livelihood Seeding Program – Negosyo Serbisyo sa Barangay which allows a wider reach of business development assistance by bringing government services closer to the people.

DTI also brought its Diskwento Caravan to Barangay Poblacion to provide goods to the public at discounted prices during the pandemic. This is in partnership with Abra Diocesan Teachers and Employees Cooperative.

TESDA Abra led by Provincial Director Braulio Dela Peña offered various training courses to the four Retooled Community Support Program (RCSP) barangays namely Buanao, Bayabas, Dulao and Duldulao. The training courses include Masonry NC I, Carpentry NC II, Animal Production NC I, Entrepreneurial Training, and Competency Assessment.

Meanwhile, BFAR Abra headed by Provincial Fisheries Officer Janet Daguio distributed cash and food subsidy to 25 marginalized fisherfolk and farmers in the municipality.

Dolores Martinez, a sari-sari store owner and one of the beneficiaries from Brgy. Duldulao, expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the different line agencies.

“Livelihood projects and other government programs here in our municipality are now overflowing. We can feel that the government is really working closer to us especially in our farthest barangays. We are so happy, blessed and thankful for all of these,” Martinez said.

The Serbisyo Caravan in line with Executive Order No. 70 of President Rodrigo Duterte institutionalizing a ”Whole-of-Nation” approach to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) towards the attainment of sustainable and inclusive peace.

The activity was supported by the Malibcong LGU led by Mayor Romando Bacuyag, DILG, DSWD and through the Community Support Program of the 24th Infantry Battalion, 7th Infantry Division Philippine Army that paved the way for more government programs and projects to be served in the municipality especially at the ELCAC barangays.(JDP/XADC/CAGT – PIA CAR, Abra)

Luzon Strait is peaceful - Philippine Marines

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 7, 2021): Luzon Strait is peaceful - Philippine Marines (By Oliver T. Baccay)

TUGUEGARAO CITY, Cagayan, April 6 (PIA) -- There are no untoward incidents monitored within the Luzon Strait and along the coastal and island communities of Cagayan and Batanes provinces. This is according to Lieutenant Colonel Rowan Rimas, Commander of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 10 (MBLT-10)/ Naval Task Group Fleet-Marine Cagayan.

Lt. Col. Rowan Rimas, commander of the MBLT-10, presents their programs and accomplishments during the PIA-2's Tipon-Tipan sa PIA Facebook Live program. (by PIA)

He said that they monitored neither illegal activities nor suspicious foreign troops upon conducting patrols in the country's maritime territories. The monitoring was done in collaboration with other uniformed troop members of the joint task force created for the country's territorial defense in the northern part of the country.

"Most of the vessels that are passing through the Luzon Strait are bulk carriers, foreign vessels, general cargo ships, container ships, and tankers. These are for the economy of our country and our neighboring countries too. [There are] no untoward incidents monitored so far," Rimas said.

He also said that they have organized and empowered local fisherfolk in monitoring suspicious and untoward activities of foreign vessels and other groups that violate maritime laws for immediate action.

On the other hand, the MBLT-10 is also part of the team that established sovereign markers in uninhabited islets, which signal foreign vessels that the said areas are part of Philippine territory.

"Recently, we installed additional two markers in Fuga Island, particularly in Sitios Barit and Mabag. These are additional to the eleven markers that were earlier installed in the different islets last year," Rimas said.

Rimas added that there are no disputed territories within the Cagayan Valley's coastal and maritime jurisdictions, but, in the event that there will be foreign intrusions or threats, the Joint Task Force Karagatan will be ready to defend the country's territory.

He also said that the troops assigned in Mavulis Island, the farthest and the northernmost tip of the country, are conducting regular maritime patrols to secure the country's marine resources in the area. (JCK/OTB/PIA 2-Cagayan)

PH honors veterans amid ECQ

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 7, 2021): PH honors veterans amid ECQ (By Alehia Therese V. Abuan)

Philippine Veterans Affairs Office photo

PARAÑAQUE, April 7 (PIA) -- The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) led the kick off to the observance of Philippine Veterans Week with a virtual Sunrise Wreath-Laying Ceremony on Monday, April 5.

Col. Felimon B. Domoran of the Armed Forces of the Philippines offered a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located at Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.

During the online ceremony Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the week may serve as an avenue to inform the youth that the freedom that they are enjoying is because of their ancestors.

“It is every Filipinos patriotic duty to participate in this week-long commemoration to pay homage to the Filipino soldiers and guerrillas who payed with their lives, the cost of peace, freedom, and democracy which we continue to enjoy up to this day,” Lorenzana said.

PVAO Administrator Ernesto Carolina gave an overview of the week-long observance that will pay tribute to Filipinos who defended the country’s freedom.

With the theme, “Kagitingan ay Gawing Gabay, Pandemya ay Mapagtatagumpayan,” Carolina said this year’s observance serves as a reminder for Filipinos, that just like Filipino veterans, the country too can overcome a crisis through sheer courage and determination.

PVAO had forgone the traditional ceremonies for that of an online celebration to ensure everyone’s safety as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we are confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, physical gatherings are subjues, and our veterans who are most vulnerable are advised to stay home,” said Carolina.

Lorenzana and Carolina were joined by Veterans Federation of the Philippines President Dr. Cesar P. Pobre, NYC Chairperson Ryan Enriquez, NHCP Executive Director Restituto Aguilar, and Civil, Veterans and Reserve Affairs USec. Reynaldo Mapagu.

The Philippine Veterans Week is a commemorative event celebrated from April 5 to 11 of every year in remembrance of the valor of Filipino freedom fighters against foreign oppressors. (PIA NCR)

177 former extremists get aid from PLGU-Maguindanao

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 7, 2021): 177 former extremists get aid from PLGU-Maguindanao (By DPAO-6ID) 

Featured Image
DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao Province, Apr. 7-- A total of 177 former Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Dawlah Islamiya (DI) extremists have already received livelihood and farm assistance through the Anak na may GInintuang LAyunin, upang Hintuan Ang Violent Extremism Ngayon (AGILA-HAVEN) Program of the provincial government of Maguindanao.

Based on the report of the Task Force AGILA, as of April 5, 2021, the provincial government already distributed 40 motorbikes or “Payong-payong”, 12 farm tractors, 13 motorized bangka, 131 farm merchandises, and livelihood assistance.

The most recent aid were the livelihood assistance and farm machineries given to 42 members of the BIFF and DI. The assistance was intended to help former rebels start a peaceful and progressive life with their family and community.

Governor Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu expressed her appreciation to the former rebels for their decision to cooperate with the government.

“Ngayon nandyan na ang tulong kaya wala nang dahilan para tayo ay magkawatak-watak. Hikayatin ninyo ang iba nyo pang kasamahan na magbalik-loob sa gobyerno,” she noted.

The governor also declared the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Dawlah Islamiya (DI) as persona-non-grata in the province.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Jose Narciso, assistant division commander of the 6th Infantry Division expressed the 6ID’s gratitude for the commitment of the provincial government of Maguindanao in all the peace initiatives in the province.

“The AGILA-HAVEN program has gone a long way since its formal launching at the Provincial Capitol in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao in 2020. Now the province’s desire for lasting peace is being realized,” Narciso stated. (DPAO-6ID)

NPA hold in S. Kudarat weakens as 5 more rebels surrender

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 7, 2021): NPA hold in S. Kudarat weakens as 5 more rebels surrender (By Edwin Fernandez)

SURRENDERED FIREARMS. The firearms of five NPA members who yielded to the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on Tuesday (April 6, 2021). A total of 37 NPA combatants have surrendered to military units in Central Mindanao since January 1. (Photo courtesy of 7IB)

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao – The hold of the communist terrorist group New People's Army (NPA) in Sultan Kudarat has weakened with the surrender of five more of its members, including a ranking leader, on Tuesday afternoon.

The five have decided to avail of the government’s amnesty program by returning to the fold of the law and turning over five high-powered firearms.

Early this week, nine other rebels surrendered to the military’s 603rd Infantry Brigade in Kalamansig town.

“This is an indication the stronghold of the communist terrorist group is continuously weakening in Sultan Kudarat,” Lt. Col. Rommel Valencia, commanding officer of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion (7IB), said Wednesday.

Valencia did not disclose the identities of the surrenderers for security reasons but said one of them was an NPA political instructor.

He said the group, all members of the NPA Sub-Regional Committee Daguma, Far South Mindanao Region, yielded at the 7IB headquarters in Barangay Kalawag II, Isulan town.

The group also turned over three .30 caliber M1 Garand rifles, one M14 rifle, and one M79 grenade launcher.

Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said a total of 37 NPA combatants have surrendered to military units in Central Mindanao since January 1.

Uy urged other NPA members still in the mountains to surrender and live normal lives again with their families.

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

2 terror group members slain in SoCot clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 7, 2021): 2 terror group members slain in SoCot clash (By Richelyn Gubalani)

Google map of Polomolok South Cotabato

Two alleged members of a local terrorist group, one of them reportedly acting as a finance officer, were killed in an encounter with government operatives in a remote village in Polomolok town, South Cotabato province on Tuesday afternoon.

Lt. Col. Alex Joe Orcajada, chief of Pomololok’s municipal police station, i
dentified the slain suspects as brothers Jourhan and Mohaimeen Utap, who were listed as active members of the Tadoy sub-group of the Dawlah Islamiya-Socsargen Khatiba.

Orcajada said the clash erupted while a joint police and military team was serving three warrants of arrest against Jourhan in a house in Purok 4, Sitio Bio in Barangay Lapu at about 2:30 p.m.

The operating team was composed of elements of the Polomolok police station, 4th battalion of the Special Action Force, Regional Intelligence Division 12, South Cotabato Mobile Force Company, and the Army’s 5th Special Forces.

As the operatives were approaching the site, they were suddenly met by gunfire coming from the position of the suspects, he said.

“They (suspects) might have noticed the presence of our operatives and opened fire at them,” Orcajada said in an interview.

The team, which was divided into two groups, retaliated and engaged the suspects in a brief firefight, he said, adding that the latter was fatally wounded and declared dead upon arrival at the Polomolok municipal hospital.

Recovered from the two were a .45 caliber pistol and .38 caliber revolver with live ammunition, and three sachets of suspected shabu with an estimated street value of PHP6,000.

Orcajada said Jourhan is considered a notorious criminal and had been subjected to previous operations but eluded arrest.

He said Jourhan, who reportedly serves as finance officer for the terrorist group’s fugitive sub-leader Ali Boy Nilong, had standing arrest warrants for attempted murder and possession of illegal drugs and explosives.

Before the operation, Orcajada said, they received intelligence reports that the group has been planning to launch attacks against police and military personnel in the area.

“Rest assured that we are on top of the situation and continually monitoring the movements of the group to preempt their criminal and terrorist activities,” he said.

Army destroys 48 recovered NPA IEDs in NoCot

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 7, 2021): Army destroys 48 recovered NPA IEDs in NoCot (By John Andrew Tabugoc)

EXPLOSIVES. Members of the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team carefully carried to a hole the improvised explosive devices recovered by government troopers in various operations in Makilala, North Cotabato in recent months. The IEDs were buried with rocks and soil (inset) at a quarry site at remote Barangay Sinkatulan in the municipality on Wednesday (April 7, 2021) before it was destroyed through the use of an IED disruptor. (Photos courtesy of 39IB)

MAKILALA, North Cotabato – The Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion (39IB) here destroyed 48 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) recovered from its various operations against the communist New Peoples’ Army (NPA) in recent months.

The disposal of the IEDs took place at a secluded area of far-flung Barangay Sinkatulan here, according to 1Lt. Charles Ian Parel, 39IB civil-military officer.

“This is the second batch of IEDs and other bomb-making materials we have destroyed from our operations against the NPA since last year,” he said.

Last February, Parel said the 39IB has also secured and blasted with an IED disruptor the initial batch of more than 60 homemade bombs recovered from the terror group.

He said IED-making materials included cut round bars, PVC pipes, and explosive substances used for anti-personnel attacks against government troopers.

“We expect that more IEDs and firearms will be recovered by our troopers as the NPAs are dwindling in number in North Cotabato due to the series of surrenders of its members the past several months,” Parel added.

He said IED disposal is an annual activity of Philippine Army units to detonate all recovered unexploded bombs and ammunition at a chosen area to unload the stockpile of enemy explosives at their camps’ IED depository facilities.

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

3 Maguindanao towns declare state of calamity over skirmishes

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 7, 2021): 3 Maguindanao towns declare state of calamity over skirmishes (By Edwin Fernandez)

RELIEF AID. Relief workers from the Bangsamoro Region in Muslim Mindanao-Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (READi) distribute relief goods Tuesday (April 6, 2021) to families displaced by armed hostilities between government forces BIFF combatants in at least three affected towns of Maguindanao. Data provided by the BARMM–READi showed some 25,000 individuals were affected in the adjoining towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, and Mamasapano. (Photo courtesy of BARMM Tabang sa Bangsamoro)

Three Maguindanao towns have declared a state of calamity due to ongoing armed conflict between the military and the Daesh-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), officials said Wednesday.

The conflict, which erupted on March 18, displaced thousands of civilians in the adjoining towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, and Mamasapano.

On Tuesday, council members of the three towns approved separate resolutions putting their localities under the state of calamity to allow the utilization of local funds for relief operations to their affected constituents.

In Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, Mayor Edris Sindatok said the local government has set aside a quick response fund amounting to PHP483,000 for evacuees.

The municipality of Datu Saudi Ampatuan has 12,215 evacuees, while Shariff Saydona Mustapha has 8,585, and Mamasapano with 13,645.

The encounters were triggered by the presence of BIFF gunmen in Barangay Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, on March 18, quickly spilling over to nearby areas.

“The armed hostilities displaced over 30,000 individuals from the three towns and are currently being attended by their LGUs,” Minister Naguib Sinarimbo of the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government–Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said on Wednesday.

Earlier, the town council of Talitay also approved a resolution putting the area under the state of calamity after some 700 families left their homes due to a “rido” (clan war) that erupted on March 22.

Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar, the Army's 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the Talitay armed conflict displaced some 700 families or 3,500 individuals.

“The affected families were from Barangays Pageda and Gadingan of Talitay,” Baldomar said in a separate interview Wednesday.

He said some of the Talitay evacuees have started to return home, but others remained in evacuation centers.

Maguindanao town execs turn over loose firearms

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 7, 2021): Maguindanao town execs turn over loose firearms (By Edwin Fernandez)

FIREARMS TURNOVER. Brig. Gen. Roberto Capulong (with microphone), the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade commander, tells local officials of Pagalungan, Maguindanao to continue supporting the disarmament campaign of the government to help bring about peace and development in their communities. Capulong attended the surrender of loose firearms by local officials on Wednesday (April 7, 2021). (Photo courtesy of 602Bde)

In support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' disarmament campaign, a town mayor in Maguindanao led the turnover of assorted loose firearms to the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade (602Bde) Wednesday.

“The surrender of these firearms signaled a better relationship between the military and the locals,”
said Brig. Gen. Roberto Capulong, 602Bde commander, as he welcomed the move of the officials of Pagalungan town in Maguindanao, headed by Mayor Salik Mamasabulod.

“We in the 602Bde serve as a bridge leading to the attainment of peace and development in Pagalungan,” Capulong said.

Mamasabulod turned in three M14 rifles, two Garand rifles, and two M1 Carbine rifles.

“The absence of loose firearms in Pagalungan means a lesser possibility for crimes to be committed in our locality,” Mamasabulod said during the turnover ceremony at the town hall building.

House leader calls for more US patrols in WPS

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 7, 2021): House leader calls for more US patrols in WPS (By Filane Mikee Cervantes)

Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea (Photo courtesy of AFP)

Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez on Wednesday urged the United States (US) to conduct more frequent freedom of navigation (FON) operations or patrols in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, Rodriguez cited a report of the US Navy that one of its carrier strike groups entered the South China Sea last April 4 amid strong protests from the Philippines on the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in Juan Felipe Reef, which is inside the country's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Rodriguez noted that the April 4 passage was the second patrol by the US Navy this year.

He said conducting more FON operations could deter further Chinese incursions in the Philippine EEZ and threats to other US allies in the region.

“Two FON patrols in more than three months. They should criss-cross that area more often to challenge China’s claim over most of the South China Sea, including international waters and a large part of the Philippine EEZ,” Rodriguez said.“They should support their statements of support for the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea dispute with actual actions on the ground."

He said that such a move would also show the readiness of the United States to come to the aid of the Philippines in case of conflict as provided under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.

He also called for stronger and more explicit statements on the West Philippine Sea issue on the part of the US.

“Professions of support for Manila in very general language no longer suffice and are just being ignored by the party to which they are directed. There has to be a more direct statement or a warning that the other party will understand,” he said.

Julian Felipe Reef, a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), is located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

The Philippines on March 21 lodged a diplomatic protest against China over the presence of around 200 Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reed in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

China earlier said the spotted Chinese boats off Julian Felipe Reef were merely taking refuge due to rough sea conditions.

However, the Chinese Embassy in Manila on April 3 justified the Chinese vessels’ presence at the Julian Felipe Reef, calling it Niu’e Jiao and part of China’s Nansha Islands.

On Monday night, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a maritime patrol will be conducted anew this week to check whether there are still Chinese ships off Julian Felipe Reed.

Lorenzana’s latest statement came after he recently noted that around 44 Chinese vessels have yet to leave the reef in WPS even if the weather in the vicinity has already improved.

NTF-ELCAC stands by NICA’s claim vs. Reds-front org in Senate

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 7, 2021): NTF-ELCAC stands by NICA’s claim vs. Reds-front org in Senate (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy (File photo)

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on Wednesday backed the claim of National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director-General Alex Paul Monteagudo that the union of Senate employees is a front of the communist group.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy said the NTF-ELCAC is convinced that the Sandigan ng mga Empleyadong Nagkakaisa sa Adhikain ng Demokratikong Orgnisasyon (SENADO) is being controlled by the labor group Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE).

COURAGE has been tagged as a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

“The NTF ELCAC stands solidly behind the Director General of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Alex Paul Monteagudo when he says that COURAGE is a front of the CPP-NPA-NDF and that it functions as the ears and eyes of this terrorist group,” said Badoy, also spokesperson of NTF-ELCAC, in a statement.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Monteagudo ailleged that SENADO is manned by COURAGE and serves as the “eyes and ears of the CPP-NPA-NDF to hijack government plans and programs.”

Badoy agreed with Monteagudo, saying COURAGE’s main goal is to infiltrate and weaken the government “by radicalizing and then recruiting its innocent members who have no idea they are being used.”

SENADO, in a statement, denied links to CPP-NPA-NDF and dismissed Monteagudo’s Facebook post as “malicious, baseless, and dangerous.”

It urged the senators to conduct an investigation into the allegation hurdled against the union, as well as other organizations in government.

Badoy said CPP-NPA-NDF front organizations, after being used by the communist group, “will have nothing to show for it but the grief and destruction they have brought upon themselves and our country.”

“We, therefore, welcome with open arms the call of S.E.N.A.D.O. president and CPP-NPA-NDF operative Rosel Eugenio for a Senate investigation into this matter,” she said.

No red-tagging

Badoy also lamented that several senators keep on using the term “red-tagging” that was invented by CPP-NPA-NDF.

Citing the previous rulings made by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, Badoy said there is no such thing as red-tagging because “there is no danger to life, liberty, and security when someone is identified as member of the CPP-NPA-NDF.”

She made the remarks after Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima, and Francis Pangilinan called for the immediate passage of Senate Bill 2121 or the proposed Act Defining and Penalizing Red-Tagging to “punish irresponsible officials who act as enablers of red-tagging.”

Badoy said the proposed measure would only be used to continue the “unending 52-year saga of grief and suffering of the Filipino people in the hands of the CPP-NPA-NDF who were able to commit unspeakable crimes against us precisely because of the preponderance of legal covers they employed- like COURAGE.”

“Some of the most grievous crimes on the most helpless among us - our children, our indigenous peoples- happened because the masks of thick deceit the CPP-NPA-NDF wore. Masks of ‘human rights defenders’ by the most egregious offenders of it, masks of ‘youth advocates’ while stepping over the thousands of dead bodies of our children who had been deceptively recruited into the CPP-NPA-NDF, masks of ‘defenders of workers’ rights’ while weakening the Constitution and Democracy they had sworn to be faithful to,” she said.

Ending insurgency

Badoy said the NTF-ELCAC would not let communism thrive.

The government’s resolve, she said, is to end communism under President Rodrigo Duterte’s watch.

She made the vow, as she recognized that the 52-year communist scourge has brought “untold pain and sufferings on our people- more so the most helpless among us: our children, our indigenous peoples and the poorest of the poor.”

“The Filipino people have suffered long enough. We are grateful that we finally have a President who will stop at nothing to end the abuse of the Filipino people” Badoy said.

Badoy said stopping insurgency will be the current administration’s “gift” to the people.

“We are one with him (Duterte) in giving this gift to the Filipino people when he steps down in office in 2022: a country in a much better shape than what was handed to us where the CPP-NPA-NDF will be no more. And the Peace that has eluded us will finally be ours and our children’s,” she said.

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