Sunday, May 2, 2021

Kalinaw News: 14 NPA Milisya ng Bayan surrenders to 23rd IB, 325 Underground Mass Organizations withdraws NPA Support

Posted to Kalinaw News (May 2, 2021): 14 NPA Milisya ng Bayan surrenders to 23rd IB, 325 Underground Mass Organizations withdraws NPA Support

BUENAVISTA, Agusan del Norte – The 23rd Infantry (Masigasig) Battalion (23IB), together with the Provincial Government of Agusan del Norte and the local government unit (LGU) of Las Nieves welcomed back to the folds the fourteen (14) members of the NPAs in the barrios and three hundred twenty-five (325) members of Underground Mass Organizations (UGMOs) in a pledge of allegiance ceremony held on April 30, 2021 in Barangay Consorcia, Las Nieves.

The mass surrender ceremony was witnessed by Las Nieves Mayor Avelina S. Rosales; Gerry Joey Laurito, the Provincial Administrator of Agusan del Norte; Lieutenant Colonel Julius Cesar C. Paulo, INF (GSC) PA, Commanding Officer of 23IB; Police Lieutenant Fritzel V. Cubillan, Chief of Las Nieves Municipal Police Station; Dir. Rey M. Cueva of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) of Agusan del Norte; Ms. Karen S. Rosales, head of the Youth for Peace in Las Nieves; members of the Sanguniang Bayan of Las Nieves; Barangay Captain Wennie A. Loquinte, together with the members of the barangay council joined by hundreds of residents of Consorcia.

It can be recalled that a peace consultation and dialogue, locally known as pulong-pulong, was conducted last December 18, 2020 in Barangay Consorcia. During the activity, the residents expressed their issues and concerns, especially on peace and order. They also lamented on the continuing terroristic activities of the NPA’s and voiced out their worries on the recruitment of terrorists among the vulnerable sectors in their community especially the youth. The 23IB, during the meeting, also provided the residents with inputs and information on the different schemes the NPA members utilize in recruitment.

During the mass surrender activity, the NPAs in the barrio also handed over to the government nine (9) Caliber 22 (Airgun) rifles, four (4) homemade shotguns with two (2) live ammunition, and one (1) Caliber 38 pistol with five (5) live ammunition.

Alias “Nong” was one of the surrenderee and shared his experience and difficulties when he was still supporting the communist movement.

In her message, Mayor Rosales lauded the courageous act of the residents of Consorcia for condemning the NPA and making a turn to the right path. “As you chose to start a new life, you have finally made up your mind to cut ties and withdrew your support to them. We are grateful that you have finally realized that there is no tomorrow with the presence of NPA rebels in your barangay. This program is not only for the Army, the police, and the government agencies. We want nothing but peace and development. We can only achieve this through your cooperation,” Rosales said.

Provincial Administrator Laurito, who represented Gov. Dale B. Corvera, expressed gladness for the decreasing number of NPA members and supporters in the province. “Our government is always here to listen to your concern and is very eager to give basic services to the people. We are glad that you have denounced your support to the NPA rebels for hindering the development interventions,” Laurito said.

The head of the Youth for Peace in Las Nieves, Karen S. Rosales asked the parents to look over their children to prevent them from being recruited by the NPA, and transform them as effective youth in the community. “The youths are among the vulnerable sectors of the community and the NPA are taking undue advantage of their vulnerability. Let us go hand in hand to end the 52 years of deceptive recruitment that have been destroying the future of our youth,” Ms. Rosales stated.

TESDA Dir. Cueva extended his compliments to the residents for their bravery, “Now that you have withdrawn your support to the NPA, the development will surely boost in your community. In partnership with the LGU of Las Nieves, we at TESDA are providing support, especially in honing your knowledge and skills for increased productivity.”

Lieutenant Colonel Paulo welcome the former rebels and mass supporters and thank them for the withdrawal of support and enslavement from NPA, “We are grateful that you denounced the NPA finally cut your support with them. You also surrendered tools and devices used against the Army and the police. Rest assured that this kind of act will never be put to waste.”

The 23IB commander thanked the barangay officials of Consorcia for their support to the mass surrender activity. He also reminded the residents to guard their community from the terroristic activities of the NPA rebels and shield the youth from the deceptive recruitment of the terrorists. “Now that their number continues to decrease, they will never stop regaining their strength by recruiting new members. The first line of defense in shielding our youth against these terrorists are the families and the community as a whole.”

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

15 communist sympathizers in Iloilo City pledge allegiance to gov’t

Posted to the Manila Bulletin (May 2, 2021): 15 communist sympathizers in Iloilo City pledge allegiance to gov’t (By Tara Yap)

ILOILO CITY — Fifteen communist sympathizers in this city have pledged to support the government.

TURNING ON A NEW LEAF — A total of 15 former communist sympathizers pledge allegiance to the government in a ceremony in Iloilo City. (Photo courtesy of 301st IB)

They took their oath and denounced support to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing of New People’s Army (NPA) in a ceremony in Molo district.

They were mostly working in the transportation sector and had membership with the Padrias Parian Drivers Association (PPDA) and Comfuda Companya Fundidor Drivers Association (CCFDA) Transport.

According to the military, the PPDA and CCFDA are under the left-wing Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON).

Their oath of allegiance is part of the Multi-Sectoral Meeting facilitated by the Community Support Program (CSP) Team of the 33rd Civil-Military Operation Company headed by Capt. Ivy Arcangeles.

It was done in collaboration with the Iloilo City Police Office Community Relations, the Sambayanan Metro Iloilo Chapter, and the South Fundidor Barangay Council.

The 301st Infantry Brigade (301st IB) welcomed this development.

“You are now an inspiration to the remaining CPP-NPA allies,” said Brig. Gen.Marion Sison, 301st IB commander, in a statement.

CIDG arrests woman with alleged links to CPP-NPA in Naga City raid

Posted to the Manila Bulletin (May 2, 2021): CIDG arrests woman with alleged links to CPP-NPA in Naga City raid (By Aaron Recuenco)

Operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) have arrested a 21-year-old woman who was tagged as a member of the communist underground movement in a raid in Naga City, police said on Sunday, May 2.

CIDG director Maj. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro said the operation that occurred on Sunday morning in Barangay Cararayan in Naga City also resulted in the confiscation of a handgun, a grenade and improvised explosive materials.

He identified the arrested woman as Maria Jesusa Sta. Rosa.

Maria Jesusa Sta Rosa was arrested in a raid in Naga City after she allegedly yielded a gun, a grenade and improvised explosive device. She is being linked to communist insurgency underground movement.

“She is now in the custody of CIDG Camarines Sur for further investigation and filing of cases,” said Ferro.

Police have stepped up the campaign against communist insurgency in the country in the past months by running after both the armed fighters and people identified with the alleged legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Pastor Dan, alleged NPA member, arrested in Albay

Posted to the Manila Bulletin (May 2, 2021): Pastor Dan, alleged NPA member, arrested in Albay (By Aaron Recuenco)

Police have arrested a 61-year old man who is allegedly a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Bicol during a raid in his house in Sto. Domingo town of Albay early Sunday morning, May 2.

Maj. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro, director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), identified the arrested suspect as Danilo Balucio, who carries the alias Pastor Dan.

Operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) arrested Danilo Balucio, alias Pastor Dan, who is tagged as a member of the New People’s Army.

During the operation, Ferro said his men confiscated a handgun with several bullets, a hand grenade and a flag identified with the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA.

He said the operation was carried out after his men were tipped of the location of Balucio whom he said is facing two criminal charges.

Balucio, including the recovered pieces of evidence are presently at the custody of CIDG Albay Provincial Field Unit.

Police have stepped up the campaign against communist insurgency in the past months as President Duterte vowed to end CPP-NPA before his term ends next year.

Several activists have been arrested in the past months, while some would end up killed in alleged police operations.

34 ex-NPA rebels receive financial aid

 From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (May 2, 2021): 34 ex-NPA rebels receive financial aid

ZAMBOANGA. The government, through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), releases Friday the second batch of financial assistance amounting to P170,000 to 34 former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Zamboanga Sibugay province. Each receives P5,000 financial aid. A photo handout shows a former member of the NPA (2nd from left) receiving his check from a DSWD staff member. (SunStar Zamboanga)

THE government, through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has released the second batch of financial assistance to 34 former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the province of Zamboanga Sibugay.

The financial assistance amounting to P170,000 was released to recipients Friday at the headquarters of the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Imelda, Zamboanga Sibugay province.

Junila RegaƱon of the Zamboanga Sibugay Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office, who led the distribution of financial assistance, said each of the recipients received P5,000.

The distribution of financial assistance was held in partnership with the Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-Elcac) and 44IB.

Lieutenant Colonel Filven Noche, 44IB commander, said the financial assistance is to support the daily needs of the former NPA rebels “as they are reintegrated into the mainstream society during this time of Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic."

Noche vowed to continue the support to the local government units in implementing Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict programs to the people of Zamboanga Sibugay province.

He said sustaining the convergence ensures continuity of government services and alleviates the pandemic situation experienced by the former NPA rebels and militia ng bayan members.

Bulacan LGU To Train Alleged Rebel Returnees In Housing, Livelihood

Posted to the Business Mirror (May 2, 2021): Bulacan LGU To Train Alleged Rebel Returnees In Housing, Livelihood (BY JOVEE MARIE DE LA CRUZ)

THE chairman of the House Committee on People’s Participation said the city government of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, will provide free housing and livelihood training to the 244 members of alleged Leftist groups who withdrew their membership with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (CPP/NPA).

San Jose Del Monte (SJDM) Rep. Florida P. Robes and SJDM, Bulacan, Mayor Arthur B. Robes said social assistance will also be given to the returnees.

Both Robeses said the so-called “returnees” surrendered their IDs to their organizations and took their oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines as a sign that they will no longer provide support to the CPP/NPA.

“We will work closely with the NHA [National Housing Authority] to formulate an order to enable them to own housing units that are available in SJDM and give them livelihood assistance to bring them employment,” the Robes couple said in a joint statement.

A total of 224 members of Bayan Muna and Kalipunan ng Damayang Panlipunan (Kadamay) last Friday said they withdrew their membership from their organizations and their support to the CPP/NPA.

Among those who withdrew their support were one alleged armed member of the NPA, four alleged members of the National Democratic Front, three alleged organizers and one alleged “youth leader.”

Major Carl Sanchez Commander of the 301st Brigade said those who withdrew their support illegally occupied the housing development in 2013. Sanchez alleges that they had since been one of the main sources of support for the CPP/NPA group in Bulacan.

He alleged that hundreds more residents of the “Pabahay 2000” government project in SJDM are supporters of the communist group. Some of the returnees were part of the Kadamay group who occupied an idle housing project of the NHA in Pandi, Bulacan in March 2017.

Police arrest 2 Bicol activists, progressive groups allege planting of evidence

 From Rappler (May 2, 2021): Police arrest 2 Bicol activists, progressive groups allege planting of evidence (MARA CEPEDA)

(1st UPDATE) 'The PNP anti-criminality campaign will continue to intensify its measures and strategies with the help and support of the public,' says PNP chief Debold Sinas

The Philippine National Police (PNP) continued its crackdown on activists after two leaders of progressive groups were arrested in separate raids in Naga City and Albay province in the Bicol region on Sunday morning, May 2.

Sasah Sta Rosa, the chairperson of Anakbayan’s chapter in Naga City, was nabbed by cops inside her house past 3 am, according to a Facebook post by Anakbayan Naga City.

The group accused the police of planting guns and grenades inside the youth activist’s home before detaining her at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group’s (CIDG) headquarters in the city.

The cops allegedly forced Sta Rosa’s relatives to step outside their home and ordered her uncle to go down on his knees before reading out the search warrant.

“Ayon sa pamilya, mga 40-minuto na naghanap at hinalughog sa bahay ang mga unipormadong personahe. Pagkalabas ng mga ito ay dala-dala na ang isang bag na may laman na mga baril, granada, at pulang bandera,” said Anakbayan. (According to the family, the uniformed personnel raided the house for about 40 minutes. When they left, they brought with them a bag containing guns, grenades, and a red flag.)

Police Master Sergeant Tobias Bongon, Naga City police spokesperson, confirmed Sta Rosa’s arrest to Rappler, but denied allegations that cops had planted evidence against her.

“Ganun naman po talaga lagi ang mga nahuhuli, ‘yan naman po lagi ang palusot nila (That’s always the alibi of people when they’re being arrested),” Bongon said.

Several progressive groups also reported the arrest of Pastor Dan Balucio, Bayan Bicol’s spokesperson, past 4 am on Sunday in Barangay San Isidro, Sto Domingo, Albay.

Karapatan Bikol accused the CIDG members who nabbed Balucio of planting firearms inside his room, just like in Sta Rosa’s arrest.

The cops also allegedly punctured holes in the vehicle of a member of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), who was with Balucio at the time of his arrest.

“Tinaniman ng baril at granada ang kuwarto ni Pastor Balucio. Binutas din ng mga ahente ng estado ang sasakyan ng NCCP,” said Karapatan Bikol. (They planted guns and grenades inside the room of Paster Balucio. State agents also punctured holes into the car of the NCCP.)

PNP chief Debold Sinas, however, maintained that Balucio was arrested for illegal possession of firearms and explosives. He said the operation was "conducted in an orderly manner" and was overseen by Barangay San Isidro Captain Boogie Balila and Barangay Kagawad Napoleon Sardinia.

According to Sinas, Balucio is currently under the custody of the CIDG Albay.

"The PNP anti-criminality campaign will continue to intensify its measures and strategies with the help and support of the public, to arrest persons who pose a threat to the peace and order of the community," Sinas said.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has intensified its crackdown on communist rebels, activists, and even mere government critics. In March, deadly police and military raids in the Calabarzon region left 9 activists dead in what is now known as the “Bloody Sunday” killings.

The arrests and killings of activists came in the wake of the passage of the anti-terror law, which critics have warned would be used by the government to go after dissenters.

The law's constitutionality is currently being challenged before the Supreme Court.

Rebel returnee in Bohol says NPA uses agitation strategy to play with people’s emotions

From the Philippine Information Agency (May 2, 2021): Rebel returnee in Bohol says NPA uses agitation strategy to play with people’s emotions (By Rey Anthony H. Chiu)

RESTORING WHAT HAS BEEN RUINED. Rebel returnee Virgilio Quisto sharing how they manipulate people’s sentiments to keep feeding them the kindling of dissent that would create an unquenchable fire to propel enough disruption of services and reasons to revolt. (rahc/PIA7Bohol)

TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol, April 27 (PIA) -- "Agitation as a strategy to keep discontent high."

This is how the New People’s Army (NPA) of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) survive, feeding on the people’s discontent and preying on their helplessness to force them to rise up in arms against the government.

The confession was among the information which former rebel Virgilio Quisto shared moments before he has to give his testimony on the government’s goodwill to people like him who made the decision to switch to a path of peace.

"Then, it was always easy to hit the raw nerve of the poor people, because we trained for that. Now, however, no matter how good the agitation is, somehow the government can easily get and appease the sentiments of the people," said Quisto, once a key agitator and respected leader of the underground movement.


CAPS OFF. A rebel returnee places his life at risk speaking in public against the underground movement. But for former rebel Virgilio Quisto, the lies have to stop because many young lives have been lost in the senseless revolution. (rahc/PIA7/Bohol)

"Ang ila, programa alang sa kagubot, wala silay Department of Agrarian Reform nga tinuod nga manghatag og yuta, wala silay programa alang sa mga kabus, ang ila, ang pagdakop sa emosyon sa tawo aron mo-alsa (Their programs are all to sow trouble. They do not have DAR which fulfils its promise of lands. They do not really have programs for the poor. Their strategy is only to capture the emotions of people to stir uprisings," said Quisto.

Quisto made the statement amid hundreds of land reform beneficiaries accepting their Certificates of Land Ownership Awards and Agricultural Free Patents during the service caravan in San Vicente, Trinidad.

Quisto's family received 2.14 hectares of land which they have cultivated since they occupied a portion of the government sequestered lands of the abandoned Bohol Cattle Corporation.

The former rebel shared that he joined the rebels in Surigao del Sur in 1987.

For 12 years, he went up the mountains or rested in his home when there were no offensives.

Sensing that the government was getting serious in cracking down on the underground movement in Surigao, he, along with his family, went home to Bohol.

"It was the government’s offensive against the rebels and overhead, we could see cannon balls flying and exploding in the hills," he shared, before they decided to make it to Bohol.

As an active rebel in the movement, his arrival in Bohol found him in a rather comfortable situation.

Assigned to the Bohol Guerilla Front 3 based in the mountains of Maribojoc, Loon, San Isidro, Calape Tubigon and Antequera, Quisto said he was present during the encounter in Tan-awan in 1995, Tubigon, where he said they had two casualties.

By 2016, he went down the mountains and joined the legal front for reasons he did not specify.

Between 2019 and 2020, Quisto again went active in the Sandatahang Yunit Propaganda operating in the forests of Bilar, Batuan, and nearby towns.

But admitting that he is too old for the mountain treks, and sensing the disillusionment and the empty promises he received from the movement, he decided to make it to the lowlands and live in peace.

A member of the provincial association of rebel returnees, Quisto now helps the government in convincing his former comrades to take the same way he did.

With Talibon Trinidad Farmers Association (TTIFA), Quisto along with the organization’s president, Rowena Eronico, started to regain the trust of their members, who were then organized to agitate the government on the issues of land reform, anti oil-palm, poverty, and alleged militarization.

In 2020, it was hard to get the sympathy of TTIFA.

"But then, our persistence paid off because we are now getting majority of our members back," Eronico said.

"Wala na ba diay gyuy luna sa inyong kasingkasing ang tinabangay ug hangopay sa masa? Wala na tay rason pa, kay ania na ang atong gitagna niadto nga dili madayon. Ania na, nagpang-apod-aporan na kita sa yuta, ug dili ang kalihukan ang nakahimo niini. Mabuhi ang mga mag-uuma, Mabuhi ang DAR (Do you not have space in your hearts for cooperation, for brotherhood as men? We do not have any reasons anymore. The time has come, the one we said would never happen, is here. And we are given lots not by the underground movement, but by the government we downplayed before," Quisto added. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)

CentCom condemns NPAs for ambush of peace volunteers in Bohol

From the Philippine Information Agency (May 2, 2021): CentCom condemns NPAs for ambush of peace volunteers in Bohol (By Rey Anthony H. Chiu)

SAMBAYANAN MEMBERS DO IT BETTER. Sambayanan members, mostly rebel returnees, possess the convincing power of coming to the discussion than the language of firearms. Here, a rebel returnee talks about how the NPAs manipulate situations to leverage for emotional support from poor communities who can feed them. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)

TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol, May 2 (PIA) -- The Central Command (CentCom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Boholano peace-loving communities condemned the atrocities committed by the Communist Party of the Philippines New Peoples’ Army (CPP-NPA) terrorists who mercilessly attacked and killed unarmed civilian volunteers in Bohol on April 26, 2021.

In a videotaped statement, CentCom Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Roberto T. Angcan said “the NPA's killing of Sambayanan volunteers Rolando Fornes and Jaime Cagatin and wounding of Michael Hinampas and Antonio Muring only revealed the true nature of the terrorists and bandits masquarading in their schemes.

“They were there to talk to the people, because we have realized it is not through arms but through peaceful discussion that we can bring peace and development,” said Bernard Banal, Sambayanan member and team leader of the slain former cadres.

Banal, who spent eight years in the armed movement, realized the lies he himself used to agitate the people have also exposed the evils of the NPAs.

He has long rejoined the mainstream and offered his life to amend his past by exposing the schemes of the NPA in gaining the confidence of poor communities they can milk.

A squad of the communist terrorist NPAs waited the whole afternoon for four former rebels who are now government volunteer members of the Sentrong Alyansa ng Mamamayan para sa Bayan (Sambayanan) who were in a meeting with Purok 5 residents in Brgy. Aloja in Batuan.

Sambayanan, also generally identified as anti-communists group here, is a multi-sectoral alliance formed by former rebels and cadres of the CPP-NPA-NDF after they returned to the fold of the law.

As Sambayanan pushes for genuine peace and development in support of Executive Order No. 70 signed by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in December 2018, the former rebels were exposing the evil ways of the NPAs to convince the masses to withdraw their support and resist the terrorists as a means to end local communist armed conflict (ELCAC).

From the meeting, when the volunteers were to go home on board two motorcycles to the next town Carmen, they were waylaid at a lonely stretch of the road not far from their meeting venue a little past 5:00 p.m.

The first motorcycle driver, Rolando Fornes, was hit but managed to escape from being pinned by the motorcycle.

His back rider, Michael Hinampas, dove off to the roadside bushes and managed to stay away from the line of fire into safety.

SAMBAYANAN TEAM LEADER. Then an active rebel, Bernard Banal is now one of the most vocal campaigners against the rebel's lies and their terroristic acts. He said what they are doing has hurt the communist terrorists that they are desperate to hold the line of their men. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)

Upon the second shot, Jaime Cagatin, who drove the second motorcycle a few meters behind with Antonio Muring in tandem, were hit and crashed.

Cagatin was hit in his feet while Muring was hit in the arm. Both were still able to maneuver to safety, but only Muring managed to move away where he sought high ground to call for help.

From their vantage points, the surviving former rebels saw how the communist terrorists finished off Fornes and Cagatin, who were unarmed civilians.

“In my assessment, the NPAs are hurt by what we at Sambayanan are doing and Boholanos are now rejecting them. They desperately want to regain the fear by putting on tactical offensives with police, army or any state authority,” Banal said.

Survivors have allegedly identified the perpetrators and authorities are now pursuing those leads.

“We shall see to it that the NPA terrorists responsible for this dastardly attacks shall be brought to justice,” vowed Angcan, adding that the Philippine Army mourns the deaths of the peace workers and that they are assisting the families in laying their dead to final rest.

He also assured: "Your Central Command fully supports the people and the development initiatives of our dear stakeholders in providing genuine peace and security to communities, not only in Bohol but also for the whole Visayas as we to put an end to this local communist armed conflict." (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)

PRRD’s order firm to defend PH possession sans war: Lorenzana

From the Philippine News Agency (May 2, 2021): PRRD’s order firm to defend PH possession sans war: Lorenzana (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (Screengrab from Delfin Lorenzana Facebook page)

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dismissed claims that his recent statements on the Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are not aligned with those of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

In a statement to reporters Sunday, he said the Chief Executive's orders to the defense department regarding the WPS have been very "firm and straightforward" and that is to defend the country's possessions without going to war.

"President Duterte’s orders to us have been very firm and straightforward: defend what is rightfully ours without going to war and maintain the peace in the seas. Yung nagsasabi na hindi kami align ng Presidente (those saying that our statements are not aligned with the President). let me clarify that my pronouncements echo the stand of our President and Commander-in-Chief," Lorenzana added.

And as part of the Philippines' long-standing and multi-faceted relationship with China, he said both nations maintain cooperation in various areas that are mutually beneficial to the Filipino and Chinese people.

"We can be cordial and cooperative with other nations but not at the expense of our sovereignty and sovereign rights," he added.

While mindful of China's far more superior military capabilities, Lorenzana said this knowledge does not deter them from defending national interest, and dignity as a people, with all available resources or assets.

"Thus, the conduct of maritime patrol in the WPS and Kalayaan Island Group by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will continue. The government will not waiver in its position. Walang alisan (There is no leaving)," he added

Also, the latest developments have made it clear that there is a need for all stakeholders to cooperate.

"They can now take this as an opportunity to advance the values and principles we collectively affirm and profess to respect - including the peaceful settlement of disputes - as partners and as signatories to UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea) and all relevant international instruments," he said.

Earlier, Lorenzana said China has no legal basis to prevent the Philippines from conducting maritime exercises in the WPS.

"They have no authority or legal basis to prevent us from conducting these exercises within the WPS. Atin yan (That is ours)," he said.

This came following China's calls to stop the ongoing maritime exercises of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, noting that such actions are "complicating the situation and escalating the disputes".

He added that Beijing's "historical" claims on the West Philippine Sea have no basis.

"Their claims according to their so-called historical rights have no basis while we have two international documents saying the area is ours: the UNCLOS of which China is a signatory and the Arbitral Award of 2016," he added.

UNCLOS, he said, gave the Philippines sovereign rights to explore the natural resources of an area that is 200 nautical miles away from the mainland.

"The Arbitral Award has categorically stated that the Chinese claim bounded by their so-called nine-dash line according to their 'historical right' has no basis in fact. Therefore, it is they who are encroaching and should desist and leave," he added.

He opposed China's claims that Philippine maritime exercises are "complicating the situation and escalating disputes", saying it is the other way around.

"Walang basis 'yung nine-dash line nila, according to an international tribunal, sila ang nagko-complicate ng situation by insisting to stay within our WPS (Their nine-dash line has no basis according to an international tribunal, they are the ones complicating the situation by insisting to stay within our WPS)," he added.

The Normalization Process in the Bangsamoro Faces Rising Uncertainty

 Posted to The Diplomat (Apr 26, 2021): The Normalization Process in the Bangsamoro Faces Rising Uncertainty (By Georgi Engelbrecht)

Delays in the decommissioning of Moro rebels and other measures threaten the fragile peace in the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

The flag of the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Bmlaw990

Two years into the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the peace process that put an end to decades of war in the Southern Philippines may be running into a rough patch.

Leading the interim government, the former rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are making headway in building up the new entity’s institutions and passing key legislation ahead of the new region’s first elections, due in 2022, but delays resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic now threaten to push that important deadline. Another key element of the 2014 peace deal between the rebels and the Philippines government is also languishing: the so-called “normalization process,” an ambitious combination of measures that aim to demobilize Moro Muslim fighters, transform their camps into peaceful and productive communities, establish a transitional justice process, and carry out a series of confidence-building initiatives. This process was off to a relatively good start, but here again COVID-19 has considerably slowed the process down over the past year, raising the risks of frustration among ex-combatants and civilians alike.

In a historic moment, a third of the MILF’s estimated 40,000 combatants, who had been operating in the jungles of Mindanao for over four decades, laid down their arms in early 2020. But due to the pandemic, the next round of decommissioning has not moved beyond the planning stages. While discussions about how to fast-track the process are ongoing, a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines is likely to complicate things further.

The ex-rebels are also growing impatient over the government’s failure to deliver promised socioeconomic packages to decommissioned combatants. These are supposed to include financial aid, agricultural support, housing, and other assistance for their transition to civilian life. While the government pledged a package amounting to one million Philippine Pesos per combatant, so far each ex-guerrilla has only received a lump sum of 100,000 pesos ($2,066). Failure to make headway on this issue could lead the MILF leadership to think twice about continuing with the disarmament roadmap.

Another challenge concerns the “camp transformation” agenda contemplated by the peace deal: a development roadmap intended to deliver peace gains for the Moro communities amongst which MILF combatants live. Some international donors have launched development projects in the six major MILF camps identified in the 2014 peace agreement as priority areas, but real peace dividends have yet to fully trickle down, as projects implemented to date have been rather small scale. Developed at the end of last year by the regional government, a more comprehensive camp transformation plan is now in place. But details still need to be ironed out between Manila and the MILF, and implementation promises to remain a challenge. Given pandemic-related spending, the Philippine government may not have sufficient resources to undertake this ambitious socioeconomic transformation in the coming months. Support from international donors will, in this respect, be crucial.

Other elements of normalization also lag. Crucial security measures foreseen by the peace deal, particularly the dissolution of private armies controlled by powerful clans and other power brokers across the Bangsamoro, remain a major challenge. The deployment in sensitive areas of joint peacekeeping teams made up of soldiers and ex-MILF combatants has also hit a series of hurdles at the local level. While the disbandment of private armed groups is largely a question of political will in Manila, the government and MILF need to determine a clear mandate for the peacekeeping teams if they are to be efficient, particularly regarding their capacity to use force.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unwelcome distraction for the Bangsamoro peace process, putting pressure on both Manila and the regional government to focus on immediate governance and public health issues, rather than confronting the challenges of the transition and normalization. There is now talk of extending the Bangsamoro transition period beyond 2022, when the first parliamentary elections were meant to elect the region’s autonomous government.

Though the normalization timetable is not technically tied to the elections, such a delay could lead officials to slow down the pace of these reforms as well – especially since, according to law, an extension would need to be for three years. While it seems unlikely the MILF leadership would call for a return to war, frustration at the pace of normalization could lead some of the group’s members to express their grievances through violence. Other militant groups active in the Bangsamoro could also endanger the nascent BARMM by blaming the MILF and Manila for slow implementation, recruiting disappointed Moro youth in the process. Just last month, fighting in Maguindanao province led to the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians, illustrating how volatile the situation on the ground remains.

President Duterte’s recent declaration of an amnesty for various Philippine rebel groups, including the MILF, was a welcome step toward reviving the normalization process and strengthening trust with the MILF amid the pandemic’s grip. But much remains to be done for the process to regain momentum at this crucial juncture. The national government should start by speeding up delivery of promised socioeconomic assistance to decommissioned combatants to reassure disgruntled ex-guerrillas that they will enjoy a peace dividend, and to signal to the MILF that it remains committed to the peace process. Moving ahead quickly with the plan to disband private armies is also crucial if to avoid the MILF decommissioning resulting in a security vacuum, which could lead to more conflict across the Bangsamoro.

For its part, the MILF should stick to the decommissioning roadmap as it was originally laid out, whether the transition is extended or not. Through their role in the regional administration, the ex-rebels should also work to strengthen local conflict resolution mechanisms to address often violent clan feuds that affect various parts of the region and could further jeopardize peace.

The international community, which has supported the peace process in the Bangsamoro ever since the peace agreement, has a crucial role to play at this moment of uncertainty. Donors can help things move in the right direction by contributing to the Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund, the dedicated funding mechanism created by the government and the MILF to finance relevant development projects. While initiatives focused on the six priority MILF camps are crucial, support should also flow to other conflict-affected areas. Uneven distribution of aid may well create tensions that could, in turn, stir further resentment and conflict.

The 2014 landmark peace agreement envisioned a comprehensive roadmap to peace that sought to tackle the complex causes of the Bangsamoro conflict in order to close the book on this war once and for all. To fulfil the Bangsamoro population’s expectations they raised as a result, Manila and the former rebels must not let the pandemic knock them off course after making such good progress towards a peaceful transition. Despite the hiccups, both urgently need to return to the spirit of cooperation that made this historic peace deal possible.

[Georgi Engelbrecht is Philippines Senior Analyst at the International Crisis Group.]