Saturday, March 25, 2023

CPP/CIO: Condemn 2nd IB for traumatizing school children used as human shields in Masbate

Propaganda statement posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Philippine Revolution Web Central (PRWC) Website (Mar 24, 2023): Condemn 2nd IB for traumatizing school children used as human shields in Masbate

Marco Valbuena
Chief Information Officer
Communist Party of the Philippines

March 24, 2023

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) condemns the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), specifically its troops under 2nd Infantry Battalion, for twice running to school grounds in Masbate province and firing their weapons indiscriminately, after clashes with units of the New People’s Army (NPA) in another area.

On March 20, AFP troops run to the school grounds of the Villahermoso National High School in Cawayan town, after suffering casualties after attacking an NPA unit in another part of the barangay. While in the school grounds, they fired their weapons in all direction, with a grenade exploding in the school.

On March 22, AFP troops similarly run to the school grounds and forced their way into the Locso-an National High School in Placer town, after being ambushed by the NPA in another part of the barangay.

The Party condemns the AFP for issuing false media statements claiming that the clashes with the NPA happened near the school.

Clearly, these are cases of using civilians as humand shiels that violate international humanitarian law. These dirty tactics caused grave trauma on students and their teachers.

Kalinaw News: Seven members of the Yakal Platoon, Sub-Regional Committee (SRC) Browser, Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee (EVRPC) of the Communist Terrorist Group surrendered

 From the Kalinaw News Facebook Page (Mar 25, 2023): Seven members of the Yakal Platoon, Sub-Regional Committee (SRC) Browser, Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee (EVRPC) of the Communist Terrorist Group surrendered

Seven members of the Yakal Platoon, Sub-Regional Committee (SRC) Browser, Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee (EVRPC) of the Communist Terrorist Group surrendered to the 87th Infantry "Hinirang" Battalion, 8th Infantry "Stormtroopers" Division, Philippine Army at Barangay Poblacion 2, San Jose De Buan, Samar last March 22, 2023.

The surrenderers brought various firearms and assorted ammunition and stated that fear, hunger, and dismay were the main reasons for returning to the folds of the law.

Kalinaw News: 1,014 personalities and withdrew their support for the CPP-NPA-NDF in Lopez, Quezon

From the Kalinaw News Facebook Page (Mar 25, 2023): 1,014 personalities and withdrew their support for the CPP-NPA-NDF in Lopez, Quezon

1,014 personalities returned to the folds of the law and withdrew their support for the CPP-NPA-NDF in Lopez, Quezon, on March 23, 2023.
Joint elements of the 85th Infantry “Sandiwa” Battalion (85IB) of the 2nd Infantry “Jungle Fighter” Division (2ID), Philippine National Police (PNP) Area Police Command-Southern Luzon, and Municipal Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (MTF-ELCAC) facilitated the surrender, and the pledging of the oath of allegiance to the government, by the surrendered personalities.

Photo Courtesy: Philippine Army

85th Infantry Sandiwa Battalion

VISCOM neutralizes 66 rebels, seizes 85 firearms in 3 months

From the Visayan Daily Star  (Mar 25, 2023): VISCOM neutralizes 66 rebels, seizes 85 firearms in 3 months (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

WOMEN AIR POWER. The S70i Black Hawk helicopter with an all-female flight crew, namely Maj. Cristel Jumangit and 1Lt. Nerie Casandile, that transported AFP chief Gen. Andres Centino during his visit on March 24 to combat areas in Samar.* AFP photo

Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Andres Centino yesterday ordered the Visayas Command, led by Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, to sustain the momentum against the New People’s Army, and to end the insurgency problem in the region soon.

Centino yesterday visited the AFP Visayas Command headquarters in Camp Lapu Lapu, Cebu, where he was welcomed by Lt. Gen. Arevalo.

VISCOM supervises Army’s 3rd and 8th Infantry Divisions, Philippine Air Force and Navy in Visayas region.
It delivered another huge blow to CPP-NPA, following the surrender of seven rebels under the Eastern Visayas Party Committee, to the 87th Infantry Battalion in Samar.

The seven rebels also surrendered a 60mm mortar with nine ammunition, three M14 assault rifles, an M16 rifle, a caliber .45 pistol, a homemade 12-gauge shotgun, and assorted ammunition.

Gen. Centino commended VISCOM and all its subordinate units for a job well done, not only in going after the threat groups in the region, but also in performing other mandates.

From January to March 22 this year, VISCOM internal security operations resulted in the successful neutralization of 66 rebels, where 12 died in gun battles, five were apprehended, while 49 have returned to the folds of the law, while seizing 85 firearms, including one 60mm mortar.

Lt. Gen. Arevalo assured Gen. Centino that they will keep up the momentum.

“We will sustain our gains against the CPP–NPA and we will never leave any stones unturned in addressing the insurgency situation in the Visayas region, he added.

Tribal leader, 14 others surrende

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 25, 2023): Tribal leader, 14 others surrender (By RHODA GRACE SARON)

THE military has expressed optimism that the surrender of the tribal leader and 14 other members of the indigenous people on March 14 has decimated the influence of the New People’s Army on the Ata Manobo group in Talaingod.

Those who surrendered were headed by Datu Tungig Mansimuy-at, the last leader of the community who was inside the United Church of Christ in the Philippines-Haran. Among those who joined him were Pasaka members.

Col. Marion Angcao, 1003rd Infantry Brigade commander, said his military unit is ready to assist the community, including those who have yet to surrender and are planning to return to the folds of the law eventually.

“Because the goal is that even though the province [Davao region] is Insurgency Free, there are still those who have not returned to their families to achieve their peaceful living back in the community,” said Angcao.

The group started staying at the Haran facility in 2015 amid the claim of the military that the communist insurgents were exploiting them to pressure the government to leave their communities alone.

Davao del Norte Gov. Edwin Jubahib also vowed to help the group like what his administration has been doing to those who returned to the folds of the law.

In 2014, Datu Mansimuy-at was a purok leader at So Nalubas, Brgy Palma Gil, in Talaingod and was a courier of the insurgency. He was eventually appointed as head of the committee on health in one of the units of the insurgents and even acted as a spokesperson of the outlawed group.

He even led the Salugpungan schools in Talaingod and even joined several protest actions in the National Capital Region. He eventually became the secretary general of the Pasaka- Southern Mindanao Region in 2021.

MGen Cuerpo is the new 4th Infantry Division chief

From MindaNews (Mar 24, 2023): MGen Cuerpo is the new 4th Infantry Division chief (By FROILAN GALLARDO)

MGen Jose Maria Cuerpo, the new commander of the 4th Infantry Division. MindaNews photo taken March 23, 2023 by FROILAN GALLARDO

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews / 24 March) – A veteran hunter of the ISIS-inspired Dawlah-Islamiyah has assumed command of the 4th Infantry Division, the main military unit fighting the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in northern and northeastern Mindanao.

Philippine Army commander LGen Romeo Brawner Jr. tasked MGen Jose Maria Cuerpo to”finish the fight” against the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in northeastern Mindanao.

“Our President has ordered to end the CPP-NPA. Finish them now,” Brawner told Cuerpo during the turnover ceremony on Thursday.

“I admit that fulfilling the Command’s mandated mission will prove challenging,” Cuerpo said.

Cuerpo, a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Bigkis-Lahi” Class of 1990 and who hails from Iligan City, served as deputy chief of staff for personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines before he assumed command of the division.

Prior to that, he was the commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade in Marawi City where he spent five years hunting the remnants of the Dawlah Islamiyah.

Troops parade during the assumption of MGen Jose Maria Cuerpo as chief of the 4th Infantry Division on Thursday (March 23, 2023). MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

In March 2022, troops led by Cuerpo overran a Dawlah Islamiyah camp in Maguing, Lanao del Sur reportedly killing at least 40 rebels and seizing a sizable amount of war materiel.

Cuerpo as the deputy commander of the 103rd Brigade led patrols during the five months of fighting between the government and the Maute-led Dawlah Islamiyah that seized Marawi.

He has assumed command of a division whose recent achievements against the CPP-NPA included the killing of National Democratic Front spokesperson Jorge Madlos alias “Ka Oris” and National Democratic Front consultant Pedro Cudaste. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)

ISIS still a threat in Southeast Asia

Posted to the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 25, 2023): ISIS still a threat in Southeast Asia

THE PHILIPPINES remains an attractive site for Islamic State (IS) operations now and in the future, Nikkei Asia quoted Mimi Fabe, a professor of financial terrorism at the National Police College of the Philippines, as saying.

“The ISIS HQ still regards Philippine terrorist organizations as reliable conduits for terrorism financing, recruitment of combatants and child soldiers, involvement of women in terrorist smuggling of weapons as well as ammunition, a place to get multiple identities and, in certain areas, as safe havens for foreign terrorist fighters,” Fabe said.

One of the most notorious organizations in the Philippines is the jihadi and kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf, which has two factions. One of them is allied with IS and is the largest IS-linked group in the Philippines. “All of these groups are operating in Mindanao Island, while two other transnational organized crime groups which are sympathetic to ISIS-linked groups have a footprint in Luzon,” Fabe said.

Fabe said the IS headquarters is fully supportive of the Abu Sayyaf factions. The support comprises terrorism financing and the transfer of training techniques, including the sending of IS fighters to train newly recruited combatants and child soldiers in Mindanao.


In May 2017, Abu Sayyaf and the IS-linked Maute Group seized control of Marawi city in Mindanao and laid siege to it for five months before the Philippine military regained control. The attack marked the most serious bid by IS to gain a foothold in Southeast Asia, unsettling governments across the region with its ferocity, impeccable planning and abundant logistics. More than 1,100 civilians, militants and security forces were killed. An attack of such scale has not been repeated since.

According to Fabe, the careful monitoring of Marawi and the larger Lanao region, where the city is, plus efforts at preventing and countering violent extremism by security forces has led to the maintenance of peace and order in the area.

Nikkei Asia also quoted Colin Clarke, director of research at The Soufan Group intelligence and security consultancy, as saying that IS is still very interested in Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines, where the group can use sectarianism as a recruitment tool.

“IS is opportunistic and will continue to look for openings to rebuild its networks throughout Southeast Asia,” said Clarke. “IS has continued to spread propaganda and recruit ... and there are some concerns about the group making inroads in Singapore.”

Clarke said IS is in rebuilding mode at the moment. “Its goal is to remain relevant and look for power vacuums it can exploit. It is also likely seeking to rebuild its external operations capabilities, because conducting successful attacks is the most effective recruitment tool. ... It proves relevance when many analysts are claiming that the group is finished,” Clarke said, adding, IS is strong in Africa and Afghanistan but suffering significant losses elsewhere.

At its height, IS held about a third of Syrian territory and 40% of Iraq. It drew an estimated 30,000 foreign fighters to its caliphate, including citizens from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, before its defeat by a U.S.-led coalition.

Nikkei Asia said four years after the fall of the IS caliphate in Syria where it lost territories and followers, the extremist group’s ideology remains entrenched in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines, where risks of attacks are looming.


In Indonesia, it reported that a counterterrorism expert warned that IS supporters are working together with former terrorism convicts to form a group to carry out attacks in the run-up to, during and possibly after the country's presidential elections due in 2024.

Muh Taufiqurrohman, a senior researcher at the Jakarta-based Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), told Nikkei Asia this group of IS supporters is targeting polling stations, police and non-Muslims, viewing them as enemies of IS that must be destroyed.

“The Indonesian government should watch out for former and current Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) members, ex-convicted terrorists and supporters of Islamic caliphate who are gathering to form an interorganizational group to carry out attacks in 2024,” said Taufiqurrohman.

This group is working with former terrorism convicts because they have "military skills and access to weapons."

Though JAD is the biggest IS affiliate in Indonesia, responsible for some of the major terrorist attacks in the country since 2016, Taufiqurrohman said IS supporters outside of JAD are the most active in Indonesia at the moment, as JAD has been weakened following the arrests of its leaders and many of its members.

“Currently, the most active IS supporters are not from JAD but young people who are active on social media ... and they want to carry out attacks even though they don't have the paramilitary skills,” said Taufiqurrohman.

He also said JAD members and other IS supporters are conducting paramilitary training as preparation for future jihad operations. The training includes self-defense, archery and learning how to make bombs from the internet.

A former IS member who spoke with Nikkei by phone said that 90% of IS recruitment is done via social media. “They [IS members] are very active on Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and Instagram,” said the former militant, who declined to be named. He was imprisoned for four years for supplying weapons and channeling 1.3 billion rupiah ($85,000) from Syria to Indonesian militants.

He warned that propaganda from IS remains potent, adding that IS recently released an audio recording calling for supporters to make a baiat (pledge of allegiance) to the new caliph, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurayshi, and to carry out terrorist attacks.

"It is dangerous if nothing is done to counter such a narrative," said the former militant, who is currently helping Indonesian authorities in de-radicalization efforts for convicted militants.

He said IS recently started translating its messages into 17 languages, including English, French and Russian as well as Indonesian, to spread its propaganda.

In the long term, the biggest threat comes from the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which has 6,000 to 8,000 active members, some with military skills, who are highly committed to realizing their ambition of an Islamic state in Indonesia, said PAKAR's Taufiqurrohman.

JI was behind the October 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, the biggest terrorist attack following 9/11.


In Singapore, the IS threat is one that exists in social media, including the online gaming space, “which is why developing psychological resilience of youth to extremist ideological manipulation is very critical as a key line of defense,” said Kumar Ramakrishna, professor of national security studies and dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Research.

Two teenagers who were self-radicalized online were detained recently in the city-state. One of them, age 16, had joined multiple Islamic State-themed servers on the gaming platform Roblox.

“My own view is that the general IS strategy is to employ cyberspace as a 'force multiplier' in its radicalization and recruitment efforts around the world, and certainly in Southeast Asia, including of course Singapore,” Kumar said in the same Nikkei Asia report.

“IS ideologues have always maintained, especially since the loss of their territorial holdings ... that its cyber warriors or influencers are just as important as its physical warriors,” Kumar said.


In Malaysia, Ahmad El-Muhammady, assistant professor at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, said that while the majority of Malaysians reject the Islamic State group's narrative, a small number still find it attractive and embrace it.

“They even try to promote it through social media platforms. I believe IS's threat remains, but in the form of narratives and ideology. It exists at the potential level. If we don't manage the potential threat, it may escalate to an actual threat,” Ahmad said. (Mindanao Examiner, Nikkei Asia)

Sulu ranked No. 1 in improved peace and order

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 25, 2023): Sulu ranked No. 1 in improved peace and order

SULU – Governor Sakur Tan said Sulu is now ranked Number 1 in improved peace and order situation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and he commended authorities and the public for strongly supporting the peace and development efforts of the provincial and municipal governments.

Provincial government photos show the Peace and Order Council Meeting held at the Capitol in Patikul town. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tan, chairman of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC), recently convened the body to provide the public with updates on the security situation, issues of social concern and other matters relevant to public order and safety.

“We are now number ranked Number 1 in peace and order. Maganda ang sitwasyon natin dito sa Sulu, mas marami tayong pwedeng magawa ngayon. Magtulong-tulong tayo na mas pagandahin pa ang ating probinsiya. Bigyan natin nang oportunidad ang pag-unlad dito sa Sulu,” Tan said after receiving reports from the police and military, and other stakeholders.

In light of the much improved peace and order situation, Tan encouraged all stakeholders not to be complacent, rather to seize the moment, and double the resolve to move forward and increase productivity to create better opportunities for everyone.

The PPOC also recommended the following: Strengthen programs on education as a catalyst of peace and development in every enabling environment; a progressive practice of culture and tradition to help eradicate so-called gun culture mentality, and to help prevent clan war or family feud; to further improve the traffic situation in the capital town of Jolo; aggressive campaign on motorcycles with loud muffler, and to promote four stroke or Euro 4 compliant motorcycles; to maintain the cleanliness program in all municipalities.

It also adopted the position of the five governors in the BARMM who called for the postponement of the Barangay elections until the implementation of the full decommissioning of weapons of Moro Islamic Liberation Front members; the condemnation of the February 17 ambush on Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr that wounded him and killed four of his aides.

US access to EDCA sites ‘not unlimited’

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 25, 2023): US access to EDCA sites ‘not unlimited’ (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora and Priam Nepomuceno)

Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga (Courtesy of Radyo Pilipinas)

MANILA – The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States does not carry unlimited access to agreed locations, the Department of National Defense (DND) clarified Saturday.

DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said the use of EDCA sites must be mutually agreed upon by both countries.

“There are constant consultations with the Mutual Defense Board and Security Exchange Board wherein the US side and the Philippine side are in discussion to plan out activities and these activities determine when the sites are going to be used, how they will be used, what can be brought in, and what they will do in the sites, so it’s not unlimited,” he said at the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City.

The EDCA, which allows American troops to access so-called agreed locations in the Philippines on rotation, is effective for an initial term of 10 years unless terminated by either party.

While the US is allowed to put troops and store equipment, supplies, and materiel, the Philippines retains ownership of all agreed locations.

Andolong added that EDCA locations could also be used for “exercises or in the event of contingencies like disaster and typhoons” but not as permanent basing facilities.

There were five original EDCA sites after the deal’s signing – the Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan de Oro; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

Earlier this year, Manila and Washington DC agreed to designate four more, which according to President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. would be in the north, south, and “some around Palawan,” a province facing the West Philippine Sea.

Beijing had previously questioned Washington DC’s interest to boost its military alliance with Manila through EDCA, claiming it as an effort to “encircle and contain China.”

Andolong countered that the 2014 deal is meant to bolster the Philippines’ “territorial defense” and not to pick a fight.

“Ang EDCA, maski ang Visiting Forces Agreement, ay na-conceptualize na wala tayong tinutukoy at hindi (The EDCA, even the Visiting Forces Agreement, was conceptualized without) aiming at any particular country,” he said. “Hindi po natin layunin na maging aggressor. Ang atin po ay (It is not our intention to become an aggressor. What we want is) defense.”

The Association of Generals and Flag Officers, meanwhile, expressed support for the additional sites, saying these would enhance the interoperability of US and Philippine defense forces and accelerate the modernization and capability upgrade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

It would also improve government responses, like humanitarian assistance and relief operations, for emergencies, and climate-related disasters, the group said.

“The Super Typhoon Yolanda experience in 2013 is a reminder that the proximity of relief centers that could accommodate goods, equipment, and manpower hastens the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” it said in a statement.

“In addition, given the Constitutional mandate to protect the national patrimony in maritime areas where we exercise sovereign rights, our defense forces must continually enhance their capabilities to detect, deter, and counter violators through sustained training and interoperability exercises with allies and partners that share our aspiration to abide by the rules-based international order.”

Ambassador Beaufils: UK to act as observers in Balikatan exercise

From GMA News Online (Mar 25, 2023): Ambassador Beaufils: UK to act as observers in Balikatan exercise (By JP SORIANO)

British Ambassador to the Philippines Laure Beaufils said the United Kingdom will act as observers in the joint military drills between the Philippines and the United States next month.

"This year, for the first time, [the UK] will be observers to Balikatan, which is starting on the 11th of April, as you know, so this is an area of growing cooperation, and [we] expect to see more,” Beaufils said in an interview with GMA Integrated News on Saturday.

This year's "Balikatan" or 'shoulder-to-shoulder' drills also come against the backdrop of what the Philippines calls "aggressive" Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

The drills, held from April 11 to 28, will see 17,600 participants from both sides, including around 12,000 from the United States, and "live fire exercises into the water" for the first time, according to Colonel Michael Logico, director of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' training center and spokesperson for the event on March 14.

In addition to their observer status in the Balikatan exercise, the UK's Royal Navy has planned other military engagements with the Philippines, such as possible joint patrol operations and passing exercises.

The UK Carrier Strike Group ship is also set to return to the Philippines in 2025 to participate in military exercises, though the details remain undisclosed for security reasons.

The UK has also sent a defense attaché to the Philippines, whose mission is to focus on building the British military's relationship with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Beaufils said that the UK, along with other powerful countries such as the US, Japan, and Australia, supports the arbitral ruling that declared China's claims and actions in the West Philippine Sea illegal.

The recent incident of China's coast guard pointing lasers at the Philippine Coast Guard was not acceptable “as it contravened international law and UNCLOS (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Beaufils said.

Economic ties

The UK seeks to strengthen its economic ties with the Philippines as it embarks on engaging with the country in various sectors.

According to Beaufils, several British companies have made foreign direct investments in the Philippines in the past months.

The UK is expected to launch the Developing Country Trading Scheme, or DCTS, this year. The DCTS will benefit Philippine exporters to the UK since over 90% of products from the Philippines going to the UK will be duty-free.

This highlights the opportunities for the UK and the Philippines to strengthen economic relations in various sectors, including renewable energy, green infrastructure, and technology.

"You've got obviously agricultural products like mangoes and these things. So I think there's a lot to be explored for Philippine companies, and let us not forget that Philippine companies have invested in the UK,” Chris Nelson, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (BCCP), said in a separate interview.

More UK companies are also expected to invest in the Philippines if the government eases its foreign investment regulations, he added.

"We wish to see those further removed and the economy liberalized... the Philippines is competing with other countries in Southeast Asia and therefore it's important to keep that momentum, so we very much welcome the opening up and the laws that have been passed,” Nelson said.

The National Economic and Development Authority recently released the implementing rules and regulations for the law amending the Public Service Act that allows full foreign ownership of businesses in select industries such as airports, railways, expressways, and telecommunications.

The BCCP also welcomed the Senate's ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), or the free trade agreement involving the ASEAN countries and its partners Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

“I think we can get a lot of benefits for both the Philippines and the UK, and obviously the UK will see that, and that gives us the opportunity to encourage more companies to come to the Philippines knowing that you are a member of RCEP,” Nelson said.

Coronation of King Charles III

Meanwhile, Beaufils shared that the coronation of King Charles III on May 6 is expected to be attended by leaders from around the world, with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos among the invitees.

Beaufils expressed hope that they would attend but said that it was up to Malacañang to decide.

Tourists are expected to flock to London for the event, with hotels and attractions already fully booked.

For Filipinos who wish to watch the coronation, the British Embassy has announced that they will be hosting a live screening at the Quezon Memorial Circle.

"We will have a big screen, an event, and food booths," Beaufils said.

It will be the first crowning ceremony in the UK since Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. — with Richa Noriega/VBL, GMA Integrated News

3 Dawlah Islamiya members killed

From the Philippine Star (Mar 24, 2023): 3 Dawlah Islamiya members killed (John Unson)

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao del Norte, Philippines — Three suspected members of the Dawlah Islamiya were killed in a military offensive along the Liguasan Delta on Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Alex Rillera, 6th Infantry Division commander, said Samsudin Miro, Kamid Sindatu and Mohaimen Salik, followers of Almoben Sibud, were killed in artillery attacks.

Meanwhile, Pfc. Jorey Abibas was killed while Pfc. Jonathan Nacion was wounded in a gun attack allagedly by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters at a public market in Barangay Libutan in Mamasapano in Maguindanao del Sur on Wednesday. A bystander was hit by a stray bullet.

2 BIFF members suspected of spying for authorities shot dead by companions

 From the Philippine Star (Mar 25, 2023): 2 BIFF members suspected of spying for authorities shot dead by companions (John Unson)

Stock image of rifles. The STAR / File photo

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Alleged members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters killed in an ambush Friday in Maguindanao del Sur two companions suspected of spying for the police and military.

Kamad Tangkile and Hamad Tangkile, a minor, were riding a motorcycle together when men positioned along a road in Barangay Pamalian in Shariff Saidona Mustapha town in Maguindanao del Sur shot them with assault rifles.

The local police, in a report Saturday to the Police Regional Office-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, said the victims were members of the outlawed BIFF, fashioned from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and tagged in all bombings in central Mindanao since 2014.

Police Brig. Gen. John Guyguyon, director of PRO-BAR, and Army Major Gen. Alex Rillera, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, separately told reporters Saturday local leaders have reported that the duo was killed by companions on suspicions they were providing the police and military with information about their movements in isolated barangays in different towns.

Guyguyon said he has directed the Maguindanao Provincial Police Office to guard against possible hostilities between the clans of the slain BIFF members and their killers.

Army uses truck-mounted howitzers vs IS terrorists in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 26, 2023): Army uses truck-mounted howitzers vs IS terrorists in Maguindanao (By: Edwin O. Fernandez) 

File photo of the AFP’s 155mm (ATMOS 2000) Self-Propelled Howitzers now being used against IS-linked terrorists in Maguindanao del Sur. (Photo from 6th Infantry Division)

MIDSAYAP, Cotabato, Philippines – For the first time after being deployed in central Mindanao in October last year, the 155-mm Autonomous Truck Mounted Howitzers Systems (ATMOS) of the Army saw action in the pursuit of Islamic State-linked terrorists in Maguindanao provinces.

Brig. Gen. Donald Gumiran, commander of the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, said government forces on Thursday were running after the group of Almoben Sibud, a leader of the Dawlah Islamiyah terrorist group with about 30 armed followers.

And for the first time, they used the ATMOS in the operation.

According to Gumiran, Sibud is the sub-leader of the group and is believed to be behind the bombings in Maguindanao.

Two terrorists were killed and four others hurt during the operation at the borders of Pagalungan, Sultan sa Barongis, and Datu Montawal towns of Maguindanao del Sur and Mlang and Tulunan of Cotabato province.

File photo of the AFP’s 155mm (ATMOS 2000) Self-Propelled Howitzers now being used against IS-linked terrorists in Maguindanao del Sur. (Photo from 6th Infantry Division)

Another terrorist was captured and underwent tactical interrogation in an Army camp.

A .45-caliber pistol with ammunition and nine mobile phones were taken from the terrorist.

“Our specially trained ground troops are in the area, hopefully circling our targets,” Gumiran said, adding that the operation was coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

As a result of the recent clash, about 700 individuals from Barangay Dungguan in Datu Montawal town and nearby areas have fled to safer ground.

Aliman Bads, a resident of Pikit town, Cotabato, said he noticed that the artillery attacks were accompanied by airstrikes or bombing sorties.

“I am saddened by this development. It came as we commence the observance of Ramadan,” he said.

Bangsamoro Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said personnel from the region’s humanitarian team Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (READi) are already on the ground attending to the emergency needs of displaced families.

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PH generals, flag officers back 4 more Edca sites

From the Manila Times (Mar 26, 2023): PH generals, flag officers back 4 more Edca sites (By Franco Jose C. Baroña and Aric John Sy Cua)

A GROUP composed of generals and flag officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expressed its support for four more sites in the country that will host the facilities and equipment of the United States under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The Association of General and Flag Officers Inc. (AGFO) issued a statement on Saturday after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced that the government has identified the four additional Philippine bases.

The military said Cagayan, Zambales, Isabela and Palawan were among the possible EDCA sites. There are five predetermined EDCA sites located at Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

According to AGFO, EDCA is one of the mechanisms designed to bolster the alliance between the US and the Philippines under the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty.

"This 2014 agreement allows the rotation, not permanent stay, of US troops in mutually agreed locations where our ally could use temporary facilities," the AGFO said.

It stressed that the initiative will not only "enhance the interoperability of the two allies defense forces and accelerate the modernization and capability upgrade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines but will significantly improve government responses, like humanitarian assistance and relief operations to various emergency situations and climate-related disasters." The AGFO said the Super Typhoon "Yolanda" experience in 2013 was a reminder that the proximity of relief centers that could accommodate goods, equipment and manpower hastens the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

"In addition, given the constitutional mandate to protect the national patrimony in maritime areas where we exercise sovereign rights, our defense forces must continually enhance their capability to detect, deter and counter violators through sustained training and interoperability exercises with allies and partners that share our aspiration to abide by the rules-based international order," AGFO said.

"We also fully recognize that the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration Ruling has upheld the noble aims of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, otherwise known as the Constitution of the Oceans, to address maritime disputes in a peaceful manner and to remind coastal states on the limits of their maritime jurisdiction," it added.

Meanwhile, Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong disclosed on Saturday that the government is planning to complete the construction of the five existing military bases under EDCA by 2024.

Andolong said the construction of these sites was interrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and after former president Rodrigo Duterte in 2020 pulled out of the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The United States government said it allotted "$82 million toward infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA." Under the EDCA, facilities are expected to be constructed to improve interoperability of US and Philippine troops, build capacity, strengthen the AFP for external defense, promote maritime security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR).

It is also expected to give way to storage and prepositioning of defense and HADR equipment, supplies and material. Continuing opposition Meanwhile, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said he continues to oppose the government's decision to make his province a site under EDCA.

Speaking in a recorded video interview with The Manila Times, Mamba said his position "has not changed." "I do not want any foreign forces in my province. I don't want EDCA sites in my province, that's very clear." Mamba said this was why he was "surprised" when it was reported that he "dropped" his opposition to the EDCA sites.

"I will continue opposing the same because I feel it is inimical with the interest of the Cagayanos and the province," he said.

However, Mamba said despite his opposition, he admitted that he was "helpless" because "it is the President's call since he has decided and will be announcing soon the two sites in Cagayan." "I cannot do anything about that," Mamba said.

Mamba also said that he did not consult his constituents because of the "slow" formal notification to him by the government.

While Mamba said his people are not afraid of the military drills from the EDCA sites, he said the province is afraid of certain consequences of having foreign forces in the country, citing World War 2 and the Japanese invasion as an example.

Mamba said he hopes he is wrong in his calculations.

"I hope and pray that I am wrong and they are right," he said. "Because if I am right and they are wrong, I don't know how we could ever recover from the damage. We see what war is." The governor also said the province is not threatened by anyone — "not the Chinese, not the Japanese, and not the Koreans." He said the only threat comes from the New People's Army.

"They have been a threat for 52 years, and our Armed Forces and our government could not solve that. How do we go to war?"

Centino rallies N. Samar troops: Help end insurgency now

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 25, 2023): Centino rallies N. Samar troops: Help end insurgency now (By MARTIN SADONGDONG)

General Andres Centino, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), visited troops in Northern Samar and reiterated his mission order to them to help in the government’s campaign to end to the country’s five-decade-old problem on communist insurgency.

Centino spoke before soldiers from the 74th Infantry Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division (2ID); and the 19th Infantry Battalion, 801st Infantry Brigade, and 803rd Infantry Brigade of the 8th Infantry Division (8ID) on Friday, March 24, where he directed them to focus and strengthen their efforts in ending the insurgency in Northern Samar.

“I am very confident that with the line-up of the commanders here in the Visayas, we will be able to achieve our target of really ending the problem of the insurgency here in Samar,” the AFP chief said.

To ensure that the troops are well-motivated to perform their duties, Centino also reminded the commanders to “pay attention to the needs” of their personnel and “continue boosting their morale.”

“Your roles are important in instilling discipline in our troops, be an exemplar to them,” he stated.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), together with the armed group New People’s Army (NPA), has been waging a communist rebellion against the government for 53 years already.

Earlier this week, Philippine Army (PA) Commanding General Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the “complete” dismantling of the CPP-NPA is “imminent” as they continue to sustain focused military operations against the communist groups nationwide.

5 NPA Guerilla Fronts, natitirang target na malipol

 From Filipino Star Ngayon (Mar 26, 2023): 5 NPA Guerilla Fronts, natitirang target na malipol (5 NPA Guerilla Fronts, remain targets of the war) (By Joy Cantos)

MANILA, Philippines — Lima pang New People’s Army (NPA) Guerilla Fronts na nalalabi sa buong bansa ang target pang lipulin ng tropa ng pamahalaan.

Sinabi ni Defense Spokesperson Arsenio Andolong na mula sa dating 89 Guerilla Fronts ng NPA ay lima na lamang ang natitira kaugnay ng ‘whole of nation approach’ ng pamahalaan para matuldukan ang communist insurgency sa bansa.

Samantala nanatili namang hotspot ng communist insurgency ang ilang bahagi ng Mindanao.

Ayon kay Andolong, kung pagbabatayan ng istratehiya ay nagapi na ng puwersa ng pamahalaan ang NPA rebels, ang armed wing ng Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

DND, OPAPRU deplore spate of NPA atrocities in Masbate

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 24, 2023): DND, OPAPRU deplore spate of NPA atrocities in Masbate (By Priam Nepomuceno)

MANILA – The Department of National Defense (DND) on Friday condemned the latest string of atrocities committed by New People's Army (NPA) insurgents in Masbate, which killed and injured government troops and civilians early this week.

"The DND vehemently condemns the recent series of violent acts perpetrated by the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) that inflicted injuries on our uniformed personnel and innocent civilians, especially children, in the towns of Placer and Kawayan in Masbate," Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement.

These atrocities include the use and detonation of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near schools and in public areas, he added.

By using these weapons indiscriminately, Andolong said, the Reds have placed the public in harm's way.

"Their utter lack of conscience truly shows that they are desperate in their vain efforts to project a false facade of relevance and strength," he said.

Andolong also enjoined all Filipinos to come together as a nation and people to collectively protect all communities, as well as reject and denounce the "wilting CTG and their dwindling supporters."

He added that the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are committed to their campaign to rid the country of the scourge of these lawless elements.

Two soldiers and a minor were hurt after communist rebels detonated an IED near a public elementary school in Barangay Locso-on in Placer on March 22, triggering a clash.

A soldier was also killed in a clash with 12 NPA fighters in Barangay Villahermosa, Kawayan, Masbate on March 20.

Caught in the crossfire

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) also condemned the recent spate of attacks perpetrated by the NPA.

"These successive assaults by the CTG, which transpired between March 20 to 22 2023, have claimed the life of one soldier and left two others wounded. The series of clashes have also forced the temporary closure of schools in the area, thus interrupting the learning of students," OPAPRU acting chief Secretary Isidro L. Purisima said Friday.

Purisima noted that apart from the loss of life, what is most worrisome about these attacks is their impact on the children and youth.

"We sympathize with the students, teachers, and residents who have all been caught in the crossfire. They have witnessed the atrocities perpetrated by the terrorist group. The fear and trauma caused by these horrendous incidents will leave deep emotional wounds that will take quite some time to heal," he said.

Purisima said this shows that the insurgents would not hesitate to use the most underhanded and violent methods, such as shooting at government troops and detonating bombs near schools.

"These acts of terrorism must stop. They have no place in a humane, democratic, and peace-loving society such as ours. They serve no other purpose than to perpetrate the culture of violence in communities, and sow fear, anger, and animosity among our people, which has become the trademark of the rebel organization," the OPAPRU chief pointed out.

He also appealed to the remaining NPA rebels to stop using armed violence as a means to put forward their grievances against the government.

This strategy, he said, no longer works as the people have already seen through the NPA's smokescreen of lies and deceit.

He added that the OPAPRU is one with the local governments and people of Masbate in confronting the challenges caused by these senseless attacks.

"Rest assured that our agency will be working more closely with the security sector and our other peace partners so that we can finally put an end to the lawless, inhumane, and gruesome acts of the CTG," Purisima said.

‘Cowardly acts’

On Thursday night, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) described these moves of the communist rebels as "cowardly and dastardly acts of lawlessness, violence, and terrorism."

"We express great concern over the commission of these acts of lawlessness, violence, and terrorism by the CTG in the vicinity of schools, which are supposed to be zones of peace, greatly affecting the safety and well-being of our school children and our teachers," it said.

"With the Chairperson of the NTF-ELCAC, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., we remain vigilant against the increasing and worsening incidents of terrorism and abuses perpetrated by the ever-weakening and desperate CTG."

The NTF-ELCAC also said the government shall continue to deliver positive change and justice to the victims of NPA atrocities.

"We call on all its members, allies, supporters, and sympathizers to renounce the armed struggle and reject the lawlessness, violence, and terrorism espoused by the CTG and return to the fold of a peace-loving and united society," it added.

Transfer of more troops to Visayas nearing completion - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 24, 2023): Transfer of more troops to Visayas nearing completion - AFP (By Priam Nepomuceno)

(Photo courtesy of AFP)

MANILA – The country's military chief said the transfer of additional troops to the Visayas who would be tasked to neutralize the remaining communist insurgents will be completed soon.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Andres Centino made this comment following his visit to the Visayas Command headquartered in Camp Lapu-Lapu, City Cebu on Thursday.

“We’re here to perform the crucial task of seeing that the morale of our troops is at its highest, to talk and know that all is well and that you’ve been given specific tasks about our campaign,” Centino said.

He also added the AFP is nearing completion of the transfer of additional forces in the Visayas and thanked the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Air Force for helping in the troop movements.

The shift in forces was necessary to further intensify the military campaign
against the communist terrorist group, especially in Samar and Negros provinces.

“It is important for the Visayas Command to be on top of the situation, supervise the activities of the different Joint Task Forces, and ensure that the plans are understood and implemented on the ground,” Centino added.

He also assured the Visayas Command of its continued support from higher headquarters.

PH, China agree to manage differences over SCS through diplomacy

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 25, 2023): PH, China agree to manage differences over SCS through diplomacy (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

MANILA – The Philippines and China have agreed to manage their differences and handle emergencies on the South China Sea (SCS) through “friendly consultations,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday.

In a statement, the DFA said both sides explored ways to advance maritime cooperation “directed at confidence-building and managing tensions” during the 7th Bilateral Consultations Mechanism (BCM) in Manila.

“During the BCM, the Philippines and China reaffirmed their adherence to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and their commitment to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” it said.

“Both sides recognized their obligations under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and stressed their resolve to finalize an effective and substantive Code of Conduct.”

The two sides also discussed their respective positions on the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea, alongside the different incidents at sea monitored since 2021.

DFA Undersecretary Maria Theresa Lazaro, who led the Philippine delegation, said Manila “looks forward to a time that the news would no longer report on Philippines-China maritime incidents, but instead focus on mutually beneficial endeavors.”

“I cannot overemphasize that this should start with restraint from aggressive acts,” she said during the BCM.

In a separate statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the meeting resulted in more than 10 items of consensus and outcomes.

The two sides, it said, agreed to further leverage the role of the BCM and “promote practical cooperation in areas such as diplomacy, defense, coast guard, oil and gas development, fisheries, maritime affairs, maritime search and rescue, and marine scientific research and environmental protection.”
Among the subjects discussed were revisiting the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding on Establishing the Joint Coast Guard Committee and the convening of the Annual Defense Security.

New initiatives were also floated, including training and capacity building on aquaculture and marine environment cooperation.

In addition, the two sides agreed to convene the Joint Committee on Fisheries “at an early date.”

The BCM is a confidence-building measure that tackles maritime issues, including the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, marine environmental protection, and fisheries cooperation, among others.

The last BCM was held in 2021.

Soldier slain, 2 hurt in Maguindanao attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 22, 2023: Soldier slain, 2 hurt in Maguindanao attack (By Edwin Fernandez)

ATTACKED. Troopers of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion rush to carry a wounded comrade into a military vehicle after an attack by Daesh-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Barangay Libutan, Mamasapano town in Maguindanao del Sur province on Wednesday morning (March 22, 2023). Another soldier was killed in the incident. (Photo courtesy of Tiyakap Kalilintad/DXMS-Cotabato)

DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao Norte – A soldier was killed while his companion and a civilian were wounded following a drive-by shooting by gunmen on board a minivan in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao del Sur province on Wednesday morning.

Brig. Gen. Oriel Pangcog, the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade commander, said the victims were manning a checkpoint in Barangay Libutan when attacked around 9 a.m.

He identified the slain soldier as Private First Class (PFC) Jorey Abibas of Libungan town, North Cotabato province; and the wounded as PFC Jonathan Nacion of Pigcawayan town, also in North Cotabato.

A civilian identified by police as Asidza Bayao was hit by stray bullets.

The two soldiers both belong to the Army’s 23rd Mechanized Company of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion.

“It was a terroristic attack. The suspects on board a heavily tinted minivan slowed down while passing by the checkpoint but suddenly pulled their rifles and fired at our troops,” Pangcog said in a radio interview.

Pangcog said the attackers are believed to be members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in retaliation to the recent death of BIFF’s Abdulkarem Lumbatan Hasim alias “Commander Jacket.”

Hasim was killed with his companion, Mahmod Lumbatan, during a law enforcement operation on Feb. 18 at a bus terminal in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat province.

Colonel Roel Sermese, Maguindanao police director, agreed that the BIFF was likely behind the attack.

Citing a police investigation report, Sermese said the attackers were led by Tong Aban Amang, a BIFF-sub leader under Commander Jacket.

Joint police and military operations against the suspects are ongoing, Semese said.

3rd armed group dismantled in Tawi-Tawi this week

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23, 2023: 3rd armed group dismantled in Tawi-Tawi this week (By Teofilo Garcia, Jr.)

DISMANTLED. Members of a private armed group that was dismantled pledge their allegiance to the government in Bongao town, Tawi-Tawi province on Wednesday (March 22, 2023). The group, based in Panglima Sugala town of the island province, served as security escorts of a former town official. (Photo courtesy of APC-WM)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Authorities in Tawi-Tawi reported the dismantling of another private armed group (PAG) on Thursday, the third this week, after its members surrendered.

The Area Police Command - Western Mindanao (APC-WM) identified the group as the Asaad group, based in the town of Panglima Sugala, formerly known as Balimbing municipality.

The APC-WM said the Asaad group served as the security escort of former Panglima Sugala Mayor Rejie Sahali-Generale and operated in nearby municipalities.

Asaad Aharul, the group’s leader, Jurri Ismali, Ramil Baladji, Abdulhan Amilhamja, Moh. Sali Sabarani, and Midzfar Abdulmurib surrendered to the police’s Provincial Mobile Force Company (PMFC) headquarters in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi at about 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday.

The group turned over two unlicensed firearms, which were placed under the custody of the PMFC for safekeeping.

After taking their oath of allegiance to the government, the surrenderers were placed under the custody of Panglima Sugala Councilor Sabrine Soon Jilhano and will be subject to continuous close monitoring by the police.

Police said the Asaad group is the third PAG dismantled this week, after the surrender of members of the Alsaggab Mohammad Ali group on Monday and the Ahaja group on Tuesday.

The Alsaggab Mohammad Ali group based in Barangay Baldatal, Sapa-Sapa town, has seven followers, including a retired soldier, and served as armed guards during Ali's incumbency as the town mayor in 2007.

On the other hand, the seven-member Ahaja group served as security escorts of incumbent Sitangkai Mayor Tiblan Ahaja and Vice Mayor Serbin Ahaja.

2 IS-linked gunmen killed in Maguindanao, N. Cotabato ops

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23, 2023: 2 IS-linked gunmen killed in Maguindanao, N. Cotabato ops (By Edwin Fernandez)

File photo of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 155-mm Autonomous Truck Mounted howitzer System now being used against Islamic State-linked terrorists in Maguindanao del Sur marshland. (Photo courtesy of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division)

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao – A military operation that entered its second day on Thursday resulted in the deaths of at least two suspected Dawlah Islamiya (DI) extremists, while four others were injured in an ongoing air and ground assault on the border of Maguindanao Sur and North Cotabato provinces.

Brigadier Gen. Donald Gumiran, commander of the Army's 602nd Infantry Brigade (602Bde), said the government forces were pursuing Almoben Sibud, a DI group subleader, along with about 30 armed followers responsible for bombings in the area.

“Our specially trained ground troops are in the area, hopefully circling our targets,” Gumiran said, adding that the operation was coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The 602Bde artillery unit utilized its recently acquired 155-mm Autonomous Truck Mounted howitzer System (ATMOS) for the first time during the operation.

A DI member was arrested and is currently undergoing interrogation. He was identified as Mohammad Agbas of Barangay Dungguan, Datu Montawal town, and was found with a .45-caliber pistol and ammunition.

About 700 people from the village of Dungguan and surrounding areas have fled to safer grounds following the launch of the military operation.

Regional interior minister Naguib Sinarimbo of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said personnel from the region’s Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (READi) are currently on the ground attending to the needs of the displaced families.

Army chief affirms territorial security as long-term plan

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23, 2023: Army chief affirms territorial security as long-term plan (By Nef Luczon)

CHANGE OF COMMAND. Philippine Army chief, Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., presides over the change of command ceremony at the 4th Infantry Division headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City on Thursday (March 23, 2023). Maj. Gen. Jose Maria Cuerpo II succeeds Maj. Gen. Wilbur Mamawag to lead the Army division covering parts of Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions. (PNA photo by Nef Luczon)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The chief of the Philippine Army declared on Thursday that territorial security would be a crucial element of the military's long-term goals.

During an interview here, Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said efforts to strengthen territorial security had already been set in motion last year, following President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.'s declaration that "we will not give up an inch of our territory."

Brawner emphasized that one way to reinforce security measures was to equip the Army with the latest tools and facilities under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program.

He highlighted the need for "modern mortars, cannons, and missiles" to enhance territorial security.

However, Brawner also acknowledged that territorial security would only be given full attention once conflict areas affected by the communist insurgency were resolved, and relative peace was achieved.

Change of command

Brawner presided over the change of command ceremony of the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) in Cagayan de Oro City. Maj. Gen. Jose Maria Cuerpo II succeeded Maj. Gen. Wilbur Mamawag after the latter's retirement.

Cuerpo pledged to continue the 4ID's essential programs and prioritize the morale of the units' competencies, particularly the dismantling of guerrilla fronts of the communist New People's Army (NPA) in the 4ID's area of responsibility.

"We will continue the pertinent programs (of the Army) and prioritize and promote the morale of our units' competencies," he said.

Both Cuerpo and Brawner served in the Army's 103rd Infantry Brigade and were actively involved during the Marawi City siege in 2017.

Mamawag urged the personnel and civilian staff of the 4ID to extend the same courtesy and support to Cuerpo as his successor.

He also cited the successful partnership with different sectors and the government's "whole of nation approach" in reducing NPA forces in the area.

Cops to probe alleged threat vs. Bangui village execs

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 24, 2023: Cops to probe alleged threat vs. Bangui village execs (By Leilanie Adriano)

PEACE AND ORDER. Members of the Peace and Order Council convened a meeting on Friday (March 24, 2023) to tackle the peace and order situation in the province. Based on the council's threat assessment, at least 14 elected officials have received threats. (Photo by Leilanie Adriano)

LAOAG CITY – The provincial police of Ilocos Norte on Friday vowed to investigate alleged threats by supposed New People's Army rebels against village officials of Bangui town.

Ilocos Norte police provincial director Julius Suriben said additional security may be provided if needed. “We can order the augmentation or improvement of their security if needed,” he said, adding that each official is allowed up to two security personnel.

This, after Bangui Mayor Fidel Cimatu called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to look into the matter, though he did not reveal the identities of the three barangay officials who have received the threats.

“The callers [identified] themselves as NPA and they are asking for rice supply. We don’t know if these are just forms of extortion or related to the upcoming barangay elections,” said Cimatu.

Cimatu's request came following PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr.'s order for the PNP to check up on local officials receiving threats or who are embroiled in intense rivalries in their areas, so the PNP can make necessary security adjustments.

Of the 809 elected officials assessed in the province, a total of 14 were confirmed to be under threat and were given police security personnel from the PNP Police Security and Protection Group.