Monday, March 27, 2023

‘No quick fix for peace’: MILF, MNLF leaders embark on learning trip to Northern Ireland

 Posted to the Business Mirror (Mar 27, 2023): ‘No quick fix for peace’: MILF, MNLF leaders embark on learning trip to Northern Ireland (By MANUEL CAYON)

DAVAO CITY—Key leaders of two Moro revolutionary fronts and who are now holding important positions in the Bangsamoro government visited Northern Ireland, a former hotspot in the United Kingdom, for a “learning trip” on managing the peace process.

The visit coincides with the approaching 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the final peace settlement between the UK government and the Irish Republic Army, the generic revolutionary group fighting for Irish unification and an end to British rule on the island.

The international peacebuilding organization Conciliation Resources facilitated the learning trip to help guide local Moro leaders in handling the peace settlement process in the central and southern parts of Mindanao.

The trip would hope to support the transition from conflict mode to peace in the Bangsamoro region “by learning from the successes and challenges of the Northern Ireland peace process,” the Bangsamoro Information Office said.

The trip brought together leaders from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as well as representatives from the indigenous people’s communities, civil society, and women’s organizations, the information office added.

The delegation was composed of Parliament Floor Leader Sha-Elijah Dumama-Alba, Labor Minister Muslimen Sema, Deputy Speaker Omar Yasser Sema, Members of Parliament Marjanie Macasalong, Laisa Alamia, and Forilyn Mendoza, Social Services and Development Deputy Minister Nur Ainee Lim, Director Hisham Nando of the Development Academy of the Bangsamoro, Prof. Abdullah Adam and Guiamel Alim, chairman of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society.

In Northern Ireland, the delegation had conversations with Laurence Simms, the joint secretary to the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat in Belfast and a senior official of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Ireland. They met with the 81st Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tina Black of Sinn Fein, as well as Alex Maskey, the speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

They also met with key political figures from Sinn Fein “to deepen their understanding on their political transformation.”

Claire Bailey of the Green Party shared her experiences on alliance building as with Ruari de Burca, head of the Anglo-Irish Division of DFAT Ireland, who highlighted dialogue mechanisms that the Bangsamoro government may adopt.

“The learning process was further enriched by talks with other key figures in the Northern Ireland peace process, including perspectives from the academe, former combatants and civil society leaders,” the information office said.

They discussed the transition of former armed groups to political parties, about disarmament, reconciliation and transitional justice and how to ensure women and minority communities were included in the transition to peace. The group toured Belfast, the ground zero for many of the violent incidents in the course of fighting between IRA and British police and the Army in 1966-1998.

Salic Sharief, Jr. Philippine program director for Conciliation Resources said, “There is so much that we can learn from the successes and failures of other peace processes around the world that can help us make progress in the Philippines. This year marks 25 years since the end of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and the country still faces challenges. There is no quick fix for peace, but we can continue to take small steps into a better future for everyone in our country.”

In March 2014, the Philippine government and the MILF signed a peace agreement, while the MNLF earlier entered into final peace settlement in 1996.

[Manuel T. Cayon has written about Mindanao for national newspapers for more than two decades, mostly on conflict reporting, and on the political front. His stint with TODAY newspaper in the ’90s started his business reporting in Mindanao, continuing to this day with the BusinessMirror. The multiawarded reporter received a Biotechnology journalism award in January 2019, his third. A fellow of the US International Visitors’ Program Leadership in 2007 on conflict resolution and alternative dispute resolution, Manuel attended college at the Mindanao State University and the Ateneo de Davao University.]

PH Navy test-fires anti-ship missile decoys off Zambales

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28, 2023): PH Navy test-fires anti-ship missile decoys off Zambales (By Priam Nepomuceno)

(Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy)

MANILA – The Philippine Navy (PN) on Tuesday announced that it had test-fired its newly acquired "Bullfighter" chaff anti-missile decoys in Zambales waters last March 24.

These defensive weaponry were fitted aboard the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151).

"The 'Bullfighter' is a new generation of 130mm decoys for super rapid blooming offboard chaff (SRBOC) and other 130mm launcher systems to protect naval vessels up to the size of frigates against anti-ship missiles," PN spokesperson Captain Benjo Negranza said in a statement.

He said the chaff were tested and fired by the Offshore Patrol Force aboard the two missile frigates.

"The payload of the chaff is effective against missiles with modern and sophisticated seekers and electronic protection measure(s)," Negranza added.

Observers said chaff works by distracting radar guided missiles from their targets by spreading or dispensing a small cloud of aluminum, metalized glass fiber or plastic which appears as a cluster of targets in radar screens.

The acquisition of the chaff countermeasure capability is part of the PN' 2nd Horizon modernization program to capacitate the country's warships to defend against modern naval warfare threats.

The BRP Jose Rizal and its sister ship BRP Antonio Luna are modern warships capable of surface, sub-surface, air and electronic warfare using state-of-the-art electronic sensors, long-range missiles, acoustic guided torpedoes and embarked anti-submarine helicopters.

The BRP Jose Rizal was delivered to the Philippines in May 2020 and commissioned in July of the same year while the BRP Antonio Luna was commissioned on March 19, 2021.

The contract for the two ships was placed at PHP16 billion with another PHP2 billion for weapon systems and munitions.

PH, US troops in Salaknib 2023 join 'sling load' drills

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28, 2023): PH, US troops in Salaknib 2023 join 'sling load' drills (By Priam Nepomuceno)

(Photo courtesy of Philippine Army)

MANILA – Philippine Army (PA) and US Army Pacific (USARPAC) troops conducted "sling load exercises" involving helicopters last March 27 as part of this year's "Salaknib" drills.

In a statement Tuesday, PA spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad said these maneuvers involving an assortment of helicopters took place at the Sagana Patrol Base, Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

"The highlight of the exercise is the sling load training where soldiers rigged up pieces of artillery, military trucks and crates onto all-weather, medium-lift 'Chinook' and 'Black Hawk' choppers using sling sets, cargo nets, and other specially designed equipment," he added.

Trinidad said sling loading equipment allows units to avoid obstacles that may hinder them from promptly reaching their target destination.

"The technique is also used to reach areas where the use of convoys is impractical or unfeasible," he added.

On March 25, the PA and the USARPAC also conducted a helocast exercise -- an airborne technique that allows special operation forces (SOF) to insert into an area by jumping directly from a helicopter into water -- as part of the ongoing "Salaknib" exercise.

He added that the helocast exercise is part of the ongoing first phase of Salaknib which will precede the "Balikatan" exercises slated in the second week of April

The second phase of "Salaknib" is scheduled for the third quarter of 2023.

"Salaknib" which means shield in Ilocano is an annual combined exercise between the PA and the USARPAC, is geared at bolstering interoperability between the two land forces.

Around 3,000 Filipino and Americans soldiers are participating in these exercises which started March 13 and will conclude on April 4.

DND, AFP committed to preserving peace in Bangsamoro

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28, 2023): DND, AFP committed to preserving peace in Bangsamoro (By Priam Nepomuceno)

DND chief Carlito Galvez Jr. (File photo)

MANILA – The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are committed to keeping the peace in the Bangsamoro.

DND chief Carlito Galvez Jr. made this commitment during the 9th anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27.

Galvez, a former Presidential Peace Adviser, guaranteed that the DND and AFP shall be the vanguards of peace and security in the Bangsamoro.

He also said they would not "allow the spoilers of peace" to negate the gains achieved.

"We assure (our people) that the DND and AFP will support the President’s guidance to protect and sustain the peace process,” he added in a statement forwarded to reporters Tuesday.

Galvez also emphasized the DND’s full support for the CAB’s implementation so that the dividends of peace and development would continue to be felt.

“The security sector shall help maintain an environment that is conducive to peace and development as the Bangsamoro gears up for its first regular regional election in 2025, which is only two years from now,” he said.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Monday said his administration “will not waver” on its commitment to fully implement the Bangsamoro peace agreements.

“Under our administration, the Political and Normalization Tracks of the peace agreement continue to gain momentum. Our partners in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) continue to deliver on their commitments in both tracks with the recent passing of the critical Bangsamoro Electoral Code. We in the national government will do our part to fulfill our commitments under the peace agreements and see their full implementation. We shall not waver from this,“ the Chief Executive said in a video message. “For nine years the peace pact has stood firm and the Bangsamoro people have thrived and flourished. We shall ensure that they continue to do so.”

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the landmark peace deal in 2014.

The deal, which was touted by both local and international peace watchers as a milestone in the country’s peace process, is being implemented by the Marcos administration.

Less than two months in office, Marcos has demonstrated his commitment to the Bangsamoro peace process, where he extended the term of office of the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to ensure the passage of the crucial codes.

The passage is the foundation of the parliamentary-form BARMM. Among the crucial codes is the Bangsamoro Electoral Code that was recently passed in the BARMM.

The electoral code will lay down the first election in the BARMM in 2025.

The President also issued Executive Order (EO) 7 to amend EO 79 to strengthen the Inter-Cabinet Cluster Mechanism on Normalization (ICCMN).

Marcos designated no less than his Special Assistant to the President Secretary Antonio Ernesto F. Lagdameo as co-chair with the Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU)

Meanwhile, acting Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Isidro L. Purisima lauded the President’s determination to complete the implementation of the signed Bangsamoro peace agreement.

“On behalf of the men and women of the OPAPRU, I extend our deepest appreciation to our President for his heartwarming message, as we all joined the Bangsamoro people and the Filipino nation in celebrating the 9th Anniversary of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” Purisima said. “Rest assured that under your administration’s banner of unity, the OPAPRU will ensure to carry out your directive of fulfilling the national government’s commitments under all Bangsamoro peace agreements.”

He also cited significant progress made since the signing of the CAB but maintained that more work needs to be done.

"This occasion is therefore both a celebration of the milestones we have achieved so far, and at the same time, a reminder of the tasks we still have to accomplish in light of the challenges we continue to face,” Purisima said.

Meanwhile, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod "Murad" B. Ebrahim, who also chairs the MILF, called on the peace stakeholders to continue to support the Bangsamoro peace process.

“Let us seize this opportunity to learn from one another, and work towards a better future for the Bangsamoro people. On the 9th anniversary of the signing of the CAB, may we all be reminded that this political settlement is not the end of the Bangsamoro narrative but rather a continuation of our lifelong quest for justice, peace, and progress,” he said.

Baby dies in Maguindanao Sur ambush, 4 others hurt

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28, 2023): Baby dies in Maguindanao Sur ambush, 4 others hurt (By Edwin Fernandez)

Google map of Datu Hoffer town, Maguindanao del Sur province.

DATU HOFFER, Maguindanao del Sur – An eight-month-old baby girl died while four others were injured in an ambush here by still unidentified gunmen on Monday night, police here said.

Capt. Ramillo Serame, Datu Hoffer municipal police chief, said the mother was carrying the baby in her arms when ambushed together with other family members.

Injured were the baby’s father, Sadam Mamadra Mamasainged, his wife Faira, and two other children, all residents of this town.

Serame said the victims were on board a tricycle driven by Sadam and heading home from a nearby mosque when the incident occurred.

“As they reached Sitio Bagurot, Barangay Tuayan Mother, unidentified gunmen on board a motorbike opened fire on them at about 7 p.m.,” he said.

Responding police brought all the victims to the Maguindanao provincial hospital.

Serame said a manhunt has been launched against the perpetrators.

Police investigators said the motive of the attack could be “rido” or family feud.

Agusan Sur skirmish leaves 2 NPA rebels dead

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28, 2023): Agusan Sur skirmish leaves 2 NPA rebels dead (By Alexander Lopez)

Google map of Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur.

BUTUAN CITY – Two New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were killed in an encounter with government forces in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, the military said Tuesday.

In a statement, the Army’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID) said combined troopers of the Army’s 401st Infantry and the 901st Brigades (Bde) were dispatched to Bayugan’s Barangay San Juan after receiving reports of 18 armed NPA insurgents in the area.

“The 15-minute firefight has resulted in the death of two unidentified NPA combatants and the capture of high-powered firearms and ammunition,” the 4ID said, referring to the predawn clash in Barangay San Juan on Monday.

The recovered firearms included an M4 Carbine rifle, a modified Carbine rifle, various ammunition and magazines, and personal belongings of the guerrillas.

Brig. Gen. Rommel Almaria, 401Bde commander, attributed the operation's success to the cooperation among various government line agencies and the local government units (LGUs) in the area under the Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF-ELCAC).

“Our partnership with the agencies and the LGUs under the TF-ELCAC is the centerpiece of our campaign to defeat the communist rebels,” Almaria was quoted in the statement as saying.

In a separate statement, Brig. Gen. George Banzon, 901Bde commander, commended the Army troopers for “effectively blocking the traditional routes of the NPA rebels and cutting off their resource and supply generations in the area."

“We intend to finish this fight. We shall continue to capitalize on our gains and step up some more to finally defeat the NPA to its smallest formations,” Banzon said.

He said pursuit operations were ongoing as of posting time, while efforts were also being done to identify the two slain rebels.

Gaerlan assumes post as AFP TDC

From the Business Mirror (Mar 27, 2023): Gaerlan assumes post as AFP TDCS (By RENE ACOSTA)

MAJ. Gen. Charlton Sean Gaerlan, former commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC), has assumed his new post as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (TDCS-AFP) on Monday.

Gaerlan, who replaced Lt. Gen. William Gonzales, officially assumed as TDCS during turnover and assumption ceremonies presided over by Gen. Andres Centino, chief of staff of the AFP.

Gonzales, currently the Inspector General, assumed the position of deputy chief of staff, following the retirement of Vice Admiral Rommel Anthony Reyes on March 15.

A member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1989, Gaerlan has more than 34 years of experience as a military officer and has occupied various positions in the areas of operations, intelligence and administration.

“I am humbled and honored to stand before you as I assume as the TDCS-AFP, a leadership post charged with a great amount of responsibility and a higher level of accountability,” Gaerlan said in his assumption speech.

“I urge everyone to continue to support the AFP modernization and transformation programs so that we can achieve our mission to become a world-class armed force and continue to value the enhancement of professionalism across the organization,” he added.

Before heading the Marines where he was picked as the military’s deputy chief of staff, Gaerlan was the commander of the AFP Education, Training, and Doctrine Command and Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, AJ2.

Military public affairs office chief Col. Jorry Baclor said Gaerlan had also served as deputy brigade commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade; deputy commander for Marine Operations of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao; Inspector General of the Philippine Marine Corps and commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade in Western Command, Palawan.

“With the broad knowledge and expertise of MGen Gaerlan in the field of intelligence, operations, and personnel management, I am fully confident that he shall further fortify the traditions of the AFP leadership. Without doubt, his previous designations prepared him to take on greater tasks as the AFP’s third-in-command,” Centino said in installing Gaerlan to his new post.

[Rene P. Acosta covers defense, law enforcement and national security for the paper. He had written for a number of publications, including abroad before he joined BusinessMirror. His works had appeared in the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Asia Pacific Defense Forum, both in the US. He took up regional security with the International Visitor Leadership Program, US. He is currently the chairman of the board of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines which he had headed in 2009.]

The Times, AFP team up to honor outstanding soldiers

From the Manila Times (Mar 28, 2023): The Times, AFP team up to honor outstanding soldiers (By Franco Jose C. Baroña)

For soldiers The Manila Times, The Manila Times TV and the Armed Forces of the Philippines launch on Monday, March 27, 2023, the Tribute to the Soldier awards. Holding the signed agreement are Defense chief Carlito Galvez Jr. (right) and The Manila Times Chairman Emeritus Dante A. Ang, who is also the president and chairman of TMTTV. Also in photo were (from left) Director Arsenio Andolong, chief of the Defense Communication Service; Maj. Gen. Gabriel Viray 3rd, deputy chief of staff for Civil-Military Operations; Blanca Mercado, TMT president and COO; Jennifer Jones, TMTTV operations manager; Defense Assistant Secretary for Human Resource Antonio Bautista; and Brig. Gen. Arvin Lagamon, commander of the military’s Civil Relations Service.

THE Manila Times and The Manila Times TV launched on Monday its "Tribute to Soldiers" at the Department of National Defense (DND) Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

A memorandum of agreement to hold the "Tribute to Soldiers: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)-The Manila Times Awards 2023" in August was signed by The Manila Times TV Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante A. Ang and DND Officer in Charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr.

Also present during the launching were Brig. Gen. Arvin Lagamon, commander of the AFP's Civil Relations Service (CRS); The Manila Times President and Chief Operating Officer Blanca Mercado; Director Arsenio Andolong, DND spokesman/chief of Defense Communications Service; Maj. Gen. Gabriel Viray 3rd, deputy chief of staff for CMO, J7; and Assistant Secretary for Human Resource-DND Antonio Bautista.

The event will honor 10 military personnel and one military unit for exemplary achievements during the previous year.

The awards are grouped into four categories: Contribution to the Combat Zone, Outstanding Community Service, Innovations in Administrative and Logistics Functions, and Achievement in Education.

With the exception of the Education Category, each category will have three awardees.

There will also be a special recognition for military personnel who are manning outposts in the West Philippine Sea.

In his remarks during the event, Galvez thanked Dr. Ang and the executives of The Manila Times for their "overwhelming support" to the AFP by initiating the awards.

"I am overflowing with happiness that you in the private sector, especially in the industry of journalism, are finding ways, not only for the entire nation, to recognize the bravery, greatness and skill of our soldiers," Galvez said in Filipino.

He said since the mass media wields tremendous influence as "gatekeepers of information and as a cornerstone" of democracy, this "third-party advocacy" is one of the most appropriate and effective ways of making Filipinos appreciate the "noble profession of arms."

"As some would say, soldiery is not simply a job but a vocation — a firm commitment to serve," said Galvez.

He noted that the timing of The Manila Times event "couldn't be more perfect."

"It must be providential that we are formally launching this partnership today as we lead the nation in the observance of the Philippine Veterans Week next month or a week from today," Galvez said.

He said the event will "fittingly" culminate with the awarding ceremony proper during National Heroes' Day on August 28 and will be witnessed by the entire nation through The Manila Times TV, its broadsheet and social media platforms.

"To the leadership of The Manila Times, headed by Dr. Dante A. Ang, be assured that you can count on the full support of the One Defense Team to this worthy endeavor. We believe that together, we can create positive change and make a difference in our country. We stand with you, and we will do so until the aspirations of the Filipino people are achieved," Galvez said.

Galvez defends Marcos admin’s alleged pro-US stance

From the Philippine Star (Mar 28, 2023): Galvez defends Marcos admin’s alleged pro-US stance (By Michael Punongbayan)

Senior Defense Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr.  STAR / Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Senior Defense Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. defended the Marcos administration yesterday against those criticizing the government for allegedly being too pro-US.

“Hindi naman (not really),” he told reporters, stressing that the Philippines and the United States have a Mutual Defense Treaty that shows the long-standing friendship and commitment between the two nations.

Galvez explained that just like other countries, the Philippines honors its agreements with its allies such as the US.

“At the same time, we can see the US government is really supporting us in terms of our modernizing,” he said, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

Galvez added that like other states, the Philippines wants to have a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

The statement of the Department of National Defense officer-in-charge came in light of those criticizing the national government’s decision to allow American troops access to four more sites in the country under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Last week, retired officials of the AFP expressed their full support for the proposal to allow US forces access to more military locations in the Philippines.

The Association of General and Flag Officers said allowing American troops access will further boost defense capabilities in areas including the West Philippine Sea.

“This 2014 agreement allows the rotation, not permanent stay, of US troops in mutually agreed locations where our ally could use temporary facilities,” their statement read.

Current EDCA sites in the country are Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro.

US bucks sea intimidation

The United States underscored that no member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms of the sea that is guaranteed to all.

“The international community has an enduring role in preserving the freedom of the seas, which is critical to global security, stability and prosperity,” the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said in a statement after Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands.

The US Defense Department said this freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and also by challenging Beijing’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” it said.

The US challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant.

“The United States upholds freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle. As long as some countries continue to claim and assert limits on rights that exceed their authority under international law, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all,” it added. – Pia Lee-Brago

[ANALYSIS] Leveraging transparency against the West Philippine Sea bully

Posted to Rappler (Mar 27, 2023): [ANALYSIS] Leveraging transparency against the West Philippine Sea bully (By RAYMOND POWELL)

The Philippines has unveiled a steely new tactic in the information war over the West Philippine Sea, but China will continue probing for new signs of mush

Last month when the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) released video evidence of the China Coast Guard’s deployment of a military-grade laser to harass a PCG ship operating legally in its country’s own exclusive economic zone, it helped usher in a bold new method for illuminating gray-zone activity in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

It’s an approach that is already showing impressive results.

Just this month, our team at Project Myoushu documented two separate incidents where Chinese maritime militia vessels that usually swarm inside Pag-Asa Island’s territorial sea decided to scatter out of the area. In each case, the timing indicated Beijing’s desire to avoid further public exposure of its bullying tactics. The first dispersal preceded the arrival of a PCG plane full of journalists, while the second anticipated the arrival of the BRP Melchora Aquino and The Great Kalayaan Expedition.

Gray-zone operators like China hate public exposure – they want their malign activities to stay as gray as possible. Like any bully, they want to accost their smaller victims in the shadows, with whispered warnings to keep quiet about it.

By opening its mouth, the Marcos administration has demonstrated impressive courage and conviction, and has shown the bully for who he is. This is an important service to both the Philippine people and the world.

But make no mistake – the bully will be back. That’s why it’s important for the government to take steps to ensure the long-term success of this new program. I have two specific recommendations for how to do this.

Embedding policy

First, formally adopt an official and permanent embedded reporter policy.

In 2003 the US Department of Defense issued official guidance that “… media will have long-term, minimally restrictive access to U.S. air, ground and naval forces through embedding.” This reversed a previous policy of keeping reporters confined to “pools” and largely away from military operations.

Not only did the old policy breed distrust between the military and the press, it squandered opportunities to tell important stories about the military’s professionalism, courage and dedication to duty, and to rally the American public behind important causes like public service and national security.

In adopting the new embedding policy, the US government discovered that the benefits far outweighed the risks. Reporters who accompanied military forces generally acted responsibly, protected sensitive information, empathized with the troops they covered, and told compelling stories to the American people that increased support for the military and its mission.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PCG would likewise benefit from a well-designed policy of embedding, not only to increase their public support but also to leverage the advantages of a free society against the authoritarian tactics of the country’s maritime aggressor. Beijing would have to consider that any Philippine ship or aircraft it harassed might have media on board, equipped with journalists who would make sure its malign activities were illuminated for all to see.

Maximizing open-source tool

My second recommendation is to embark on a campaign to place commercial automated information system (AIS) receivers in key locations throughout the WPS.

AIS is an important tool in open-source vessel tracking, but satellite-based receivers only see the larger militia ships carrying Class-A transponders. Most of the smaller militia ships transmit only on Class-B equipment, and when operating far from shore-based receivers they are essentially invisible to the world.

For example, only about 30% of the maritime militia ships that routinely swarm Pag-asa are currently visible on commercial AIS via satellite. Simply placing a couple of small commercial AIS receivers on the island would light up the gray zone for dozens of miles around Pag-Asa, making it easier for the world to see the extent of Chinese vessel activity.

What makes these recommendations especially attractive is that they cost almost nothing to implement.

Embedded reporters’ salaries are not paid by the government – all they need is a ride. What’s more, they can help relieve the burden from government agencies to expose malign behavior, build national resilience and rally public support for increasing military and coast guard capacity.

Meanwhile, AIS receivers from the large ship-tracking companies such as MarineTraffic, VesselFinder, VesselTracker and others are available for free to anyone willing and able to place them in a location of interest, and to supply them with power and an internet connection. This can include military or government agencies, marine research or educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, media outlets, or even just private citizens who happen to live near the sea. In fact, the equipment usually comes with the added incentive of premium ship-tracking site access for becoming an AIS partner.

For years Beijing has adhered to Vladimir Lenin’s famous maxim, “You probe with bayonets: if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw.” The Philippines has unveiled a steely new tactic in the information war over the West Philippine Sea, but China will continue probing for new signs of mush. Now is the time to secure the steel in place by locking in the benefits of WPS transparency. –

[Raymond Powell leads Project Myoushu for the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University in California. He is a retired US Air Force officer with 35 of years of military and diplomatic service around the world, including in the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and Australia.]

EDCA Expansion Can Endanger Philippine Security Interests – Analysis

Posted to the Eurasia Review (Mar 27, 2023): EDCA Expansion Can Endanger Philippine Security Interests – Analysis (By Rommel C. Banlaoi)

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is welcomed to Camp Navarro, Zamboanga, Philippines, Feb. 1, 2023. Photo Credit: Chad McNeeley, DOD

Despite some local oppositions against the expansion of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. recently announced his approval to allow the United States to build additional military facilities in four extra locations inside Philippine territories.

Though President Marcos Jr. has not yet identified these extra locations, there are talks that additional US military facilities can be built in 1) Cagayan North International Airport, 2) Lal-lo and Naval Base Camilo Osias, Sta. Ana in Cagayan, 3) Camp Melchor Dela Cruz, Gamu in Isabela, and 4) Philippine Air Force Base, Balabac Island in Palawan.

Secretary Carlito Galvez, Officer-in-Charge of the Philippine Department of National Defense, said that some elected officials in Camarines Sur also expressed their interests to make the province an extra site for EDCA.

Apparently, all these locations can provide the US operational access to Philippine territories to respond to any military contingencies in key flashpoint of conflicts in Asia: the Taiwan Strait, Korean Peninsula, and the South China Sea.

When the Philippines and the United States signed EDCA in 2014, the two countries agreed to train together in order to strengthen their interoperability in responding to natural disasters, humanitarian situations, terrorist threats, and maritime security challenges.

With EDCA, the Philippine government allowed the construction of five American military facilities in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Mactan-Benito Abuen Air Base in Cebu, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro.

Since then, Filipino and American armed forces have been holding joint and combined military exercises in the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR), search and rescue operations, counter-terrorism cooperation, and maritime domain awareness.

What is being downplayed by Filipino and American authorities about EDCA is its strategic intention to counter China’s growing international influence, particularly in the South China Sea where most parts of the West Philippine Sea are located.

In the Joint Press Briefing with Secretary Galvez on 2 February 2023, US Secretary of Defense Llyod J. Austin III admitted that EDCA is “part of our efforts to modernize our alliance, and these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea”.

Source: US Embassy in the Philippines

Thus, EDCA’s larger goal is to support American efforts to get strategic advantage over China amidst their worsening major power rivalry.

In fact, Pentagon leaders just requested last week the US Congress to approve the $842 billion budget for the Department of Defense (DOD) in order to modernize the US military as it prepares for a possible confrontation with China.

General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed during the most recent budget hearing that China’s current actions “are moving it down the path toward confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States”. He added that preparing for war “is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s not as expensive as fighting a war. And this budget prevents war and prepares us to fight it if necessary.”

Apparently, EDCA expansion is part of US access arrangements in Asia to decisively implement American military deterrence strategy and defense preparation plan against China. As such, EDCA expansion largely serves American military interests to counter China rather than caters to Philippine national interests to harmoniously live at peace with China.

Hence, EDCA expansion can inevitably harm Filipino security interests as China can hit the Philippines in armed conflict situations with the US because of American military facilities in Philippine territories. The Chinese Embassy in Manila already warned that EDCA expansion can “seriously harm Philippine national interests and endanger regional peace and stability”.

The Chinese Embassy further explained, “Whereas the US claims that such cooperation is intended to help the disaster relief efforts of the Philippines and some Americans even tout the EDCA sites as driver of local economy, it is plain and simple that those moves are part of the US efforts to encircle and contain China through its military alliance with this country”.

Filipino and American security officials exclaim that EDCA aims to strengthen Philippine-American military alliance and to reaffirm the commitment of the US to defend the Philippines against external attacks.

EDCA, however, can only deepen Philippine reliance on the US for its defense. Instead of relying heavily on the US for its national defense, the Philippines needs to pursue self-reliance to defend itself.

Senator Imee Marcos, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, hits the nail on the head when she calls for the revival of Self Reliance Defense Program (SRDP) initiated in 1974 by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos. She urges the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to resuscitate the SRDP in order to “scale down our dependence on foreign goodwill in the sticky web of geopolitics”.

Senator Marcos also challenges the EDCA expansion when she underscores that EDCA “is addressing the escalation of tensions in the Taiwan straits, not the Philippine interests in the West Philippine Sea.”

Local Filipino residents have also voiced their apprehensions against EDCA expansion. Governor Manuel Mamba of Cagayan province already conveyed worries of his constituents that EDCA could turn his province “into a key target of the Chinese military if a conflict involving the US military breaks out over Taiwan.”

Though Governor Mamba showed his respect to President Marcos Jr.’s approval on EDCA expansion, he exclaimed, “It is the President’s call, not mine” highlighting that “I maintain my stand against any foreign forces stationed in my province. Still, I am against EDCA sites in my province.” Governor Mamba also raised the lack of local consultations and stakeholders’ participation on the proposed EDCA expansion in Cagayan.

Current discussions among local and national government officials on new EDCA sites in Cagayan and Palawan provinces are facing difficulties . In Lal-lo, Cagayan, there is still the issue of land ownership that can fuel prolonged local disputes. In Balabac, Palawan, details of the construction of runway centerline have not been settled.

There are also talks from the grapevine that American officials are lobbying to Secretary Galvez to silence local chief executives on EDCA issues. Rumors also circulate on the efforts of some US embassy officials to assist a prominent local official in Cagayan in settling an election case in exchange for EDCA support.

Evidently, the US is truly pushing for EDCA expansion in the Philippines as Pentagon prepares for war.

Rather than promote Philippine security interests, EDCA expansion can therefore endanger Philippine interests as it can drag the country in a war not of its own choosing.

As candidly argued by Atty. Harry Roque, an expert in international law and foreign relations, “Participating in any war does not serve our national interest. We must never allow our territory to become a launch pad for an offensive attack against another state”.

It is therefore imperative for patriotic and freedom-loving Filipinos to oppose EDCA and its expansion to make the Philippines a zone of peace rather than the battleground of American proxy war.

[Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD is the Chairman of PIPVTR, President of the Philippine Society for Intelligence and Security Studies (PSISS) and Convenor of the Network for the Prevention of Violent Extremism in the Philippines (NPVEP). He sits as a member of the Board of Directors of the China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea (CSARC) and has served as the President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) and member of the Management Board of the World Association for Chinese Studies (WACS).]

Biggest Balikatan to highlight 'whole-of-alliance' defense approach — analysts

From the Philippine Star (Mar 27, 2023): Biggest Balikatan to highlight 'whole-of-alliance' defense approach — analysts (By Kaycee Valmonte)

This year’s joint activities are expected to be bigger, considering the expansion of coverage of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to include four more Philippine military bases where US forces can operate on a temporary basis.  Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:01 p.m.) — The Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) exercises this year between the Philippines and United States will be showing the "whole-of-alliance" approach in exploring combat and defense practices, analysts said.

This year’s exercises will see the participation of 17,680 military personnel — 12,000 from the US, 5,000 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and 111 from the Australian forces. This is nearly twice as many as last year’s 9,000 troops who participated in drills across Luzon.


AFP prepares for 2023 Balikatan exercises with US

12,000 troops to join largest Philippines-US Balikatan

And with "whole-of-alliance" approach in this year's exercises, the combat and defense practices will make use of not only the Philippine facilities, which the United States have access to, but also share tactics with each other as troops emphasize interoperability.

Chester Cabalza, founder and president of International Development and Security Cooperation, noted the use of the Philippine rotational sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the simulation of naval warfare.

"It can be construed as a whole-of-alliance approach and stronger strategic partnership since like-minded nations are expected to share combat experiences and defense best practices mainly due to geopolitical circumstances and not on ideological issues," Cabalza told

This means going beyond issues with or involving China. With new exercises such as a simulation of naval warfare exercises and highlighting the AFP's role in territorial defense, Cabalza said this year's Balikatan will help troops familiarize themselves with possible strategies to defend the country's seas.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to establish stronger ties with the Philippines under the new administration following "rocky times" in the Duterte years. Since President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. took office, multiple high-ranking officials, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, have visited the Philippines to reaffirm Washington's commitment to its treaty partner and former colony.

RELATED: Balikatan 2017 smaller, but not 'downsized'

Warmer ties with US

Former President Rodrigo Duterte’s "independent foreign policy" saw warmer ties with China and a declared "separation from the United States both in the military…not social, but economics also." Duterte also threatened to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows the joint exercises in the Philippines. He later rescinded the order to terminate the agreement, citing US assistance during the pandemic.

With the large contingent joining this year’s exercises, this could provide a learning opportunity for all countries observing the Balikatan. Aside from Australia, representatives from Japan and the United Kingdom will be observers at the joint military drills.

READ: 'Stronger military, alliances needed to complement talks on West Philippine Sea'

"We can consider this as another manifestation of an ‘accommodationist’ Philippine foreign policy towards the US – a label that can be used for our China policy under Duterte," WR Numero Research CEO Robin Michael Garcia told in a text message.

"We are shifting more towards the US under the presidency of Bongbong Marcos."
Important military exercise

Analysts noted that the exercise comes at a time of rapid geopolitical changes in the region, taking note of developments in the South China Sea as well as the entire Indo-Pacific region as well as the possibility of Chinese action along the Taiwan Strait.

RELATED: What the Philippines can learn from China's reaction to Pelosi's Taiwan visit

Cabalza noted that China is becoming a “major military threat” in the South China Sea. China has repeatedly said that is not seeking hegemony in the region but that it will take steps to defend its interests.

The Asia Power Index by Australia-based think tank The Lowy Institute previously noted that while China continues to gain power over its neighboring countries in the region, the United States remains the most influential country in Asia. The institute further explained that while China is gaining influential momentum, other countries do not trust Beijing as much.

However, Cabalza pointed out that the exercises go beyond China’s perceived threats in the region.

"It is not centered on containing China per se, but it will be a military exercise on familiarity on the ground and leveraging on technological defense equipment," Cabalza said, noting that it is the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ chance to show its "biggest venture of transformation from internal security operations to territorial defense."

Former Pasaka spox surrenders

From the Sun Star-Davao: Former Pasaka spox surrenders (By RALPH LAWRENCE G. LLEMIT)

A FORMER leader of an indigenous peoples (IP) group and the last IP "bakwit" (evacuee) leader in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)-Haran, had surrendered to government forces.

In a press statement, Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib welcomed Datu Tungig Mansumuy-at, a former spokesperson of Pasakkaday Salugpongan Kalimuddan (Pasaka), surrendered to authorities on March 14, 2023.

Jubahib said Mansumuy-at was also accompanied by his companions Sumpo Tausan and Oni Boncalas.

The governor and IPs formally met on Wednesday morning, March 22 at the Provincial Clubhouse in Barangay Mankilan in Tagum City.

"I express my deepest gratitude to Datu Tungig and his companions for their courage in choosing the path towards peace," he said.

He added, "Their decision to surrender is a testament to the success of our peace and development programs in the province. This also shows that we are making significant progress in our efforts to end the decades-long insurgency problem in our region."

In a press conference, Mansumuy-ut said that while he was initially hesitant to surrender, he changed his mind after seeing how his fellow "bakwits" who surrendered were happy and productive with their families in their communities.

On July 21, 2021, a total of 53 Ata Manobo tribe folk, including 30 minors, returned to their ancestral land in Talaingod, Davao del Norte after three years of living at the UCCP-Haran.

The group has been holed up at the UCCP Haran facility here since 2015, amid allegations from the military that its members are being exploited by the New People's Army (NPA) to pressure government troops into abandoning hinterland areas under the rebels' influence.

Mansumuy-at expressed gratitude to the Army's 1003rd Infantry Brigade and 56th Infantry Battalion for ensuring their safety and providing food for him and his family during their stay. He also vowed to help the government's peace programs.

He also condemned the NPA’s decade-long exploitation and deception of Ata Manobo tribe in Talaingod.

This comes nearly a year after Jong Monzon, former Pasaka secretary-general, had surrendered in 2022.

Monzon said the Haran evacuees were also "exploited" by the communist group to gain financing for their anti-government activities.

Pasaka has not issued a statement following the latest surrender of their member.

4 Masbate residents face murder raps due to NPA raids

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 27, 2023): 4 Masbate residents face murder raps due to NPA raids (By: Ma. April Mier-Manjares)

CLASSROOM TRAUMA | Photo released by the Department of Education in Masbate captures a moment inside a classroom in Placer, Masbate, as fighting erupts within hearing distance between government troops and communist rebels on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

LEGAZPI CITY, Albay, Philippines — The police in Cawayan, Masbate have filed murder charges against four residents who were identified as accomplices of suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) involved in a gunfight with security forces on March 20 that killed a soldier and wounded four law enforcers and one civilian.

Police Maj. Ronnie Corral, chief of the Cawayan police, said that based on their initial investigation, the NPA rebels arrived in the town at 7 p.m. on March 19 and stayed at the houses of the four suspects, two men and two women, whose identities were being withheld at the moment.

“They were accomplices because they helped the rebels conduct atrocities. If they did not allow them to stay in their houses, nothing [would have] happened to our troops there,” Corral said in a phone interview on Sunday. Cpl. Antonio Parreño Jr. of the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army was killed during the firefight in Barangay Villahermosa in Cawayan on March 20.

Corral said the four civilians were turned over to the local police by the Philippine Army after the clash and murder charges were filed against them following an inquest proceeding on March 21.

On March 22, another explosion from an improvised bomb in the remote village of Locso-an in Placer town injured two soldiers—Mardie Lumapag and Angelito Tabanao—both with rank Private First Class, and a resident. The explosion led to a running gun battle between the soldiers and the rebels.
55,000 students affected

On the same day, two policemen — Staff Sgt. Leo Almario II and Patrolman Jasper Gigante — both assigned at the Dimasalang town police, were also wounded in an explosion and clash with alleged rebels in Barangay Gaid in Dimasalang town.

Capt. Frank Roldan, chief of the public affairs office of the 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, said in a phone interview on Sunday that the hunt for the rebels involved in the attacks were ongoing and their troops remained on heightened alert.

The Department of Education (DepEd) Bicol reported on Thursday that 140 elementary to senior high schools suspended in-person classes in the towns of Dimasalang, Placer, Cawayan, Esperanza, Cataingan and Uson, affecting more than 55,000 students.

Martin Espayos, information officer of DepEd Schools Division Masbate, said on Sunday that in-person classes would still be suspended on Monday in 72 schools in Cawayan, Dimasalang, Esperanza, Pio V. Corpuz and Placer with 17,308 students and 1,282 teachers.

Espayos said the local government of Cataingan town ordered on Sunday the resumption of in-person classes.

Espayos said that out of 42 schools in Placer town, only the Manlot-od Elementary School in Barangay Manlot-od and Locso-an Elementary School in Barangay Locso-an would still be on modular learning setup.

Concerned parents

The clash in Sitio (sub-village) Tawo-Tawo in Locso-an village caused panic in the nearby schools, Locso-an Elementary School and Arriesgado-Sevelleno National High School, where students and teachers scampered after hearing gunfire and explosions on March 22.

Residents in Manlot-od also heard a loud explosion on Friday night but Roldan said no official reports were received from the area.

Despite Dumoran’s advisory on the resumption of classes in Placer, some parents remain concerned about their children’s safety.

One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed her apprehension over the local government’s decision.—WITH A REPORT FROM FRANSHEY MAI DRIO

AFP intensifies visibility amid rebel attacks in Masbate

From ABS-CBN (Mar 27, 2023): AFP intensifies visibility amid rebel attacks in Masbate (By Bianca Dava)

MANILA -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has intensified its presence in Masbate following a series of clashes between communist rebels and security forces in the province over the past week.

AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said the Philippine Army’s 9th Infantry Division has already coordinated with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to undertake measures to prevent communist rebels from committing further terrorist activities in the province.

“The situation there [Masbate] is improving kasi ‘yung ating (because our) 2IB under 9ID is closely coordinating with the PNP para sa (for) visibility patrols, at the same time, ito rin ay coordinated sa DepEd," Aguilar said during the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)’s online press briefing on Monday.

"We want to make sure na ang nangyari sa isang eskwelahan sa (that what happened in a school in) Placer will no longer happen,” he added.

“Rest assured na patuloy ang AFP na magtatrabaho at magpapatrol at magsasagawa ng operations(that the AFP will continue to work) to make sure our people will be safe from threats of violent extremism coming from the CPP-NPA,” he continued.

The Department of National Defense slammed the New People’s Army (NPA) on Friday for allegedly launching attacks near schools in Masbate, which terrified students and teachers and disrupted classes.

“The Department of National Defense 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,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement.

He went on, “By committing atrocities such as the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near schools and in public areas, the CTG has placed our people 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.”

READ: Marcos Jr.: PH must be 'continuously vigilant' amid Masbate violent incidents

On March 20, personnel from the 22nd Infantry Battalion conducted a security operation in Barangay Villahermosa in Cawayan town after receiving a report that armed men were seen in the area. An encounter took place between the troops and communist rebels, killing one of the soldiers.

On March 22, another clash occurred in Barangay Locso-on in Placer town, injuring two soldiers. The clash disrupted a Women’s Month celebration at a nearby school, causing school officials to suspend classes.

The incident was also condemned by the Department of Education.

“As to the measures being undertaken by the AFP, of course, lahat ng ating units, lalo ang ground forces, are given the order to institute preventive measures in the event of such occurrences and clashes, ‘yung effect niya sa community,” said BGen Josel Alejandro Nacnac, acting director of the AFP Center for Law of Armed Conflict.

“At our end dito sa AFPCLOAC, we have been telling and instructing the units to file appropriate cases under RA 9851 kasi isa ito sa violations. Halimbawa ang nangyari sa Masbate, nadisturb ang communities doon, which is not allowed by international law. Kasama iyan sa violations na pwedeng isampa against the NPA for disturbing the community.”

He went on, “Itong klaseng aktibidad ng NPA na nadidisrupt ang mga klase ng mga kabataan at may nadadamay pang kabataan sa larangan ng kanilang pakikibaka ay hindi na bago… [NPA] That is a specific violation of our laws kasi they are carrying unlicensed firearms. The mere fact na may hawak kang baril sa publiko ay violation na po iyon. Wala namang lisensya ang baril na iyan. Nagiging threat sa community, lalo na sa mga kabataan.”

AFP: NPA guerrilla fronts down to 21 from 89 in 2016*

Guerrilla fronts of the New People’s Army have been reduced to 21, down from 89 in 2016, Aguilar said.

The AFP spokesperson noted that of the 21 remaining guerrilla fronts, only 3 are active while 18 have weakened significantly.

“For calendar year 2023 alone, we have neutralized around 189 CPP-NPA members, 26 of which were killed, 22 were apprehended and 141 surrendered," he said.

He added, "606 supporters also withdrew their support from the different mass organizations established by the CPP and we have recovered more or less 206 firearms. This brings to a total of 67 guerrilla fronts dismantled. About 3 this year. That is from a total of 89 since 2016,” Aguilar said during the online press briefing.

There are only around 1,800 communist rebels holding arms, Aguilar added.

“With only 21 guerrilla fronts remaining, the strength of the CPP is reduced to more or less 2,000, with 1,817 firearms operating in 409 remaining conflict-affected areas, mostly in Negros and Samar provinces.”

Aguilar said the remaining guerrilla fronts are expected to be dismantled within a short period of time, adding that communist rebels are losing relevance due to the continuous decrease of their forces.

“Sa lalong madaling panahon, kung kaya nating tunawin lahat ng guerrilla fronts at mapabalik sa gobyerno ang mga kapatid nating nawawala sa landas (As soon as possible. if we can dissolve all guerilla fronts), I think this is the best scenario we can think of. We hope we are able to do this in the earliest time possible for the benefit of our people. We cannot give a timeline because depende rin iyan sa (that also depends on) developments on the ground,” he noted.

“The AFP, in coordination with other government agencies under the NTF-ELCAC, will continue to exert pressure… to end violent extremism and look closely into the root causes of the problem,” he concluded.

DOJ: Cashier convicted of 55 counts of being an accomplice in terrorist financing

From GMA News Online (Mar 27, 2023): DOJ: Cashier convicted of 55 counts of being an accomplice in terrorist financing

A cashier has been convicted for 55 counts of violating the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012, the Department of Justice announced on Monday.

In a statement, the DOJ said Angeline Magdua was convicted on March 16 of being an accessory to the crime of terrorist financing.

Magdua is one of two cashiers of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in the Northern Mindanao Region.

The DOJ said the organization obtained donations to finance the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army.

The CPP-NPA, the DOJ said, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US Department of State, the European Union, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

The DOJ said gave credit to the prosecutors who handled the case, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the NICA office in Region 10, the PNP in Region 10, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

GMA Integrated News is trying to reach the RMP-NMR for comment and will publish its side once it is available. —NB, GMA Integrated News

NGO cashier convicted of terrorist financing for NPA

From the Philippine Star (Mar 28, 2023): NGO cashier convicted of terrorist financing for NPA (By Neil Jayson Servallos)

In a statement, the DOJ said Angeline Magdua, one of two cashiers of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) Northern Mindanao, was convicted of 55 counts of violating Section 7 of the law, which penalizes being an accessory to the crime of terrorist financing.   STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced the first conviction under Republic Act 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 after an Iligan City court found a cashier of a non-government organization guilty of being an accessory to terrorist financing.

In a statement, the DOJ said Angeline Magdua, one of two cashiers of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) Northern Mindanao, was convicted of 55 counts of violating Section 7 of the law, which penalizes being an accessory to the crime of terrorist financing.

RMP Northern Mindanao is a non-government organization composed of priests and laypersons that the DOJ said obtained donations from “unsuspecting” foreign organizations to finance the operations of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army. The CPP and NPA have been designated as terrorist organizations by the United States Department of State, the European Union, New Zealand and the Philippine government.

“The department views this as a major win for our justice system and the fight against terrorism. Terrorism only leads to more violence and suffering, and we must break this cycle and work toward peace,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said.

The landmark decision comes 11 years after the enactment of the law, and will serve as the foundation for future prosecutions under this law.

The RMP had previously refuted the allegations leveled against it and accused government authorities of intimidating witnesses into making false statements that implicate its officers and members in the activities of the CPP-NPA.

The RMP is a national organization whose mission is to serve impoverished communities.

Founded in August 1969, RMP was established as a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors, with the goal of uplifting marginalized communities through various initiatives such as education, health services and community development.

[Retired Analyst Note: The Philippine military has long held that the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) functioned as communist front organization. A number of priests in the Philippines have been adherents of "liberation theology" or "opting for the poor" and have embraced the New People's Army (NPA) insurgency in the countryside. RMP activities often place the organization at odds with the Philippine government and military.]

AFP insists it has upper hand in campaign against NPA rebels

From the Manila Standard (Mar 27, 2023): AFP insists it has upper hand in campaign against NPA rebels

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has the upper hand in its ongoing campaign to eliminate the security threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA) insurgents with the dismantling of 67 guerrilla fronts.

“This brings to a total of 67 guerrilla fronts dismantled, about three this year and that is from a total of 89 since 2016 so 67 guerrilla fronts dismantled leaving now the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) with 21 guerrilla fronts – three active and 18 are weakened,” AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said during the online press conference conducted by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Monday.

This comes ahead of the 54th founding anniversary of the NPA, the CPP’s armed wing, on Wednesday.

Medel also said AFP units have also neutralized 9,818 NPA members, of which 358 are key leaders of the insurgent organization.

The military has also recovered 11,013 firearms and liberated 3,340 barangays so far from the influence of the CPP-NPA.

For 2023 alone, Aguilar said the military has so far neutralized 189 CPP-NPA members, 26 of which are killed in encounters, with 22 arrested and 141 surrendered.

He also pointed out that 606 supporters also withdrew their support and membership from the different mass organizations established by the CPP with the AFP recovering 206 firearms for the first few months of this year.

“So these are (the) accomplishments that enabled the AFP to achieve strategic victory. With only 21 guerrilla fronts remaining, the strength of the CPP is reduced to more or less 2,000 with 1,817 firearms operating in 409 remaining conflict-affected areas, mostly in Negros and Samar provinces,” Aguilar said.

He also pointed out that around 43,000 party members or supporters of the insurgent movement’s underground mass organizations withdrew their support to the CPP.

Aguilar said this means the CPP-NPA no longer has the resources to recruit new members to make up for their losses.

Adding to the woes of the insurgents is the willingness of former NPA members to identify the deceptive approach of the CPP and thus effectively halting their recruiting and other activities aimed at boosting their dwindling resources, he added.

The AFP in coordination with other government agencies under the NTF-ELCAC will continue to exert pressure (until the insurgency threat is neutralized)," he added.

Aguilar also said they are calling on the Filipino people to help the AFP to help them "end this 54-year (old) communist insurgency;" which has brought nothing but divisiveness to the nation besides slowing down its development.

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Joel Alejandro Nacnac, director of the AFP Center for Law of Armed Conflict and concurrent Internal Auditor, said 2,859 soldiers and civilians have been killed in over 4,000 atrocities committed by the insurgents since the founding of the CPP in 1968.

He added that from 1969 to 2009, the insurgents committed 2,443 human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) violations, including the use of anti-personnel mines, willful killings and attacks against civilians.

Nacnac said these atrocities led to the death of 1,943 civilians and 367 soldiers and wounding of 382 civilians and 103 soldiers; and the destruction of 557 civilian properties.

From 2010 to 2022 when Republic Act 9851 or Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity took effect, the AFP recorded 1,999 human rights violations by the insurgents.

This resulted in the killing of 355 civilians and 194 soldiers and wounding of 227 soldiers and 154 civilians and the destruction of 1,366 civilian properties.

“If you add that (1,999 human rights violations from 2010 to 2022) up with the 2,443 (violations from 1968 to 2009), it appears that there (have been) about 4,000 plus violations since 1968,” Nacnac stressed..

Nacnac said there could be more CPP-NPA violations, specifically during the 1968 to 2009 period. He said some incidents were not reflected in the figure due to (unavailability) of documents."

These CPP-NPA atrocities have already been documented and submitted to pertinent government agencies like the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

Nacnac said the DOJ will be responsible for case audits and case buildup while the CHR has already created technical working groups which will be investigating the reported CPP-NPA abuses.

Government secures first conviction for terrorism financing

 From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 27, 2023): Government secures first conviction for terrorism financing (By: Tetch Torres-Tupas)

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla

MANILA, Philippines —The Department of Justice (DOJ) has secured its first conviction for violation of the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10168).

In a statement Monday, the DOJ said the Iligan City Regional Trial Court had convicted Angeline Magdua for 55 counts of violating that law as an accessory to the crime of terrorist financing.

Magdua was one of the two cashiers of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR), a church-based national organization of priests and lay persons.

“Despite conviction after 11 years after enactment of the law, this landmark decision will serve as the foundation and will pave the way for future prosecutions under this law,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said.

“Terrorism only leads to more violence and suffering, and we must break this cycle and works toward peace,” he added.

According to, RMP “empowers farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous peoples and educates them on their rights.”

But government prosecutors argued that RMP-NMR receives donations from unsuspecting foreign organizations and distributes the funds to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CCP-NPA).

“Acting upon orders of her co-accused, Magdua was responsible for distributing funds to the members of the CPP-NPA,” Remulla said, adding that her conviction is a “clear message to those who think they can get away with supporting terrorism.”

According to Remulla, the DOJ started to focus on the prosecution of 15 other accused with the same violation.

The case stemmed from an investigation by the Anti-Money Laundering Council on the bank accounts of RMP-Northern Mindanao on the basis of the sworn statements of two former NPA members.

One of the witnesses, according to the DOJ, was a member of the NPA, later becoming a finance officer of various CPP-NPA nongovernmental organization fronts, including the RMP.

RMP, which was established in 1969 as a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors, has previously denounced being red-tagged by government officials and security forces.

Members of church-based org face non-bailable raps for terror financing
Lawyers denounce terror financing case vs ‘rights defenders’

5 suspected IS-linked militants killed in govt assault in southern Philippines

Posted to BenarNews (Mar 27, 2023): 5 suspected IS-linked militants killed in govt assault in southern Philippines (Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales)

This 2013 file photo shows members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters gathered in a jungle clearing in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao.  Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews

Five suspected Filipino militants with the local the Islamic State affiliate who were killed last week in an air strike and offensive by government forces in the southern Philippines were plotting attacks during Ramadan, the military said Monday.

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) said eight improvised bombs were seized during the military operation in Pagalungan, a town in Maguindanao province. The operation, which took place on March 21, foiled the bombings that the group allegedly was planning in Mindanao, the country’s southern third, whose population is largely Muslim.

“We have prevented their planned bombings targeting innocent civilians, (attempt to) create fear and sabotage peace during Ramadan,” Col. Donald Gumiran, commander of the 602nd Brigade, said in a statement.

After making sure the planned bombings were stopped, Gumiran said the military ceased its operations against the militants in the area to allow the people to celebrate Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting. The offensive targeted a suspected lair of the Daulah Islamiyah (DI), the Filipino name for the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

It was not clear why the attack was kept under wraps until Monday. The military did not immediately respond to calls by BenarNews.

Lt. Col. Dennis Almorato, 6th ID spokesman, said an A-29B Super Tucano light attack aircraft fired rockets at the enemy encampment. Ground troops, meanwhile, fought a one-hour gun battle with the group, leading to the enemy casualties.

Almorato said troops at the camp recovered eight improvised bombs “which were ready to be planted and detonated” by the group.

Almorato said the operation was conducted based on information provided by two informants.

Citing information from the informants, Almorato said DI members apparently were planning to detonate the IEDs at populated areas in Maguindanao and Cotabato provinces at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan last Wednesday.

Materials used in the manufacture of IEDs, a .45-caliber pistol and Garand rifle ammunition were found at the lair, Almorato said.

The DI group is composed mostly of militants belonging to a faction from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a splinter group from the ex-separatist force Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which controls an autonomous region in the south.

CPP/Ang Bayan Daily News & Analysis: Iglap-protesta, iba pang aktibidad, inilunsad para sa anibersaryo ng BHB

Ang Bayan Daily News & Analysis propaganda statement posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Philippine Revolution Web Central (PRWC) Website (Mar 27, 2023):
Iglap-protesta, iba pang aktibidad, inilunsad para sa anibersaryo ng BHB (Lightning-protest, other activities, launched for NPA anniversary)

March 27, 2023

Sunud-sunod na aktibidad ang inilunsad ng mga alyadong organisasyon ng National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) sa nagdaang linggo sa maraming bahagi ng bansa bilang paggunita sa darating na ika-54 anibersaryo ng Bagong Hukbong Bayan (BHB).

Naglunsad ng iglap-proesta ang mga kasapi ng Katipunan ng mga Gurong Makabayan (Kaguma) sa Metro Manila noong Marso 25 para magpugay sa mga Pulang mandirigma ng BHB sa anibersaryo nito sa darating na Marso 29.

Ang mga rebolusyonaryong guro ay nagbitbit ng malalaking balatengga at naglunsad ng maiksing programa para ipabatid sa mamamayan ang kanilang pagsuporta sa demokratikong rebolusyong bayan.

Sa pahayag ng Kaguma, nanawagan ito sa kasapiang mga guro at akademiko na “masigasig na kumilos at mag-organisa ng mga lihim na makinaryang magkakalap ng materyal na suporta para sa digmang bayan sa kanayunan.” Ayon pa sa kanila, “hinihintay ang mga rebolusyonaryong guro na tumungo sa kanayunan at magturo sa mga pulang paaralan at larangang gerilya sa piling ng masang magsasaka.”

Sa Cebu City, nagpinta at naglagay ng mga panawagan sa pader ang mga kasapi ng Kabataang Makabayan (KM) Balangay Marvin Marquez para hikayatin ang mga kabataan na sumapi sa BHB at pagsilbihan ang mamamayang Pilipino.

Nagsabit ang mga kabataan ng malaking balatengga sa sentrong syudad na may katagang “Mabuhi ang sundalo sa kabus” (Mabuhay ang sundalo ng mahihirap!) at “Mabuhi ang NPA” (Mabuhay ang NPA!)

Naglunsad din ng katulad na mga aktibidad ang mga kasapi ng Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan sa Laguna sa nagdaang linggo.

Samantala, pangungunahan ng Friends of the Filipino People in Struggle (FFPS) ang mga porum, talakayan at pagtitipon sa Portland at Seattle sa USA, at London sa United Kingdom sa darating na mga araw.

Bago nito malawakang ikinasa ng KM ang operasyong pinta at operasyong dikit sa mga prubinsya ng Surigao del Sur at Agusan del Norte simula pa pagbubukas ng buwan ng Marso.

CPP/NPA-Masbate: Ang walang kupas na suporta ng masa sa armadong pakikibaka sa Masbate ang susi sa matatagumpay na taktikal na opensiba ng BHB

Propaganda statement posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Philippine Revolution Web Central (PRWC) Website (Mar 27, 2023): Ang walang kupas na suporta ng masa sa armadong pakikibaka sa Masbate ang susi sa matatagumpay na taktikal na opensiba ng BHB (The unwavering support of the masses in the armed struggle in Masbate was the key to the NPA's successful tactical offensive.)

Luz del Mar
NPA-Masbate (Jose Rapsing Command)
Bicol Regional Operational Command (Romulo Jallores Command)
New People's Army

March 27, 2023

Binabati ng Jose Rapsing Command – NPA Masbate ang yunit ng BHB at mga masa sa matagumpay na pagpapasabog sa CAFGU ditatsment sa Barangay Manlut-Od sa bayan ng Placer nitong Marso 24, alas-11 ng gabi. Apat ang patay sa militar at CAFGU habang wasak ang tatlong kubo sa nasabing ditatsment.

Umabot na sa 17 patay at marami ang sugatan sa AFP-PNP-CAFGU sa tatlong magkakasunod na seryeng aksyong gerilya sa prubinsya. Nadagdagan ang kaswalti ng armadong pwersa ng estado matapos binawian ng buhay ang tatlo sa kanilang pitong sugatan sa nangyaring operasyong haras sa Barangay Locso-an, Placer at sa panibagong opensiba ng BHB sa Barangay Manlut-Od sa kaparehong bayan.

Sa pagsapit ng ika-54 anibersaryo ng pagkatatatag ng Bagong Hukbong Bayan, hindi matatawaran ang ambag ng masa sa matatagumpay na aksyong gerilya sa Masbate.

Hindi matutumbasan ang galit ng masa sa AFP-PNP-CAFGU kung saan sila mismo ang nagkukusang ipabatid sa Hukbo ang mga pwesto at himpilan nito. Ilan sa kanila ay boluntaryong sumabay, naglook-out at sumubaybay sa kilos ng pasistang militar at pulis upang iulat sa kasama. Marami sa kanila’y nagpultaym sa NPA at sumabay sa mga naturang taktikal na opensiba!

Sa ilalim ng umiiral na batas militar sa prubinsya, matinding takot at teror ang hatid ng palagiang presensya ng armadong pwersa ng estado sa komunidad at mga paaralan. Subalit hindi ito naging hadlang upang ipadama ng masang Masbatenyo ang kanilang galit sa AFP-PNP-CAFGU. Sila mismo ang humihiling sa Hukbo na maglunsad ng aksyong gerilya laban sa mga pasistang armadong grupo ng estado.

Matagal ng ginagalugad ng AFP-PNP-CAFGU ang mga komunidad maging mga eskwelahan sa tabing ng umano’y proyektong pangkaunlaran sa prubinsya. Sapilitan nilang nirerekrut ang mga kalalakihan laluna ang kabataan sa CAFGU at kinukimbinsing mag-Army kapalit ng pangakong matatanggap na sahod.

Anumang pagtatakip sa kanilang kabiguan, batid ng masang Masbatenyo kung sino ang tunay na lumalabag sa makataong batas ng digma. Mismong mga guro at estudyante ang makakapagpatunay kung sino ang gumagamit ng mga pampublikong pasilidad upang gawing pananggalang sa kalaban. Higit ninuman, batid ng masang Masbatenyo na ang AFP-PNP-CAFGU ang tunay na mga terorista.

Sa katunayan, ipagdiriwang ng Pulang Hukbo at masang Masbatenyo ang ika-54 anibersaryo ng NPA na linalabanan ang panibagong bugso ng malaking operasyong militar sa prubinsya. Walang problema. Habang nasasabak sa apoy ng digmaan, lalong napapanday ang pagkakaisa ng Hukbo at masa sa landas ng demokratikong rebolusyon.

Kalinaw News: Datu Tungig Mansimuy-at, Spokesperson, PASAKA-SMR (Pasakaday Salugpungan Kalimudan Southern Mindanao) and two other members formally surrendered to the 56th Infantry Battalion

 Posted to the Kalinaw News Facebook Page (Mar 27, 2023): Datu Tungig Mansimuy-at, Spokesperson, PASAKA-SMR (Pasakaday Salugpungan Kalimudan Southern Mindanao) and two other members formally surrendered to the 56th Infantry Battalion

IN PHOTOS: Datu Tungig Mansimuy-at, Spokesperson, PASAKA-SMR (Pasakaday Salugpungan Kalimudan Southern Mindanao) and two other members formally surrendered to the 56th Infantry Battalion during a press conference held at Mankilam, Tagum City, on March 22, 2023.

Datu Tungig condemned the Communist Terrorist Group’s decade-long exploitation and deception of Ata Manobo tribe in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.