Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Man killed in Lanao del Sur raid not brains behind Adiong’s ambush – Army

From Rappler (May 10, 2023): Man killed in Lanao del Sur raid not brains behind Adiong’s ambush – Army (By MERLYN MANOS)

'There is only one left, and with the help of the people, we'll be able to catch this person,' says Army chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner Jr.

ILIGAN, Philippines – The man killed during a joint police and military operation in Lanao del Sur on May 3 was not the brains behind the February ambush that wounded Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. and killed four of his aides, an Army official said.

Brigadier General Yegor Barroquillo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said the killed suspect, Oscar Gandawali, had served as the right-hand man of Lomala Baratamo Mandoc who is still being sought by authorities in connection to the ambush of Adiong’s convoy in Maguing, Lanao del Sur, on February 17.

Barroquillo, however, said Gandawali was the main suspect in the ambush that killed five Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents in the village of Malna, Kapai, Lanao del Sur, on October 5, 2018.

At the Army’s 1st Infantry Division in Pulacan, Zamboanga del Sur, last week Army chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner Jr. said, “We are now running after the last lawless element who perpetrated the ambush of Governor Adiong. There is only one left, and with the help of the people, we’ll be able to catch this person.”

WOUNDED. Lanao del Sur Governor Manintal Adiong Jr. flashes a hand sign on a hospital bed to say that he is on the way to recovery in this February 2023 photo.

The February ambush resulted in the deaths of Adiong’s security aides, police patrolmen Juraiz Adiong, Aga Sumandar, and Jalil Cosain, and driver Hassanor Pundaodaya.

Gandawali, who had been ordered arrested by a court in connection to seven murder and two frustrated murder cases, was killed in an operation carried out by the Bangsamoro police and Army soldiers in his house Barangay Pilimoknan in Maguing town. An Army staff sergeant was wounded in the May 3 exchange of firepower.

Bangsamoro police director Brigadier General Allan Nobleza said the heavily armed Gandawali put up a fight, and soldiers found several firearms and suspected shabu (meth) in his house.

The police listed him as the most wanted person in Lanao del Sur, and the 4th most wanted in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Authorities said Gandawali was part of a group that has been into narco-politics, gunrunning, and robbery, and supported the Dawlah Islamiyah terror group in the Lanao area.

Crisis Group warns of more conflict ahead in BARMM but sees ray of hope

From Rappler (May 10, 2023): Crisis Group warns of more conflict ahead in BARMM but sees ray of hope (By HERBIE GOMEZ)

The International Crisis Group sees hope in how President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been dealing with BARMM officials and political clans in the region

PART 1 | Political clans pose big threat to BARMM peace – Crisis Group

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the upcoming October barangay elections in Maguindanao del Sur are expected to be hotly contested, with political disagreements potentially causing instability.

The new province is one of the two political territories carved out of the now-defunct Maguindanao province by a 2021 law that was ratified via a plebiscite last September.

The Crisis Group’s May 1 report, authored by a team led by analyst Georgi Engelbrecht, warned that power politics in the two new Maguindanao territories remain complex and could result in further conflict.

Maguindanao del Sur and the adjacent Sultan Kudarat province are dominated by the Mangudadatu political dynasty.

Just a few months before Maguindanao was divided into two, a member of the clan, Mariam, frustrated ex-governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s bid to unseat her.

Esmael, her husband Suharto’s cousin who was a Maguindanao congressman then, was the bet of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF’s) political arm, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP).

Mariam has recently been appointed officer-in-charge (OIC)/governor of the newly-created Maguindanao del Sur, an appointive position she rejected. She eventually held her punches after a meeting with First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos and Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr.

She had wanted her political ally, Vice Governor Fatima Ainee Sinsuat of the then undivided Maguindanao, to be her counterpart in Maguindanao del Norte.

Her family, a powerful political force with close ties to the Marcos Jr. administration, leads a coalition of major political clans in the newly-created Maguindanao provinces. They also maintain their influence in neighboring Sultan Kudarat province in the Soccsksargen region, where Pax Ali – son of Suharto and Mariam – serves as governor.

Their group and Bangsamoro region officials have had strained relations, disagreed on matters of governance, and even fought for local positions in the 2022 elections.

Toned down

But on May 3, Mangudadatu offered an olive branch to her Maguindanao del Norte counterpart, OIC Governor Abdulraof Macacua, even as she announced that she wanted to reconcile and cooperate with the regional officials.

Before he was appointed Maguindanao del Norte’s OIC governor, Macacua served as a Bangsamoro senior minister, a confidant of regional interim Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim.

Macacua also once led the armed wing of the MILF whose members now hold key positions in the region’s transitional government.

Mangudadatu previously protested the appointment of Macacua as governor of Maguindanao del Norte and had even threatened to question the appointment of OICs in the two new Maguindanao provinces by the President before the Supreme Court (SC).

But a week after she went to Malacañang for the oath-taking of the OICs of the two Maguindanao provinces, Mangudadatu accepted Macacua’s appointment and expressed her willingness to work with him.

She told a news conference on May 3 about the need for regional and provincial officials to collaborate to resolve their differences and move forward, especially in responding to the armed conflicts in Maguindanao del Sur.

Ray of hope

The Crisis Group saw hope in how President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been dealing with BARMM officials and the political clans in the region.

While Ebrahim and the MILF supported the presidential bid of former vice president Leni Robredo, the strongest rival of Marcos in 2022, the Crisis Group said the President showed his support for the region’s interim government and the peace efforts started by the administrations of his predecessors.

Despite remaining vague about his vision for Bangsamoro during the 2022 presidential campaign, the Crisis Group said Marcos reappointed Ebrahim as interim chief minister and kept the peace process mechanisms intact, ending months of uncertainty about the Mindanao peace process’ future.

Political clans, the group noted, had earlier attempted to pressure Marcos into allowing them to expand their clout to the regional government by way of appointments, but the President did not give in.

Mariam’s husband Suharto, for one, had been widely seen as a likely replacement for Ebrahim after the 2022 elections, and until August of that year, he was being referred to as “chief minister” by some of his supporters who had presumed he would be rewarded for his family’s support for Marcos’s successful presidential campaign.

Modus vivendi

The Crisis Group said disagreements and distrust among players at local, regional, and national levels would likely persist to make governance in Bangsamoro politics a contentious issue, and the potential for violence goes beyond elections.

The May 1 report also cited concerns that unfulfilled promises of the peace deal could pose a challenge to the MILF, particularly in the relationship between its leadership and rank-and-file members.

While the MILF leadership is committed to the peace process, the report warned that some of its members may take independent action, including a potential resumption of armed struggle if they see that their chances of retaining power after the 2025 elections would be thwarted by vote-buying and deal-making.

The Crisis Group recommended that the national government accommodate the clans while supporting former MILF fighters’ transition to civilian life without tolerance for private armies that pose dangers to regional security.

It said an arrangement – a sustainable modus vivendi – that is acceptable to the national government, MILF, and local political groups is necessary to ensure that the promised socio-economic benefits are delivered and stability is maintained in the predominantly Muslim region.

Sara Duterte is new NTF-ELCAC co-vice chair

From Rappler (May 10, 2023): Sara Duterte is new NTF-ELCAC co-vice chair (By BEA CUPIN)

Security Adviser Eduardo Año sees a 'reinvigorated and more active' task force with the Vice President as his co-vice chair

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also the country’s education secretary, has been designated co-vice chairman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a government agency infamous for its red tagging.

The announcement was made on Wednesday, May 10, during a briefing before Palace reporters. The task force had just finished its executive committee meeting.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is the task force chairman as the chief executive, while Eduardo Año is Duterte’s co-vice chairman as the National Security Adviser. Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin presided over Wednesday’s meeting since Marcos is now in Indonesia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders summit.

“Her unstinting commitment at the cause (sic) of the NTF-ELCAC will undoubtedly be invaluable to the task force,” said Año.

Año said Duterte’s concurrent role as education secretary would play into the task force’s goals, citing her previous efforts to shut down schools supposedly linked to the communist movement.

Last September, Duterte posted a YouTube video speaking in Mandarin congratulating the 73rd founding anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and its paramount leader Xi Jinping. Aside from being president Xi is also the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

Duterte, daughter of the former president who created the task force, has been red-tagging critics, especially those who belong to progressive groups.

Año said there is no need for a delineation of tasks because their secretariat is one and the same. “I have worked with Vice President Sara [Duterte[ before when she was in Davao and there will be no problem for us working together,” he said.

“We proceed (sic) that NTF-ELCAC will be reinvigorated and more active [with Duterte as co-vice chairperson],” added the former military chief and interior chief.

In a statement, Tina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights alliance Karapatan, criticized Duterte’s appointment. “The designation of VP Sara Duterte, serial and notorious redtagger, as NTF-ELCAC co vice chair reinforces the fascist character of the task force. It only shows the greater need for the abolition of this TF that has been responsible for numerous cases of human rights violations,” she said.

WV cops alerted vs insurgency

From Panay News (May 11, 2023): WV cops alerted vs insurgency (By Ruby P. Silubrico)


ILOILO City – With the series of encounters in Negros Island and rebel attacks in other areas, the Police Regional Office 6 (PRO-6) alerted all unit commanders across Western Visayas against the insurgency.

Police Brigadier General Archival Macala, in his first order as officer-in-charge of the PRO-6, yesterday reminded police chiefs, especially those in remote areas, to be alert, aware and not be complacent against the New People’s Army (NPA).

“Sa lahat na mga police personnel sa Region 6, dapat lagi tayong handa sa lahat ng oras. Use all available personnel and always carry your long firearms lalo na sa mga municipalities na high risk,” Macala said a day after replacing former PRO-6 director, Police Brigadier General Leo Francisco.

In the past weeks, series of encounters took place in Negros Occidental between the NPA and the Philippine Army. The most recent was the torching of heavy equipment in Barangay Cabunga-an, Leon, Iloilo.

Macala said policemen should be vigilant especially of people entering police stations, and police visibility should be intensified.

“We need to coordinate with the community especially the barangay officials to strengthen our barangay intelligence network kasi dyan tayo makakakuha ng information,” he added.

On May 5, several unidentified armed men believed to be NPA rebels set on fire four heavy equipment in Leon town.

An elf truck was totally damaged while the mixer truck, grader and backhoe were partially damaged, according to Police Captain Rodel Pasion, chief of the Leon Municipal Police Station.

Damages were pegged at around P900,000.

Police intelligence report showed that aside from Leon, other areas in Iloilo considered as “high risk” for rebel attacks are Alimodian, Balasan, Bingawan, Calinog, Guimbal, Janiuay, Igbaras, Lambunao, Lemery, Maasin, Miag-ao, San Joaquin, San Rafael, and Tubungan.

4 NPAs surrender in Surigao del Sur

From the Mindanao Times (May 10, 2023): 4 NPAs surrender in Surigao del Sur (By RHODA GRACE SARON)

FOUR starving and exhausted CPP-NPA terrorists (CNTs) surrendered to the 75th Infantry Battalion and 36th Infantry Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division in Surigao del Sur on May 6 and 7.

John Paul Loyola, 23, the team leader of Team Baking, Squad 2 of a rebel group under the Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC) and Ruel Tawede alias Rocco, 47, the commanding officer of Militiang Bayan, surrendered to the 75th IB in Barangay Magroyong, San Miguel on May 6.

Major Francisco Garello Jr., the spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division, said
the two brought with them an M14 rifle and an M1 Carbine rifle.

Meanwhile, a couple identified as Jonas Angeles alias Remboy, 28, and his live-in partner, Inday Sampaga, both members of the weakened Guerilla Front 16 under the NEMRC, surrendered to the 36th Infantry Battalion under the leadership of Lt. Col. Michael Rey Reuyan at Purok 4, Barangay Pantukan, Carascal, Surigao del Sur on May 7.

According to Remboy, he decided to leave nine months after he was left behind to fend for himself following a gunshot wound he sustained during an encounter at Mapula, Barangay Esperanza, Carmen, Surigao del Sur, on April 15, 2023. They also surrendered one M16 rifle.

It can be recalled that on April 24, ten members of the North Central Mindanao Regional Committee (NCMRC), led by Lino Atipan Namatidong aka commander Dahon of Headquarters Force NEO, also surrendered to the troops of the 23rd Infantry Battalion in Butuan City.

Since January 2023, there have been 67 CTG members who surrendered to the 4ID.

In a statement, 4ID commander Maj. Gen. Jose Maria R. Cuerpo II said, “The continuous exhaustion due to our relentless focused military operations and the unfulfilled promises of the communist terrorist group (CTG) led them to abandon the organization.”

He added that 4ID, in partnership with different agencies under TF-ELCAC, remains committed to its persistent call for peace. It will continue to accept CTG members who desire to return to mainstream society and avail the opportunities under the government’s enhance comprehensive local integration program or E-CLIP.

PH Army unit selected for UN peacekeeping duty

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): PH Army unit selected for UN peacekeeping duty (By Priam Nepomuceno)

PEACEKEEPERS. Members of the 4th Special Forces Company (4SFC) that will be part of the Philippine Army’s United Nations Light Infantry Battalion (PA UNLIB) stand in formation during the send-off ceremony at the brigade's headquarters in Bud Bayug, Barangay Samak, Talipao, Sulu on May 8, 2023. Army spokesperson Col. Xerxes said Wednesday (May 10, 2023) the 4SFC has been very efficient in its tasks before being selected for the PA UNLIB. (Photo courtesy of 1101st Infantry Brigade)

MANILA – The Philippine Army (PA) announced that the 4th Special Forces Company (4SFC) has been selected to be part of its United Nations (UN) Light Infantry Battalion (UNLIB), which is earmarked for peacekeeping missions.

"The 4SFC of the 2nd Special Forces Battalion, Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) played a vital role in battling the Abu Sayyaf Group," Army spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad said in a statement forwarded to reporters Wednesday.

Trinidad said the 1101st Infantry Brigade of the 11th Infantry Division held a send-off ceremony for the 4SFC after the unit's selection for PA UNLIB duty at its headquarters in Bud Bayug, Barangay Samak, Talipao, Sulu on May 8.

He added that the unit also spearheaded developmental efforts in the towns of Parang, Siasi, Pandami, Tapul, Lugus, and Pata in Sulu and has been very efficient in these tasks.

"The Army leadership lauded the 4SFC for their successful role in ensuring internal security in their area of responsibility. The Army leadership also emphasized the needed character and discipline that they must develop and maintain for them to accomplish their future missions as part of the PA UNLIB," he added.

Trinidad said the 4SFC would undergo a series of training, seminars, and workshops to increase their readiness before deployment.

Rojas is new PH Marine Corps commandant

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): Rojas is new PH Marine Corps commandant (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Philippine Marine Corps commandant Maj. Gen. Arturo G. Rojas (Photo courtesy of PMC)

MANILA – Maj. Gen. Arturo G. Rojas formally assumed command of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC).

Rojas took over the helm of the PMC in simple rites at the Bonifacio Naval Station, Taguig City on May 8.

"Maj. Gen. Rojas held key positions, making him one of the finest senior officers of his generation. He was the commander of the Special Operations Command of the AFP before being appointed as the new commandant Philippine Marine Corps," PMC public affairs office chief Capt. Jarald B. Rea said in a statement Wednesday.

Rojas replaced Marine Lt. Gen. Charlton M. Gaerlan, who was appointed as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deputy chief of staff in March.

The new PMC chief previously served as brigade commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade in Tawi-Tawi and deputy commander of the Western Mindanao Command before becoming the unit's acting commander.

Rojas emphasized the PMC’s role in ensuring peace and security, noting that the Marines would be the most ready to protect the nation without fear and without fail.

The 36th PMC chief, a native of Koronadal City, spent his early military career with Marine Landing Battalion (MBLT) 3, MBLT-9, and 61st Marine Force Reconnaissance Company.

"He specialized in special operations during this period and (was) deployed to Sulu, Bulacan, Cotabato City, Quezon province, Basilan, Zamboanga, Kalinga, and Apayao. He spent three years with the Department of National Defense as a security officer and aide-de-camp to then Secretary Fortunato Abat and Secretary Orlando Mercado," Rea said.

Rojas also took up various courses and training, such as the Basic Airborne and Jumpmaster’s Course, Scuba Course, Scout Ranger Course, Intelligence Officer Basic Course, Military Intelligence Collection Course, Explosive Ordnance Reconnaissance Agent Course, Sureshock Urban Warfare Course, Jungle Environment Survival Training, Force Reconnaissance Orientation Course, and Officers Psychological Operations Course.

"Maj. Gen. Rojas holds degrees in Master of Science in Defense Analysis (Special Operation/Low-Intensity Conflict) from the US Naval postgraduate school in Monterey, California, USA (2004) and a Master in Public Management Major in Department and Security from the Development Academy of the Philippines (2011). He earned several awards and decorations throughout his military career," Rea said.

Boosting maritime security vital to PH economic growth: DND chief

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): Boosting maritime security vital to PH economic growth: DND chief (By Priam Nepomuceno)

DND chief Carlito Galvez Jr. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy)

MANILA – Department of National Defense (DND) chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said there is a need for the Philippines to sustain maritime security in the Southeast Asian region to sustain the country's economic growth.

"Ensuring maritime security in the region must not be viewed as our responsibility and contribution to (the) larger international community. We must view it as a way to sustain our economic growth for the actual benefit of our people," Galvez said during the Maritime Security Symposium (MSS) hosted by the Philippine Navy (PN) at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taguig City on Tuesday, where he served as guest-of-honor and speaker.

The MSS 2023 is part of the activities leading to the PN's 125th anniversary later this month and is a prelude to its hosting of the 17th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Navy Chiefs’ Meeting on May 10.

“Over the past five decades, ASEAN has made significant strides in promoting meaningful cooperation among its member states and beyond,” Galvez said in a separate statement provided by the DND.

He also discussed the history of ASEAN and its economic growth, as well as the region’s traditional and non-traditional security concerns.

“The ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM-Plus serve as the most productive platforms for us to engage with one another and come up with innovative solutions for traditional and non-traditional concerns in the maritime domain,” Galvez added.

Meanwhile, PN vice commander, Rear Adm. Caesar Bernard Valencia, opened the MSS 2023, which he described as “an avenue to discuss the significance of an ASEAN-centric approach in addressing regional challenges and to contribute to the existing security discussions and literature on the promotion of ASEAN centrality to build regional cohesion.”

“It is with high hopes that through this symposium, we may all gain insights and a deeper understanding of the necessity of a coordinated and cohesive ASEAN maritime response and how cooperation and discussions will play a vital role in the pursuit of regional cohesion,” he added.

With the theme “ASEAN at the Forefront: Emphasizing ASEAN’s Perspective, Highlighting Its Strength,” the symposium featured two-panel sessions with discussions from maritime security experts and practitioners and attended by ASEAN navies’ delegates, policymakers, representatives of other government agencies, academe, and stakeholders from the defense and security sector.

Dr. Evan Laksmana, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore, and Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, talked about “The Southeast Asian Region: A Theater of Converging Challenges and Interests” during the first panel.

The second panel focused on “The ASEAN Perspective: Upholding ASEAN Centrality, Highlighting Cooperation” with discussions from Prof. Simon Tay, associate professor of the National University of Singapore-Faculty of Law, and Mr. Medardo Abad Jr., former director of the ASEAN Regional Forum Unit.

In closing, PN flag officer in command Vice Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr. called the symposium “a timely avenue for southeast Asia’s key stakeholders in upholding ASEAN principles to better contextualize the numerous security challenges.”

He also urged ASEAN navies and institutions “to recognize the importance of promoting and participating in platforms, such as the MSS, to maintain a continuous dialogue with our key stakeholders, as well as formulate and develop a common understanding of our environment to build trust, which in turn would be the bedrock for stronger avenues of cooperation amongst ourselves."

BRP Antonio Luna ends ASEAN-India naval drills stint

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): BRP Antonio Luna ends ASEAN-India naval drills stint (By Priam Nepomuceno)

(Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy)

MANILA – The Philippine Navy's missile frigate ended its participation in the two-day at-sea-phase of the inaugural ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-India Maritime Exercise (AIME) in the South China Sea (SCS) on May 8.

"The Jose Rizal class frigate’s crew and ship riders gathered at her forecastle and manned the rail as an honor and courtesy to the fellow participant ships from ASEAN member states and India. Filipino sailors merrily danced to the tune of the song 'Pinoy Ako' while the activity (was) ongoing," Ensign Menoel R. Orpilla, the Navy public affairs office chief aboard BRP Antonio Luna, said in a statement Wednesday.

The at-sea-phase of the AIME took place last May 7 to 8.

Orpilla said this activity "comprises numerous events involving ships, conducted with ASEAN member-states' navies and Indian Navy counterparts."

After this salute, the participating ships independently proceeded to their destinations.

Orpilla said BRP Antonio Luna is heading back to the Philippines and shifts its focus to the ASEAN Fleet Review on May 11 which will be participated by ASEAN navies, and the second iteration of ASEAN Multilateral Naval Exercise, to open at Subic, Zambales on May 12.

"These activities aim to fortify the Philippine Navy’s commitment to partnerships and cooperation with international Navy counterparts," he added.

This year's AIME took place from May 2 to 8. The BRP Antonio Luna arrived in Singapore last May 1.

"As the PN enjoys the influx of modern assets, its participation in this international exercise will sharpen the skills of its personnel. Likewise, it reiterates the PN's (Philippine Navy) steadfast commitment to promoting regional peace and stability with its counterparts from the ASEAN and Indian navies," Navy spokesperson Capt. Benjo Negranza earlier said.

PNP: Over 10K loose firearms seized in 4 months

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): PNP: Over 10K loose firearms seized in 4 months (By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)

(File photo)

MANILA – The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday said it has confiscated more than 10,000 loose firearms across the country from January 1 to May 7 this year.

In a statement, PNP chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr. said the campaign aims to curb the proliferation of loose firearms that pose a threat to public safety and security.

During these period, intensified operations resulted in the arrest of 3,208 individuals and the recovery, surrender, or confiscation of 10,214 firearms in violation of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

“Accounting of loose firearms and arrest of wanted persons are the centerpiece actions of the anti-criminality campaign that the PNP is waging. Firearms as instruments of crime and the players that put into action the criminal motive are the factors that largely contribute to the commission of a crime. If we can take away these instruments of crime and the persons behind it, then we have effectively prevented crime,” Acorda said.

He added the PNP's efforts to secure the public from the dangers of loose firearms have also resulted in 5,608 firearms being turned in for safekeeping by responsible owners.

Moreover, the PNP has filed 1,582 cases in court against violators of the law, ensuring that justice will be served to those who have put the lives of the public at risk through the use of loose firearms.

"Our campaign against loose firearms is a continuous effort to ensure the safety and security of our people. These accomplishments are the result of the hard work and dedication of our police officers and the cooperation of the public. We will continue to intensify our efforts to eradicate the proliferation of loose firearms in our communities. I urge everyone to support our campaign and report any illegal firearms to the authorities," Acorda said.

“To complement this campaign against loose firearms, the PNP is further improving administrative procedures to encourage and promote effective gun control thru licensing and firearms registration,” he added.

He said the successful accomplishment of this task demonstrates the PNP's unwavering commitment to upholding the law and fulfilling our duty to maintain peace and order in the country,

The PNP also called on the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities with the presence of firearms and support the organization's campaign to keep the communities safe and secure.

Meanwhile, the PNP also announced a significant decrease in index crime incidents over the past 120 days.

Index crime volume dropped to 11.78 percent, from 13,535 in January to April 2022 to only 11,940 over the same period in 2023, while the average monthly index crime rate decreased by 11.63 percent, from 3.01 in 2022 to 2.66 in 2023.

“Through the consistent implementation of various strategies, such as intensified police visibility, intelligence-driven operations, community-based programs, strengthened partnerships with other agencies, and improved crime reporting and monitoring systems, we have achieved a noteworthy decrease in index crime incidents over the past 120 days," Acorda said.

PH, US fighter jet pilots hold air-to-air combat drills

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): PH, US fighter jet pilots hold air-to-air combat drills (By Priam Nepomuceno)

(Photo courtesy of Philippine Air Force)

MANILA – Filipino and American fighter jet pilots conducted air-to-air combat training over the skies of Clark Air Base, Mabalacat City, Pampanga on Tuesday.

In a statement Wednesday, Philippine Air Force (PAF) spokesperson Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo said Filipino pilots from the 5th Fighter Wing and their American counterparts from the 14th Fighter Squadron of the United States Air Force (USAF) took part in a Cope Thunder training that focused on defensive and offensive counter-air operations.

During the simulation exercise, Castillo said skilled fighter jet pilots from both air forces showcased their expertise in executing both defensive and offensive counter-air drills.

These were done with the PAF using four FA-50PHs and the USAF using six F-16s flying over the intensive military training areas in Luzon.

"The whole goal was to teach them how we do our briefing, execution, and debriefs so that we can increase our interoperability throughout the region, as well as build a relationship with their pilots on the ground," USAF fighter pilot Capt. Frank Martin said.

Meanwhile, Capt. Ferdinand Jose of the PAF said these exercises enable the forces to simulate multiple threats, react effectively as a coalition, and prepare themselves for any possible contingency.

He added that "air power is critical in modern warfare, and these training exercises are vital in improving the forces' readiness and interoperability."

The original Cope Thunder Exercise was a multilateral Air Force event between the United States and its allied countries.

It was first held in 1976 and continued annually in the Philippines until its discontinuation after the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1990.

The multilateral exercise was then moved to Alaska and was dubbed "Red Flag Alaska."

Relatedly, in 2016, the Philippine-US Air Forces started its bilateral exercises in 2016, dubbed BACE-P or Bilateral Air Contingent Exercises-Philippines.

For this year, the BACE-P was named Cope Thunder 23-1, thus essentially reviving the Cope Thunder Exercises after more than three decades.

Army deactivates 3 grenades in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): Army deactivates 3 grenades in North Cotabato (By Edwin Fernandez)

DEACTIVATED. A military bomb expert examines the three rifle grenades left unattended by warring families in Midsayap, North Cotabato, recently. A resident of the conflict-affected Barangay Tugal in Midsayap led the soldiers to the location of the explosives on Tuesday (May 9, 2023). (Photo courtesy of 6ID)

MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato – Military troopers defused three live rifle grenades found unattended at a makeshift shelter in Barangay Tugal here, an official said Wednesday.

Lt. Colonel Rey Rico, the Army’s 34th Infantry Battalion commander, said soldiers serving as road security back up to the local police safely disarmed the explosives discovered by a villager on Tuesday afternoon.

“These could be owned by one of the two warring families who figured in a shooting war last week,” Rico said.

Police and military personnel were escorting a team of social workers conducting an assessment of displaced families in Barangay Tugal when a civilian approached and informed them about his discovery.

The villager guided the soldiers and bomb experts to the site where the grenades were located.

“Our bomb experts successfully deactivated the grenades,” Rico said.

Brig. Gen. Donald Gumiran, commander of the 602nd Infantry Brigade, said the displaced civilians have been temporarily staying at the village center.

He said the displaced families were from the sub-villages of Mapayag, Labo, and Basak where the warring parties clashed due to “rido” (family feud) over territorial disputes.

Barangay Tugal is among the 63 villages in North Cotabato that now form part of the Special Geographic Area in the province under the expanded Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

11 firearms seized in fresh Northern Samar clash

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): 11 firearms seized in fresh Northern Samar clash (By Sarwell Meniano)

REBEL-INFESTED. A portion of upland Magsaysay village in Mapanas, Northern Samar near the clash site. At least 11 assorted firearms were seized when soldiers clashed with New People’s Army combatants on the outskirts of Magsaysay village in Mapanas, Northern Samar early Wednesday (May 10, 2023). (Photo courtesy of Narcie Longcop Laodenio)

TACLOBAN CITY – At least 11 assorted firearms were seized when soldiers clashed with combatants of the New People’s Army (NPA) on the outskirts of Magsaysay village in Mapanas, Northern Samar early Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Richard Villaflor, executive officer of the Philippine Army’s 803rd Brigade, said in a phone interview that troopers saw heavy bloodstains at the encounter site, indicating that there were wounded or killed on the enemy side.

“It’s been their practice to carry their dead and bury them somewhere else to conceal the truth about their loss,” Villaflor told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

A soldier of the 74th Infantry Battalion was slightly injured during the 20-minute armed encounter with fighters of NPA front committee 15 that occurred at 5 a.m.

“The recovery of firearms is a big loss to the NPA’s armed struggle in Northern Samar. They left firearms since wounded fighters could not carry those guns anymore,” Villaflor said.

Recovered from the clash site were two 7.62mm M14s, two 7.62mm AK47s, four 5.56mm M16 rifles, an UZI submachine gun machine pistol, two cal. .45 pistols, and two bandoliers.

The clash site is a mountainous area of Magsaysay village that can be reached through a two-hour hike, according to Villaflor.

Soldiers have been patrolling the forest of Mapanas town acting on reports from villagers about the NPA’s extortion activities.

Only two NPA guerilla fronts in Samar Island remain in existence after the dismantling of one front and the weakening of another during the first quarter of the year.

The rebel’s Front Committee 2, operating in the boundary of Samar and Northern Samar, has been demolished after the capture and surrender of some of their combatants and the recovery of firearms.

The NPA Front Committee 3, which operates near the boundaries of Northern and Eastern Samar, has also weakened after the series of operations conducted by government forces.

The military said although Front Committees 1 and 15 are still active, they are not in control of any village in Northern Samar.

The two remaining fronts are hiding in the upland villages of Catubig, Las Navas, Silvino Lobos, Palapag, Mapanas, and Gamay towns.

DOLE gives P3.4-M livelihood aid to Apayao rebel returnees

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10, 2023): DOLE gives P3.4-M livelihood aid to Apayao rebel returnees (By Leilanie Adriano)

REBEL RETURNEES. Officials from the Department of Labor and Employment and the Apayao provincial government lead the awarding of livelihood assistance to members of the disadvantaged sector as well as former members of the New People's Army on Tuesday (May 9, 2023). The awarding ceremony was held at the EKB Memorial Sports Gymnasium in Luna, Apayao. (Photo courtesy of Jc Marquez-Apayao PIO)

LAOAG CITY — Twenty-five former members of the New People's Army (NPA) in the landlocked province of Apayao got a second chance at life with a provision of livelihood assistance from the government.

Jane Adalan, provincial director of the Department of Labor and Employment, on Wednesday said a total of PHP3.4 million worth of livelihood assistance was awarded to former rebels including various famers' associations, and persons with disabilities on May 9 to help them start their own business or continue an existing one.

“The checks and packages worth PHP3.4 million benefited 25 former rebels, seven PWDs, two solo parents, 18 regular individual beneficiaries, and four community associations,” she said in a media interview.

As part of the provincial government’s effort to promote peace and stability in the province, Gov. Elias Bulut Jr. said his administration continues to address insurgency problems through livelihood assistance to the needy.

“One of our 10-point agenda is to expand welfare services and part of it is to have a sustainable livelihood programs for the poor, disadvantaged, and vulnerable sectors,” he said in an earlier statement.

He added that all returning members of the NPA who are willing to reintegrate themselves into mainstream society are welcome and will receive PHP20,000 in financial assistance for reintegration plus a provision of small income-generating project of their choice.

“We continue to address the concerns of the people, particularly in the former stronghold of the NPA, where the issue of livelihood assistance has been the foremost concern,” Bulut said.

The awarding of cash assistance is part of the government's Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), which provides support to former rebels who have surrendered and are undergoing the process of reintegration.

Apayao used to be a stronghold of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in the 1980s and early 1990s, particularly in Marag Valley in Luna town where it used to be their campsite.

But with the government’s continuing peace advocacy and development intervention such as the building of road networks and various infrastructure projects, Marag is now a well-known eco-tourism site in the province, giving a steady source of income to various tourism stakeholders in the area.