Saturday, May 13, 2023

PAF concludes special training with USAF

From the Manila Times (May 14, 2023): PAF concludes special training with USAF (By Franco Jose C. Baroña)

THE first stage of Cope Thunder Philippines came to a close at Clark Air Base, in Pampanga with the promise of a "large force deployment" for its second phase to be held later this year.

During the training exercise from May 1 to 12, United States Air Force (USAF) Airmen and Philippine Air Force (PAF) personnel conducted bilateral fighter training operations.

Approximately 160 USAF Airmen flew, supported and maintained more than 12 aircraft from the 35th Fighter Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan during their operations.

During these flying operations, Allied forces had the opportunity to train side by side, increasing familiarity with each others' tactics and enhancing interoperability and lethality, all in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

"We're integrating with the PAF every day, both on the ground and in the air, and it has been an outstanding opportunity for both our forces to learn from each other," said US Air Force Lt. Col. David Dubel, 14th Fighter Squadron commander. "The PAF pilots are very much like us, they think like us, they're fighter pilots to the core, and they've been awesome to fly with."

The 14th Fighter Squadron flew F-16 Fighting Falcons while their PAF counterparts flew FA-50PHs and AS-211s for a total of 96 sorties and 127 flying hours during CT 23-1.

Alongside flying operations, SMEEs were conducted by the 736th Security Forces Squadron Airmen and their PAF counterparts at Basa Air Base, Philippines. They trained in weapons handling, close-quarters battle operations, combative, unmounted vehicle operations, and simulated attack scenarios.

2nd Lt. Nick Dinglasa, PAF security forces team lead, expressed his gratitude for the US Air Force members who have shared their expertise, especially with security and defense operations.

"I look forward to applying these methods with the rest of our team and strengthening the defense of this region with our Allies," Dinglasa said.

Prior to the closing of Cope Thunder, Defense Officer in Charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. received the chief of staff of the US Army, Gen. James McConville, to discuss the strong and enduring defense partnership between the Philippines and the United States.

Defense spokesman Director Arsenio Andolong said the meeting held last Wednesday highlighted the productive outcomes of high-level engagements between the two countries, such as the recent official visit of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to the US.

Andolong said Galvez welcomed the successful execution of the largest iteration of Exercise Balikatan, as well as the conduct of Exercise Salaknib, the annual Army-to-Army exercise geared at strengthening the interoperability between Filipino and American soldiers. He also recalled that both activities featured live-fire exercises and utilized capabilities such as the Javelin Anti-Tank Weapon System (JATWS) and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars).

Andolong said for his part, General McConville highlighted the importance of both armed forces working together and building long-lasting relationships. He mentioned that in the region, there is peace through strength, and strength comes from allies and friends working together.

"Both officials emphasized the strong people-to-people engagements between the Philippines and the US, recalling fond memories and shared experiences of junior officers participating in joint courses with the US Army and other prestigious multi-level International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs being provided by the US Armed Forces," he said.

McConville's call on Galvez is part of a series of high-level visits by US officials, which indicate the US government's desire to give importance to and strengthen the Philippine-US alliance, said Andolong.

Other US officials who have visited the Philippines during the current administration were Vice President Kamala Harris; Secretary of State Anthony Blinken; Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin; Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall 3rd; Admiral John Aquilino, US Indopacom commander; Admiral Michael Gilday, US chief of Navy Operations; Lindsey Ford, deputy assistant secretary for defense for South and Southeast Asia; and Mira Resnick, deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Political and Military Affairs, Department of State.

Traders see progress with new Lanao Sur town market

From the Philippine Star (May 13, 2023): Traders see progress with new Lanao Sur town market (By John Unson)

The Bangsamoro government's P25 million worth market building project in Amai Manabilang, Lanao del Sur. / John Unson

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Muslim merchants in Amai Manabilang, Lanao del Sur are certain of improvements in their trade ties with Christian counterparts in Bukidnon province in Region 10 once the P25 million worth market building project in their municipality gets done.

Many of the farmers in the hinterland Amai Manabilang town in the first district of Lanao del Sur in the Bangsamoro region are former guerillas of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, now producing potatoes, lettuce and other high-value short-term crops.

Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong, Jr. said Saturday they are grateful to the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for providing Amai Manabilang with a P25 million market building project.

“It is so necessary in invigorating the economy of the municipality, somehow stunted by security issues in decades past,” he said.

Amai Manabilang is not too distant from Butig, also in the first district of the province and hometown of the slain siblings Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, founders of the now virtually non-existent Maute terror group that government forces purged after its five-month siege of more than a dozen barangays in Marawi City in 2017.

Hakim Mansur, a Maranao vegetable dealer, said Saturday he and his partners have long wished for a good market building in the town proper of Amai Manabilang to whose occupants they can sell farm products from the cold hinterlands of the municipality.

“This market-building project is very important to us,” he said.

The project, bankrolled by the BARMM government, is being implemented jointly by the local government unit of Amai Manabilang and the office of Regional Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo.

The chairman of the MNLF, Muslimin Sema, who is current labor and employment minister of BARMM, said they have members in Amai Manabilang, also farmers, who are to benefit from the project too.

Arnel Cantomayor, a farmer in Kalilangan town in Bukidnon, who is propagating green and red bell peppers, onions and ginger as means of livelihood, said he will sell his harvests to Maranao vendors who are to operate stalls in the new Amai Manabilang public market building being built together by the MILG-BARMM and local officials.

“Maranao businessmen buy spices and herbs in bulk because Maranaos are known for their heavy use of such in their traditional recipes,” Cantomayor said.

Opinion: Optimistic about BARMM and its future directions

Opinion piece in the Manila Times (May 14, 2023): Optimistic about BARMM and its future directions (By Dr. Pilar “Lalay” Ramos Jimenez)

SOME colleagues and relatives have asked me recently about the progress of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) transition government. With a pessimistic tone, a friend also raised the following question: "Is it going to be another failed experiment like the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)?" My frequent replies to these queries are: The region is OK, it's moving forward, and I am optimistic that it will succeed in meeting its goals and agenda of establishing the necessary structures, legislation, policies and programs when its three-year extension period ends, in time to participate peacefully and democratically in the country's next national and local elections in May 2025. I have some evidence that supports my optimism.

A law (Republic Act 11593) was signed in October 2021 by then-president Rodrigo extending the term of Bangsamoro's transition government from June 2022 to May 2025. The extension was largely attributed to the unexpected deleterious effects of Covid-19 on all social institutions and on the people's mobility in the region, which resulted in the non-completion of many commitments and important legislations, especially the electoral code, which is crucial in holding the first election of parliament members in May 2022.

When you open the websites or Facebooks of the different BARMM ministries and agencies, you will find that they are now actively catching up to implement their plans and programs. In my April 30 column, for example, I wrote about the launching of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication's (MoTC) first roll on-roll off (RoRo) shipping route from Maguindanao to Basilan. This is part of the BARMM's transport network roadmap that was recently crafted by the MoTC in partnership with Mindanao Development Authority with technical support from USAid-Regulatory Reform Support Program for National Development (Respond). The Bangsamoro interim parliament has also approved important bills that were signed into law by the chief minister. I will focus my column on this regional body because of its critical role in guiding the BARMM's future direction.

The three-year extension of the Bangsamoro transition government brought some positive changes in the interim parliament's membership. Of the 80 members of parliament (MPs), 49 are re-appointees, while 31 are new. Forty-one appointees were recommended by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), while 39 were chosen by the national government. The MPs' selection was done carefully by the national government and the MILF. Work experience, competencies and potential contributions in achieving the parliament's goals in the next 33 months were the major criteria in choosing the MPs.

The current composition of the interim parliament includes the youth, middle-aged and senior leaders of the region's three major ethnicities, i.e., the Moro, non-Moro Indigenous people and migrant settlers. It comprises former MILF combatants and peace agreement negotiators, lawyers, doctors, economists, engineers, an architect, teachers, finance consultants, business people, current and former regional and local government officials, political analysts, leaders of religious groups, nongovernment organizations and youth organizations. Fifteen percent of the MPs are women of varying professions. Children of the leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front and the MILF are some of the young members of this government entity. I think their inclusion is a very good strategy to foster continuing peace, unity and progress in the region, especially for the present and future generations.

It is also heartening to learn that the interim parliament's speaker is obtaining assistance from young people, particularly from the Bangsamoro Transition Authority's Statutory Committees Support Service (SCSS), in supervising the body's 16 legislative committees. The SCSS is composed of 50 energetic and dedicated young and mid-level career professionals who want to make a difference in Bangsamoro.

From 2019 to March 2023, at least 35 (out of over a hundred bills) were approved by the MPs and signed into law by the chief minister. These include priority codes, creation of offices and their functions, appropriations, signs and symbols, and other areas. There are four priority codes, particularly the "Administrative Code" (Bangsamoro Autonomy Act or BAA 13), the "Civil Service Code" (BAA 17), the "Education Code" (BAA 18) and the much-awaited "Electoral Code" (BAA 29). I learned that during the visit of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Last year, Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim pledged that the Bangsamoro Electoral Code would be completed in the first quarter of 2023. The MPs were determined to finish the bill as promised.

It was reported that they eventually approved this bill two minutes before midnight on March 8, 2023. This was subsequently signed into a law the following day by the chief minister. It will be effective for implementation 15 days after the signing.

The 62-page Electoral Code is quite comprehensive because it covers the structural, functional and procedural principles in the election of the MPs, local and barangay (village) officials. It has 14 articles, which cover the: a) electoral office; b) the different bureaus; c) the parliament's electoral tribunal; d) political parties; e) elective positions in the parliament; f) election of the local and barangay officials; g) the electorate; h) election administration; i) election offenses; j) legal fees; k) transitory; and l) final provisions. I learned that 50 percent or 40 members of political parties will be elected by all the voters in the region to the parliament, while 40 percent or 32 individuals will be chosen by voters of designated districts; and 10 percent or eight will be sectoral members of accredited organizations of non-Moro Indigenous people, the youth, women and people with disability. They will be recommended by the MPs, and their appointments will be signed by the chief minister.

The transition government has two years of preparatory work to implement a peaceful and democratic election in May 2025. I think the Electoral Code provides a detailed framework to enable the BTA to carry out this task successfully.

At present, the MPs are reviewing 33 bills, which are "proposed Cabinet legislative agenda" or priority bills authored by the Government of the Day. There are also over 100 bills that are submitted by individuals of varying interests. These ongoing dynamic efforts at the interim parliament alongside many simultaneous activities at the various ministries and agencies are backing up my optimism that the transition government will successfully meet its commitments to the Bangsamoro people and the country. I am certain that there will be challenges along the way, but they will be able to address them with the support of their partners from the national and local government units, the development world and the constituency.

16 more BIFF men, Abu terrorist in BARMM surrender

From the Philippine Star (May 13, 2023): 16 more BIFF men, Abu terrorist in BARMM surrender (By John Unson)

The 16 followers of long wanted Kagui Karialan of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters turned in assorted firearms before they pledged allegiance to the government on Thursday in Mamasapano, Maguindanao del Sur. / John Unson

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Sixteen followers of a senior leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters wanted for 36 high-profile criminal cases in different courts surrendered to the military, a regional Army official said.

Major Gen. Alex Rillera, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division covering five provinces and four cities in central Mindanao, told reporters Saturday the 16 henchmen of BIFF leader Kagui Karialan yielded Thursday through the intercession of officials of the 6th Infantry Battalion and the 601st Infantry Brigade.

The 16 BIFF members turned in assault rifles and a 60 millimeter mortar before they signed a manifesto promising to respect the government during a surrender rite in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao del Sur in the Bangsamoro region, where they also sang the national anthem.

Rillera said the group agreed to surrender after having been assured by Army officials in Maguindanao del Sur that the more than 200 BIFF members who surrendered to units of 6th ID in batches in the past 12 months are now thriving peacefully in their respective hometowns as farmers through the efforts of different government agencies.

The 16 followers of Karialan turned themselves in to 6th IB's commander, Lt. Col. Michael Glenn Manansala, just a day after a ranking member of the Abu Sayyaf surrendered to Mayor Roderick Furigay in Lamitan City in Basilan.

Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza, director of the Police Regional Office-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, told reporters Saturday the Abu Sayyaf member turned in a .30 caliber M1 Garand rifle to Lamitan City Mayor Roderick Furigay before he renounced his membership with the group.

Nobleza declined to identify the Abu Sayyaf member for his safety owing to the group’s reputation for attacking members who have surrendered and their relatives.

In a report Friday to Nobleza’s office in Camp SK Pendatun in Parang town in Maguindanao del Norte, the surrenderer, a Yakan, was quoted by the Lamitan City Police Station as saying he decided to reform for good after realizing that their city government is serious in its programs meant to improve the lives of violent religious extremists who have pledged allegiance to the government.

“Local government units indeed play a very important role in ushering members of local terrorist groups back to mainstream society,” Nobleza said.

Nobleza said he admires how the office of Basilan Mayor Jim Salliman and his constituent-mayors are supporting the efforts of the Basilan Provincial Police Office and units of the military’s Western Mindanao Command to clear the island province from Abu Sayyaf presence.

Furigay said their feats in addressing religious extremism in Lamitan City were achieved with the help of Salliman and BARMM's Ministry of the Interior and Local Government under the lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, who is chairman of PRO-BAR's multi-sector Regional Advisory Group.

Hundreds flee homes, rebels’ firearms seized in Negros Occidental clash

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (May 13, 2023): Hundreds flee homes, rebels’ firearms seized in Negros Occidental clash

ENCOUNTER. Kabankalan City Mayor Benjie Miranda talks with the displaced residents who are staying in evacuation centers, mostly in Hilamonan Gymnasium. (Mayor Benjie Miranda FB)

AT LEAST 553 individuals have fled their homes while high-powered weapons have been recovered as fresh clashes took place between the Philippine Army's 94th Infantry Battalion (IB) and New People's Army (NPA) rebels in the hinterlands of Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental Thursday night, May 11.

In a statement on Friday, May 12, Brig. Gen. Orlando Edralin, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade (IBde), said the soldiers engaged about 15 fighters of Sentro De Grabidad Platoon (SDG) of Central Negros 2 after they were spotted asking for medicines for their comrades wounded during a clash last week in adjacent Barangay Hilamonan, Himamaylan City.

“Operating troops of 94IB were conducting combat operation in response to the information about the presence of armed men,” he added.

The firefight, which took place around 6 p.m. in Sitio Dangalon, Barangay Hilamonan, lasted for about 20 minutes.

According to the 303IBde report, the rebels were believed to have lost at least two of their comrades "based on heavy bloodstains found on the encounter site."

During the clearing operation, troops recovered an M16 rifle, an M4 rifle, two magazines for M16, 11 rounds of 5.56mm live ammunition, a bandolier, a backpack, and personal belongings.

“The capture of the high-powered firearms will surely reduce the capacity and weaken the capability of the communist-terrorists to stage terroristic activities in Negros Occidental," Edralin said.

Lt. Col. Van Donald Almonte, commander of 94IB, acknowledged the locals for providing information and village officials for their vigilance and cooperation.

On Thursday night, Mayor Benjie Miranda posted on his Facebook page his visit to the families staying at Barangay Hilamonan gymnasium while on Friday, he also showed a live video of residents leaving their homes under his supervision.

Data from the Philippine Army as of Friday noon showed there are 15 individuals from three families staying at the Barangay Hall of Buenavista; 136 individuals from 24 families, Paloypoy Integrated School; 170 individuals from 34 families, Paloypoy Church; and 232 individuals from 61 families, Barangay Hilamonan Gymnasium.

Palawan’s PTF ELCAC holds 2nd Qtr meeting to strengthen efforts for peace and development

 From Palawan News (May 13, 2023): Palawan’s PTF ELCAC holds 2nd Qtr meeting to strengthen efforts for peace and development

PTF ELCAC Governor Victorino Dennis Socrates (2nd from left) and newly-appointed co-chair Niño Rey Estoya (1st from left) during the meeting. | Photo courtesy of the Palawan Provincial Information Office

The Provincial Task Force Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF ELCAC) held its 2nd quarter meeting Friday on updates from its 12 clusters and the upcoming third Serbisyo Caravan in the town of San Vicente.

PTF ELCAC chair Governor Victorino Dennis Socrates was assisted in presiding over the meeting by newly-appointed co-chair Niño Rey Estoya, the acting executive director of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

During the meeting, the strengthening of organizations and groups established under the PTF ELCAC was also discussed, including the Kapatiran ng mga Dating Rebelde sa Palawan (KADRE), PIGLAS-Palawan, Lakambini, Kapit-Bisig, and Peace Palawan.

Regular meetings of the task force have been crucial in intensifying the implementation of services in barangays under the Barangay Development Programs (BDP), as mandated by the National Task Force ELCAC.

Governor Socrates emphasized the importance of the task force’s efforts in ending the local communist armed conflict and bringing peace and development to the communities in Palawan. He also thanked the members for their dedication and hard work in carrying out the mandate of the task force.

The PTF-ELCAC was created in 2019 as a multi-sectoral body that aims to end the communist insurgency in Palawan by addressing its root causes through the provision of basic services and the promotion of socio-economic development.

The task force is composed of various government agencies, local government units, civil society organizations, and the private sector.

WESCOM honors soldiers deployed in WPS with KIG campaign medal and ribbon

From Palawan News (May 13, 2023): WESCOM honors soldiers deployed in WPS with KIG campaign medal and ribbon (By Gerald Ticke)

Western Command (WESCOM) commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos conferred the Award of the Kalayaan Island Group Campaign Medal and Ribbon to 37 military personnel who served the country’s farthest territories in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The award is a recognition given to soldiers who have shown exceptional bravery, dedication, and commitment in safeguarding and preserving the country’s territorial integrity in the WPS, WESCOM said on Friday.

The soldiers were deployed to different island detachments in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is an integral part of the Philippine territory but is located in the disputed territory.

During the ceremony, Carlos commended the soldiers for their unwavering loyalty and devotion to duty. He acknowledged the challenges that they faced in their deployment and expressed his gratitude for their selflessness and bravery.

The ceremony is regularly conducted as a tribute to all the troops who are regularly deployed in the WPS and the different island detachments in the KIG.