Friday, May 26, 2023

AFP recalibrates focus to external defense – Marcos

From CNN Philippines (May 26, 2023): AFP recalibrates focus to external defense – Marcos (By Jelo Ritzhie Mantaring, CNN Philippines)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 26) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is recalibrating its focus towards external defense, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also saying that the country is developing anti-submarine capabilities.

"Considering the changing tides of our national security, and the significant gains that we have made in terms of internal security, our armed forces is working to recalibrate its focus more towards external defense of our borders," he said in his speech at the 125th anniversary of the Philippine Navy on Friday.

"In this crucial transition, full support for the armed forces must be guaranteed, especially for the Philippine Navy's priority goals of enhancing its intelligence, defense, and coordinative capability," he said.

In a chance interview, the president also told reporters that the country has a plan to acquire a submarine but he noted that it is a "very large" commitment as it involves training, equipment, and "quite significant" operational requirements.

"It is still part of our plan, but right now we are in the middle of developing mostly our anti-submarine capabilities," Marcos said. "'Yun ang uunahin natin [That's what we are prioritizing], and then hopefully when the time comes, then we might be able to acquire those submarines."

On May 19, the navy conducted a live demonstration of its new combat equipment off the coast of San Antonio, Zambales, with Marcos, the commander-in-chief, in attendance.

Among those featured was the AW159 anti-submarine warfare naval helicopter which launched its Compact-FLASH dipping sonar and the BlueShark torpedo to "detect, locate, and neutralize stealthy sub-surface threat."

During the anniversary event, two vessels were also commissioned which Marcos said would be used for defense from external forces, primarily to patrol the West Philippine Sea (WPS), as well as for civil defense to help during disaster response.

He also mentioned to reporters that Balikatan exercises with the United States troops in April and the joint drills with Australian forces which will last until June are meant to keep the navy at par with Asian neighbors.

"Of course, center of all of that is going to be in the navy dahil archipelago tayo at ang binabantayan natin ay ang mga isla natin [because we are an archipelago and what we monitor are our islands]," he said.

PH Navy as peaceful emissary

During his speech, Marcos said navy personnel also serve as peaceful emissaries as the country pursues its national interest in light of global engagement.

"The seas that stretched before us are not to be seen as boundaries that divide our nations, but they must be seen as channels for mutually beneficial exchanges and collaboration," the chief executive said.

"Our navy serves not only as valiant guardians of our seas and shores but peaceful emissaries as well, highly disciplined and experienced in international engagement," he added. "It adheres to codes of conduct such as UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), and the recently approved ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) guidelines of maritime interaction."

"In this line, it plays a significant role in our collective effort to nurture friendly international relations by fostering mutual trust and confidence, freedom of navigation and overflight, and of course safety of our seas," he said.

Recently, the Philippine Coast Guard installed another five sovereign markers in "critical areas" in the West Philippine Sea amid "aggressive tactics" by China in the disputed waters, which the Department of Foreign Affairs said is a daily occurrence.

RELATED: US urges China to 'desist from provocative, unsafe conduct' in SCS

The country is also finding itself in a crucial position with its neutral and independent foreign policy as tensions rise between the US and China over Taiwan's independence.

RELATED: What's at stake for PH in US-China tensions over Taiwan

Head teacher killed in Pikit ambush; another teacher injured

From MindaNews (May 26, 2023): Head teacher killed in Pikit ambush; another teacher injured (By FERDINANDH B. CABRERA)

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 26 May) — A head teacher was killed while his co-teacher who was driving the motorcycle they were riding was rushed to the hospital after gunmen fired at them at around 11:30 a.m. while they were passing in front of the Manaulanan Elementary School in Pikit, North Cotabato.

Police identified the victim as Joel Reformado, 36, head teacher of Damalasak Elementary School and a resident of Poblacion Pikit. He suffered several gunshot wounds in the different parts of his body.

Elton John Lapinid, 37, a teacher of the Mapagkaya Elementary School, who was driving the motorcycle, was rushed in a downtown hospital for surgery. He also suffered several gunshot wounds.

“They were busy organizing for a peace camp that will be held tomorrow but what they got in return was violence,” said a cousin of one of the victims who asked not to be named, citing security reasons.


Municipality of PIkit, Cotabato Province. Map courtesy of Google

According to Lt. Col. John Calinga, Chief of Police of Pikit town, when Reformado and Lapinid were passing in front of Manaulanan Elementary School from Barangay Silik going to the Poblacion, “two armed suspects suddenly appeared and opened fire.”

Joint police and army troops are conducting follow-up operations and investigation.

In Feburary, two students aged 13 and 15, were among the victims of gun attacks outside the school perimeter in Pikit.

The killings caught the attention of Unicef and Vice-President Sara Duterte, concurrent Secretary of Education, who visited Pikit Central Elemenrary School and Pikit National High School on February 27 to allay the fears of students, their parents and teachers.

The incident brought fear among the students and local school officials there reported to Duterte that it resulted in 65 percent drop our rate.

Duterte then instructed local authorities to implement the Alternative Delivery Mode (ADM) or remote learning instructions for children still afraid to go to school. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)

Police say extortionists tried to bomb bus terminal in Cotabato

From Rappler (May 26, 2023): Police say extortionists tried to bomb bus terminal in Cotabato (By ROMMEL REBOLLIDO)

The police say an anonymous caller threatened to send a bus company a 'present' before the foiled bombing

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Police investigators said a group of extortionists was behind a foiled bomb attempt at a privately owned bus terminal and garage ahead of the opening of the 4th Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Athletic Association Meet in Cotabato City on Thursday, May 25.

Authorities cited a threat received by the management of the public transport company Husky Bus before the crude bombs were found in the terminal.

According to the police, the threat was made by an anonymous caller who said, “May regalo kami sa inyo, antayin niyo lang (We have a present for you, just wait for it).”

Major John Vincent Bravo, the chief of the Cotabato City Police Station 2, said a bomb disposal team found the explosives in packages and then detonated them in a safe area.

The election will decide not only who leads Turkey but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed, and the shape of its foreign policy

It was the bus company’s security personnel who first spotted the packages at around 3 am in the facility, and called for police help. The garage is easily accessible because it also serves as a bus terminal along the highway in the Malagapas area.

Bravo said that one of the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had flash powder placed inside a plastic container that was attached to a nine-volt battery.

He said it also contained a blasting cap, metal shards, and a cellular phone as a triggering device.

Police said the other two explosives were made of rocket-propelled grenade projectiles wrapped in a black eco-bag that was connected to another nine-volt battery, a blasting cap, and a cellphone as a triggering device.

Cotabato City police chief Colonel Querubin Manalang said CCTV footage showed two still unidentified men leaving the packages.

Manalang said the police were currently enhancing the images in hopes of identifying the two suspects.

He said the IEDs would have caused extensive damage based on the components used by the suspects.

The incident happened shortly hours before the start of the regional BARMMAA competitions being participated in by hundreds of campus athletes, their coaches, and school officials all over the special Muslim-majority region.

Initially, police speculated that the crude bombs were merely intended to scare people ahead of the regional games.

Husky Bus previously had one of its buses bombed in Isulan town, Sultan Kudarat, in April, resulting in injuries to several passengers, including children traveling from Cotabato City to General Santos City.

The military attributed the Isulan bombing to the Dawlah Islamiyah, a militant group allegedly involved in extortion, specifically targeting bus companies to finance its extremist causes.

Suspected military informant gunned down

Posted to the Daily Guardian (May 27, 2023): Suspected military informant gunned down (By Glazyl Y. Masculino)

Police respond to a hospital where a farmer, believed to be a military informant, was gunned down by two suspected NPA rebels in Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office)

BACOLOD City – Police are verifying information if a farmer, who was shot dead by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) members at Sitio Colihao, Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental last Thursday, was an informant of the government forces.

The victim was identified as Raul Enmacino, 49, of the said village.

Lieutenant Colonel Reynante Jomocan Jr., city police chief, said Enmacino was at the rice field near his house when he was approached by two unidentified armed persons.

They had a brief conversation, after which, gunshots were then heard, according to some witnesses.

The victim suffered gunshot wounds in the head and chest, according to the police. He was declared dead in a hospital.

Enmacino’s wife turned over to the police a cartridge of 5.56mm caliber ammunition.

Jomocan said the victim reportedly accommodated an NPA couple before they were killed in a clash with military troopers in the said village in April 2022.

The victim was also being suspected as an informant or asset of the military, but Jomocan said that such is subject to confirmation.

Winning without fighting? Why China is exploring 'cognitive warfare.'

Interesting article posted to The Japan Times (May 26, 2023): Winning without fighting? Why China is exploring 'cognitive warfare.' (By GABRIEL DOMINGUEZ)

Visitors stand in front of a giant screen displaying Chinese leader Xi Jinping next to a flag of the Communist Party of China, at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in Beijing last October. | REUTERS

With the U.S. and its allies rapidly bolstering military capabilities around Taiwan, a successful Chinese invasion, let alone an occupation, of the self-ruled island is becoming an increasingly difficult proposition.

But with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) increasingly focused on “intelligent warfare” — a reference to artificial intelligence-enabled military systems and operational concepts — experts warn that Beijing could eventually have a new card up its sleeve: “cognitive warfare.”

The term refers to operations based on techniques and technologies such as AI aimed at influencing the minds of one’s adversaries and shaping their decisions, thereby creating a strategically favorable environment or subduing them without a fight.

“The PLA has not stated how it intends to use AI to control human cognition,” said Koichiro Takagi, an expert in military information technology and fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute think tank.

“But there is an active debate in China about cognitive warfare and how its development would have great appeal to Chinese policymakers, particularly in helping bring about victory in Taiwan without using conventional weapons,” he said.

Just how important AI has become for China’s national security and military ambitions was highlighted by President Xi Jinping during a rare Communist Party congress last October, where he emphasized Beijing’s commitment to the development of AI and other cutting-edge technologies. Not only does China plan to become the world’s leading AI power by 2030, Beijing has also turned to a military-civil fusion strategy to achieve this.

Both the U.S. and Chinese militaries are working toward integrating AI into three common areas: information processing, unmanned weapons and decision-making. However, Beijing is taking the technology one step further by exploring its use in cognitive warfare, which some Chinese military experts say will likely become the next most important battlefield after the physical and information space.

A journalist documents a screen displaying a digital sign-language system run by an artificial intelligence system, during a media tour to the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence in Beijing in February last year. | REUTERS

According to an article published last August in the PLA Daily newspaper, cognitive warfare has become “an important tool in the game of great powers” as all parties strive to achieve political goals in a “relatively controlled manner.”

The article goes on to say that it is therefore not only “urgent” but also of “practical significance” for the PLA to gain insight into the characteristics and development of cognitive operations in order to “win future wars.”

This means the PLA is actively looking at cognitive operations as a new warfare domain, alongside land, maritime, air, cyber and spatial.

“This puts AI to a very different use than most American and allied discussions have envisioned,” Takagi said, referring to how China could try and influence the thinking of decision-makers, military commanders and the general public in rival countries.

For instance, Beijing could use social media and other means to spread disinformation, including via deep fakes, and manipulate public opinion in Taiwan. It could also try to discredit U.S. efforts to support Taiwan, Takagi added.

For this to happen, China would not only need to develop the necessary cyber, psychological and social engineering capabilities but also amass a great deal of detailed personal information.

This is precisely what Washington has long accused Beijing of doing.

Takagi, who has studied AI and data mining, says China has already collected a massive amount of data on government officials and ordinary U.S. citizens, ensuring a foundation for influencing people’s perceptions.

One way of doing this has been through cyberattacks.

In 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the agency that manages the government’s civilian workforce, discovered that some of its personnel files had been hacked, including millions of forms containing personal information gathered in background checks for people seeking government security clearances, along with records of millions of people’s fingerprints. While no definitive evidence on the origin of the perpetrators was found, the consensus is that the hack was the work of attackers working for the Chinese government.

This was no isolated incident. Five years later, the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against what it described as four Chinese “military-backed hackers” in connection with a 2017 cyberattack against Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency. The intrusion led to the largest known theft of personally identifiable information ever carried out by state-sponsored actors.

Takagi fears that such data could be “weaponized in the future.”

Indeed, Beijing appears to have already resorted to cognitive operations, Takagi said.

“These activities are particularly aggressive and coercive in Taiwan and Hong Kong, which the Chinese government considers its territory,” he said, noting that attempts to use digital means to influence elections were also seen in Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election.

China’s People’s Liberation Army is increasingly focused on “intelligent warfare” — a reference to artificial intelligence-enabled military systems and operational concepts — that experts say could eventually help Beijing attain dominance over a new military front: cognitive warfare. | GETTY IMAGES

Meanwhile, the Chinese military seems to also be focusing on using AI to directly influence the state of mind of its own troops, with the PLA Daily also reporting last August that the force is working on wearable technology and a “psychological support system” to better prepare its own soldiers for real combat situations.

Soldiers in a growing number of units are being given smart sensor bracelets that can “continuously record the facial information of officers and soldiers, judge their psychological state in real time through data feedback, and archive them,” the paper reported.

The device is part of a system designed to examine and address a variety of wartime psychological problems officers and soldiers could face in combat.

The PLA regards the mental state of its soldiers as a key element in winning a conflict. “War is not only a material contest, but also a spiritual contest,” the PLA Daily said in a separate article in December.

“People are always the decisive factor in the outcome of a war, and the effective functioning of people depends on the support of a good psychological situation and stable psychological quality,” according to the article.

Nevertheless, the jury is still out on whether these new tools and technologies will ultimately be as effective as PLA experts hope.

Takagi says some of the analyses on the PLA’s use of AI and autonomous systems suggest Chinese theorists have overlooked the inherent vulnerabilities of these technologies — such as algorithmic bias due to poor quality data — and placed too much emphasis on their capabilities.

“The feasibility remains unknown and may have been overestimated out of political necessity,” he said. This may be the result of pressure exerted on the PLA by China’s leaders to come up with new ideas to unify the Chinese mainland with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province.

Nevertheless, Washington doesn’t want to take any chances, which is why it has imposed restrictions on the sale of advanced chips for AI and supercomputing to China

“Given that the focus of China’s military buildup is artificial intelligence, these restrictions will be highly effective, as it will be extremely difficult for China to replicate the high-end semiconductors developed in both the U.S and its partner countries in the short term,” Takagi said.

In the long term, however, China could develop its own technology and supply chains, he added.

Regardless of whether China’s “intelligent warfare” succeeds or not, it is important to pay attention to the cognitive domain in warfare, Takagi said.

“While the idea of directly influencing the human mind is not new, it may become increasingly feasible thanks to the advances in AI technology.”

Group sounds alarm on disappearance of activists since start of Marcos-Duterte admin

From the Philippine Star (May 26, 2023): Group sounds alarm on disappearance of activists since start of Marcos-Duterte admin (By Cristina Chi)

This photo shows indigenous peoples rights defender Gene Roz Jamil De Jesus.
Facebook / Anakbayan UC

MANILA, Philippines — An ecumenical youth group has sounded the alarm on the apparent string of disappearances of rights activists under the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., saying that several of those who suffered “utterly disturbing and horrifying” abductions were tortured or killed.

Expressing its “deep concern and disturbance over abductions and disappearances since the start of the Marcos-Duterte administration,” the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) cited two more fresh incidents of student leaders going missing in Cagayan this week.

Cebu activists say readying legal action over abduction at city pier
IP rights defender, companion go missing

Based on an alert by rights group Karapatan Cagayan Valley, peasant and youth organizers Cedric Casaño and Patricia Cierva were “captured alive” by the 501st IB on May 18 in Gonzaga, Cagayan. Cierva was previously a student at the University of the Philippines Manila.

This comes less than a month after indigenous peoples' rights defenders Gene Roz Jamil De Jesus and Dexter Capuyan were reported missing.

RELATED: IP rights defender, companion go missing

The youth group has monitored at least 21 cases of alleged abductions of activists and organizers by military personnel since Marcos assumed the presidency, all of whom “suffered different fates,” SCMP Spokesperson Kej Andres said.

The youth group named the following:

Ma. Elena Pampoza, Elgene Mungcal (July 3);
Stephen Tauli (August 20);
Cherilyn Rebita, Jackilyn Egtob (August 26);
Aurily Havana, Jennifer Binungkasan (November 3);
Dyan Gumanao, Armand Dayoha (January 10);
Ariel Badiang (February 6);
Leonardo Sermona, Jr. (March 16);
Rogelio Posadas, “Ka Mikmik”, Renel delos Santos, Denald Mailen (April 19);
Mary Joyce Lizada, Arnulfo Aumentado (April 24);
Gene Roz “Bazoo” de Jesus, Dexter Capuyan (April 28);
Patricia Cierva, Cedrick Casaño (May 18)

“Tauli was found a day after. NDFP Consultant Posadas and his companion “Ka Mikmik” were killed. Rebita and Egtob were NPA members who suffered torture, including holding hostage Rebita’s infant daughter—violations of International Humanitarian Law,” Andres said.

“Many of those in the list remain missing.”

On May 4, the Cagayan Provincial Information Office posted on Facebook information from the 501st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army indicating that an unidentified female student from a "prestigious university" was killed in an alleged attack by military personnel on members of the New People’s Army.

Rights workers abducted

Gumanao and Dayoha, who reunited with their families ten days after their capture by state forces, have since taken their case to international bodies in a bid to get them to recommend actions that would pressure the Philippine government to better protect rights workers.

Their apparent abduction was captured on video and posted online a day after. The footage showed them being forced by armed personnel into a vehicle.

“State forces are absolutely callous and thick-skinned even after they have been proven and pointed at as those responsible for disappearances and killings, especially after the spread of the video of Gumanao and Dayoha’s abduction. Reminiscent of Marcos, Sr.’s martial law, the string of abductions and disappearances are utterly disturbing and horrifying,” Andres said.

Andres has called on authorities to surface Cierva, Casaño and other activists who remain missing.

“May we remind the Marcos-Duterte administration, the police, and military, that the law forbids involuntary disappearances. Moreover, activism is not a crime and even combatants are assured of humane treatment under International Humanitarian Law,” Andres said.

The administration of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the president's father, was marked by a number of human rights abuses with an estimated 3,257 known extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, 77 'disappeared', and 70,000 incarcerations, according to Amnesty International, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, and similar human rights monitoring entities.
[Retired Analyst Note: The Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) is a Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) front group operating in the student sector. The group is a member of the main CPP multisectoral umbrella front organization the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-New Patriotic Alliance). One of the main functions of these front groups is to undermine and discredit the Philippine government and military often using a steady stream of anti-government propaganda and disinformation. While there may be some aspects of the article that are true, it is often difficult to differentiate what is true from what is just plain lies and disinformation.]

25 former NPA in Misamis receive P1.6-M E-CLIP aid

From the Manila Bulletin (May 26, 2023): 25 former NPA in Misamis receive P1.6-M E-CLIP aid (By MIKE CRISMUNDO)

BUTUAN CITY – Twenty-five former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels received cash assistance under the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) totaling P1.6 million after completing a 10-day deradicalization program in Misamis Oriental on Wednesday, May 24.

TWENTY-FIVE former 25 New People’s Army received government assistance after they completed a deradicalization program at the Halfway House, Misamis Oriental Police Provincial Office, San Martin, Villanueva, Misamis Oriental on Wednesday, May 24. (Photo via Mike U. Crismundo)

The closing program and awarding of assistance was held at the Halfway House, Misamis Oriental Police Provincial Office, San Martin, Villanueva, Misamis Oriental

Misamis Oriental Gov. Peter Unabia was the guest honor and speaker and led the awarding and check distribution.

Each recipient received P65,000 consisting of P50,000 livelihood assistance, P15,000 immediate cash assistance, and P5,000 financial assistance from the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) as additional support for their reintegration process.

“As you have seen, there is actually a government that is ready to help you,” Unabia said.

“There are a lot of programs in the government you can avail of that could help you earn additional income. And we hope that you will utilize wisely the financial assistance given to you in order to establish a new life with your family,” the provincial chief executive said, adding: “The government is genuine to help you address your issues and concerns.”

“The collaborative efforts of the different line agencies, including the military and police, play a vital role in the success of the program. You must educate the children that the military and police are not the enemy but our partners in peace-building,” he said.

The deradicalization program formally opened on Monday, May 15, and was graced by Department of Interior and Local Government-Misamis Oriental Director Marisia C. Naybe, Misamis Oriental police chief Police Col. Gonzalo C. Villamor, and Lt. Col. Christian C. Uy, commanding officer of the 58th Infantry Battalion (IB).

The program consists of psychosocial activities such as knowing-the-self and community workshops to include community immersion and team-building in order to assist them in social transformation and inclusive development.

Included in their training were seminars on financial literacy and binangkal and taro chip-making facilitated by the Department of Trade and Industry and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, respectively.

This inter-agency program aims to redirect the rebel returnees’ outlook in life and allow them to live normal lives in their communities in Northern Mindanao.

2 barangays in Negros declare NPA persona non grata

From the Manila Bulletin (May 26, 2023): 2 barangays in Negros declare NPA persona non grata (By GLAZYL MASCULINO)

BACOLOD CITY – The New People’s Army was declared persona non grata by residents of two barangays in Vallehermoso, Negros Oriental on Wednesday, May 24.

RESIDENTS of Barangays Don E. Villegas and Malangsa in Vallehermoso, Negros Oriental, sign resolutions declaring the New People’s Army (NPA) persona non-grata during a dialogue with authorities at the Multi-Purpose Building in Barangay Don E. Villegas on Wednesday, May 24. (Photo courtesy of 62nd IB)

People of Barangays Don E. Villegas and Malangsa signed resolutions declaring them persona non grata and strongly condemning their atrocities during a dialogue with authorities at the Multi-Purpose Building in Barangay Don E. Villegas on Wednesday, May 24.

According to the Army, this declaration is a result of the joint efforts of the Vallehermoso Municipal Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (MTF-ELCAC) through the immersion of the Community Support Program (CSP) team of the Army 62nd Infantry Battalion (IB) in the two barangays.

The Army said that the CSP team enlightened the people about the activities of the NPA such as extortion, illegal recruitment of minors and farmers, and human rights violations.

The team also identified and addressed the issues that are being used by the NPA as propaganda against the government.

Residents took an oath of allegiance to the government, and vowed to do their part in putting an end to the insurgency problem in central Negros, according to the Army.

The Army said that the Vallehermoso MTF-ELCAC aims to link barangay and municipal levels of government to regional agencies in order to harmonize peace, development, and security efforts, and consequently, formulate solutions to resolve the nation’s decades-long insurgency problem.

Communists Crumbling in the Philippines

Posted to the Asia Sentinel (May 26, 2023): Communists Crumbling in the Philippines (By: Michael Hart)

Philippines’ Maoist rebels in decline but remain a threat in Eastern Mindanao and the Visayas

“The greatest stumbling block to peace for the Philippines is gone.” That was the reaction of the Philippine government in December after the death of New People’s Army (NPA) leader Jose Maria Sison, aged 83, in exile in the Netherlands. Sison had led the Maoist rebel movement—which has waged war against Manila’s forces across the archipelagic nation since 1969—since its beginnings, having founded the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) a year earlier. The NPA, as the CPP’s armed wing, has battled since then to replace the government with a socialist one-party state.

At its peak during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in the 1980s, the NPA could count on 25,000 fighters and regularly ambushed government troops and police officers on patrol in the countryside. For decades, the NPA has exerted control over rural communities through intimidation, threats of violent retribution for opponents, and the collection of so-called “revolutionary taxes.”

Yet according to the Philippine military, the NPA’s days are numbered. Just before Sison’s passing, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported that only 24 of 89 guerilla fronts remained active nationwide, with the group’s strength having reduced from 4,000 rebels in recent years to 2,112. It is estimated that just 1,800 firearms remain in its arsenal. And now, with no figurehead having emerged to replace Sison, the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has the NPA in its sights, four decades after his father’s failed quest to end the insurgency under martial law.

Leadership vacuum

The leadership void at the top of the NPA is stark. Sison’s most obvious successors—Benito and Wilma Tiamzon—were recently confirmed by the CPP to have died last year in a disputed clash with the military in Catbalogan on the island of Samar, 750 km south of Manila. Benito, 71, had served as chair of the CPP’s executive committee while his wife Wilma, 70, was secretary-general. Both had been allies of Sison since their days as youth activists in the 1960s. His only other potential successor, Luis Jalandoni, is 87 and has lived in exile for years. It appears there is no one with the stature of Sison to inspire the next generation.

The military has been keen to draw attention to the NPA’s struggles. The Armed Forces chief in the Visayas, covering the Philippines’ central belt of provinces, Maj.-Gen. Benedict Arevalo, has said the NPA is “drastically degraded” in the region. In the eastern Visayas, the NPA is leaderless after losing four key commanders over the past year, and the AFP claims “no one is giving [the rebels] instructions.” According to the AFP, only two NPA fronts remain in the region, with around 200 fighters each. Most are thought to be hiding out in the mountains of Samar and largely refrain from attacking soldiers for fear it will expose their positions. Earlier this month, Arevalo said the remaining rebels in the eastern Visayas were “tired due to constant movement [between camps] and have no safe place to hide.”

In the western Visayas, the AFP claims NPA rebels are increasingly demoralized and have “no clear operational direction” after their commander Rogelio Posadas—responsible for operations in Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor, and Negros Island—was killed in an encounter with government soldiers. Troops have taken control of many remote villages previously under NPA influence, stymying rebel recruitment.

NPA nearing defeat?

In the NPA stronghold of eastern Mindanao, the trajectory is similar. Its most senior commander in the region, Menandro Villanueva, was killed by troops in Davao de Oro last year. The AFP says there are now just four active rebel fronts left in the region, down from 32 in 2017, when the AFP stepped up its campaign after peace talks with the CPP faltered under former president Rodrigo Duterte. The NPA’s losses have led his successor Marcos to declare that “half-a-century’s fight with insurgents is coming to an end.” The National Security Council (NSC) declared “strategic victory” over the NPA in April, and said it foresees the AFP securing “total victory” against the rebels within two years.

The government credits the degrading of the NPA not only to AFP offensives, but also to the creation of a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in 2018. This body has engaged NPA commanders at the local level, and encouraged insurgents to lay down their arms in return for livelihood support under the Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP). It has also directed development funds to rebel-influenced villages to blunt its rural support base.

The NTF-ELCAC was established by Duterte after he ended national-level negotiations with the CPP leadership. Marcos has rejected resuming talks and persisted with Duterte’s strategy. Arguably, after Sison’s death and the demise of the Tiamzons, there is now nobody left to negotiate with. Manila hopes the symbolic blow of Sison’s death, and the resulting hit to morale, will lead more NPA rebels to surrender. There is controversy over exactly how many have surrendered to date—with the task force accused of listing NPA supporters and the family members of ex-rebels as former combatants.

Isolated strongholds

The CPP has acknowledged suffering setbacks but denies the extent of losses from its ranks. It also rejects claims by the AFP that few rebel fronts remain active. Is the NPA really on the brink of defeat after Sison’s death, as the AFP claims? Looking at rebel activity in 2023 indicates that it is struggling.

From January 1 to May 23, the NPA has been active in 29 provinces, with at least 70 armed clashes and violent incidents involving the group. This indicates a rebel presence across wide swaths of the NPA’s historical areas of operation, from northern Luzon to Mindanao. The NPA is, however, firmly on the retreat, with proactive roadside ambushes and bombings an increasingly rare occurrence. This is borne out by the casualty figures from clashes so far this year, with 68 NPA rebels killed compared to just six AFP troops.* Most clashes were initiated by government soldiers, either while encountering rebels on routine patrol or during targeted intelligence-based operations.

NPA activity has remained prevalent in Eastern Mindanao, Samar, Masbate, and Negros Island, indicating that the group is still holding out in some of its traditional strongholds. Yet even in these areas, the rebels’ influence over residents has significantly reduced as the NPA lacks the capacity it once had to coerce entire rural communities into compliance. Arson attacks on firms that refuse to bow to extortion demands, and raids on businesses to steal weapons from private security guards, are becoming much less frequent, limiting the rebels’ ability to sustain and finance their campaign.

Rebel amnesty?

With the NPA in decline, the government may yet bolster AFP offensives and the efforts of the NTF-ELCAC with an amnesty law, aiming to persuade remaining rebels to surrender without the threat of facing court over already-filed criminal charges. The NTF-ELCAC has recommended the amnesty to President Marcos, while AFP chief Gen. Andres Centino has said the military would support it. If such a law is enacted, as was the case for a smaller, now-defunct Maoist rebel group, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), the NPA will struggle to hold on to its fighters.

The CPP maintains that rank-and-file NPA members will not defect, retorting that any amnesty offer would be “rejected by revolutionaries who are whole-heartedly committed to serving the oppressed and exploited masses.” If that is true, the CPP must hope this ideology, which has sustained its five-decade insurgency in the Philippine countryside, does not perish with its founder Jose Maria Sison.

*Data on areas of NPA activity, violent events, and casualties in 2023 is from this author’s monitoring of incident reports.

[Michael Hart has researched for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), and is publications consultant at the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. He blogs at Asia Conflict Watch.]

2 suspected Eastern Visayas NPA leaders caught in Bulacan

From Rappler (May 26, 2023): 2 suspected Eastern Visayas NPA leaders caught in Bulacan (By JAZMIN BONIFACIO)

The military alleges that one of the arrested suspects serves in the CPP-NPA-NDF's finance group, while another is a demolition expert

TACLOBAN, Philippines – A team of soldiers and policemen caught suspected high-ranking leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army’s (CPP-NPA) Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, on Friday, May 26.

Captain Jefferson Mariano, spokesperson of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division in Catbalogan, Samar, identified one of the two arrested suspects as Rosita Solayao Taboy, also known as Laling.

Mariano identified the other suspect only as “Beto,” Taboy’s husband. A police mugshot, however, showed that the suspect is Antonio Pondang Legaspi.

Mariano said Taboy is the former secretary of the Regional Organizational Department (ROD) and a member of the Executive Committee (EXECOM) of the CPP-NPA’s Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee (EVRPC).

She has been serving as a staff member of the National Democratic Front’s finance commission, according to Mariano.

Legaspi, meanwhile, is believed to be a demolition expert of the CPP-NPA-NDF’s National Operations Command.

Authorities said they found a caliber .45 pistol, a caliber .38 revolver, a bomb, blasting caps, assorted cellphones, a laptop, and subversive documents when they searched the couple’s San Jose del Monte house.

The military said the suspects have pending multiple criminal cases and have a standing warrant of arrest for multiple murder issued by the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Basey, Samar on October 8, 1990.

They were also ordered arrested for a multiple frustrated murder case in Paranas, Samar in 1995, and for a similar case in Laoang, Northern Samar.

Mariano said the couple was allegedly responsible for numerous crimes committed in the Eastern Visayas region, including the burning of a Smart Communications tower in Catbalogan City, Samar on January 6, 2000; the assassination of militiaman Danilo Nuguit on September 27, 2006; and an ambush that killed 10 soldiers and a nine-year-old child on December 14, 2010.

The suspects will be brought to Camp Crame.

Major General Camilo Ligayo, the commander of 8th ID, said the suspects’ arrest would hasten the downfall of the NPA in Eastern Visayas, and was a significant development in bringing the couple to justice.

Buoy deployment in WPS act of PH sovereignty, says Año

From the Philippine News Agency (May 26, 2023): Buoy deployment in WPS act of PH sovereignty, says Año (By Priam Nepomuceno)

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año (File photo)

MANILA – National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Año said the country's decision to place navigational buoys in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is an act asserting its sovereignty and part of its international obligation to ensure safe navigation.

"The act of placing navigational buoys in the WPS is an act of a sovereign nation and is pursuant to the country’s obligations under international law. As a maritime nation, it is imperative that the Philippines prioritize the maintenance of navigational safety to ensure the protection of our waters and the people who rely on them," Año said in a statement forwarded to reporters late Thursday.

Año, who is also the National Security Council director general, said neglecting to provide navigational safety aids could result in maritime accidents, loss of life and damage to the environment.

"We wish to stress that safe and efficient navigation is critical to international trade and commerce, and any disruption to this can have far-reaching consequences. Besides, our maritime borders are vulnerable to threats such as piracy, smuggling, and terrorism. Thus, maintaining navigational safety is critical to safeguarding the nation against these threats," he said.

Año also noted that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has been installing navigational buoys in the WPS since last year.

And as a responsible coastal state, he said the Philippines is just fulfilling its commitment under international law to install and maintain these aids to navigation that assist vessels in safe passage in the country's waters.

Año added that five buoys have been floating in the vicinity waters of Lawak, Likas, Parola and Pag-asa for over a year now.

"Last week, four PCG ships and one Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel installed five cardinal mark buoys in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). These cardinal buoys will indicate the direction of safe waters to prevent passing ships from running aground in these shallow areas," he said.

Año stressed that installation of buoys with the Philippine flag further signifies the country’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its EEZ. He added that marking the boundaries with the Philippine national flag signals the country's unwavering resolve to safeguard its maritime entitlements and resources.

"Furthermore, it underscores our adherence to international statutes, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which acknowledges coastal states' entitlement to manage their EEZs," Año pointed out.

He also stressed that the installation of the buoys reinforces the Philippines' commitment to promoting peace, stability, cooperation and the rule of law in the region.

"It is not done with brute force but with deliberative action buttressed by international and domestic laws. After all, installing and maintaining navigational aids benefits not only our vessels, but also those of neighboring countries -- promoting safe and efficient maritime trade and commerce for the benefit of all," he said.

PH Navy commissions 2 more Israeli missile boats

From the Philippine News Agency (May 26, 2023): PH Navy commissions 2 more Israeli missile boats (By Priam Nepomuceno)

MISSILE BOATS. Newly commissioned patrol gunboats BRP Domingo Deluana (PG-905) and BRP Gener Tinangag (PG-903). These two ships were delivered to the Philippine Navy (PN) on April 11, 2023 by Israel Shipyards Ltd. and christened on May 8, 2023. These gunboats will be used to protect the country's vital choke points and littoral domains. (Photo courtesy of Bea Bernardo/PTV 4)

MANILA – The Philippine Navy (PN) formally commissioned into service two more Israeli-made fast attack interdiction craft (FAIC) platforms increasing the number of such ships in its fleet to four as it celebrated its 125th founding anniversary Friday.

The commissioning ceremonies took place at the Commodore Divino Pier at PN headquarters in Naval Station Jose Andrada, Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

"President and Commander in Chief Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. witnessed the activity, which formally activated the two new capable boats as the third and fourth components of the Acero-class patrol gunboats of the (Philippine) Fleet's Littoral Combat Force," Navy spokesperson Capt. Benjo Negranza said in a statement.

The two newly-acquired Acero-class patrol gunboats, which were constructed by Israel Shipyard Ltd and also known as the Shaldag Mark V. BRP Gener Tinangag (PG-903) and BRP Domingo Deluana (PG-905), were christened last May 8 at the Naval Shipbuilding Facility Wharf, at Fort San Felipe, Cavite City.

The ships were delivered to the country last April 11.

The namesake of these vessels are both members of the Philippine Marine Corps and awardees of the Medal of Valor like the first two FAIC-Ms who were commissioned into service last November.

These FAIC-Ms are the BRP Nestor Acero (PG-901) and BRP Lolinato To-Ong.

"These vessels will soon see action once deployed to vital choke points, major sea lines of communication, and littoral domains of the country. These 32-meter long gunboats will provide added muscle to the Navy's capability to secure the seas with their quick intercept ability, remote stabilized weapons, and short-range missiles," Negranza said.

He added that the activation of two FAIC also known as the fast-attack interdiction craft-missile (FAIC)-Ms is a step closer to the completion of the nine-boat contract worth PHP10 billion.

"Their commissioning gave more prestige to the Navy's celebration of its 125th founding year, providing a tangible manifestation of its anniversary theme, "Guardian of the Seas: Ensuring National Sovereignty, Security, and Stability," Negranza noted.

Four of the FAIC-Ms will be armed with non-line-of-sight (NLOS) missiles with pinpoint accuracy and a range of 25 kilometers while the other five will be armed with typhoon-mounted 30mm main cannons and .50 caliber heavy machine guns.

The acquisition of these FAIC-Ms is among the 2019 projects approved by former President Rodrigo Duterte under the Horizon 2 List of the AFP Modernization Program.

The notice of award for the FAIC-M project, worth around PHP10 billion, was issued on January 5, 2021.

These are expected to replace PN’s medium-sized patrol craft. Once deliveries of the FAIC-Ms are completed, these vessels can interdict surface threats and launch NLOS missiles safely using the surrounding littoral areas as maneuver space and cover.

Earlier, PN chief Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr. said the Navy is planning to acquire at least 15 more Israel-made Shaldag Mark V missile boats, which are the basis of its Acero-class patrol gunboats.

He said the additional Acero-class gunboats would help them to meet their requirements in "patrolling the seas of the country".

PBBM vows full support for PH Navy's capabilities

From the Philippine News Agency (May 26, 2023): PBBM vows full support for PH Navy's capabilities upgrade (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

NAVY MODERNIZATION. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. inspects the Philippine Navy’s BRP Gener Tinangag during the Navy’s 125th anniversary at the PN Headquarters in Roxas Boulevard on Friday (May 26, 2023). In his speech, Marcos pledged to provide full support for the Navy's modernization of assets and enhancement of defense capabilities. (PNA photo by Rolando Mailo)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Friday pledged to provide full support for the Philippine Navy's (PN) modernization of assets and enhancement of defense capabilities.

Marcos reaffirmed his support during the PN's 125th anniversary celebration at its headquarters along Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

"Considering the changing tides of our national security, and the significant gains that we have made in terms of internal security, our armed forces is working to recalibrate its focus more towards external defense of our borders," he said in his keynote speech.

"In this crucial transition, full support for the Armed Forces must be guaranteed, especially for the Philippine Navy’s priority goals of enhancing its intelligence, defense and coordinative capabilities," Marcos added.

Marcos said he looks forward to the completion of the Horizon 3 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization which is significantly devoted to the naval aspect of the country's military operations.

This, as he lauded the PN personnel for their efforts to defend the sovereignty of and maintain peace in the Philippines.

"Our Navy serves not only as valiant guardians of our seas and shores, but peaceful emissaries as well. Highly disciplined and experienced in international engagements, it adheres to the [internationally] recognized codes of conduct, such as the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the recently approved ASEAN Guidelines of Maritime Interaction," Marcos said.

Marcos also acknowledged the navy's "manifold achievements and accomplishments" since its inception, including its significant contribution to securing the Philippine archipelago, especially in the Batanes and Kalayaan islands, the Philippine Rise and the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

He hoped that the PN would continue to work for unity and champion respect for constitutional order and the rule of law.

"As we celebrate the Philippine Navy’s 125th Anniversary, we pay tribute to the institution and the men and women behind it, both uniformed and civilian, for they have continued the noble cause of defending the Republic’s sovereignty and keeping the peace," he said.

"We recognize not only their progressive naval and amphibious warfare skills that have earned international acclaim, but also the humanitarian acts that are likewise inherent to the calling of the Navy," the Commander-in-Chief added.

Currently, the PN has seven operational commands: Naval Forces Northern Luzon, Southern Luzon, Central, West, Western Mindanao, Eastern Mindanao and Fleet-Marine Ready Force. It has also 14 support and command units.

As of May 15, the Navy has a total strength of 26,830 officers, enlisted personnel and candidate soldiers, supported by 1,378 civilian employees.

Submarine acquisition

Marcos said he is also considering procuring submarines for the PN.

He said there are offers from different countries not only for submarine acquisition but also for domestic assembly and construction of naval assets.

“So, it is still part of our plan. But right now, we are in the middle of developing mostly our anti-submarine capabilities. So, ‘yun ang uunahin natin (that's what we will prioritize), and then hopefully, when the time comes and the conditions are agreeable, then we might be able to acquire those submarines," Marcos said.

He made the remark, as he acknowledged the importance of the offer, particularly for the country’s defense and local job generation.

In 2022, the Department of National Defense (DND) said procurement of submarines for the PN was not a priority, stressing that it was focusing on the implementation of modernization contracts signed by the previous administration.

The DND added that while the submarines were on the wish list for Horizon 3, it is prioritizing the implementation of such contracts, “cognizant of the limitations in the resources available to the government.”

Horizon 3 or the final phase of the AFP Modernization Program which started this year and would run until 2028. It covers equipment geared for external defense.

Marcos said the modernization efforts will pave the way for the holistic transformation of the AFP into a "stronger, modern and formidable organization."

"Rest assured that as your Commander-in-Chief, this Administration will work tirelessly not only to improve the Armed Forces, but are also looking for ways and means to improve your individual welfare and those of your families," he said.

Local execs turn in loose guns to Army in Maguindanao Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (May 26, 2023): Local execs turn in loose guns to Army in Maguindanao Sur (By Edwin Fernandez)

‘TOOLS OF VIOLENCE’. Police and military officials view the loose firearms that local officials collected from their constituents and turned over to the Army in Datu Anggal Midtimbang municipality in Maguindanao del Sur on Thursday (May 25, 2023). At least eight high-powered firearms coming from seven barangays of the town were surrendered to the authorities. (Photo courtesy of Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade)

COTABATO CITY – Town officials of Datu Anggal Midtimbang in Maguindanao del Sur have turned over loose firearms they collected from constituents in support of the government’s disarmament program.

Datu Anggal Midtimbang Mayor Maryjoy Estephanie U. Midtimbang on Thursday afternoon presented the firearms to the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, headed by Lt. Col. Tristram A. Tolentino, and Brig. Gen. Oriel Pangcog, 601st Infantry Brigade commander, during a ceremony held at the town gymnasium.

The surrendered firearms consisted of an M16 rifle, two M1 Carbine rifles, two 12-gauge shotguns, a Garand rifle, a homemade Uzi machine pistol, and an improvised M14 rifle.

The firearms were collected by seven village officials from their constituents and turned over to local authorities.

Maguindanao del Sur officer in charge, Vice Governor Datu Nathaniel Midtimbang, also lauded the efforts of the military, police, and local leaders for their support of the government's “Balik Baril” program.

Pangcog, meanwhile, assured local leaders that the military would continue the task of reducing the “tools of violence” in the hands of unauthorized persons, saying this is vital in the preservation of peace and order in the Bangsamoro communities.

NTF-ELCAC program funds school construction in Samar village

From the Philippine News Agency (May 26, 2023): NTF-ELCAC program funds school construction in Samar village (By Sarwell Meniano)

READY FOR CLASS. The newly-completed school building in a remote village in Motiong, Samar. This is one of the seven projects in the town funded under the NTF-ELCAC flagship program Support to Barangay Development Program. (Photo courtesy of Department of the Interior and Local Government Samar)

TACLOBAN CITY – The national government has completed a school building in the remote village of Motiong, Samar funded under the Support to Barangay Development Program (SBDP) meant for communities previously affected by armed conflict.

The SBDP, a hallmark program of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), brings progress to former conflict-prone communities.

During the turnover on Thursday, Mayor Renato Cabael said the school building in the village of Sto. Niño,is the second SBDP-funded project completed in the town. The first are classrooms for daycare learners in Malobago village.

“This school building will create a conducive learning ground for the 33 elementary learners of Sto. Niño. The construction of this structure affirms the national government's effort to end insurgency in Samar,” Cabael added.

The mayor said that out of seven SBDP projects funded under the 2022 allocation in Motiong town, two have been completed and the other five are expected to be finished in September this year.

He urged residents to help maintain the 56-square-meter building that will ensure a brighter future for the town’s children.

Motiong, a fourth-class town with a population of more than 15,000, is a recipient of five other ongoing SBDP projects.

The other projects in the municipality are in the villages of San Andres, Barayong, Beri, Canvais, and Sarao.

Malobago is one of the 200 villages identified as SBDP recipients last year in five provinces in the Eastern Visayas region.

Each village got a PHP4 million outlay for the construction of farm-to-market roads, health stations, rural electrification, school buildings, or water and sanitation system.

Projects have been identified by residents during the Retooled Community Support Program, a convergence mechanism for local governments in the village, to identify issues and needed government interventions.

Recipient communities were previously influenced by the communist New People’s Army, according to the DILG.

The NTF-ELCAC, created under Executive Order 70 issued on Dec. 4, 2018, is tasked to “provide an efficient mechanism and structure for the implementation of the whole-of-nation approach to aid in the realization of collective aspirations for inclusive and sustainable peace.”