Thursday, September 21, 2023

Gov’t releases videos of ‘abducted’ activists

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 22, 2023): Gov’t releases videos of ‘abducted’ activists (By: Dexter Cabalza, Frances Mangosing)

WE’RE BACK Environmental activist Jonila Castro shouts a slogan as Jhed Tamano (left) stands beside her on Sept. 19.—GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) and the Philippine National Police have doubled down on their claims that environmental activists Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro were not kidnapped but had voluntarily yielded to the military for their own protection after leaving the communist movement.

A spokesperson for the task force also called the women’s actions part of a demolition tactic against the government.

On Thursday, the task force presented videos and photos supposedly showing the activists admitting their links to the New People’s Army (NPA) while in government custody.

Castro, in one of the presented videos during an online press briefing hosted by the NTF-Elcac, said in an “interview” that she was part of the NPA’s Lino Blas Command for four years and she was involved in an armed encounter in Bataan province in 2021.

Tamano, on the other hand, said in an affidavit that she was part of the underground mass organization Kabataang Makabayan for three months, where she was a semilegal cadre. She added that in July, she met Castro and they decided to “organize” fishermen in Bataan province.

According to the task force, the two women said in their affidavits dated Sept. 12 that they were surrendering to authorities because they missed their families and wanted to quit the communist movement.

Another short clip showed a sobbing Tamano reunited with her parents after the supposed surrender.

James Clifford Santos, NTF-Elcac legal cooperation cluster spokesperson, called the environmental activists’ actions part of a “demolition tactic.”

“We can see that this is a grand scheme to hoodwink the government whose only concern is the welfare of the returning rebels,” he said. “Their immediate assertions of falsehood clearly has malice to humiliate the government.”

In a press briefing organized by the NTF-Elcac on Tuesday, Castro and Tamano surprised task force officials when they debunked the government’s claim that they had voluntarily yielded to the military.

Instead, they said they were abducted by a group of men in a sport utility vehicle on Sept. 2 in Orion, Bataan. They added that they were forced into signing the affidavits. Hours after the briefing, both women were turned over by the Army’s 70th Infantry Battalion to the Commission on Human Rights which reunited them with their families.

Ernesto Torres Jr., executive director of the task force’s secretariat, said they would review their program protocol although he added that their experience with the women activists would not affect future cases in their initiative to assist communist rebels who want to return to the fold of law.

“These are different cases. This is just one of those hiccups that happen in the program. It’s really unfortunate but we will proceed,” he said

The PNP, meanwhile, said that it would look again into the kidnapping claim of Tamano and Castro although as far as PNP chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr. was concerned, both voluntarily yielded to authorities.

6 NPA rebels killed in Negros Occidental clash

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 22, 2023): 6 NPA rebels killed in Negros Occidental clash (By GLAZYL MASCULINO)

BACOLOD CITY – Six members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were killed in a clash with the Army 47th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Sitio Lubi, Barangay Tabugon, Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental on Thursday, September 21.

The 302nd Infantry Brigade (IBde) identified the fatalities as alias “Bravo or “Peter,” squad leader; his wife alias “Diane,” alias “Goring” or “Rico,” medic, alias “Recoy,” vice squad leader of Squad 3, and alias “Brendo” or “Kenneth,” vice squad leader of Squad 2.

The sixth communist fatality remains unidentified.

The Army said that the military engaged members of the South West Front (SWF), Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor (KR-NCBS) at around 7:50 p.m.

No casualties were reported from the government side.

The military recovered from the encounter site four .45 caliber pistols, a hand grenade, a .38 caliber revolver, medical paraphernalia, personal belongings, and subversive documents of high-intelligence value.

The Army has yet to provide more details about the incident as of posting time.

PH, Bangladesh eye expansion of defense cooperation

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21, 2023): PH, Bangladesh eye expansion of defense cooperation (By Priam Nepomuceno)

EXPANDING TIES. AFP deputy chief of staff for education, training and doctrine, Maj. Gen. Noel Beleran (right) discusses education and training plans with Brig. Gen. Kazi Anisuzzaman (left) of the Directing Staff Army-6, National Defense College of Bangladesh on Wednesday. The AFP on Thursday (Sept. 21, 2023) said the Philippines and Bangladesh are looking to expand cooperation through education and training as part of efforts to ensure peace in the Indo-Pacific Region. (Photo courtesy of the AFP)

MANILA – The Philippines and Bangladesh are looking to expand cooperation through education and training as part of efforts to ensure peace in the Indo-Pacific Region, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Thursday.

“We are planning to establish our defense cooperation and our shared responsibility through education and training in pursuit of a more stable Indo-Pacific,” AFP deputy chief of staff for education, training and doctrine Maj. Gen. Noel Beleran said in a statement.

This came following the visit of Brig. Gen. Kazi Kazi Anisuzzaman of Directing Staff Army-6 of the National Defense College of Bangladesh to the AFP headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Wednesday.

Beleran also discussed AFP’s courses and exchange programs as well as the plans to continue working with allies in terms of education and training.

Meanwhile, Anisuzzaman also shared the challenges and goals that they have in Bangladesh.

"We need you and we need our brothers beside us. We value your country," Anisuzzaman said as he expressed his hopes of “increasing connectivity” with partner nations.

The National Defense College of Bangladesh is currently on its study tour in the Philippines and intends to share and exchange views on both countries’ challenges and development strategies.

OPAPRU: Unification of 2 MNLF groups among PH's peace milestones

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21, 2023): OPAPRU: Unification of 2 MNLF groups among PH's peace milestones (By Priam Nepomuceno)

MANILA – The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) on Thursday touted the unification of two Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) groups as one of the many milestones in the country's peace process.

"With (Secretary Carlito ) Galvez (Jr.) at the helm of the OPAPRU, it helped reunite the Misuari and Sema groups of the MNLF after decades of separation, which is considered a landmark development under the Bangsamoro peace process," the agency said in a statement during the celebration of its 30th anniversary.

The OPAPRU earlier accepted the role of helping the two MNLF groups in its convergence efforts.

This agreement was contained in a resolution signed by Galvez and Bangsamoro Labor and Employment Minister Muslimin Sema, who is also MNLF chairperson.

In a resolution, the MNLF Sema Group said it is "amenable to pursue convergence efforts with the MNLF group under the leadership of Chair Nur Misuari."

"The OPAPRU shall facilitate the discussion on convergence between the MNLF Groups. As a vehicle for convergence, a Joint MNLF Executive Committee shall be established to be represented by leaders of the two MNLF Groups that shall provide policy guidance on convergence efforts," it added.

It noted that the current partnership between the government and the MNLF-Sema group would be "renamed into GPH-MNLF Coordinating and Implementing Committee."

The OPAPRU also said it has played a key role in establishing an inclusive Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

The agency also assisted in the rebuilding of Marawi City and implemented social healing interventions for the victims of the siege.

To date, the OPAPRU is implementing the political and normalization tracks of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which is a testament to the strong partnership between the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Under the Normalization Program, around 65 percent of the 40,000 MILF combatants have been decommissioned.

Meanwhile, the agency said it continues to roll out projects under its PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) Program aimed at improving the access of residents to much-needed socio-economic interventions, and empower communities and strengthen their capacities to address issues of conflict and peace.

It said a total of 21,914 projects which cover agricultural productivity support, agri-fishery, capacity building, natural resource management, community infrastructure, electrification, water system, flood control, and health centers have been completed under the PAMANA Program.

The program, which is anchored on conflict-sensitive and peacebuilding approaches, has 2,585 ongoing projects nationwide.

AFP chief calls for 'meaningful conversations' to foster peace

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21, 2023): AFP chief calls for 'meaningful conversations' to foster peace (By Priam Nepomuceno)

SYMBOL OF PEACE. AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. (2nd from right) joins Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. (center) and other guests during the unveiling of the "Symbol of Peace" monument on Thursday (Sept. 21, 2023) at the headquarters of 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao del Norte. The AFP attributed the successful peace and development efforts in the Bangsamoro to the whole-of-nation approach and the support of the communities. (Photo courtesy of the AFP)

MANILA – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. on Thursday called for "meaningful conversations" to tear down the walls of conflict and promote peace.

Brawner made this remark during the unveiling of the "Symbol of Peace" monument at the 6th Infantry Division headquarters in Maguindanao del Norte province.

"May it inspire us all to engage in meaningful conversations to dismantle the walls that divide us and to build bridges of understanding and reconciliation. Let us draw strength from the enduring spirit displayed by the men and women who have helped shape our nation’s history,” Brawner said.

The monument is an 18-foot replica of an M-16 automatic rifle built using dismantled firearms confiscated, captured, recovered or surrendered to the military as part of ongoing efforts to end violence and proliferation of illegal firearms in the Bangsamoro region.

Also present during the ceremony were Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Steve Crespillo, 6th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Alex Rillera and other representatives and stakeholders in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The AFP also attributed the successful peace and development efforts in the Bangsamoro to the whole-of-nation approach and the support of the communities, adding that a purely military solution will only be temporary.

“When all government agencies, the local government, the private sector, and more importantly the peace-inclined groups work together, we can speed up peace and progress,” he added.

Brawner also urged all Filipinos to stand and be united in upholding peace, unity and progress.

"May this symbol of transformation and peace serve as a constant reminder of our responsibility to protect our nation and the very fabric of harmony upon which it is built,” he said.

Hataman secures another DBCC commitment of remaining Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21, 2023): Hataman secures another DBCC commitment of remaining Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces

House of Representatives Deputy Minority Leader and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman (File photo)

MANILA – House of Representatives Deputy Minority Leader Mujiv Hataman has secured another commitment from the Development and Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) to fund the decommissioning of the remaining 14,000 combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the 2024 national budget.

In a statement, the Basilan lawmaker said the decommissioning of the 
Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants is one of the concerns of the government that should be accomplished in due time to completely fulfill the peace process with the Bangsamoro.

“Ilang taon nating pinaghirapan at pinagsikapan na maabot ang kapayapaan, kaya sana ay matapos na natin ito (For years we’ve been working hard and trying to achieve peace, so we may finally accomplish it),” said Hataman, former governor of the now-defunct Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Hataman said he appreciates the DBCC’s commitment to make the fund available in the national budget by all means.

“Maliit lang naman ang kailangang pondo sa decommissioning. Kaya nagpapasalamat tayo sa commitment na ibinigay ng DBCC na gagawan ito ng paraan na pondohan na ang decommissioning ng natitira pang Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants sa 2024 national budget (The funds required for decommissioning are small. So we are grateful for the commitment given by the DBCC that it will find a way to fund the decommissioning of the remaining Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants in the 2024 national budget),” he added.

Responding to Hataman’s queries during the plenary deliberations of the General Appropriations Bill for next year, Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Rep. Stella Quimbo, one of the budget measure’s sponsors, said the decommissioning allocation for next year was PHP901 million.

Quimbo said the amount covers the decommissioning of over 9,000 combatants. For 2025, over 4,000 more combatants will be decommissioned.

In last year’s deliberation of the national budget, Hataman said he asked if the decommissioning through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) could be funded using unprogrammed funds, and the answer was “yes.”

“Pero hanggang ngayon, tinatanong ko yung OPAPRU, wala paring nakukuha at hindi pa rin nagbibigay ng allocation mula unprogrammed funds. Remember, meron na po tayong malaki laking amount – more than P200 billion – na nagamit natin sa unprogrammed funds (But until now, I was asking OPAPRU, it said there still nothing and it does not receive the allocation yet from the unprogrammed funds)," he said during the budget deliberations on Wednesday.

“Eh kung maliit lang din naman ang kailangan ng peace process, baka question ng priority. Hindi po priority ng DBCC ang decommissioning (And if we need only a meager amount in the peace process, maybe it's a question of priority. [So] decommissioning is not a DBCC priority).”

News reports said some 26,145 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters have been decommissioned this year. The fourth phase of the process starts in the last quarter of this year.

The decommissioning of  Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants is among the key provisions of the Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), or the peace agreement between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  signed in 2014.

Combatants who lay down their arms will receive PHP100,000 each in transitional cash assistance from the government. (With a report from Zaldy de Loyola/PNA)

3 communist rebels yield in Occidental Mindoro

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21, 2023): 3 communist rebels yield in Occidental Mindoro (By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)

(Infographics courtesy of PRO 4B)

MANILA – Three members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) surrendered to police units in Occidental Mindoro on Wednesday, the regional police office reported.

In a statement Thursday, Police Regional Office (PRO) 4B (Mimaropa) chief Brig. Gen. Joel Doria said Alway Imnaw Asunio alias "Ka Arnel", a member of the Kilusang Larangang Gerilya-Mark Anthony Velasco (KLG-MAV) of the NPA's Sub-Regional Military Area (SRMA-4D), Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee (STRPC) surrendered to personnel of the 405th B Maneuver Company Regional Mobile Force Battalion MFB in Barangay Santo NiƱo, Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro.

Asunio also surrendered a caliber .38 Magnum revolver and two live ammunitions.

Doria said the surrender of “Ka Arnel” was made possible through the assistance from intelligence units of the local police and the military.

Also on Wednesday, Lea Saligumba Bumacod, alias “Ka Melet”, 38; and Danilo Coronacion Caoili, alias “Ka Ale”, 49, former members of the NPA's SRMA 4D STRPC operating in Mindoro Island, surrendered to personnel of the intelligence unit of the Occidental Mindoro Police Provincial Office at Camp Winston Ebersole in San Jose town.

Doria said the surrenderers are now under police custody for debriefing and assistance before their enrolment to the Enhanced Comprehensive and Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

"This is a product of our commitment to securing our region against the threat of communist terrorism under NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) with the active support of local government units and other government agencies," he added.

From Jan. 1 to Sept. 20 this year, a total of 157 NPA members surrendered to different police units in Mimaropa.

Mimaropa is comprised of the provinces of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan.

PH Army eyes raps vs. 2 environmentalists over claims

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20, 2023): PH Army eyes raps vs. 2 environmentalists over claims (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Philippine Army commander Lt. Gen. Roy Galido (PNA file photo)

MANILA – The Philippine Army (PA) on Thursday said it is looking into the cases that can be filed against the two environmentalists who flip-flopped on their statements after initially claiming that they escaped from the communist movement.

"We felt betrayed that's why we will file the necessary case, to use our laws, just like when you are also betrayed when your clients are betrayed, they file a case against you, so we just have to follow the rule of law in our country," PA chief Lt. Gen. Roy Galido said in a briefing at the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

Earlier, National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said activists Jhed Reiyana Tamano and Jonila Castro may face perjury charges after claiming that they were abducted and threatened by soldiers in Tuesday morning's press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in Plaridel, Bulacan.

"They went to us, they wanted to go back to the fold of the law, they provided a statement, we welcomed them. We, the mayor, (of) LGU (local government unit), received them, the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) administered their oath, so this action is very clear. All we want is to help them," Galido said.

He said their actions are similar to those extended by the government to any other surrenderers. Galido declined to go into the details of the case they will file against the two women.

Asked about the possible backlash of the incident, Galido said the PA does not condone any violation of the law and that anyone whose rights are violated can file a case before the courts.

"We don't see any violation but if there are other parties (who) see a violation, then file a case, we are open, and it's through filing, we can resolve things right, it's only through filing of cases (that) issues will be decided and situation understood clearly," he noted.

Castro a 'hardcore' NPA: NTF-ELCAC

Meanwhile, NTF-ELCAC executive director, Undersecretary Ernesto Torres Jr. said Castro, earlier described as an "environmental activist", is a hardcore member of the New People’s Army (NPA) “in different capacities”.

He also pointed out that Castro herself admitted in her handwritten affidavit that she is a member of the NPA for four years until her formal surrender on Sept. 12 to the PA’s 70th Infantry Battalion based in Bulacan.

“She (Castro) said she was an organizer then became a “hukbo”, which means an NPA combatant, then later went back again to the white area to organize. So, she performs in different capacities, notably as a semi-legal cadre,” Torres said.

In the video presented by the NTF-ELCAC Thursday, Castro said she belonged to the NPA Lino Blas Command and was among a group of terrorists figured in an encounter against government forces in 2021 in Bataan.

She admitted there were casualties on the NPA side in that firefight.

Meanwhile, Torres pointed out that Castro also served as the recruiter, handler and schemer of Tamano who was only barely three months as a community organizer when they decided to leave the communist movement that led to their surrender to the said Army unit.

Despite Castro and Tamano’s recantations, Torres believes the two women are “victims of terrorism” and that the government will not rest until they will be rescued from the clutches of the insurgents.

He stood firm with the military and police that Castro and Tamano were not abducted.

Speaking to the media, lawyer James Clifford Santos, Associate Solicitor of the Office of the Solicitor General and spokesperson for NTF-ELCAC' Legal Cooperation Cluster, labelled the recantations made by Tamano and Castro a “mockery of state policy," as their sworn statements before a PAO lawyer is a regularity under the 1987 Constitution.

“(Their) immediate assertions of falsehood clearly has malice to humiliate the government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the NTF-ELCAC,” Santos said.

He viewed the scheme, allegedly orchestrated by Castro, as a “demolition tactic”, “to undermine efforts of the government’s Task Force Balik-Loob”, and “impair the public trust”.

Santos also said to the contrary as evidence shown in the videos and photos when the two women gave their statements, wrote it down, and took their oath before PAO representative Atty. Joper Bagay, also in the presence of Tamano’s parents.

NPA tagged in barangay chair candidate killing in Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20, 2023): NPA tagged in barangay chair candidate killing in Samar (By Sarwell Meniano)

VIOLENCE. The village chief who was shot dead in the upland community of Paranas, Samar on Sept. 18, 2023. The regional police said Wednesday (Sept. 20, 2023) that the New People’s Army was behind the killing of the barangay official, who was a former rebel. (Photo courtesy of PNP)

TACLOBAN CITY – The Police Regional Office (PRO) 8 (Eastern Visayas) has tagged the New People’s Army (NPA) as responsible for the recent killing of a village chief in Paranas town, Samar province.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the PRO-8 disclosed that armed rebels perpetrated the fatal shooting of Tito Llamado, 59, chairperson of upland Barangay Anagasi in Paranas on Sept. 18.

The slain village official, who was seeking another term in the upcoming Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) on Oct. 30, was a rebel returnee.

“The slain victim, who was a former member of the communist terrorist group, had cut ties with them to become an active supporter of the government’s program to end local communist armed conflict,” PRO-8 stated.

The victim and his wife were near their farmhouse when armed men attacked him.

The police assured the public that they would continue to bar the NPA’s attempt to regain control of previously influenced areas.

“We have strengthened our resolve to end the communist terrorism by bringing the remnants of the NPA into the folds of law,” it added.

Llamado was the second village official to be attacked in Eastern Visayas since the start of the election period.

A village councilman seeking the barangay chief post was critically wounded during an ambush in Leyte, Leyte on Sept. 7.

The PRO-8 earlier deployed more than 11,000 police personnel to ensure a safe, secure and honest BSKE next month.

Body of NPA found near Tuesday's encounter site in Iloilo town

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20, 2023): Body of NPA found near Tuesday's encounter site in Iloilo town (By Perla Lena)

ENCOUNTER. Government troops recover firearms and ammunition after they encountered a group of NPA rebels at Sitio Agdalusan, Barangay Jayubo, in Lambunao town, Iloilo, Tuesday (Sept. 19, 2023). A rebel and a soldier died in the encounter. (PNA photo courtesy of 3rd DPAO)

ILOILO CITY – A body of a suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA) was recovered in a remote village of Lambunao town in Iloilo, hours after an encounter ensued between government troops and the rebels Tuesday.

“All indicators point out that he is a member of the armed group and has joined the encounter in the morning in Agdalusan. He is in his early 20s, stands between 5'4" to 5’5”, and wrapped in a hammock,” said Lt. Col. J-Jay Javines, chief of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Division Public Affairs Office (3rd DPAO), in an interview on Wednesday.

The dead body was found 700 meters away from the encounter site at Sitio Agdalusan, Barangay Jayubo.

The 82nd Infantry Battalion (82IB) is still trying to identify the slain rebel who was reportedly a member of the Baloy Platoon, Central Front Komiteng Rehiyon-Panay.

Javines said at least 10 NPA rebels attacked the soldiers Tuesday morning, prompting the government troops to fight back and resulted in the death of Private First Class Mars Echevarria. Another soldier was wounded and identified as Pfc Joemarie Lleses.

3 NPA rebels yield to Caraga cops

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21, 2023): 3 NPA rebels yield to Caraga cops (By Alexander Lopez)

(Image courtesy of PRO-13 Information Office)

BUTUAN CITY – Three New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, including a minor, have recently surrendered to the Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office (SDSPPO) in Tandag City, an official said Thursday.

Police Regional Office-Caraga (PRO-13) information office chief, Maj. Jennifer Ometer said the group included a 16-year-old boy who turned themselves in before the SDSPPO on Tuesday.

Ometer said the two other rebels, with aliases “Jerence” and “Leo”, are aged 20.

“The minor and Jerence are residents of San Agustin while Leo is from Marihatag town, all in Surigao del Sur,” Ometer said in a phone interview.

The trio were members of Platoon 8 of the dismantled NPA Guerrilla Front 19, North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee.

Ometer said the minor is now under the care of the province’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office.

“(The minor) now undergoing debriefing and interviews as part of the process of his enrollment in the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program,” she said.

The three, who were recruited by the NPA in 2022, decided to abandon the armed struggle due to fatigue and hunger as the government forces intensified their operations against NPA remnants, Ometer noted.

In a statement on Thursday, PRO-13 director Brig. Gen. Kirby John Kraft said the surrender of the three rebels was the result of the initiatives led by the local Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.