Friday, February 16, 2024

Suspected terror fund facilitator caught using remittance centers

From Rappler (Feb 16, 2024): Suspected terror fund facilitator caught using remittance centers (By JOHN SITCHON)

Emmett Manantan of the Anti-Money Laundering Council confirmed that the suspect Myrna Mabanza used money service businesses to transfer funds to members of the Abu Sayyaf Group

CEBU, Philippines – Law enforcers said Friday, February 16, that Myrna Mabanza, the suspected fund facilitator of Islamic State (IS) forces in the Philippines who was arrested Thursday, used several remittance agencies to finance terrorist activities.

“The amounts involved were from money service businesses. These are the remittance agencies that we identified through intelligence and investigation conducted,” lawyer Emmett Manantan of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) said in a press conference Friday.

Based on reports from law enforcers, Mabanza received money overseas from sources in Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Indonesia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“Other than receiving money from foreign terrorist sources, Myrna Mabanza is also instrumental in collating these money and then, remitting them to local members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan,” said Department of Justice (DOJ) Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rex Gingoyon.

Authorities said that Mabanza worked with other facilitators for the movement of the funds.

Gingoyon cited a report that detailed how Mabanza had allegedly remitted money to a certain Norkisa Omar Asnanul, a respondent to the case filed against Mabanza. Asnanul was arrested in December 2023.

“She (Mabanza)m sent P8,000, P8,000, and P50,000 on three occasions and this was through money remittances… when the money remittances were used, it is then where the AMLC was able to flag her down,” Gingoyon said.

DOJ undersecretary Nicholas Felix Ty said that the funds were used to purchase weapons, combat trainers, and to bankroll the travel of fighters from foreign countries.

Besides Asnanul, a suspected terrorist combatant Marsan Ahaddin Ajijul currently detained in Malaysia, was also named as a respondent in Mabanza’s case.

After she was arrested on Thursday, in Sulu, Mabanza was detained at the Regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group headquarters in Zamboanga City.

As of this writing, the DOJ is conducting an evaluation of the security conditions prior to conducting a trial in Zamboanga City.

“Myrna Mabanza is a high-profile person. The facilities in Zamboanga might not be enough to contain her considering that she has numerous relatives in the Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi (ZamBaSulTa) area,” Gingoyon said.

“Transferring it to Manila, to the facilities in Taguig would ensure that she would be properly guarded under the strictest security protocols and we do have the regional trial courts in Manila and the anti-terrorism courts in Taguig,” said Gingoyon.

Sulu residents led cops to lair of woman tagged as 'terrorist'

From the Philippine Star (Feb 16, 2024): Sulu residents led cops to lair of woman tagged as 'terrorist' (John Unson)

Myrna Ajilul Mabanza did not resist arrest when policemen and soldiers arrived at her hideout and served her the warrants for her arrest.  Photo courtesy of / John Unson

COTABATO CITY — The support of Muslim clerics in Sulu helped government operatives arrest the most wanted terrorist in the Bangsamoro region, linked to transnational terror groups.

The director of the Bangsamoro regional police, Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza, and Lt. Gen. Roy Galido, commander of the Philippine Army, separately told reporters on Friday that they are grateful to Sulu’s Islamic religious community and local executives for leading state security operatives to the hideout of the 32-year-old Myrna Ajilul Mabanza in Barangay Pasil in Indanan. She was arrested Barangay Pasil in Indanan town in the province on Thursday.

Nobleza said the administration of Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan also helped locate Mabanza in Indanan, now a markedly peaceful town, long cleared from presence of Abu Sayyaf terrorists via joint peace initiatives of PRO-BAR, municipal and provincial officials and the military’s Western Mindanao Command.

Police officials in Sulu reported to PRO-BAR late Thursday that Tausug community elders and religious leaders had confirmed that Mabanza, a former teacher, had functioned years before as a conduit for funds from abroad for the now virtually inactive Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu.

More than 500 Abu Sayyaf members in Sulu had surrendered in batches via local government units in the province since 2016, all reintegrated into mainstream society.

“To all the civilians who helped work out the arrest of Mabanza, we are thankful,” Galido told reporters on Friday morning via text message.

Mabanza is an elder sister of Omar, implicated in deadly bombings in Sulu and was arrested on Feb. 17, 2023 by a combined police and Army team in Sitio Sapa Dulian in Barangay Calabasa in Zamboanga City.

Nobleza said they have tightened security in areas in the Bangsamoro region where there are few remaining members of the Dawlah Islamiya in anticipation of possible “sympathy attacks” for the arrest of Mabanza in Sulu.

Mabanza was charged for the violation of the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in a court in Zamboanga City that issued warrants for her arrest that Army and police officials served her in Barangay Pasil last Thursday.

Mabanza voluntarily yielded when agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, personnel of intelligence units from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and officials of different PRO-BAR units arrived at her hideout and showed her copies of the warrants for her arrest.

US Marine Corps planes complete delivery of relief packs to Davao Oro

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16, 2024): US Marine Corps planes complete delivery of relief packs to Davao Oro (By Priam Nepomuceno)

HELP ON THE WAY. A US Marine Corps KC-130J "Super Hercules" cargo aircraft unloads family food packs from the Department of Social Welfare and Development at the Davao Air Station in Davao City on Thursday (Feb. 15, 2024). The AFP said the two KC-130J "Super Hercules" cargo aircraft of the USMC have transported 15,400 family food packs for landslide-affected areas in Davao de Oro province. (Photo courtesy of the AFP)

MANILA – Two KC-130J " Super Hercules" cargo aircraft of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) have completed their mission of delivering more than 15,000 family food packs to landslide-affected areas in Davao de Oro province, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Friday.

"As of Feb. 15, a total of 15,400 family food packs from the Department of Social Welfare and Development were transported using two USMC KC-130J Hercules aircraft, which ensured the prompt delivery of aid to communities in need," AFP public affairs office chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad said in a statement.

The two USMC KC-130Js began their mission on Feb. 12.

Trinidad said the presence of allied forces offered hope and support to people affected by the calamity and manifested the enduring bond between the US and the Philippines in times of need.

Meanwhile, AFP Chief, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., thanked the US for its assistance in relief operations in calamity-hit areas in Mindanao.

Brawner noted that these instances highlight the importance of prepositioning humanitarian assistance and disaster relief equipment, supplies, and relief goods in Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in similar situations in the future.

"Through EDCA, the improvements in our bases and the prepositioned US assets will allow us to respond quickly and more efficiently in the future. Together with our ally and fellow Filipinos, we will strive to ensure that no one is left behind in our journey toward recovery and resilience," he added.

PCG, BFAR start rotational deployment of ships in Bajo de Masinloc

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16, 2024): PCG, BFAR start rotational deployment of ships in Bajo de Masinloc (By Priam Nepomuceno)

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año (PNA file photo)

MANILA – A regular rotational deployment of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ships in Bajo de Masinloc (also known as Scarborough Shoal) will take place starting this month, National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Año said on Friday.

In a statement, Año said the move is part of efforts to secure Filipino fisherfolk in these waters and to help achieve the government's vision of food security, which is a pivotal element in national development under President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.'s "Bagong Pilipinas" governance brand.

"The Philippine government has taken decisive action to protect the rights and safety of Filipino fishermen in the waters of Bajo De Masinloc (BDM)," Año said.

Earlier, the PCG multi-role response vessel, BRP Magbanua (MRRV-9701) completed a successful nine-day patrol in Bajo de Masinloc from Feb. 1 to 9, while the BFAR multi-role offshore patrol ship, BRP Tamblot (MRROV-3005) has also been patrolling since Feb. 14.

Año said these efforts were to ensure the safety and security of our Filipino fishermen in their traditional fishing grounds.

"Further, both PCG and BFAR were also directed to distribute food packs, groceries, and even fuel to support the fishermen in sustaining their activities in the vicinity of BDM," he added.

Año, meanwhile, dismissed reports of the China Coast Guard's claims that it "expelled a BFAR vessel and PCG vessel that allegedly intruded into their waters."

"The National Security Council (NSC) reaffirms the Philippines' sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc and its surrounding waters within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These rights are recognized under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award," said Año, also the head of the NSC.

He added that the activities of the Filipino fishermen and the PCG and BFAR vessels in the Bajo de Masinloc were fully compliant with national laws and consistent with the Philippines' position on the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Any attempts by state actors to intimidate or drive away our fishermen are clear violations of international law and disregard the decision of the arbitral award, Año said.

"Despite these challenges, the PCG and BFAR vessels will maintain professionalism in dealing with any unlawful and provocative behavior exhibited by China Coast Guard and the Chinese Maritime Militia vessels. This includes responding to dangerous and blocking maneuvers that blatantly disregard the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972," he noted.

DOJ mulls Manila trial for suspected terrorist nabbed in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16, 2024): DOJ mulls Manila trial for suspected terrorist nabbed in Sulu (By Benjamin Pulta)

Myrna Mabanza (Photo courtesy of PNP Public Information Office)

MANILA – State prosecutors on Friday said they may opt to ask for a change of venue of the trial of suspected terrorist Myrna Mabanza to Manila due to “security concerns.”

In a press briefing, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rassendell Gingoyon of the Department of Justice Anti-Terrorist Unit noted that following the arrest of the Mabanza, who is accused of facilitating the transfer of funds to international terrorist groups, the next step would be her arraignment in Zamboanga.

"As to the security concerns of Myrna Mabanza, we are currently conducting an evaluation if it would be better to maintain that trial in Zamboanga or to transfer it to Manila considering that Myrna Mabanza is a high-profile person. The facilities in Zamboanga might not be able to be enough to contain her considering she has numerous relatives in the Zambasulta (Zamboanga, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) area," Gingoyon said.

He said transferring her to Manila to a facility in Taguig City would ensure that she would be properly guarded under the security protocols, including access to the Regional Trial Courts in Manila, and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) courts in Taguig and Quezon City that are equipped to handle her case.

"At the moment we are still evaluating what is the best option for the government if it would be in Zamboanga or in Manila because we have to consider the transportation cost of the panel of prosecutors and the witnesses going to Zamboanga or the cost of transferring Myrna one time from Zamboanga to Manila,” Gingoyon said.

“What we can assure you is that the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC), the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the DOJ are fully prepared to handle the case whether it is in Zamboanga RTC or Manila RTC," he added.

Gingoyon said Mabanza’s arrest is an indication that although her crimes happened several years ago, the efforts of the government in going after terrorist financiers or organizations are relentless.

“The government does not forget whether this took place in 2012, 2018. The government is fully prepared to go after these individuals and prosecute them until we can get a conviction," he said.

Meanwhile, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) Undersecretary Gilberto DC Cruz said the Marcos administration is committed to ensuring peace in Mindanao as typified by the arrest of Mabanza.

Cruz said learning from previous experiences, the Philippine National Police is now keeping a closer watch on the registration of high-powered firearms following an incident a few years back when privately purchased AK-47s ended up with rebel groups.

Some of the money which Mabanza allegedly facilitated to terror groups were used to buy firearms locally, officials said.

"We have improved on the system in keeping records on where these guns go," Cruz said.

Mabanza was arrested in Brgy. Pasil, Indanan, Sulu on February 15 in a law enforcement operation by elements of the PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines, NICA, and AMLC, and supported by the PAOCC.

She has standing arrest warrants for five counts of violation of Republic Act (RA) No. 10168 (The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012) and RA No. 11479 (The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020), all issued on Dec. 20, 2023 in Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur with no bail recommended.

Mabanza was declared by the United States Defense Department as a specially designated global terrorist along with the Islamic State (ISIS) founder Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and the late Abu Sayyaf Group leader and ISIS emir in the Philippines Isnilon Hapilon.

India markets defense equipment in PH; offers soft loan

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16, 2024): India markets defense equipment in PH; offers soft loan (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

DEFENSE EQUIPMENT. Filipino and Indian delegates interact during the first-ever India-Philippines defense industry seminar at the Shangri-La The Fort on Friday (Feb. 16, 2024). The Indian Embassy-led event also featured a B2B component where attendees discussed business opportunities in the sector. (PNA photo by Robert Alfiler)

MANILA – The Indian government has brought to Manila a business delegation to showcase its homegrown military technologies and equipment and scope out possible defense industry tie-ups with the Philippines.

At the Indian Embassy-led defense industry seminar in Makati City on Friday, at least 18 Indian companies presented to Filipino stakeholders and officials of the Department of National Defense a number of possible defense exports, ranging from aircrafts, drones, helicopters down to artificial intelligence-based technologies.

“Like India, Philippines has to devote the bulk of its resources to development programs. So our share for national security, which is also a pressing requirement, is always constrained,” Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran said.

“So within that constraint framework, if you're looking at a realistic option, then I would suggest that India is a very good option,” he added, citing the cutting-edge technology and competitive prices Indian defense equipment can offer.

Among the companies present were DCM Shriram Industries Ltd, Bharat Dynamics Limited, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Mahindra Emirates Vehicle Armouring FZ LLC, MKU Limited, and Adani Defence Systems and Technologies Limited.

In the same event, Kumaran expressed hope that New Delhi could be part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ third phase of modernization, citing its successful deal on the BrahMos cruise missile system that he said would be delivered "soon".

“We obviously had a successful conclusion of contract on missile systems. We hope that this could be considered,” he said.

“We have naval systems, we have fighter aircraft, we have a broad range of capabilities on the Indian side — helicopters, attack helicopters, land systems, artillery systems — and some of those would match with the capabilities you are looking to acquire in the Horizon 3,” he added.

Horizon 3 was initially scheduled from 2023 to 2028 while Horizon 2 was from 2018 to 2022.

The business-to-business component of the event also opened up possible opportunities for partnerships on capacity building, especially as the Philippines seeks to create a self-reliant defense posture.

On this aspect, Kumaran said India is committed to “walk the talk” and help the Philippines enhance its capabilities.

“As two democracies, India and the Philippines have to work together to ensure that we create a regional and global environment that will allow us to address the fundamental requirements of our two nations — that is to create the enabling environment for our countries to grow,” he said.

“We are both peaceful nations. We do not crave other people's territory, other people's waters, but we will not see efforts that try to limit our access to our territory and our resources either. So we have to go beyond the talk,” he added.

‘On the table’

Kumaran also reaffirmed that India’s loan offer to help the country fund its defense modernization is still on the table.

“Our offer is very much on the table. We have announced our intent to offer a soft loan for defense procurements and this could also cover activities that would eventually extend to some sort of joint industrial activity,” he said.

The line of credit being offered by India is a soft loan provided on concessional interest rates to developing countries based on the national priorities of the borrowing countries.

The broad terms of the Export-Import Bank of India (EXIM Bank) line credits are 1.75 percent, with a 20-year tenor and five-year moratorium.

Over the past years, interactions on defense and security between India and the Philippines have been on the upswing.

In a bilateral meeting in 2023, the two nations sought to further upgrade official level interaction among defense agencies and expand training and joint exercises on maritime security and disaster response.

PBBM to gov’t troops: Be ‘peacemakers’ while serving as ‘war fighters’

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16, 2024): PBBM to gov’t troops: Be ‘peacemakers’ while serving as ‘war fighters’ (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

(File photo)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Friday called on the military to take a new approach in addressing internal conflict, encouraging them to become “peacemakers” while fighting rebel groups.

Speaking to troops during his visit to Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, Marcos cited the need for the government forces to seek peace, as much as possible, to avoid possible armed conflict with insurgents.

“Iba ang ating approach sa ating (We have different approach in our) internal conflicts that we have within the Philippines at hinihingi natin sa ating mga sundalo ay kailangan maging (and we are asking our soldiers to be) war fighter and we still need war fighters and we still need the courage and the bravery and the sacrifice that you have shown,” Marcos said in a speech delivered at the of the headquarters of 401st Infantry Brigade (IB).

“But now there is an additional dimension to the job that you have. ‘Yung mission ninyo ay hindi lang ‘yung giyera kung hindi (is not just about waging a war, but) you have to be also peacemakers at (and) they must remember that kahit papaano, ang kaharap natin, Pilipino din yan (somehow, we are fighting against our fellow Filipinos),” he added.

Marcos also urged the military to support government programs providing livelihood, land, shelter assistance to rebels wanting to return to the fold of the law.

This, as he lauded the soldiers for their efforts to improve the security situation in the Caraga Region.

“Congratulations for the good work that you have done. Kagaya nga nang sinulat ko doon sa (Just like what I write in the) guestbook, keep up the good work. Congratulations sa inyong (to your) successes,” he said.

Joint Task Force (JTF) Diamond (4th Infantry Division), composed of the Army’s 401st, 402nd, 403rd, and 901st IB, covers most parts of Caraga and Northern Mindanao.

The JTF Diamond’s accomplishments included the neutralization of 200 communist rebels or terrorists and seizure of 311 firearms.

About 144 of the 200 rebels surrendered, 44 were killed, and 12 were captured.

From 2021 to present, the troops under the 4th ID helped facilitate the surrender of 2,596 former rebels, with 2,167 or 83 percent of them already awarded with benefits under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

The E-CLIP grants financial assistance, livelihood training and grants, firearm remuneration, and housing and education assistance to former rebels.

There is a reported downtrend in the presence of insurgents in the JTF Diamond’s area of responsibility, from 437 rebels in the first quarter of 2023, showing a decline by 28.6 percent to 312, as of Feb. 15, 2024.

Amid the military’s anti-insurgency campaign, two regional insurgent groups with a total of 312 members and 306 firearms have retreated to the mountains and no longer influence nearby villages.