Thursday, February 22, 2024

Rebel returnees get educational, financial aid in Himamaylan

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 21, 2024): Rebel returnees get educational, financial aid in Himamaylan

Himamaylan Mayor Raymund Tongson (standing) assures the 27 rebel returnees that the Himamaylan City government will continue supporting them in their reintegration*

After yielding in November 2023, some 27 rebel returnees recently received some love and support from the Himamaylan City government, together with the Philippine Army, through financial and educational assistance distributed on Valentine’s Day.

The aid beneficiaries are New People’s Army (NPA) fighters and some of its Yunit Militia members who pledged allegiance to the Philippine government on November 17, 2023, a press release from Himamaylan PIO said.

“This assistance from the city government will help the former rebels return to their communities,” Himamaylan Mayor Raymund Tongson said.

Tongson also joined the leaders of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (ID) in urging the remaining communist rebels in Negros Island to surrender.

“The 27 returnees who received these benefits from the government is a sign that the Himamaylan City LGU is ready to assist on their path to reintegration,” Tongson said.

On top of the financial assistance, the City Social Welfare and Development Office also prepared some groceries and goods for the rebel returnees.

Tongson thanked and commended 303 Infantry Brigade Deputy Brigade Commander Col. Victor Llapitan, 94IB Commander LtCol. Van Donald Almonte, Philippine Air Force representatives SSg. Dave Gumban, Sg. Mark Elovera, and Cpl. Victor Movillion, Jr. of the 2nd Negros Occidental Police Mobile Force Company.

The mayor also expressed his gratitude to the Himamaylan Deputy Police Chief Capt. Arturo Margallo, Jr. and CSWD Officer Ever Grace Castro for assisting the Philippine Army in facilitating former rebels return to the folds of the law.*

3 rebels killed in 2 Escalante gun battles

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 22, 2024): 3 rebels killed in 2 Escalante gun battles (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

The Philippine Army yesterday reported that three New People’s Army rebels died in two separate encounters with 79th Infantry Battalion troopers in Sitio Mansulao, Brgy. Pinapugasan, Escalante City, Negros Occidental.

Lt. Col. J Jay Javines, spokesperson of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, said that the identities of three slain rebels, who are believed to be remnants of the
dismantled Northern Negros Front, are yet to be established as of last night.

Of the three rebel fatalities, two are males, while the one was a woman, according to Javines.

The first encounter between an estimated eight NPA rebels and 79IB soldiers took place at about 11 a.m. yesterday, which lasted about 30 minutes. It resulted in the death of three rebels, he added.

Pursuing Army soldiers managed to catch up with the fleeing rebels, resulting in another gun battle that lasted about 10 to 15 minutes, Javines further said.

He suspects that the eight NPA rebels encountered by 79IB soldiers, believed to be led by Roger Fabillar, alias Arnel Tapang, who has a bounty of P1 million for his involvement in a series of killings in the hinterlands of Toboso and Calatrava towns.

Recovered from the encounter site were two assault rifles and a handgun, as well as subversive documents.

Javines said the armed encounter took place after 79IB soldiers were informed by residents of the presence of armed men in their community.*

4 soldiers injured in Escalante skirmish

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 23, 2024): 4 soldiers injured in Escalante skirmish (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

Four Army soldiers were injured in an encounter between remnants of the dismantled Northern Negros Front and 79th Infantry Battalion troopers on Wednesday at Sitio Mansulao, Brgy. Pinapugasan, Escalante City, Negros Occidental.

Lt. Col. Arnel Calaoagan, 79IB commander, however, said that the four injured Army soldiers are now in stable condition.

They got their injuries during the first encounter at about 11:10 a.m. of February 21 in the sitio, where unidentified three rebels were killed after about 30 minutes of gun battle, according to the 79IB.

Recovered from the first encounter site, aside from the cadavers of the three suspected NPA rebels, were an AK 47 assault rifle, an M653 automatic rifle, a .45 caliber pistol, three rifle grenades, an anti personnel mine, assorted cellular phones and commercial radios, combat backpacks, bandoleers, and subversive documents.

Calaoagan said the three slain rebels are believed to be remnants of the dismantled Northern Negros Front.

Pursuing Army troopers, who were tracking bloodstains along the rebels’ withdrawal route, encountered the fleeing NPA rebels at about 2pm on Wednesday, in the same barangay, where another firefight lasted about five minutes.

Another firefight between pursuing Army soldiers, and fleeing rebels also ensued on Thursday, in the hinterlands of Escalante City.

In the two ensuing encounters, no soldiers were injured, while there are still an undetermined number of casualties on the side of the fleeing rebels, according to the military.

Calaoagan said the three encounters have apparently shaken the surviving remnants of the dismantled guerilla front, who are trying to regain their lost territories in northern Negros.

In a statement, Mayor Melecio Yap Jr. strongly condemned the New People’s Army over the spate of violence in the hinterlands of Escalante City that has disturbed the livelihoods and endangered the lives of civilians.*

Opinion: PEACETALK: The Jolo Siege of 1974, Half a Century Hence: Notes on History, War, Peace, Law and Justice (2)

Posted to MindaNews (Feb 21, 202): PEACETALK: The Jolo Siege of 1974, Half a Century Hence: Notes on History, War, Peace, Law and Justice (2) (By SOLIMAN M. SANTOS JR.)

(Last of two parts)

Watersheds in Philippine and Bangsamoro History: War and Peace

NAGA CITY (MindaNews / 21 February) – In Philippine national history of the contemporary period of the past five or six decades, there are two clear key watershed events: first, the September 1972 declaration of martial law that established the Marcos dictatorship; and second, the February 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution which ousted Marcos and restored pre-martial law formal democracy.


In Bangsamoro history, the initial watershed event is the 18 March 1968 Jabidah Massacre believed to be perpetrated by Philippine military officials against a number of young Filipino Muslim/ Tausug recruits who mutinied upon learning that their secret military training in Corregidor Island was to deploy them in an Operation Jabidah to seize control of Sabah from Malaysia. This pre-martial law event is considered the triggering event for the contemporary Moro armed struggle in the Philippines. It was the foundational raison d’etre or casus belli of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as conceptualized by its Founding Chairman Misuari, even as he actually founded the MNLF in 1969 while its first batch called the “Top 90” were undergoing military training in Malaysia and even as the name “MNLF” emerged only in 1970. It took the martial law declaration in September 1972 for Moro armed resistance and the MNLF leading it to break out in the open.

The MNLF track of war and peace on the Moro front may be said to have dominated that scene from the 1968 Jabidah Massacre and the 1972 martial law declaration up to the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement (FPA). Within that 24-28 years period from 1968/1972 to 1996, the main watershed on the Moro front was the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. Before that, from 1972 to 1976 (this is where the 1974 Jolo Siege is situated historically), it was a mainly war phase of the MNLF track. After that, from 1977 to 1996, it was a mainly peace phase of the MNLF track.

It will be noted that during the latter phase, there occurred the key watershed event of the February 1986 EDSA Revolution that ended the Marcos dictatorship and restored formal democracy. Restored democracy, despite all its admitted elitist limitations, was definitely a more favorable factor for various peace processes than was/is dictatorial or authoritarian rule. It will be recalled that the immediate post-EDSA President Corazon Aquino no less went to meet with Misuari in his Jolo stronghold in September 1986. Within 10 years – though it was not as simple or as easy as that – the 1996 FPA with the MNLF was signed under Aquino’s successor President Ramos.

It must also be recalled that, soon after the MNLF track main watershed event of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, particularly in December 1977, the not yet named Moro Islamic Liberation Front faction under MNLF Vice-Chairman Salamat Hashim split from the MNLF on the main policy issue of the latter’s new autonomy path contrary to its original independence path. By March 1984, the split and faction name was formalized by Hashim’s issuance of the “Declaration of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” which highlighted its decidedly Islamic orientation to further distinguish itself from the secular nationalist MNLF, aside from their then different paths of Moro self-determination.

Still on the MNLF track, in 2001, several years after the 1996 FPA and for purported purposes of implementing it, Republic Act No. 9054, the new Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was passed under President Arroyo. But Misuari and his main faction in the MNLF rejected this based on their view that it was not faithful to the peace agreement. Another MNLF faction, the “Executive Council of 15,” was placed at the helm of the ARMM. As a result, the Philippine government’s relations with the MNLF main Misuari faction have not been smooth and have even seen several outbreaks of significant armed hostilities initiated by the MNLF Misuari, often in protest against what they consider as adverse developments in the Mindanao peace process both with the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.


In the meantime, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front track has become dominant in the Moro front of war and peace. This track can be reckoned from its 1977 split with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front up to the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the GRP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on a new autonomous political entity (NPE) to replace the ARMM. This was preceded by the breakthrough 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). Both this and the culminating CAB came under President Benigno Aquino III. The GRP-Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace negotiations actually started as early as January 1997, still under President Ramos, with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front single talking point “To solve the Bangsamoro problem,” just several months after the 1996 FPA with the MNLF, implying that the latter peace agreement had not fully or adequately solved it. Like the MNLF track, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front track had first a mainly war phase from 1977 to 1996, and then a mainly peace phase from 1997 to 2014.

Also, in 2018, several years after the 2014 CAB and to implement it, R.A. No. 11054, the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was passed under President Duterte. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front took the helm of the BARMM’s Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) in 2019. It is clear that like the MNLF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has – at least for now – moved down from independence to enhanced autonomy as the path for Moro self-determination. The inclusion of the MNLF in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-led BTA has become the current expression of MNLF-Moro Islamic Liberation Front unity somewhat ironically brought together this way under President Marcos Jr. MNLF-Moro Islamic Liberation Front unity is considered crucial for the whole Bangsamoro cause and the Mindanao peace process. Getting their act together should not just be a matter of power-sharing but something more substantive in terms of the Bangsamoro agenda. They would do better to reconcile and harmonize the 1996 FPA and the 2014 CAB for peace and unity rather than go separately about their respective peace agreements with the government.

The jury is still out, as they say, on this current implementation stage of the Mindanao peace process with both the MNLF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. But for now, we might sum up the above-given sweep of Philippine and Bangsamoro history of the past five or six decades with these words from the title of a 2017 article by Agnes Aliman: “Lessons from ’70s Jolo: War and martial law won’t solve the problem.” That may well refer to the Bangsamoro problem. Martial law is definitely a government imposition as in a dictatorship or authoritarian rule. War is by its nature waged by at least two conflicting parties. If not war and martial law, then peace (processes) and democracy (with its fundamental freedoms and civil liberties) should solve it.

Interestingly, a recent study entitled “The Age of Conflict” done by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) shows that democratic standards across the world fell in 2023 amid the spread of wars, authoritarian crackdowns and declining levels of trust in mainstream political parties. The study said that “Today’s wars are concentrated in countries where democracy is absent or in trouble.” This would seem to indicate that the level of democracy has some bearing on the likelihood of wars. We might conversely surmise that democracy also has some bearing on the viability of peace processes. And the Philippine martial law experience appears to largely validate this.

Why Never Forget the Jolo Siege of 1974?

Never forget the Jolo Siege because it is a most poignant symbol of at least two important historical truths. First of all, it is a symbol of Moro armed resistance to martial law. In fact, it was the strongest resistance of any sort to martial law during its early years of 1972-76. That Moro armed resistance led by the MNLF deserves due historical recognition for this.

Secondly, the Jolo Siege is a symbol of the horrors of war, aside from the horrors of martial law. Again, to be clear, while martial law is a government imposition, war is a two-sided matter in terms of its horrors, caused by both sides, in this case of internal armed conflict, government and rebel. This war between brothers, Filipino and Moro, as we said, the fiercest and bloodiest fighting in the Philippines since World War II, can be even more horrific than that between Filipinos and foreign invaders, whether Spaniards, Americans and Japanese. The afore-mentioned books by Criselda Yabes and Agnes Aliman, the written testimonies of survivors like Said Sadain Jr., Dr. Abas Candao and Noor Saada, and the oral testimonies of the afore-mentioned three survivors in the 50th anniversary panel discussion speak well about those horrors.

Never forget those, precisely so that they may never again happen. George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But so-called Sieges like that of Jolo have recurred since then. Witness Ipil of 1995, Cabatangan of 2001 (MNLF), Zamboanga of 2013 (MNLF), and Marawi of 2017. It is disturbing that the MNLF for one is implicated in three out of these five Sieges, with certain derogatory actuations like hostage-taking and the use of human shields to extricate themselves from encirclement, and even house burning to smoke-cover their locations or retreat. The recent court dismissal of Misuari’s Zamboanga Siege cases for such war crimes seems like a privileging of peace in favor of justice, even as these two aspirations need not be mutually exclusive. The problem is that the war crimes cases under our domestic law R.A. No. 9851 (covering the same crimes as that of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court) are filed only against alleged rebel perpetrators, and not against soldier or police perpetrators. There thus appears to be more impunity for the latter.

Questions of War Crimes and Genocide

This brings us to certain questions of war crimes and genocide pertinent to the Jolo Siege of 1974. To be sure, there are contending versions about particular issues involving one or both sides, aside from the main issue of the burning of Jolo, among them the following:
– the use of napalm bombs by the PAF on the town center presumably against MNLF targets
– the PAF strafing of the town center presumably against MNLF targets
– the MNLF use of landmines as defensive emplacements in the town center after infiltrating it or withdrawing there from the Notre Dame building area
– the MNLF decision to withdraw to and fight in the town center amidst the civilian population there, instead of retreating outside to avoid further confrontation with the AFP and civilian casualties
– internal displacement, both forced and voluntary, including assisted evacuation by both sides
– the positive and/or negative roles of certain commanders on both sides, with special attention on AFP Commodore then Rear Admiral Romulo Espaldon

I agree with online panelist Agnes Aliman’s remark that the weight of the evidence points to the major responsibility of the AFP for the burning of Jolo, given its superior explosive and incendiary weaponry (not necessarily napalm bombs, which warrants more definitive scrutiny), but I would not rule out the MNLF resort to house burning to smoke-cover their locations in and eventual retreat from the town center (a pattern repeated in the Zamboanga Siege).

The PAF strafing of the town center presumably against MNLF targets and the MNLF use of landmines as defensive emplacements in the town center were both anecdotally confirmed by survivor “Cheng” Rasul as his “near-death experiences” shared at the panel discussion.

The MNLF said that it was forced to move out of Jolo town to guide civilians, especially the Catholic parish priest and four nuns, into safer places so that they would escape the resurgence of massacres perpetrated by the AFP. The AFP in turn accused the MNLF of using those civilians as human shields to cover their retreat.

The MNLF had accused the AFP that on February 7 afternoon, they assembled the civilians in Busbus and massacred them, mostly men about 300 of them, with around 500 more civilians taken as hostages at the Brigade. Small children and women, both young and old, were molested and raped.

If true, such atrocities and others like indiscriminate bombing, shelling and strafing by the AFP, and the use of human shields and any deliberate close-quarters house burning by the MNLF, would easily enough, as the evidence may warrant, count as specific acts of war crimes or serious violations of the rules of war and international humanitarian law (IHL).

Whether whatever AFP atrocities during the Jolo Siege and other related events in Mindanao during the early 1970s constituted genocide against the Moro people as was once charged by the MNLF is more difficult to determine. In the recent International Court of Justice (ICJ) case of South Africa vs. Israel charging the latter with genocide against the Palestinian people in the still ongoing Gaza War, the crucial element is the “specific intent” to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Without that mental element of “specific intent” established, the proven atrocities might amount to various specific war crimes only but not the more serious and wider ethnic cleansing-type pattern of acts that would constitute genocide.

Again, the jury is still out on that, pending more definitive, credible and authoritative findings. On one hand, the OIC, in the official report of its Quadripartite Commission, after thorough fact-finding on the ongoing war on invitation of President Marcos in 1974, indicated no genocide. On the other hand, six years later, in 1980, the unofficial non-(inter)governmental Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) Session on the Philippines in Antwerp, Belgium – where the Filipino people were represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Bangsamoro people were represented by the MNLF, and no GRP representation – issued a Verdict which found, among others, that the Marcos regime committed crimes of genocide against the Bangsamoro people.

The heavy bombardment of populated areas and civilian infrastructure seen in the Jolo, Zamboanga and Marawi Sieges reflect certain new developments, trends and issues in warfare: war on and in cities and other populated areas, increasingly urban rather than rural warfare. Witness the most recent Ukraine and Gaza Wars, though these both have additional high-tech (especially drone and AI use) features. All-told, law, particularly IHL, has to catch-up with warfare.

How Should We Recall the Jolo Siege Today? (or What is to be done?)

These actions questions are perhaps best approached and addressed with the useful framework of Transitional Justice for dealing with the past of dictatorships or of decades-long major armed conflicts. This framework revolves around four rights: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation, and the guarantee of non-recurrence. Fortunately, this framework was adopted in the Mindanao peace process, particularly in the 2014 CAB with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and in the 2018 Bangsamoro Organic Law. The latter specifically provides for Transitional Justice in Section 1 of Article IX on Basic Rights as follows: “The Bangsamoro Parliament, taking into account the report of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission, shall enact a transitional justice mechanism to address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people and the indigenous peoples, such as historical injustices, human rights violations, and marginalization through unjust dispossession of territorial and proprietary rights and customary land tenure.”

In the 2016 Report of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), the “burning of Jolo” in February 1974 is in fact specifically mentioned in its discussion of patterns of international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL) violations in the context of the armed conflict in the Bangsamoro. It deals with such violations by State actors, characterized by the disproportionate use of force and commission of mass atrocity crimes; but it also deals with violations by non-state armed groups.

Unfortunately, the said transitional justice mechanism has not yet been enacted by the Bangsamoro Parliament. Without prejudice to that, there may be other mechanisms to address the above-said four rights of transitional justice. The right to know the truth of what really happened can be addressed by continuing historical work by the academe, by government historical commissions and by civil society historical initiatives especially at the local and regional levels, short of any new truth (and reconciliation) commission on martial law and on the Moro armed conflict.

For one, as regards the Jolo Siege of 1974, there is a need for its deeper understanding on at least two levels: the event itself, and its part in history. At the level of the event itself, as shown by the foregoing discussion as well as by last February 12’s Forum panel discussion, there are still “loose threads of history that dangle and hang untied.” There is a need to clear the fog of war and propaganda (of both sides, actually). Online panelist Prof. Elgin Salomon has written and spoken on the martial law propaganda of the Marcos dictatorship regarding the Jolo Siege. This featured an early case of false “Red-tagging” by the government and the military of the MNLF as “Maoists” and “Communists.” And panelist survivor Dorothy Gokioco showed living proof of the long-lasting effect of such propaganda.

At the level of the Jolo Siege’s part in history, we might again speak of two sub-levels. First, its part in the anti-martial law dictatorship fight. And second, its part in the Bangsamoro Revolution for self-determination and independence led by the MNLF. Just like the CPP-NPA’s fight against the “U.S.-Marcos dictatorship” was also part of its still ongoing national-democratic revolution to overthrow the ruling “semi-colonial and semi-feudal” system. We should be aware of both the martial law and the revolutionary contexts when it comes to the historical roles of the MNLF and the CPP-NPA.

As for the rights to justice and reparation and the guarantee of non-recurrence, the criminal justice system prosecution of particular old cases of war crimes and genocide such as in the Jolo Siege of 1974 may no longer be feasible in both legal and practical terms. Without prejudice to criminal prosecution where it may still be feasible, a more comprehensive kind of redress that addresses a whole historical period such as martial law and the Moro armed conflict (these overlapped from September 1972 to February 1986, but might also include the precursor March 1968 Jabidah Massacre and other pre-martial law massacres) could conceivably result in doable measures of justice, reparation and non-recurrence.

Transitional justice advocate Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, “Kris-Crossing Mindanao” columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, says “This process can start with an acknowledgement [and apologies, I might add] from perpetrators or their present representatives on the commission of such atrocities.” That kind of start or restart is what would lead to the best kind of closure for the victims and survivors. Of course, this would also be without prejudice to sooner doable measures of compensation, such as that already provided under R.A. No. 10368 for reparations and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, and under R.A. No. 11696 for compensation to Marawi Siege victims.

Given already several existing initiatives for transitional justice, including by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), as well as propositions for a martial law truth (and reconciliation) commission, there is a need to map and most importantly to harmonize these as much as possible with a view to ideally maximize the various efforts by some complementation and coordination and thus avoid their duplication or worse, working at cross-purposes. This might be something for Bantayog, for one, to consider, explore and initiate – perhaps like it did with its like-minded co-sponsors for “The Siege of Jolo 1974: A Forum and Webinar with Survivors and Victims.”

Bantayog ng mga Bayaning Pilipino at/o Bangsamoro?

Finally, this memorializing question of concern to Bantayog for martial law martyrs and heroes as well as to the HRVVMC for human rights violations victims. Both Bantayog and HRVVMC admittedly have a dearth of Moro representatives in their current rolls of honor and recognition. This despite the Moro armed resistance being the strongest resistance of any sort to martial law during its early years, and that the most horrific human rights violations as well as war crimes were committed during that armed conflict in Muslim Mindanao. Of course taking available and prospective resources into consideration, among others, Bantayog and other stakeholders should mull the best possible options: purposively having more Moro martyrs and heroes in Bantayog ng mga Bayani, OR having an autonomous Bangsamoro Bantayog and coordinating with each other, OR both. In any case, whatever option, it would be best to do historical justice to both the Philippine and the Bangsamoro perspectives.

In this way, we can make the best sense of what happened, we can find meaning in the losses and trauma of the victims and survivors as well as in the courage and sacrifices of the martyrs and heroes, we can heal better, we can learn the lessons of history so as not to repeat it, and we can move forward for real and lasting democracy, peace and progress in Jolo, in the Bangsamoro and in the Philippines. Insha’allah.

[SOLIMAN M. SANTOS JR. is a retired RTC Judge of Naga City, Camarines Sur, serving in the judiciary there from 2010 to 2022. He has an A.B. in History cum laude from U.P. in 1975, a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Nueva Caceres (UNC) in Naga City in 1982, and a Master of Laws from the University of Melbourne in 2000. He is a long-time human rights and international humanitarian lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer; and author of a number of books, including on the Moro and Communist fronts of war and peace. Among his authored books are The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process published by UP Press in 2001; Judicial Activist: The Work of a Judge in the RTC of Naga City published by Central Books in 2023; and his latest, Tigaon 1969: Untold Stories of the CPP-NPA, KM and SDK published by Ateneo Press in 2023.]

NSA Año: PH-US air patrols promote maritime security, not trouble

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 21, 2024): NSA Año: PH-US air patrols promote maritime security, not trouble (By Priam Nepomuceno)

AIR PATROL. A Philippine Air Force FA-50 (left) and US B-52H bomber (right) aircraft fly over the Philippine exclusive economic zone during a joint maritime cooperative activity on Feb. 19, 2024. The air patrol covered areas 90 nautical miles west of Candon, Ilocos Sur, and 50 nautical miles northwest of Lubang, Occidental Mindoro. (Screengrab from video courtesy of PAF)

MANILA – The country's top security adviser on Wednesday rejected China's claims that the recent joint air patrols by Filipino and American aircraft in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are causing trouble in the region.

"Our engagements with the United States are well within our rights as a sovereign and independent nation, aimed at promoting maritime security and upholding international law. We reject any assertion from other countries that seek to undermine our legal and legitimate activities," National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Año said in a statement.

Año also added that Monday's joint air patrol between the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the US Pacific Air Force is a lawful and routine exercise aimed at enhancing interoperability between allied forces and promoting regional peace and security in the Indo-Pacific Region.

The combined air patrol, which involved three PAF FA-50 light jet fighters and one US Pacific Air Force B-52 strategic jet bomber, covered areas 90 nautical miles west of Candon, Ilocos Sur, and 50 nautical miles northwest of Lubang, (Occidental) Mindoro.

"The joint patrols conducted inside Philippine territory serve the purpose of enhancing maritime security, promoting regional stability, and upholding international law. These patrols help deter illegal activities, ensure freedom of navigation, and contribute to the protection of shared interests in the region," the NSA pointed out.

He also said that international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), recognizes the sovereign rights of coastal states.

"We urge China to respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines conducted within its territory consistent with its national interests and international law," Año stressed.

He added the joint air patrol with the US is part of the country's long-standing defense cooperation and that the Philippines will continue to work with its friends, allies, and partners to ensure a secure and prosperous future for all nations in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Año said adhering to established legal frameworks is crucial for fostering peaceful relations, stability, and cooperation between the Philippines and China.

He also emphasized that adherence to international norms is essential to the peaceful coexistence of neighboring states.

"Respecting and following international law is essential for maintaining peace, resolving disputes, and advancing our shared interests in the region," he concluded. 

USCG to help build PH, others’ capacity vs. illegal sea activities

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 21, 2024): USCG to help build PH, others’ capacity vs. illegal sea activities (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

USCG Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan (Photo courtesy of USCG)

MANILA – The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is committed to helping the Philippines and other Indo-Pacific partners build capacity to counter "illegal activities" within their waters.

In a telephone briefing on Wednesday, USCG Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan said the USCG’s sees its partnerships with states contributing to the promotion of a rules-based order in the wider Indo-Pacific region.

“[T]he Coast Guard as we operate, it’s in accordance with the agreed international order, rule of law, the conducts and codes that govern how mariners and military vessels operate and conduct themselves at sea,” she told reporters.

“And we will continue to operate and engage that way as a demonstration of sort of the importance of rule of law and ensuring that nations have capacity and capability to counter illegal activities or other encroachments of sovereignty,” she added.

Just last year, the USCG made a historic first when the USCGC Frederick Hatch (WPC 1143) visited partners in Tacloban in October.

At that time, a team from the US Coast Guard District 14 and US Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam discussed with the US Embassy in Manila mutual capabilities, training opportunities, and community engagement between the two states.

While in Tacloban, the crew, with support from the Maritime Security Response Team West, also hosted a subject matter expert exchange on maritime law enforcement with Philippine Coast Guard colleagues.

Ranking US naval official commits support to PH Navy modernization

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 23, 2024): Ranking US naval official commits support to PH Navy modernization (By Priam Nepomuceno)

ALLIES. US Navy International Program Office (NIPO) head Rear Adm. Anthony Rossi (left) receives a command plaque from Commodore Salvador Lavapie Jr., deputy commander of the Philippine Navy's (PN) Naval Education, Training, and Doctrine Command, during his visit to the PN on Thursday (Feb. 22, 2024). The two officials discussed current and future modernization projects and bilateral training initiatives between the PN and the US Navy. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Navy)

MANILA – The head of the United States Navy International Program Office (NIPO) has expressed commitment to helping the Philippine Navy (PN) with its ongoing modernization program.

Rear Adm. Anthony Rossi made this pledge during his visit to the PN headquarters at the Naval Station Jose Andrada along Roxas Boulevard, Manila on Thursday.

"Naval Education, Training, and Doctrine Command deputy commander, Commodore Salvador Lavapie Jr., received the visiting US Navy official on behalf of the Flag Officer In Command (Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr.). Discussed during the courtesy call were current and future modernization projects and bilateral training initiatives between the two naval forces," Navy spokesperson Commander John Percie Alcos said in a statement Thursday night.

Lavapie thanked Rossi for the US Navy's continued support to the PN, saying he sees stronger relations between the Philippines and the US.

Rossi, meanwhile, emphasized the significance of fostering strong relationships with allies like the Philippines, highlighting the mutual benefits that stem from collaboration and solidarity among partner nations.

Established in 1989, the NIPO aims to advance global maritime alliances and partnerships by championing exportability and the transfer of capabilities in support of strategic security interests.

AFP chief hopeful of 'total victory' vs. NPA in Visayas by yearend

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 23, 2024): AFP chief hopeful of 'total victory' vs. NPA in Visayas by yearend (By Priam Nepomuceno)

CRUSH COMMUNIST THREAT. AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. talks to the troops of the Visayas Command during his visit to their headquarters in Cebu on Thursday (Feb. 22, 2024). Brawner directed Viscom troops to continue relentless operations against the remaining New People’s Army rebels in the area. (Photo courtesy of the AFP)

MANILA – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. directed the Visayas Command (Viscom) to continue with their operations to eliminate the threat of communist insurgency.

Brawner made the directive after visiting the Viscom headquarters in Cebu and the 301st Infantry Brigade in Iloilo on Thursday, the AFP said in a news release Thursday night.

"And we are very hopeful and optimistic that by the end of the year 2024, ay talagang ma-achieve natin ang (we can really achieve) total victory and we can defeat the communists here in Viscom,” he said.

Brawner also lauded Viscom's officers and enlisted personnel for their accomplishments.

These accomplishments, he said, are aligned with the AFP's overall campaign strategy, which is focused on defeating the NPA remnants.

Last year, the Viscom dismantled six NPA guerilla fronts, neutralized 94 communist rebels, and recovered 314 assorted firearms.

Army hunts down DI extremists in Maguindanao Sur grenade attack

 From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 21, 2024): Army hunts down DI extremists in Maguindanao Sur grenade attack (By Edwin Fernandez)

Google map of Shariff Aguak town, Maguindanao del Sur.

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao del Sur – Military and police forces here have launched a manhunt against motorcycle-riding men who tossed a hand grenade inside an Army outpost that wounded two soldiers and a militiaman Tuesday afternoon.

Major Saber Balogan, civil-military operations chief of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, said the attack was perpetrated by the local Dawlah Islamiya (DI) terror group.

“It could be a retaliation by DI group members due to a successful military operation against them in Maguindanao del Sur,” Balogan said in a radio interview Wednesday.

He identified the victims as Sgts. Jester Arsulo and Bryan Baylon, and also Datu Nor Akmad, a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), all under the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion.

Balogan said the victims were inside the CAFGU patrol base in the village of Timbangan when two men aboard a motorbike lobbed the hand grenade toward the roadside detachment and sped away.

The wounded infantrymen are now being treated at the Army hospital in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao del Norte.

AFP chief leads awarding medals to NorMin, Caraga troopers

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 21, 2024): AFP chief leads awarding medals to NorMin, Caraga troopers (By Nef Luczon)

MEDAL OF HONOR. Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr. (right) pins a medal on a soldier during a ceremony at the Army's 4th Infantry Division (4ID) headquarters here on Wednesday (Feb. 21, 2024). Joining him is the 4ID commander, Major Gen. Jose Maria Cuerpo II (center). (PNA photo by Nef Luczon)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. led Wednesday the awarding of medals to 26 Army troops in Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions, including those who survived a recent encounter in Lanao del Norte.

The 22 troops from various Infantry Battalions under the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) in the two regions were given recognition for their successful operations against New People's Army communist rebels.

“I was briefed with your (troops') commanders that not only you hit the target, but you hit the target way ahead of the deadlines,” Brawner said during a speech at the 4ID headquarters here.

Of the 22 troops, 11 from the 23rd Infantry Battalion (23IB), 8IB, and 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion were given the highest distinction of a Gold Cross Medal.

Brawner also awarded the medals of honor to the four troops from the 44IB of the 1ID who survived the encounter against Dawlah Islamiya-Maute Group combatants in Munai, Lanao del Norte, on Feb. 18.

The four survivors are currently recuperating at the 4ID infirmary.

“We made some miscalculations (with last Sunday's encounter) but this will not stop us from pursuing to put them to justice,” Brawner said.

3 NPA rebels killed, 4 gov't troopers hurt in northern Negros clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22, 2024): 3 NPA rebels killed, 4 gov't troopers hurt in northern Negros clash (By Nanette Guadalquiver)

RECOVERED. Various weapons, communications equipment, and personal items are recovered by troops of the 79th Infantry Battalion after a clash with remnants of the dismantled New People’s Army Northern Negros Front in Escalante City, Negros Occidental on Wednesday (Feb. 21, 2024). Three rebels died while four soldiers were wounded during the encounter. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army)

BACOLOD CITY – Renewed skirmishes claimed the lives of three New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and wounded four government troopers in the hinterlands of Escalante City, Negros Occidental, the Philippine Army reported Thursday.

The series of clashes, which started late Wednesday morning and lasted until Thursday morning in Sitio Mansulao, Barangay Pinapugasan, involved remnants of the dismantled Northern Negros Front (NNF) and troops of the 79th Infantry Battalion (IB).

In a report, the 3rd Infantry Division identified the three rebel fatalities – two males and a young woman – as aliases Michael, Jose and Jandy, who were all killed during the first encounter at past 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

According to the report, Army troopers engaged some eight rebels after learning about the presence of armed men threatening and asking for money and food from the residents.

During the pursuit operation, they had another gunbattle three hours later on Wednesday afternoon, and clashed anew early Thursday around 6 a.m.

After the initial encounter, the troops recovered from the site various weapons, including an AK-47 rifle, a M653 rifle, a caliber .45 pistol, rifle grenades and anti-personnel mine, as well as several mobile phones and handheld radios.

“These encounters have significantly shaken the surviving remnants of the dismantled NNF who are trying to regain their forces here in northern Negros,” 79IB commanding officer Lt. Col. Arnel Calaoagan said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Calaoagan said the wounded government troopers were brought to a hospital and are now in stable medical condition,

VP Sara condoles with family of fallen troops in NorMin

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22, 2024): VP Sara condoles with family of fallen troops in NorMin (By Nef Luczon)

VEEP VISIT. Vice President Sara Duterte visits the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital at the Army's 4th Infantry Division (4ID) headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City on Thursday (Feb. 22, 2024) to speak with the soldiers who survived a recent encounter with Dawlah Islamiya - Maute Group extremists in Lanao del Norte. Maj. Gen. Jose Maria Cuerpo II, 4ID commander, along with other Army officials, welcomed Duterte in the infirmary. (PNA photo by Nef Luczon)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Vice President Sara Duterte visited Northern Mindanao on Thursday to pay respects to the soldiers who died and those who survived a recent encounter with Dawlah Islamiya - Maute Group (DI-MG) extremists.

Duterte visited the bereaved families of the late Cpl. Reland Tapinit in Barangay Maranding, Lala town, Lanao del Norte.

She was supposed to visit the family of the late Private 1st Class (Pfc.) James Porras in Barangay Santa Maria, Prosperidad town, Agusan del Sur but her convoy canceled the trip due to bad weather conditions.

Tapinit and Porras, who belong to the Army's 44th Infantry Battalion (44IB), were two of the six casualties in the encounter between Army troops and the DI-MG on Feb. 18.

Duterte also visited the four troops of the 44IB who survived the encounter and are recuperating at the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital (CESH) at the 4th Infantry Division headquarters here.

“We visited them primarily to check their general welfare, but we also provided some cash assistance to help them with their needs as they recover,” she said.

The four are Cpl. Reymark Limare, Pfc. Raymond Dominguez; and Privates Nazareno Provido and Marvine Aguipo.

While here, Duterte also visited soldiers at the CESH and the Adventist Hospital in Iligan City who survived recent clashes with New People’s Army (NPA) communist rebels.

Two wounded soldiers, Pfc. Rocky Bicoy and Pfc. Neil Calope, are recovering at the CESH after an encounter with NPA combatants last month.

NPA rebel surrenders in Camarines Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22, 2024): NPA rebel surrenders in Camarines Sur (By Connie Calipay)

(Infographic courtesy of PRO5)

LEGAZPI CITY – A member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) surrendered to the Philippine National Police and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) personnel in Basud, Camarines Sur province on Thursday.

In a report, Lt. Col. Malu Calubaquib, Police Regional Office in Bicol (PRO5) spokesperson,
identified the surrenderer as "Bro," of legal age, and a resident of Lupi town, Camarines Sur.

"He is a member of
Sub-Regional Committee (SRC) 1 Komiteng Larangang Guerilla (KLG) 2, under Norbem Gruta Command in Camarines Sur. He also surrendered a gun and three bullets," she said.

Calubaquib said the surrenderer would undergo a debriefing program and receive government assistance under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP).

The police official said the purpose of ECLIP is to provide a variety of assistance, knowledge, and skills to those who have surrendered from the rebel group to help them recover and have a new hope in life.

“This help is not only for them but also for their family and community)," she said.