NPA forces dwindling, AFP confident of neutralizing rebs

The communist New People’s Army (NPA) continued to dwindle in numbers as more than 300 rebels voluntarily surrendered to the government in January alone, the military yesterday claimed.

Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said a total of 326 rebels surrendered to the government from January 1 to 31 this year.
“The unprecedented number of surrenders is attributed to the call of President and AFP Commander-in-Chief Rodrigo Duterte on the rebels, as well as the hardship and sense of betrayal experienced by the returnees in staying with the NPA,” he stressed.

Noteworthy among the former rebels, Garcia said, was Gemma Quiroga, 35, of Davao Oriental who surrendered to the 28th Infantry Battalion (IB) last January 27.
“She was a squad medic of the NPAs operating in Davao Oriental and was also designated as chairperson of Anakpawis, a known leftist organization, in Mati City,” the military official added.
Five rebels also surrendered to the 25th IB in Compostela Valley on January 29, including a 16-year-old alias RM.
“This is the latest case of NPA recruitment of minors which has already been documented in the past,” Garcia stressed.
The military said seven NPA rebels from Arayat, Pampanga, surrendered last January 30 and nine from Talacogon, Agusan del Sur, last January 28. Ten other members of NPA operating in Bicol also surrendered this month.
This adds up to the mass surrenders of seven NPA regular members and 35 members of Militia ng Bayan operating in Balud, Masbate, last January 21.

“The AFP leadership congratulates its various units on the ground for the effective use of military pressure against the NPAs, as well as in their humane treatment of the former rebels,” Garcia said.
“The AFP hopes that the influx of surrenderees will encourage other rebels to lay down their arms, abandon violent extremism and embrace the peaceful path toward change,” he added.
The government is offering livelihood and financial assistance to rebel returnees to help them in joining mainstream society.
Apart from surrendering NPA rebels, there are also communist fighters being killed during the conduct of focused military operations against them throughout the country since the peace talks bogged down last year.
The President has tagged the NPA as terrorist group after he suspended peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front after NPA rebels continued to launch atrocities despite the ongoing talks.

10-day cash-for-work for Mayon evacuees set

By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has forged an agreement with the provincial government of Albay for the implementation of a cash-for-work program for individuals and families adversely affected by the Mayon Volcano eruption.

The cash-for-work program is a short-term intervention implemented by the DSWD to provide temporary employment to distressed or displaced individuals by participating in preparedness, mitigation, relief, rehabilitation or risk reduction projects and activities in their communities or in evacuation centers.

Under the memorandum of agreement (MoA), each beneficiary will receive P290 per day for 10 days of work.

The work that they will perform will be based on the need of the evacuation center where they are staying.

About 139 beneficiaries will benefit from the program in Bacacay; 3,035 in Camalig; 2,658 in Daraga; and 3,264 beneficiaries in Guinobatan.

In Legazpi City, 4,074 displaced individuals will be included in the program, while a total of 1,368 and 1,925 beneficiaries are being targeted in Ligao City and Tabaco City, respectively.

Meanwhile, 1,329 beneficiaries will benefit from the program in Malilipot and 3,578 in Sto. Domingo.

The fund for the cash-for-work will be transferred to the concerned local government units (LGUs), who will then manage its implementation.

DSWD-Bicol Region will provide technical assistance to the LGUs for the program’s implementation.

It will also monitor the status of the program in all its phases as well as the utilization of the fund by the LGUs.

The program will be implemented for 10 days this month.

Beautiful, but dangerous

Beneath the thick clouds for the past two days is a beautiful, but still dangerous Mayon Volcano.

Volcanologists here warned local residents that it is still not safe to go back to their homes in the danger zone amid the ongoing decampment here that is being misinterpreted by displaced residents that Mayon is on its way to calming down.

Winchell Sevilla, volcano specialist of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), said that the readings of data from their instruments and their analyses still indicate a restive Mayon that could spew more pyroclastic density materials at any time.

“All the data points to the fact of continuous activity of the Mayon Volcano. And that is the reason why it is still under Alert Level 4,” said Sevilla.

While the sulfur dioxide emission decreased and a ground deflation was monitored on the southern side of the volcano, Sevilla said other parameters indicate of Mayon rumblings. He said that the lava flow is continuous which means there ia still high pressure that continuously pushing out volcanic materials out of the volcano

Before noon yesterday, there were ash puffs monitored and rumbling sounds could still be heard emanating from the volcano.

Ed Laguerta, Phivolcs senior volcanologist, said that the normal sulfur dioxide emission of the volcano is at 5,000 tons a day but for the past few days, it still at 1,500 tons a day although the figure is a reduction by half from the last monitoring of 3,000 tons a day.

“There are three parameters that we are using to determine if Mayon is safe or not. Right now, all the three parameters show abnormalities,” said Laguerta.

The three parameters are gas emission, ground inflation and volcanic earthquakes.

“What we are doing is for public safey. We are particularly concerned of pyroclastic density currents (composed of lava, gas and ash) because these are deadly,” said Laguerta.

Aside from being superhot at more than 1,000 degree celsius, PDCs have a forward force of carbon monoxide which could kill a person when inhaled a very strong force that could instantly kill a person that would be hit.

A total of 55 earthquakes have been recorded over the past 24 hours at Mayon as its volcanic activities have been slowing down in the past few days. However, the alert level status at the restive volcano remains at level 4.

From Saturday until Sunday, Phivolcs recorded sporadic and weak lava fountaining, lava flow and degassing from the summit.

One event produced a 500-meter-high ash plume and a low and weak lava fountain that lasted 37 seconds.

In addition, nine rockfall events were recorded by Mayon’s seismic monitoring network.

Throughout Saturday night, quiet lava effusion fed lava flows in the Miisi and Bonga-Buyuan channels.

The Miisi lava flow has remained at 3.2 kilometers from the volcano summit, while the Bonga-Buyuan lava flows have already advanced to 4.3 kilometers.

Aid from soldiers

For the benefit of displaced families still sheltered at evacuation centers, soldiers from Task Force “Sagip” launched last Saturday its “Operation Magpasaya,” which extended free services like haircuts, massage therapy, and medical check-ups.

The 9th Civil Military Operations (Kaagapay) Battalion spearhead and conceptualized the program in cooperation with Team Albay Youth Organization (TAYO) to alleviate the hardships being experienced by evacuees in Albay.

Maj. Gen. Jesus A. Manangquil Jr., Commander 9ID, said that soldiers are not only ensuring the safety and security of residents near the restive volcano, but also extending psychosocial assistance for thousands of evacuees.

The soldiers take part in the feeding program and delivery of medical services, haircuts and massage therapy to displaced residents, said Manangquil.

The 9th Infantry Division has also engaged additional manpower, deploying skilled Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) carpentry quads for the construction of additional facilities such as comfort rooms at the evacuation sites. (With reports from Aaron B. Recuenco and Ruel Saldico)

10-day cash-for-work for Mayon evacuees set

Army camp has new commander

AN Army general implicated, but later exonerated, in the supposed plunder of military resources has been named camp commander of Fort Bonifacio, home to the 80,000-strong Philippine Army.

Brig. Gen. Roy Devesa assumed the post of commander of the Army’s Headquarters and Headquarters Support Group on Wednesday last week.

Devesa, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1985, was deputy commander of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division based in Gamu town in Isabela, and commander of the 503rd Brigade based in Upi town, also in Isabela.

Devesa replaced Col. Kiram Azgar Grajo, deputy commander of the HHSG who was named acting after the retirement of Brig. Gen. Rodel Mauro Alarcon on January 27.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Louie Villanueva said Devesa, as HHSG commander, is handling a very important job in the Army.

“He is the camp administrator. He is supervising the security of the camp, the headquarters of the Philippine Army. Located at the Army headquarters are various units providing support to troops on the ground,” said Villanueva.

Devesa was among several military officers who were charged by former military comptroller Col. George Rabusa with plunder in 2012 in connection with the controversial “conversion” scheme in the Armed Forces.

Among the ranking officers charged by Rabusa were former AFP chiefs Efren Abu, Diomedio Villanueva and Roy Cimatu, and former military comptrollers Carlos Garcia and Jacinto Ligot.

Devesa was the executive assistant of AFP chief Angelo Reyes who committed suicide in 2011 amid allegations he also benefited from the illegal conversion scheme while he was the AFP chief from 1999 to 2001.

The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the charges against Devesa and the other officers for lack of evidence, except for Garcia.

Garcia, his wife, and his three children were tried for the plunder of about P303 million. The charges were dismissed after Garcia entered into a plea bargain deal with the Ombudsman, which lowered the charges to direct bribery and facilitating money laundering.

As part of the deal, Garcia agreed to return of P135 million of the P303 million he and his family supposedly plundered.

Meanwhile, two senior Army officers were promoted Monday last week — Army chief of staff now Maj. Gen. Chad Isleta and now Brig. Gen. Henry Robinson, commander of the Army’s 703rd Brigade based in Pangasinan.

Abus ambush DPWH-ARMM employees

By Nonoy E. Lacson

Zamboanga City – Two employees of the Department of Public Works and Highways in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DPWH-ARMM) were killed while two others were seriously wounded after members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) ambushed them in a remote village in Lamitan City on Wednesday.

DPWH-ARMM Basilan province District Engineer Soler I. Undug reported the ASG renegades involved in extortion activities sprayed with bullets the service dump truck of the DPWH-ARMM at the village of Baas in Lamitan City at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

Engr. Undug identified the fatalities as Basit Daimun and Ahzhar Dakis. Wounded and confined at the hospital for treatment of bullet wounds were Mitoy Estajal and Abdul Sarabin.

“Those ASG who ambushed our employees were involved in extortion activities. They were extorting from us and since we didn’t give in to their demand, they ambushed our team,” he said.

Undug said the four were on their way to Lamitan City from Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan province to pick up the  transit cement mixer and construction materials for a road concreting project in Ungkaya Pukan when the ambush took place.

DPWH-ARMM employees urged the military in the province to provide them with security particularly the engineers who are implementing infrastructure projects in the province.

The projects are all geared towards uplifting the lives of the people in the province.

In Patikul, Sulu, suspected members’ of the ASG also ambushed a renegade type jeepney killing the driver and his companion while traversing Sitio Hawani. Kalimatahayan road, barangay Latih, Patikul, Sulu at about 7:40 a.m. yesterday.

The military identified the fatalities as Muksin Kaidin and Mukim Kaidin. The military tagged ASG Sony Sajerin and seven of his cohorts as responsible for the attack. The suspects fled towards Latih aboard a gray Tamaraw FX.

Abus ambush DPWH-ARMM employees

Palace: No special treatment for China in PH Rise

Malacañang on Thursday said China did not receive “special treatment” when it was allowed to conduct research in Philippine Rise, a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau about 250 kilometers east of Isabela and Aurora provinces.

“We did not give any special treatment. It was not just China that was given the chance to conduct a scientific research there,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a radio interview.

The United States and Japan were also given permission to conduct research in the area, said to be rich in biodiversity and minerals, he added.

Military advantage

Roque also downplayed concerns that research conducted by the Institute of Oceanology Chinese Academy of Sciences would provide China “military advantage.”

Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez earlier warned that China’s research in Philippine Rise, also known as Benham Rise, would help the Chinese Navy hide submarines there, as the underwater plateau has “a good area for submarine channels which an oceanographic survey can reveal.”

‘PH security threat’

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “submarines can hide in those channels, constituting a threat to the security of the Philippines and our allies in the Western Pacific,” Golez added.

A Philippine Navy official who declined to be named because he had no authority to speak on the matter, said there were fears that PLA Navy might also plant sensors in the undersea region.

But Roque countered: “I don’t understand what military advantage they’re talking about because our sovereign rights there in Benham Rise are very, very clear,” he said.

PH continental shelf

The presidential spokesperson cited the 2012 UN ruling that said Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ extended continental shelf under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Palace official said that Beijing was also “required” to share results of its scientific study with Manila.

“We gave them two requirements: First, there should be a Filipino with them when they conduct the research. Second, the results of their scientific study should be cleared with the Philippines,” Roque said.

Makeshift structures

There was “no basis (for China) to make a claim (as it) recognizes that we have sovereign rights in Benham Rise,” he added.

In August last year, China objected to the makeshift structures that the Philippine military tried to put up on a sandbar in the Spratlys.

Despite an arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines’ claims over some islands in the West Philippine Sea, President Duterte ordered a stop to the construction. —PHILIP C. TUBEZA

Palace: No special treatment for China in PH Rise

Rody calls on Marawi residents to avoid ISIS recruitment

President Duterte on Tuesday asked Marawi City residents to avoid being recruited by Islamist terrorists.

Leading the groundbreaking rites of a new military camp within the war ruins, the Commander in chief encouraged the people in Marawi to unite in rebuilding the Islamic City.
To convince the impoverished to shoo away from terrorist infiltrators, Mr. Duterte promised to keep on disbursing funds to them.
“You do not kill and destroy for no reason at all. I beg of you not to allow them to enter because it will just cause massive destruction and the loss of lives, including the innocent ones who are really the helpless in case of war,” the President said.
“We try to build a new city. I will guarantee you for the remaining years that there will always be money for you, that you’ll be able to rehabilitate your business,” he added.
The Duterte administration has allotted at least P10 billion for the rehabilitation of Marawi for 2018 alone.
Meanwhile, the President said the government would proceed with the peace talks with mainstream Moro insurgents to avoid ISIS recruitment.
“As a matter of fact, this is our golden opportunity. We will proceed with the peace talks,” Duterte said.
“We avoid trouble in Mindanao, we go for a federal system and we’ll try to craft something that could fit the [Bangsamoro Basic Law] or whatever is convenient that could make the Moro happy,” he added.
The new military camp site, inspected by the President, is the renovation of the old Marawi City Hall, converting it into a new Marawi military camp headquarters building.
Located on the top of the hill, the new camp would become a stronghold of the Philippine Army’s infantry units to prevent the re-entry of ISIS-backed groups here and to protect civilians from any security threats.

UP expert fears misuse of Benham

THE Philippines officially allowed Chinese scientists to survey ocean currents in the country’s northeastern seaboard—but it is also possible for data gathered from a scientific expedition to be used for military purposes, a maritime law expert said Wednesday.

Professor and director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Jay Batongbacal warned that the climate-focused research findings can be used for “some kind of military strategic advantage.”

“The data about currents can really be beneficial because you can gain knowledge of the weather and better predict La Niña and El Niño and prepare for disasters,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English at a roundtable discussion Wednesday.

“On the other hand, it’s true also that you can use the same data, use other methodologies and gain some kind of military or strategic advantage,” he said.

Earlier, the Philippine govenrment announced that it has officially allowed Chinese scientists to conduct scientific research in the country’s territory, Benham Rise.

The government has been criticized for allowing China to explore the underwater plateau off the coast of Aurora province.

The research vessel Ke Xua Hao, which carries Chinese scientists and supposedly four Filipinos, arrived northeast of Palanan, Isabela on Jan. 23, one day before schedule, to carry out a survey of ocean currents that scientists believe drive climate phenomena.

The Institute of Oceanology Chinese Academy of Sciences was granted permission by the Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct the study, provided that its scientists are joined by Filipinos, among other requirements.

Batongbacal said that the DFA data on Benham Rise can also be “misleading.”

“It can be misleading because it gives you the wrong impression that there are so many researches going on in Benham Rise,” Batongbacal said.

The DFA last week released its data to the media where it lumped together the number of marine scientific rresearch requests from different countries for Benham Rise and Luzon Strait.

But Batongbacal said that lumping together the MSR of Benham Rise and Luzon Strait may not be proper because both are “totally different areas.”

He said that the government could not protect the Philippine interests if the present administration itself is not fully aware, does not pay attention, and does not understand these details.

Data from the DFA revealed that there are 13 MRS in the region.

The US, it stated, has been conducting research in Benham Rise since 2005 while China has been requesting an MSR in the region since 2004.

Also on Wednesday, the Philippine military said the presence of nine Chinese vessels in the disputed Scarborough or Panatag Shoal was nothing out of the ordinary

GMA-7 quoted Lt. Col. Isagani Nato, Norther Luzon Command spokesman, as saying an aerial survey showed four Chinese Coast Guard vessels, four unknown vessels from China, and a Chinese fishing boat in the area Two of the Chinese vessels were found inside the shoal.

He said there were also four Filipino fishing vessels in the area.

Tiamzons still being tracked down – military

By Francis T. Wakefield

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Wednesday it is tracking down National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon in an effort to re-arrest the couple.

“We are continuously monitoring their location. I just cannot tell you the updates about it. But what we can tell you is that we are going to abide by the orders of the court to implement the arrest order once again issued by the regional trial court,” AFP spokesman Edgard Arevalo  told a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Last January 11 the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 32 ordered the re-arrest of the Tiamzon couple.

Arevalo said the military does not regret the decision of the government to temporarily free the couple so they could participate in peace negotiations with communist organizations.

“Well, first of all we should give peace a chance. That was the chance seen by our government in order to achieve lasting peace. And if it would require some members of the NPA whom we were able to arrest as we have seen and observed that they were given temporary liberty on account of that particular grant of pass as a consultant, then we understand and we will support that. But since it came to pass that we have to re-arrest them, then we will obey and abide by the orders of the court,” he said.

Arevalo also said it will take a national approach to defeat the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“As we have seen (in the past) there are efforts being done and we do not intend to do this all by the AFP. It has to be a whole-nation approach,” Arevalo said.

Judge Thelma Bunyi Medina ordered the arrest of the Tiamzon couple and their co-accused Adelberto Silva, who are facing murder charges in relation to the mass grave found in Leyte in 2006.

The three were granted provisional liberty so they could participate in the peace negotiations between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA).

Last November 23, President Duterte signed Proclamation 360 terminating the peace talks.

“In view of the termination of peace negotiations with the NDF-CPP-NPA, the accused, who are merely granted provisional liberty for purposes of their supposed participation in said peace talks, should be recommitted to the courts,” Medina said.

Tiamzons still being tracked down – military

PH to back US fight against terror if interests coincide

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said the Philippines would support the United States’ fight against terrorism – but only when the efforts of the two allies would coincide.

Lorenzana reacted guardedly to US President Donald Trump’s remarks on fighting terrorism in his first State of the Union address, even as President Rodrigo Duterte strengthened the military’s presence in Marawi City, which is rebuilding after its liberation from a five-month siege by terrorists.

Lorenzana said it did not matter that Trump failed to mention US policy on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, saying “that’s his call.”

“If our efforts against terrorists coincide, well and good, we cooperate,” he said. “But in reality, each country will be addressing its own security problems by any legal means at its disposal.”

The United States deployed surveillance aircraft to help Philippine forces quell the siege of Marawi by Islamic State sympathizers last year.

Mr. Duterte visited the war-torn city on Tuesday to inspect newly constructed temporary shelters for displaced residents and lead the groundbreaking for a new military camp in the Islamic City.

Shun terrorism

A Malacañang statement said Mr. Duterte called on Marawi residents to shun terrorism and embrace progress, as the city prepared to rebuild.

“Let us try to avoid terrorism. It is not the correct way to obey Islam,” the President said in a speech at a resettlement site in Barangay Sagonsongan.

Islam does not kill and destroy for no reason at all, he said, as he called on residents to turn away those who would try to sow terror in their city.

Helpless innocent

“We should not let them (terrorists) in. I beg of you not to allow them to enter because it will just cause massive destruction and the loss of lives, including the innocent ones who are really the helpless in case of war,” he said.

The residents should turn their focus on making Marawi a thriving city once more, he said, adding that they should welcome Christians as well.

“I’m appealing to you to maybe redirect your paradigm or mind-set and allow progress to take place. You will need the Christians as the Christians need the Muslim population,” he said.

Mr. Duterte also sought forgiveness for the city’s destruction, saying he did not wish for it.

“But, you know, there were some events that occurred that I, as President of this Republic, had to respond (to), otherwise I have been a derelict of duty and, of course, might have been ousted,” he said.

He promised assistance for Marawi’s needs, including new homes and livelihood programs for the residents.

More defensible

“We (will) try to build a new city. I will guarantee you for the remaining years that there will always be money for you, that you’ll be able to rehabilitate your business if you really want to,” the President said.

The government is drafting the master plan for a new Marawi City.

The new military camp will include the new city hall. The compound is expected to be more defensible in case of terrorist attacks in the future, Army officials said. —Reports from AP, Leila B. Salaverria, Jigger Jerusalem, Divina Suson and Richel Umel

PH to back US fight against terror if interests coincide


Japan-donated patrol aircraft deployed to monitor disputed shoal 

THE newly commissioned fixed-wing aircraft of the Philippine Navy has conducted its maiden Maritime Air Patrol over the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in Masinloc, Zambales.

In a statement, the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) said the C90 plane with tail number 390 made its first flight around 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, January 31, for about 800 feet above sea level. The aircraft was donated by the Japanese government last year.

Nolcom said four Filipino fishing boats, five Chinese vessels and four Chinese Coast Guard vessels were sighted during the flight.

“The deployment of C90 plane to monitor the area in the famous shoal, located in the West Philippine Sea, will be its first military mission given by Nolcom,” it said.

“Its employment boosted the capability of the Navy to conduct limited airlift, reconnaissance and surveillance within the Area of Responsibility of Nolcom. It will also complement the efforts of the Philippine Air Force to monitor and watch over the three maritime areas in Northern and Central Luzon,” it added.

The Nolcom has vowed to protect the national territory including its northern maritime areas and assert the country’s sovereign rights over the maritime domain with the use of all their available assets.

Filipino fishers were reportedly harassed by the Chinese coast guard to keep them away from the Scarborough Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

China has been insisting that it has exclusive rights over the said area despite a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that the Philippines has the “sovereign” right to fish and explore the Scarborough shoal. (Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo/SunStar Philippines)