Thursday, December 29, 2016

P32M Pamana road project starts in Kalinga starts

From Sun Star-Baguio (Dec 29): P32M Pamana road project starts in Kalinga starts

PINUKPUK, Kalinga -- The P32 million concreting of the Allaguia-Asibanglan road, a Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) project in this town, is set to start.
Personnel from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and their local partners led the ground breaking recently covering 2.6 kilometers is which is the second phase of the road project funded by OPAPP and supervised by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
The Allaguia-Asibanglan road connects the Cal-owan barangays in Pinukpuk and Saltan barangays of Balbalan, hot beds of the New People’s Army in the 80s.
Connecting the two sides will boost economic activities since the populace is now engaged in massive agricultural production.
Reports gathered from the DILG provincial office shows seven Pamana projects for 2016 were approved for Kalinga with one already completed but subject for final inspection.
On-going are the construction of two warehouses in Lubo, Tanudan with total project cost of P1.2 million.
Still to be implemented are the P40 million construction of the 60 linear meter Wagod-Buaya bridge in Balbalan and the two level 2 waterworks system in Pasil with total cost of P2.2 million.
It can recalled the Cordillera Administrative Region received in 2016 at least P533 million worth of community development and livelihood projects under Pamana program to enhance and sustain peace and development initiatives in the different provinces of the region.
Construction of local roads got the biggest allocation of P363 million, construction of bridges – P80 million, construction of post-harvest facilities – P1.8 million, construction of water systems – P11.6 million, community infrastructure – P6.1 million, livelihood projects – P26.995 million and social protection programs – P11.355 million.
Included in the Pamana funded program is the operational and training support for forest guards implemented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and OPAPP. 

IED parts, components recovered

From the Mindanao Times (Dec 30): IED parts, components recovered

FIFTY-THREE pieces of improvise explosive devices and components were recovered by the 60th Infantry Battalion along the Bagan River of the tri-boundaries of Barangay Datu Davao, Laak, Compostela Valley, Kapalong, Davao Del Norte and Agusan del Sur on Dec. 24.
Speaking on Wednesday’s AFP-PNP press conference held at Royal Mandaya hotel, Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, commander of 10th Infantry Division, said the troops and government militiamen were conducting patrol around 8 a.m. when they stumbled into bomb components.
They were able to recover 53 pieces of IED; 560 sticks of Superdyne liquid explosives (125 grams each); 25 kilos ammonium nitrate; 130-meter time fuse and 24-meter host level size ¼, which serves as cap blasting holder.
The recovered items are now at the 60th Infantry Battalion headquarters for proper disposition.

Lanao mayor killed in ambush

From the Mindanao Examiner (Dec 30): Lanao mayor killed in ambush

Unidentified gunmen killed a Philippine town mayor and wounded 2 of his bodyguards in an ambush in Iligan City, television giant GMA 7 reported on Friday.

The report quoted the local police as saying the 52-year old Mayor Mohammad Limbona, of Lanao del Norte’s Pantar town, was attacked late Thursday near the village of Dalipuga. He was travelling in a car with his family when gunmen opened fire on his vehicle.

Two other female passengers were unhurt from the shooting. Police said the gunmen were tailing Limbona’s car, but the motive of the attack is still unclear or whether it was politically motivated. No individual or group claimed responsibility for the killing. Police said it is investigating Limbona’s murder.

In July 2008, the town’s deputy mayor, Abdul Onos, was also killed by motorcycle gunmen outside a bakery owned by one of his children in Pantar town. Onos was killed before he could assume as mayor after the Commission of Elections disqualified Mayor Nor Limbona.

Outlawed Moro armed group bungle grenade attack on Maguindanao provincial office

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 29): Outlawed Moro armed group bungle grenade attack on Maguindanao provincial office

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao -- Suspected members of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Wednesday night lobbed two hand grenades at the provincial office here, officials said Thursday.

“Fortunately, the two explosives failed to go off," Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, provincial police director, told the Philippine News Agency.

Tello said two men riding separate motorbikes passed by the provincial police office located in Barangay Poblacion, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao and tossed two hand grenades at about 11 p.m.

Responding Army and police ordnance experts found out that the blasting mechanisms of the two grenades malfunctioned, preventing powerful explosions.

Tello said the grenades landed near the flag pole and could have damaged glass panes and the entrance of the main headquarters.

Police officer on duty at the sentry said he noticed two motorbikes slowing down in front of the police office where roadblocks exist. But after hurling the explosives, they immediately sped away.

Late last year, suspected BIFF members fired rifle grenades toward the police office that went off beside the compound’s concrete fence.

Tello believed the BIFF was responsible since the group operates near Shariff Aguak. But investigators are also looking at drug suspects as possible culprits after successful police anti-drug operations in Maguindanao in recent weeks.

President Duterte to name BTC members by January

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): President Duterte to name BTC members by January

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to name the 21 individuals who will comprise the new and expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) by January next year, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus G. Dureza said on Friday.

“By January, baka lalabas na ang appointment ng pangulo (the president is expected to appoint the members),” Dureza said.

The BTC, which was created by Duterte’s Executive Order no. 8 signed on November 7, is one of the mechanisms under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) tasked to draft an enabling law that will establish and operationalize the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity.

The same EO expanded the current BTC membership from 15 (seven from the government and eight, including the chairperson, from the MILF) to a 21-member body. The expanded BTC will now have 10 members to be appointed by the government and 11, including its chairperson, will be named by the MILF.

Increasing the number of BTC members, according to Dureza, strives to bring together all key peace actors and stakeholders in the implementation of all Bangsamoro accords.

“In our initial talks with the MILF last August 2016, we have agreed upon to raise the members from 15 to 21 so we can have more representatives, more inclusive memberships that represent other key sectors,” the peace adviser underscored.

Earlier, Dureza disclosed that the Moro National Liberation Front under the leadership of Muslimin Sema is expected to join the BTC on top of other key sectors including the indigenous peoples, sultanates, local government units, and the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The presidential peace adviser, however, clarified that the 21-member BTC could not accommodate all sectors but the newly-formed panel is expected to convene and consult all groups within the proposed Bangsamoro areas.
EO no. 8 mandated the BTC to form an inclusive Bangsamoro Assembly to serve as a consultative body to discuss the proposed enabling law with various stakeholders.

Aside from assuring the inclusivity in the process, the bulk of the work of BTC focuses on writing a new proposed measure, which will replace the old Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Dureza reiterated that the timeline for the BTC to finish the draft will be by July 2017—in time for the resumption of the Congressional session and the President’s second State of the Nation Address.
The peace adviser added that the old BBL which failed to be enacted as a law last Congress will probably be the basic document, among other pertinent legislations, of the new enabling law.

“Napag-aralan na rin ang old BBL, hindi lang napasa dahil may dumating na Mamasapano [incident], which put doubts on the level of trust in the talks. There are also issues about constitutionality pero may sectors na nagsasabi na constitutionally-compliant naman ang mga provisions na ‘yan. So, all of these will be taken noted [The old BBL already underwent scrutiny but failed to be passed because of the Mamasapano incident, which put doubts on the level of trust in the talks. There were also issues on its constitutionality, but there are sectors affirming that the old BBL is constitutionally-compliant],” the peace adviser explained.

Dureza also shed light on his previous pronouncements on charter change and expounded that opening up the Constitution for revisions can only be an option in the peace talks.

“It [charter change] should happen depende na kung mapag-usapan across the table at makita na mayroong napag-usapan na parang hindi compliant sa present Constitution natin. [It should happen depending on what will be discussed across the table and if there are points that seem to be not compliant with our present Constitution],” Dureza pointed out.

After storm, CPP’s 48th anniversary pushes ahead in Southern Tagalog (Photos)

From the  online pro-CPP/NDF propaganda publication Bulatlat (Dec 29): After storm, CPP’s 48th anniversary pushes ahead in Southern Tagalog

 Members of the NPA Melito Glor Command stand in attention (Bulatlat photo)
Members of the NPA Melito Glor Command stand in attention (Bulatlat photo)

SIERRA MADRE MOUNTAIN RANGE, Quezon – After the storm has blown out of the country, the celebration for the 48th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) proceeded here on Dec. 28.

The Melito Glor Command, New People’s Army (NPA) Southern Tagalog command led the celebration, which was moved back two days after the actual anniversary on Dec. 26, the same day Typhoon Nina made several landfalls, including in Batangas.

Jaime ‘Ka Diego’ Padilla, spokesperson of MGC, addresses the crowd. He said the revolutionary movement in Southern Tagalog continues to gain strength, as more people, mostly the peasant and youth, join the NPA. (Bulatlat photo)

Jaime ‘Ka Diego’ Padilla, spokesperson of MGC, addresses the crowd. He said the revolutionary movement in Southern Tagalog continues to gain strength, as more people, mostly the peasant and youth, join the NPA. (Bulatlat photo)

The celebration took off on the theme “Isulong ang demokratikong rebolusyong bayan sa mas mataas na antas at kasiglahan! Magpunyagi sa armadong pakikibaka (Onward with the national democratic revolution on a higher level and vigor! Persevere in armed Struggle).”

The gathering was held in a peasant community in Sierra Madre Mountain somewhere in Quezon province, where some 1,000 people flocked, travelling from Metro Manila and different provinces in the region. The NPAs served a simple, yet delicious lunch of rice, pork and beef, with ingredients donated by the local peasant communities and allies from the region.

(Bulatlat photo)
Bulatlat photo

A leader of the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Timog Katagalugan (PKM-TK) gives a solidarity statement. He said peasants continue to reap the fruits of revolutionary land reform in the countryside, such as reduced land rent, lower interest loan and higher agricultural productivity. (Bulatlat photo)

A leader of the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Timog Katagalugan (PKM-TK) gives a solidarity statement. He said peasants continue to reap the fruits of revolutionary land reform in the countryside, such as reduced land rent, lower interest loan and higher agricultural productivity. (Bulatlat photo)

(Bulatlat photo)
Bulatlat photo

Members of the NPA stood in formation and marched, their boots sloshing in the muddy field drenched by typhoon rains.

The crowd sing the proletarian anthem "The Internationale" along with the NPAs as the finale of the program. (Bulatlat photo)

The crowd sing the proletarian anthem “The Internationale,” along with the NPAs, as the finale of the program. (Bulatlat photo)

In its statement, the CPP Central Committee said: “The Filipino people continue to wage and intensify their national democratic struggles amid the domestic and international crisis. For nearly half a century, the Party has led the Filipino people in waging their revolutionary struggles. They have together accumulated immense victories. The Party is poised to lead the national democratic revolution to greater heights over the next few years and onwards to victory.”

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Ernesto Lorenzo criticizes the Duterte government for failing to fulfill its commitment to all free political prisoners. He said while the NDFP supports the continuation of the peace negotiation, the NDFP will most likely terminate its unilateral ceasefire in January if the government continues to incarcerate political prisoners. (Bulatlat photo)

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Ernesto Lorenzo criticizes the Duterte government for failing to fulfill its commitment to all free political prisoners. He said while the NDFP supports the continuation of the peace negotiation, the NDFP will most likely terminate its unilateral ceasefire in January if the government continues to incarcerate political prisoners. (Bulatlat photo)

The CPP said it is still open to sign a bilateral ceasefire with government, simultaneous with the release of some 400 political prisoners. It said, however, that the termination of the unilateral ceasefire by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and government is “inevitable,” as government troops remain deployed in the NPA guerilla zones and continue to conduct operations and commit abuses.

“The Party continues to support the peace talks and other means for possible agreement with the Duterte government on cooperation to realize basic patriotic and social reforms,” said the CPP, as it looks forward to the next round of GRP-NDFP talks in Rome, Italy in January.

After the celebration program, NPAs shake hands with the audience to give thanks and bid farewell. (Bulatlat photo)

After the celebration program, NPAs shake hands with the audience to give thanks and bid farewell. (Bulatlat photo)

Similar gatherings were held in various regions around the country in celebration of the CPP’s reestablishment.

Counter-insurgency drive starts January

From the Sun Star-Davao (Dec 29): Counter-insurgency drive starts January
THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is set to implement the new counter-insurgency campaign under the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) framework starting January next year, shedding away “Oplan Bayanihan.”

AFP 10th Infantry Division Commander Rafael Valencia bared on Wednesday at The Royal Mandaya Hotel they have already formulated a new security framework in addressing the national threats that was already submitted to the chief of staff of AFP for approval.

“We are just waiting for the approval,” Valencia said.

Valencia said under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the new plan will focus more on creating a sustainable platform and programs that will contribute to the nation building and promotion of peace to ensure and protect the well-being of the Filipinos.

 This will replace the Oplan Bayanihan, which is the counter-insurgency program of former President Benigno Aquino III launched in 2011 that aims to “provide the strategic guidance in the performance of (the AFP's) mandated functions of protecting the state and the people.

It shall help AFP units in planning for and contributing to the attainment of internal peace and security.”

Although he refused to divulge the new term for the new program after he was asked what would be the replacement IPSP name of Oplan Bayanihan, Valencia said the general concept would be more on “supporting law enforcement agency versus anti-drugs and criminality and then contribute to the promotion of lasting peace.”

Oplan Bayanihan was condemned by the communist rebels and indigenous people (IP) in far-flung areas for alleged violation of human rights and initiating abuses, killings and harassments, wherein, Valencia tagged it as a “motherhood statement” and urged these people who were allegedly mauled by the troops to bring it to the panel if they are violating the law and file appropriate cases to justify their claims.

“Kung may mga ganon (If there are violations), we immediately ask for specifics. If there are violations, file the appropriate case in court or nag-uusap naman ang CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) at GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) (CPP and GRP talk), bring it to them,” he said.

The IPSP gears towards defining, shaping and ensuring peace and security of the country against armed internal security threats beset by groups motivated by ideology such as the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army.

Also, groups motivated by self-determination - Muslim groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, terrorist groups - Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah.

Modern equipment to aid Task Force Davao starting 2017

From the Sun Star-Davao (Dec 29): Modern equipment to aid Task Force Davao starting 2017
THE Task Force Davao (TFD) will soon enjoy the new and modern military equipment which will help to effectively ensure the security of the city against potential threats of lawless groups and shun incidents like the September 2 Roxas bombing.
The Davao City government earlier pledged to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines by giving assistance to TFD in the procurement of modern security gears to deter criminals and terrorist groups in their illegal and lawless activities.
“Yong mga proponents natin (Our proponents) for this modern security equipment are conducting their demonstration,” TFD Commander Erwin Bernard Neri said.
He said last December 19, they have a product demonstration coming from a foreign company.
Neri said he is optimistic the equipment will be bought next year.
The Public Safety and Security Command Center already assured TFD that they will upgrade the security equipment of Davao City and that there are sufficient funds to be allocated for its acquisition.
“We expect that by next year, the Davao City Local Government will be procuring modern equipment,” Neri said.
TFD requested for metal detectors, signal jammers for improvised explosive device, X-ray machines and walk-through scanners that will boost their competence in security measures.
“The first checkpoint that we will be upgraded is the Lasang area and then the other checkpoints will follow,” Neri said.
There will also be a permanent border control structures that will be built wherein all the vehicles that will pass through and entering the city will undergo checkpoints.
“Meron ng mga (There are) modern security equipment para (so) it will lessen the inconvenience of the public,” he said.

Davao RTC 33 gets night market ‘bombers’ case

From the Sun Star-Davao (Dec 29): Davao RTC 33 gets night market ‘bombers’ case
THE charges filed against alleged Roxas night market bombers were raffled off to the Regional Trial Court (RTC)-Branch 33.

RTC-Branch 33 Presiding Judge Lope Callo is set to hear the case of multiple murder, multiple attempted murder and violation of the Human Security Act filed against the 14 suspects tagged in the September 2 Roxas night market blast.

 The Davao City Prosecutor’s Office (CPO) has previously recommended the filing of charges against the suspects last December 13.

The CPO previously indicted 14 out of the original number of 22 suspects who were charged.

The rest were acquitted for lack of evidence to support their involvement in the incident.

 The suspects who will be tried in court were Abubakar Zulkifli, TJ Tagadaya Macabalang, Wendel Facturan, Musali Mustapha, Datu Masla Sema, Abu Hadid Dilangalen, Jessy Vincent Original, Zack Haron Lopez, Pendatum Coy Mahurom, one alias Cocoy, Abu Calid, Abu Solaiman, Jackson Usi, and Ausa Mamasapano.

Aside from multiple murder and multiple attempted murder, the suspects were likewise indicted for commission of terrorism under Section 3 of the Republic Act 9372 otherwise known as the Human Security Act of 2007 involving Destruction under 324 of the Revised Penal Code.

 Among those acquitted, meanwhile, were Mohammad Chenikandiyil, Joab Balicas, alias Abrar, Abu Shuhada, Daniel Abu Utman and Jing Pagayao for lack of probable cause.

 According to the resolution, the accused were members of Ansarol Khilafa Philippines, an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis)-like organization, which operates in the country together with the Maute Group.

 The panel members assigned to the case are lawyers Armand Tirol and Jose Paolo Evangelista while the resolution was approved by City Prosecutor Nestor Ledesma.

 As of Thursday, December 29, six of the 14 who were indicted are now in jail while three are in the National Capital Region.

The remaining three are under the custody of the Davao City Police Office.

Duterte claims terrorism fueled by drug operations

From Anadolu Agency (Dec 29): Duterte claims terrorism fueled by drug operations

Says authorities found link between drugs, terrorism and ongoing threat 'being fed with drugs'

Duterte claims terrorism fueled by drug operations
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte has claimed that terrorist groups in the Philippines have resorted to illicit drug operations in order to finance their activities.
In an interview with reporters in Manila on Thursday, Duterte said that authorities had found a link between drugs and terrorism and the ongoing threat is “being fed”.
"There seems to be a merger of identities between" drugs and Daesh-linked militant outfit the Maute Group, GMA news quoted Duterte as saying.
"There was already a connection, there was this big laboratory indeed for the drugs and it was a camp," he added, referring to a recent raid on a Maute area.
Earlier this month, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said they had evidence that members of the Maute Group were using drugs, which were discovered in hiding places in a town they siezed in November.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the group may be using drugs to recruit younger members or to remain alert during military offensives.
"Maybe they are using that to recruit and stay in their line," Padilla told radio dzBB.
The Maute Group, also known as the Dawlah Islamiya, has boasted of an allegiance to Daesh and hoisted the black Daesh flag in Butig when it stormed villages and looted houses of residents in November.
As the military slowly retook control of the town, 63 militants died and 17 others were wounded, the remainder fleeing into the surrounding mountainous area.
The presence of such armed groups has prompted fears during a stalling of the peace process between the government and the MILF that Daesh could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.

Duterte: Leyte bombing done by ‘Moros’ in turf war over drugs

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 29): Duterte:  Leyte bombing done by ‘Moros’ in turf war over drugs


President Rodrigo Roa Duterte –ACE MORANDANTE/Presidential Photo
President Duterte on Thursday disclosed that the explosion in Hilongos, Leyte, on Wednesday night, which hurt 33 people, was a result of a “turf war” involving “Moro people” belonging to rival drug syndicates.

In a series of interviews with television networks on the eve of his sixth month in office, the President claimed the squabble among warring criminal groups behind the narcotics trade has become violent.

“There was an explosion in Leyte. It’s drug-related and they are having a turf war there,” Mr. Duterte said without elaborating.
“It’s drug-related involving Moro people also. They have already reached that area,” he added.

The President, a self-styled socialist leader, immediately absolved the communist New People’s Army (NPA) from any involvement in the blast, which happened a few hours before an explosion hurt seven people in Cotabato province.

“You cannot attribute to it to (the NPA). In the first place, we are having a ceasefire,” he said. “The NPA has no record of throwing grenades at innocent people.”

Cattle rustlers eyed in slaying of police officer

From the Manila Times (Dec 29): Cattle rustlers eyed in slaying of police officer

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: The members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in South Cotabato is eyeing cattle rustlers in the murder of a police officer in Barangay Miasong in Koronadal City on Tuesday night.

Police Officer 1 John Mark Escobillo, son of Tupi Vice Mayor Noel Escobillo, was going home on board his motorcycle when unidentified gunmen shot him using a 12-gauge shotgun.
Senior Insp. Rommel Hitalia, Tupi town police chief, on Thursday said Escobillo was declared dead on arrival at a hospital. He bore gunshot wounds on his abdomen.

Escobillo heads the Tupi PNP Community Police Assistance Center (COMPAC).

Senior Supt. Franklin Alvero, South Cotabato PNP provincial director, said initial investigations indicated Escobillo could have been killed by cattle rustlers operating in Tupi.

Vice Mayor Escobillo urged the PNP in Tupi to go after the assailants of his son whose identities remained unknown as of press time.

Vice mayor’s policeman son shot dead in South Cotabato

From GMA News (Dec 28): Vice mayor’s policeman son shot dead in South Cotabato

[Video report]

A policeman, who is also a son of Tupi, South Cotabato's vice mayor, was shot dead by an unidentified man on Tuesday night.

Police identified the victim as Police Officer 1 John Mark Escobillo, son of Tupi Vice Mayor Noel Escobillo.

The local police said Escobillo was leaving the local amusement park in Barangay Miasong, where he was deployed to provide security, when he was attacked by a lone assailant armed with a 12-gauge shotgun.

The attack happened at around 9 p.m. Escobillo was declared dead-on-arrival at the local hospital.

Police have yet to determine the motive for the killing and the identity of the assailant.

Leyte plaza blast: Maute or BIFF?

From the Philippine Star (Dec 30): Leyte plaza blast: Maute or BIFF?

In line with initial military findings, Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces Public Affairs Office chief, said the Maute group could have launched the Leyte bombing to divert the attention of government troops conducting offensive operations against the group in Butig, Lanao del Sur.

 The military is eyeing the Maute terror group in the bombing of the town plaza of Hilongos, Leyte last Wednesday night.

In line with initial military findings, Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces Public Affairs Office chief, said the Maute group could have launched the Leyte bombing to divert the attention of government troops conducting offensive operations against the group in Butig, Lanao del Sur.

The presence of the Maute group, which claims to have been inspired by the international terror group Islamic State, showed that they have become more mobile like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“The twin blasts in Hilongos only indicate that these terrorists are now highly mobile and they can be in different places. That’s the reason we are also laying down security preparations in places of convergence as well as in cities across the country to see to it that these areas are properly monitored, especially now that there are lots of gatherings,” Arevalo said.
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The Maute and the BIFF, according to Arevalo, are closely linked as they have been monitored helping and assisting each other in the conduct of their terrorist acts.

Badly beaten by state forces in more than two weeks of fighting in Butig town, the Maute group is also hurting after their alleged lady financier was arrested in a drug bust in Hilongos last Oct. 22.
Raidah Ampaso Sarip, a native of Marawi City but based in Hindang, Leyte, was busted in a police sting. She was charged with drug trafficking.

“The explosion could have been perpetrated by her allies in retaliation against the Hilongos police,” 1/Lt Cherry Junia, spokesman for the 8th Infantry Division, said.

The Hilongos twin blasts are being seen as a ploy by the Maute to project that they are a big group.

For now, Junia said they are still awaiting official confirmation of the Maute group’s involvement in the Hilongos blasts.

The Maute was also tagged as the brains behind the Davao City night market bombing last September wherein 15 civilians were killed and 70 others wounded.

President Duterte said gangs involved in illegal drugs are behind the recent explosions in Hilongos, Leyte and Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Duterte said the Christmas Eve explosion in a Midsayap church, which left at least 20 persons injured, happened while the priest was talking about extrajudicial killings.

The blast in Hilongos, Duterte claimed, was caused by a “turf war” among groups with drug links.

“I said terror is now driven by (drugs),” the President told CNN Philippines yesterday.
“With regard to Leyte, what was being fought there is a turf war. We are really going to a slide just like Columbia,” he added.

Duterte said some groups involved in narcotics are being run inside penal colonies.
He said the boss of the group uses phones to direct operations and maintain the business. He also reiterated that the Maute group have links to illegal drugs.

“There seem to be a merger between drugs and the Maute,” the President said in a separate interview with GMA News.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said yesterday that the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used in the bombing in Hilongos are similar to the bombs manufactured by the BIFF.

“It has the signature of the BIFF,” said Dela Rosa.

He said investigators are looking at two possible motives, including retaliation by a drug syndicate after the recent arrest of suspected Muslim drug traffickers in the province.

Another angle is vengeance of other Muslim groups also involved in the manufacture of counterfeit money.

Dela Rosa said it is possible that the IEDs were sold to the suspects and brought to Leyte from Mindanao.

He said it is too early to tell if the incident in Hilongos is connected to another bombing incident in Aleosan, North Cotabato last Wednesday where eight people were injured.

On a possible spillover of the attacks in Metro Manila, Dela Rosa said the police have not monitored any threats to the metropolis, Cebu and Davao.

“Don’t worry. Please relax and enjoy the Yuletide season,” he said.

Some 34 persons were injured after three IEDs exploded while residents were watching a boxing bout to celebrate the town fiesta in Hilongos.

Senior Supt. Franco Simborio, Leyte police provincial director, said that investigators have recovered shrapnel from the three IEDs that were fashioned from an 81 mm

Among the injured was Giselle Managbanag, a 26-year-old pregnant mother, and eight youths who were watching the boxing bout.

Simborio said the youngest victim was identified as 7-year-old Chir Angel Abina who was hit by shrapnel in her leg.

Sixteen of the 34 injured victims were released from hospital while the rest remain confined in several hospitals in Tacloban, Hilongos and Baybay City.

The pregnant Managbanag suffered wounds in her face, legs and hands and is now confined at the Hilongos District Hospital.

During the blast, Managbanag and her husband were standing near the boxing ring at the Rizal Plaza.

“I’m still in a state of shock, thanks to God we were able to survive. We are appealing to the police authorities and other investigating agency of the government to fast-track the conduct of the investigation for the immediate arrest of the suspects,” Managbanag said.

Simborio said that the three IEDs were reportedly planted in various areas a few meters away from the boxing ring.

He said that the IEDs were not too powerful and failed to explode in a “high order,” otherwise more people could have been killed or injured.

Police and Army units were deployed to investigate and track down the suspects.
Simborio said closed circuit television footage of the bombing would assist investigators in the identification of the suspects.

He also confirmed intelligence reports of bombing plots in Metro Manila, Mindanao and other areas.

Senior Police Officer 4 Fortunato Colibao of the PNP Regional Office 8 Explosive and Ordnance Division revealed that investigators have recovered a cellphone from the crime scene used to trigger the IEDs.

Investigators have invited at least 30 Muslim youths to the police station for questioning.

Hilongos Mayor Alex Villahermosa said there is a lead in the investigation and there were reports that the bomb could have been made in Maguindanao.

Villahermosa said his wife was only 12 meters away from one of the IEDs but she was not hurt.

“The people who witnessed the bombing last night were still in a state of shock, so maybe after an emergency meeting with the municipal peace and order council we will introduce security measures, depending on the outcome of the initial investigation,” he said, adding that those behind it wanted to send a message to the President.

N. Cotabato bombing

Seven persons were hurt after a roadside bomb imploded in Aleosan, North Cotabato in another attack blamed on the BIFF.

The victims were identified as Amerol Musa Tantos, Hanep Alipa Ayon, Yahya Kasan, Pahmi Daya Diamla, Johary Amerol, Salman Tahir and truck driver Jamal Pacalna.

Police said the victims were all hospitalized after suffering various wounds when two IEDs exploded along the Davao-Cotabato Highway in Barangay Pagangan in Aleosan.

The victims were passengers of a passing Isuzu truck.

The IED included a battery-operated blasting device that could be detonated from a distance.

Aleosan police chief Senior Insp. Edwin Abantes said probers have yet to determine the exact identities of the bombers.

Local officials said the bombing could have been the operation of outlawed BIFF.

WATCH | BIFF eyed in Hilongos, Leyte blasts

InterAksyon (Dec 30): WATCH | BIFF eyed in Hilongos, Leyte blasts

Chairs and slippers scattered, a police line cordons off the area outside the boxing ring where local townsfolk were watching a tournament when two explosions occurred on the night of Dec. 28, 2016, injuring dozens. Photo supplied by Cpl Albert N. Tresve of the Philippine Army.

The two explosions Wednesday night that left 32 persons injured in Hilongos, Leyte, may be the handiwork of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, according to Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa.

Dela Rosa on Thursday said this was one of the angles they are looking at since the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used in the blasts were crafted from 81-mm mortar cartridge and a cellphone was used as detonator.

Another angle is the retaliation of some militant Muslim groups against the local police for the arrest of Muslim suspects for car theft, illegal drugs and production of fake money.

Malacanang on Thursday said the public has no reason to be alarmed despite two explosions that rocked Leyte and North Cotabato Wednesday night.

"It’s an area of concern but not alarming," Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a press briefing in Malacanang.

The Leyte bombing happened at around 9 p.m. at the plaza of Hilongos town while about 500 people are watching an amateur boxing match as part of the town fiesta activities.

An hour later, another IED went off beside the national highway in Barangay Bagangan in Aleosan, North Cotabato, injuring six persons on board a 10-wheeler truck.

Asked why people should not be alarmed, Abella said no groups have claimed responsibility for the bombings.

"So we cannot pinpoint any specific area or person responsible," he said.

The Palace official also downplayed speculations that the two bombing incidents might lead to the declaration of martial law by President Rodrigo Duterte.

"These are not indicators at that context of being set up for, let’s say, declaration of martial law," he said.

Abella also explained that Hilongos is not area that has been the subject to threats like bombings.

He said the authorities are investigating the twin bombings which happened five days after unidentified persons threw a hand grenade near Sto. Nino Parish church, injuring 12 people in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

[Video report]

Not wise to chase kidnappers into Philippines, says retiring Sabah police chief

From The Star Online (Dec 29): Not wise to chase kidnappers into Philippines, says retiring Sabah police chief

Chasing Filipino cross border kidnappers into their island “dens” in southern Philippines will not be a “wise” move, retiring Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said.

He said that security agencies under the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) were not familiar with the hideouts of the gunmen in their home ground and this could  risky for them.

“Our security agencies are not familiar with their hideouts. For us to enter their area is not really a wise move,” he told reporters after making a farewell visit to Labuan police headquarters on Wednesday.

He was commenting on the green light given by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for Malaysian security forces to carry out hot pursuit of kidnappers and Abu Sayyaf militants into southern Philippines.
Rashid said Malaysian security forces should step up intelligence-gathering efforts and work closely with their Philippines counterparts to combat cross border crimes.

We have a good working relationship with our Filipino counterparts,” he said, in stressing that exchange of information between the two country’s security agencies must be further enhanced to wipe out the kidnapping menace.

Rashid said that every effort was being taken to secure and defend the sovereignty of the country but in view of the long coastline, there was always a possibility for kidnappers or other criminals to slip in.

Duterte links Midsayap, Davao bombings to ISIS

From Rappler (Dec 30): Duterte links Midsayap, Davao bombings to ISIS

In an interview with Rappler, President Rodrigo Duterte says some of his relatives may have even pledged loyalty to terrorist group ISIS

ISIS-RELATED? President Rodrigo Duterte tells Rappler's Maria Ressa on December 29, 2016, that terrorist group ISIS is linked to the Midsayap and Davao bombings. Photo by Beth Frondoso/Rappler

ISIS-RELATED? President Rodrigo Duterte tells Rappler's Maria Ressa on December 29, 2016, that terrorist group ISIS is linked to the Midsayap and Davao bombings. Photo by Beth Frondoso/Rappler

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday, December 29, linked the terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS) to the Christmas Eve bombing in Midsayap, Cotabato, and the Davao City blast in September.

"The ISIS seems to be everywhere. Samal, there was an explosion. In Midsayap, while the priest was giving a sermon on extrajudicial killings, pinaputok 'yung simbahan niya (his church was bombed)," Duterte said during a one-on-one interview with Rappler Executive Editor Maria Ressa.
Ressa asked, "When you say the Midsayap bomb, that explosion is connected to ISIS?"
"Yes, and the Davao bomb explosion," Duterte answered.
The President added, however, that he is "not ready" to share his information on the matter. (READ: Duterte confirms Maute terror group's ISIS links)
Duterte takes the possible ISIS connection seriously. Before his series of media interviews on Thursday, he presided over a meeting with military and police officials on the recent bombing in Hilongos, Leyte, and the Midsayap bombing which left dozens injured.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, though Duterte said the Leyte explosion may have been related to drugs.
"I hope it will not get out of control. I had conference with top guys of the government, military. I saw them with the police. You have to not only appear strong, you have to be strong because this is another problem, it's no joke," he said.
'Cousins with ISIS'
The first Philippine president to admit ISIS presence in the country, Duterte said he has discussed the ISIS threat with other world leaders.
"Yes, part of our discussions," he said.
He said he some of his relatives may have even declared loyalty to the terror group.
"Prangka-prangka, may mga pinsan ako na nasa kabila, nasa MI (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), MN (Moro National Liberation Front). Iba, nababalitaan ko, nasa ISIS," he said. (To be frank, I have cousins on the other side, with MI and MN. Some, I heard, are with ISIS.)
He said sorry in advance should he encounter them in the future.
"Sabi ko, pasensyahan tayo (I said, let's be understanding to each other). You are you and I am I, and I said, if we meet in one corner, so be it," Duterte said.
Government troops continue their offensive against local terrorist groups that have supposedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, the Maute Group, and the Abu Sayyaf.
Duterte has previously said foreigners who are followers of ISIS are already in Mindanao indoctrinating young Moros.
Rappler has reported that ISIS has plans to declare a wilayat or province in Mindanao as part of their caliphate in Southeast Asia.

Duterte tells cops, soldiers: Double pay hike to come in phases

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 29): Duterte tells cops, soldiers: Double pay hike to come in phases

Were they taken for a ride?

Soldiers and policemen should not expect their wallets to fatten anytime soon, President Duterte said on Thursday as he admitted it would take him some time to fulfil his promise to double their basic salaries.

In his visits to police and military camps since he took office six months ago, the President repeatedly told personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that he would increase their salaries this December.

With two days left before the end of the year, MalacaƱang said it was unlikely for Mr. Duterte to make good on his word — just as he failed to stem the illegal drug trade within the first six months of his presidency as he had promised.

“I prioritized the (salary increase of) policemen. But it would be done gradually. They’re feeling it now. But it would not come at once,” the President said in a television interview.

He said he wanted to double the take-home pay of state security forces because they were at the forefront of his merciless war on drugs.

At least 48 policemen and soldiers had been killed in the government’s anti-drug campaign, he said.

In a press briefing, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the national government did not release funds for the additional salaries of PNP and AFP personnel.

“I’m sure the President has serious intentions of fulfilling his word. However, he also has to work within certain structures,” Abella said.

“So I’m sure the process is being followed,” he added.

Maute Group behind Leyte bombing: AFP

From ABS-CBN (Dec 29): Maute Group behind Leyte bombing: AFP

AFP tells public: Avoid crowds in New Year revelry 

MANILA - A day after two separate explosions rocked Cotabato and Leyte provinces, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday urged the public to celebrate the New Year in their own homes instead of flocking to 2017 countdown parties.

The military also advised Filipinos to avoid crowded areas like airports, seaports, malls and train stations.

AFP Public Affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo, however, clarified that authorities are not forcing the public to forego the tradition of ringing in the New Year in public areas, but are merely emphasizing that such places typical venues of terrorist attacks.

In December alone, there has been six incidents of bomb explosions or recoveries, mostly in Mindanao, Arevalo said.

Four of these incidents occurred on Wednesday, including an explosion that wounded 34 people in Leyte; a roadside blast that injured seven others in North Cotabato; the lobbing of two grenades at the provincial office in Shariff Maguindanao; and the discovery of another homemade bomb in the same town.


The December 28 incidents in Maguindanao were masterminded by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), while the Leyte bombing was done by the Maute terrorists, said Arevalo. 

The AFP surmised all the incidents were connected because the Maute, BIFF, and other local terror groups have forged an alliance in a bid to gain recognition from the Islamic State.

The blasts, Arevalo added, indicate that the Maute group suffered loses from military offensives in their stronghold in Butig, Lanao Del Sur, are now trying to divert attention away from their center of power.

Anti-drug operations were also seen as a motive for the terror groups' retaliatory attacks.
The AFP is also looking into the possibility that some Maute fighters are planning terror acts outside Mindanao.

Arevalo asked the public to immediately report any suspicious individuals or packages to authorities.

Amid its warning, the AFP also said security forces are working round the clock even during the holidays to avert any terror attacks.

US senators call for review of $32M aid

From the Manila Times (Dec 29): US senators call for review of $32M aid

Duterte accused of 'mass atrocities'

THREE US senators have asked the US State Department to review a $32-million assistance package for training and law enforcement in the Philippines, decrying President Rodrigo Duterte’s “ongoing deadly campaign of mass atrocities.”

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Democrats Edward Markey and Christopher Coons, all members of the US Senate’s foreign relations committee, said the legality and appropriateness of the funding should be assessed amid “serious allegations of extrajudicial killings that have surfaced in the course of President Duterte’s war on drugs.”
They cited reports that there were at least 2,000 victims of extrajudicial killings and another 3,800 deaths—the result of inadequately investigated homicides connected to what they called “a campaign of mass atrocities.”

The lawmakers noted that the Leahy Law prohibits US assistance or support of any unit of a foreign country’s security forces when its members have carried out gross human rights violations.

“What is our process for tracking the use of US funds in the Philippines to ensure that none of our foreign assistance money dedicated to law enforcement activities is being used to support the extrajudicial killings or other human rights violations of Duterte’s campaign?” the senators asked in a letter dated December 22.

The letter was directly addressed to Assistant Secretary William Brownfield of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

To recall, US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged the $32-million assistance package to the Philippines in his July visit to Manila.

In August, Duterte told the Armed Forces of the Philippines he would use the $32-million aid to purchase military equipment. “We will acquire so many things. When US Secretary of State John Kerry came here, he left me with $32 million. You may use it. I will divide it between you and the police,” he said.

In China in October, Duterte announced his military and economic “separation” from the US amid Washington’s criticism of drug-related killings in the Philippines. He also ordered a stop to joint military exercises and naval patrols.

The senators said that “While supporting law enforcement in foreign countries can be a key element of advancing US interests overseas, recipients of our financial assistance must align with our values and ideals, including respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

They suggested that drug addicts be given access to treatment and a pathway to rehabilitation, not a summary execution where the police or vigilantes act as judge, jury and executioner.

“We urge the US to denounce these horrific violations of basic human rights, and ensure that no foreign assistance is being provided to support egregious acts against humanity,” they added.

Sought for reaction, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it would wait for the State Department to respond to the senators’ letter.

“That’s internal to the US government,” Charles Jose, DFA assistant secretary and spokesman, told The Manila Times. “We have to wait and see if or how the State Department reacts to the letter.”

The State Department earlier terminated the government’s plan to sell some 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippine National Police, while the US foreign aid agency Millennium Challenge Corp. deferred a vote on a news assistance package for the Philippines over “concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”