Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Former US national intelligence chief Negroponte visits country

From InterAksyon (Jan 29): Former US national intelligence chief Negroponte visits country

John Negroponte (file)

Former US national intelligence director John Negroponte, who was once ambassador to the Philippines, is visiting the country Thursday at the head of a delegation that expects “to bring back with them more good news that would help further raise the profile of the Philippines in the United States.”

A news release on the visit said Negroponte and other leaders of the US-Philippines Society are scheduled to pay a courtesy call on President Benigno Aquino III in Malacanang and meet with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, and Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson.

“Our meeting with President Aquino presents a timely opportunity for us to learn more about all the exciting new developments in the Philippines,” the release quoted Negroponte as saying.

“We also want to examine ways on how we can be even more effective in carrying out our mission of raising awareness in the US about today’s Philippines and promote business opportunities,” he added.

Negroponte co-chairs the US-Philippines Society with businessman Manuel Pangilinan.

The group also counts more than 30 Filipino and American executives, including co-chairmen Washington Sycip and Maurice Greenberg.

“The US-Philippines Society has been an effective partner in sharing the Philippine narrative to mainstream Americans,” Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose L. Cuisia Jr., an ex officio member of the board, said. “We expect the Society to continue helping us deliver the good news about the Philippines upon their return to the US.”

He noted that the Society has been active in assisting communities in Leyte and Samar devastated by super typhoon Yolanda, channeling more than $2 million in aid through various groups last year.

Inside story: SAF kept military out of the loop

From Rappler (Jan 29): Inside story: SAF kept military out of the loop

By the time the soldiers arrived in the area, the task waiting for them was to carry the dead in the bloodiest one-day clash in the history of the Philippine police

BLOODY SUNDAY. Philippine police commandos carry body bags containing the remains of their comrades killed in a clash with Muslim rebels in Maguindanao on January 25. File photo by Mark Navales/AFP

BLOODY SUNDAY. Philippine police commandos carry body bags containing the remains of their comrades killed in a clash with Muslim rebels in Maguindanao on January 25. File photo by Mark Navales/AFP
A police Special Action Force (SAF) trapped in an intense firefight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano town on Sunday, January 25, was able to use his mobile phone to ask for artillery support from the military.

The Army 6th Infantry Division wanted to immediately provide fire support, according to 3 sources in the Armed Forces, but the cop on the phone couldn’t give the exact grid coordinates.

Saan kami puputok? Hindi nila alam kung saan sila. Ang pinakamasakit, friendly fire (Where are we going to fire? They did not know where they were. The worst that could happen was [for us to come in and commit] friendly fire)," said a military general based in Camp Aguinaldo but was privy to the operations on the ground on Sunday.

As they are a mobile force, many SAF troops were plucked from other areas outside Maguindanao for this operation.

May procedure how to call for fire support. Sir, I’m in these grid coordinates. From my position, ito yung anggulo at ganito ang layo. Hindi pwedeng tsambahan. Mababagsakan ang bahay ng MILF,” explained another officer. (There are procedures for fire support. You have to state the coordinates, the angle. You cannot leave this to chance. Otherwise you might end up hitting the house of an MILF member.)

The military had several military detachments and hundreds of soldiers deployed around Mamasapano in Maguindanao at the time, but lack of prior information and coordination prevented them from preparing contigency plans that could have possibly stopped the carnage.

By the time the soldiers arrived in the area, the task waiting for them was to carry the dead – 44 elite cops – in the bloodiest one-day clash in the Philippine police's recent history.

Fatal failure

In his televised speech on Wednesday, January 28, President Benigno Aquino III scored the failure of SAF to follow his strict instructions to coordinate with the military on the ground. (READ: Aquino: I talked to SAF chief before Maguindanao ops)

"Tanong po. Bakit at paano nga po kaya nangyari na malapit na sa jump off o naka-jump off na sinabihan ang AFP na malapit. Ang problem po dito, nagkalat sa ibat ibang lugar ang mga sundalong kasapi ng battalion ito na nagbabantay ng main supply route sa lugar na ito," the President said. (This is my question. Why was the AFP informed only when they were about to jump off or have already jumped off. The problem is the soldiers were deployed in various areas.)

"Sa madaling salita, dikit na sa oras ng engkwentro ang abiso. Mahirap masabi kung nagkaroon ng sapat na panahon upang ihanda ang ayuda kung kakailanganin," Aquino added. (In other words, they were informed too close to the encounter. It's hard to say if there was enough time for them to prepare the necessary contingency plans.)

This failure was fatal. When the SAF asked for help, the military still had to scramble for troops deployed in various detachments.

Aquino said he was shocked to learn that the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero and 6th Infantry Division chief Major General Edmundo Pangilinan – who are in charge of military units on the ground – were only informed of the operation after the SAF units had already attacked the area.

The police later revealed that a total of 392 SAF troops – an entire battalion – were deployed for the operation. The overwhelming force shows it was meant to be an all-PNP operation, based on the assessment of the military officer. They were walloped inside enemy territory. (READ: Zamboanga's heroes are Maguindanao's fallen, too and Region in mourning: 1 in 3 slain SAF sons of Cordillera)

SAF commander Police Director Getulio NapeƱas Jr has since been relieved. The operation that the top PNP echelon claimed they did not know about is now the subject of various investigations.

The Sunday bloodbath recalls the October 2011 military operation in Al-Barka, Basilan, that killed 19 of the military's elite Special Forces (SAF). The operation to arrest Abu Sayyaf leaders and an MILF commander turned into one of the Army's worst operational blunders that resulted in a day-long clash with the MILF. (READ: Fiasco in Basilan)
COMRADES: Philippine police commandoes unload body bags containing the remains of their comrades killed in a clash with Muslim rebels. AFP PHOTO/Mark Navales
COMRADES: Philippine police commandoes unload body bags containing the remains of their comrades killed in a clash with Muslim rebels. AFP PHOTO/Mark Navales
'Ill-conceived plan'

The military general admitted they got upset upon learning of SAF's secret operation inside the stronghold of the MILF, which signed a peace agreement with the Aquino administration last year.

It’s an "ill-conceived" operation, the general said, noting how it put at great risk the relationship that was nurtured by the government with the MILF.

The MILF said its troops fired in "self defense," suprised by the presence of government troops in full battle gear. The SAF was there to engage the BIFF but unfortunately chanced upon the MILF troops – the 105th Base Command. (READ: MILF conducts own probe into Maguindanao clash)

At the time of the request for reinforcement and fire support, the military knew very little. Was the SAF fighting with MILF troops? Or the breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which disagrees with the peace talks but still lives among their MILF relatives? Both, it turned out.

Mindanao veterans in the Army were also aware of how treacherous the terrain of Masasapano is.

There are at least 3 units of MILF fighters based in Masasapano. Aside from the 105th Base Command, there's the 106th Base Command just below the encounter area and the 108th Base Command above it.

In any previous government plan to enter the area, the scenario of these 3 MILF fighter units reinforcing each other was always taken into account.

On that fateful day, military commanders knew that had they joined the battle belatedly it could have blown into a full-scale war, marking the death of the peace process.

Most intense: 8 am-10 am

Troops of the Army 45th Infantry Battalion saw the SAF enter the encounter area around 3 am Sunday. Barangay Tukanalipao, site of the main clash, is about 15 kilometers from the highway. This estimate is similar to a police report Rappler obtained Sunday noon indicating that the SAF units entered the area at 2:30 am.

It was around 5 am when the SAF commander called General Pangilinan of the 6th infantry division to inform him that they're inside the MILF area to hunt down high-value targers Jemmaah Islamiyah terrorist Malaysian Zulkifr Abdhir, better know as “Marwan” and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) bombmaker Filipino Basit Usman. (READ: Top terrorist was elite cops' target)

About an hour later, at 6am, the soldiers heard the firefight but did not know what was happening. It could have been rido or clan war, too, which is common in the area.

It was reportedly about 9 am, at the height of the firefight, that PNP OIC Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina called Westmincom chief General Guerrero – his classmate at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) – to ask for reinforcement.

The firefight was most intense between 8 am and 10 am, according to Army Brigadier General Carlito Galvez, who heads the government side of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH). CCCH is the body composed of governent officials and MILF members tasked to maintain the ceasefire as the two parties finalize the peace process.
BATTLEZONE: A man points to reporters the site where SAF policemen and rebels first engaged in intense fighting
BATTLEZONE: A man points to reporters the site where SAF policemen and rebels first engaged in intense fighting

'Mainit na sila'

Galvez told Rappler that he was informed about the clash at 6:38 am and immediately convened the CCCH. He and the MILF commanders called up the forces on the ground. They could hear the intense firefight on the other line.

"Sabi ng mga MI commanders nila, ayusin niyo na 'yan. I-pacify na yan. Pero sabi ng mga commander nila, mainit na sila," narrated Galvez. (The MILF commanders were telling the people on the ground, fix it. Pacify them. But they were told the troops were all agitated.)

Galvez and his MILF counterparts knew then that a phone call was not enough.

They rushed to the MILF's 105th base command in Mamasapano but arrived there between 10 am and 11 am. The SAF had suffered their massive casualties by then, although the firefight wasn't over.

"It was important for us to be there physically to stop the fighting. We saw bodies on the streets," he said.

Galvez and the rest of the CCCH members had to crawl into the battle zone to stop the firefight. “Grabe, nagmamakaawa si General Galvez,” described the military general.

Meanwhile, it was already around noon time when troops from the 45th Infantry Battalion, accompanied by the tanks of the 2nd Mechanized Brigade were able to assemble at the highway leading towards Tukanalipao.

They entered the encounter area around 3pm to save one platoon that was trapped inside the MILF area and extract the casualties.

TOO LATE: Military reinforcement arrive on January 25, 2015 in the town of Mamasapano
TOO LATE: Military reinforcement arrive on January 25, 2015 in the town of Mamasapano

Emotional soldiers

The military walked on eggshells in Maguindanao.

They were afraid of endangering the peace talks, the legacy of President Benigno Aquino III that they were instructed to protect.

"Very emotional kami dito. Kapag nabulilyaso ang peace talks, sino ba ang makikigyera? (We are very emotional here. If the peace talks collapse, who will be going to war?)," an officer on the ground lamented.

The military tried its best to distance itself from the police operation. When the BIFF claimed on Sunday that they exchanged gunfire with soldiers, Camp Aguinaldo was quick to issue a statement to say that it was purely a police operation.

As some camps lamented that the military could have done more to help the SAF troopers, soldiers argued it could have been worse had they rushed into the encounter area. “It’s going to be war and it will involve us,” said the military officer.

Still, the military could have fired explosives to hurt the rebels who trapped the surviving SAF troopers. But the soldiers blamed the absence of reliable grid coordinates for their failure to do so.

Thus they resorted to firing white phosphorous. It wasn't deadly but it was meant to scare away the MILF.

MILF's cozy ties with the BIFF

The bloodbath happened as MalacaƱang hoped to get Congress to pass the Bangsamoro law that will legislate the agreements in the peace deal signed last year.

As both camps began to fix damaged relationships, the Bangsamoro bill suffers a setback in Congress. Two senators have withdrawn their signatures of support to the Bangsamoro law while several members of the Lower House demanded MILF to be held responsible over the bloodbath. (READ: CBCP: Maguindanao clashes should not end peace talks)

Why kill 44 cops when there's a ceasefire?

Is the MILF coddling terrorists?

What is MILF's relationship with the BIFF?
ANOTHER CLASH: Children affected by the conflict in the village of Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao are seen with their parents waiting for the distribution of relief assistance
ANOTHER CLASH: Children affected by the conflict in the village of Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao are seen with their parents waiting for the distribution of relief assistance

What happened on Sunday showed the public the reality that security forces have long known to be a big challenge to the peace talks – the cozy relationship between some members of the MILF and the BIFF that has been responsible for a spate of bombings in Mindanao.

The 105th Base Command is the MILF unit formerly headed by Ameril Umbra Kato, the same man who opposed the talks with govenrment and helped form the BIFF.

Despite their disagreements, the MILF and the BIFF members are brothers and relatives who continue to live among each other. "Pagdating sa ground, wala ng distinction na yan na ito BIFF, ito MILF. Magkakapatid yan," said a military officer.

Doubts on MILF

The alleged presence of Marwan in the MILF territory also casts doubt on the sincerity of the MILF, which committed to maintain peace and order in the area and was expected to help the government in hunting down terrorists including their BIFF comrades. (READ: Real peace means the guns will have to go away)

This is where the SAF got sympathies from combat soldiers familiar with the situation in Maguindanao, who acknowledge the likely reason the police did not coordinate is to make sure Marwan will not be tipped off and escape.

Three days after the bloodbath, President Aquino made a televised public address to defend his peace legacy in the wake of renewed calls for all-out-war against the MILF. (Read the full text of the President's speech in Filipino and English)

As in the aftermath of Al-Barka, the President once again stood his ground for peace. But he knows too well the landscape has changed.

It was self defense, not massacre – Murad

From MindaNews (Jan 28): It was self defense, not massacre – Murad

It was not a massacre, it was self defense.”

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said their fighters acted in self-defense when police commandos stormed two villages in Mamasapano town to arrest Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli Abdhir alias “Marwan” last Jan. 25.

“How can you say it is a massacre when the fighting was so intense? It was not a lopsided fight. We suffered casualties too,” Ebrahim said.

He said 16 MILF fighters were killed in the fighting that started Sunday dawn until evening. The Philippine National Police suffered 44 policemen killed in the encounter.

Ebrahim said the special police unit tasked to arrest arrived in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao on the wee hours last Sunday and did not inform the proper agencies in the ceasefire mechanisms being implemented by the Philippine government and the MILF.

He said the incident would not have happened if the PNP’s Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) units coordinated and informed the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group or AHJAG that they will conduct operations in Mamasapano town.

The Philippine government and the MILF formed AHJAG as a cooperative mechanism to allow government troops and the Philippine National Police to run after criminals and terrorists in areas that have a strong rebel presence.

“This unfortunate incident would not have happened had the PNP coordinated with AHJAG,” Murad told reporters in Camp Darapanan.

President Benigno Aquino III, in his speech Wednesday, also echoed the same sentiments.

“How and why could it have happened that the notifications of the AFP battalions close to the operation only came close to the time of jump-off or even after our forces had already jumped-off?” Aquino said.

Murad said the MILF has convened a Special Investigations Commission composed of members of the MILF Central Committee and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) to investigate what happened in Mamasapano last Jan. 25.

He said the committee will try to resolve the question of who fired the first shot and where the firearms of the fallen policemen as well.

Murad promised that sanctions will be imposed by the committee on the ranks of MILF combatants if they were found to have committed wrongdoing.

“Our concern is truth. There will be a lot of speculations as to what happened and until what happened is establish with credibility and integrity, the said incident will weigh down our current efforts to bring peace to our homeland,” Murad said.

He said the MILF would also welcome any independent investigating bodies, including that from the PNP, who wish to go to Mamasapano town.

Murad also reiterated their full commitment to the peace process calling all MILF commanders for a unified call for an enduring peace.

“We express and send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who died in the armed encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The emotions of loss and pain are not alien to us Bangsamoro and mujahideens,” Murad said.

FULL TEXT: Aquino defends SAF operation in Maguindanao

From Rappler (Jan 29): FULL TEXT: Aquino defends SAF operation in Maguindanao

'Like so many others, I have many questions surrounding the incident, and I expect the board of inquiry to uncover the truth behind this incident'

I stand before you today to report on what we know about the incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last Saturday and Sunday. I do this not because I wish to preempt the board of inquiry tasked to uncover the entire truth, but because you have a right to know what we know at this point.
On Saturday, January 24, a group composed of members of our Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force headed to Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Their mission was to serve outstanding arrest warrants to two notorious terrorists who have long been pursued by authorities, namely Abdulbasit Usman and Zulkipli Bin Hir, alias Abu Marwan. According to the most recent report of the NDRRMC, 44 of our policemen died in the process of fulfilling their duties, while 16 others were injured, including 3 civilians.
As President and as father of this country, I am greatly saddened that our policemen had to lay down their lives for this mission. Without question, these people are heroes; they who willingly put themselves in danger to address threats to our security; they who were wounded; they who gave their lives in the name of peace. To honor those who perished, I am declaring a National Day of Mourning to symbolize the sorrow and empathy of our entire country.
Marwan and Usman are not common criminals. There is a long string of outstanding warrants for their arrest. There are no less than 8 outstanding warrants against Usman alone, while there are no less than 2 for Marwan. One of the earliest warrants was issued in 2002, which means that they were already being pursued when I was a member of Congress. Allow me to clarify: When a warrant is issued against an individual, all officers of the law are obligated to serve it. This is precisely why, since long ago, our security sector, including the AFP, PNP, and NBI, has undertaken multiple operations to capture Marwan, Usman, and other terrorists.
These agencies are not always required to obtain my approval for each and every one of their operations, because it would be impractical for them to wait for my clearance before proceeding. My duty: to make certain that they are carrying out their responsibilities. There are times when certain matters are elevated to my desk so that I may give guidance, give a more holistic view of the situation, or explain its wider implications.
A few examples of this are: our response to rogue MNLF elements in Zamboanga, the capture of individuals high on our list of Most Wanted Persons, and the assault on our peacekeepers in Golan Heights. In the Golan Heights case, the decision of whether or not to depart could not simply be left to our battalion commander there. As the person primarily responsible for foreign relations, I had to be consulted to make certain that we are likewise upholding our obligations to the United Nations.
Marwan is part of the Central Committee of the Jemaah Islamiya, which was responsible for the Bali bombing in Indonesia. In this incident, two consecutive blasts occurred, which meant that first responders and individuals who had not left the area were also affected. 202 people died, and Marwan was a suspect in this case. In Cagayan de Oro in 2012, Marwan attempted to replicate this modus; the second bomb did not explode, as it was discovered ahead of time, yet 2 people still died as a result of this incident. There are allegations that, in 2006, Marwan, along with Umbra Kato, led a plot to plant a bomb to assassinate then-Governor of Maguindanao, Andal Ampatuan. Marwan’s membership in international terrorist networks means that he has the capacity to acquire the knowledge, the equipment, the funding, and the necessary safe havens for his fellow terrorists. This is why he was considered the primary target of the operation. Usman, on the other hand, is connected to nine bombing incidents in Mindanao. He is the primary accused in the bombing in General Santos City in 2002, in which 15 people died, and 60 were injured.
Together with another terrorist named Mawiyah, Marwan and Usman committed several acts of terrorism in various parts of Mindanao. They are also both known bomb-making trainers. There are reports that they run factories of improvised explosive devices, which they sell to fellow terrorists. They have injured and killed many people, and they continue to threaten the safety of our citizens as long as they roam free.
I emphasize: It is stated in Article II, Section 4 of our Constitution that “The primary duty of government is to serve and protect the people.” This is why, when our police force uncovered the precise location of Marwan and Usman, they decided to take action and serve the warrants of the two individuals. Our authorities gathered actionable intelligence. They found not just the region, the province, or the municipality, but the very house in which the two were hiding. Not acting on this knowledge would make it possible for Marwan and Usman to escape, which would mean that the long process of gathering information would have to start all over again.
It was past 4 in the morning when the SAF reached the stronghold in which Marwan and Usman were hiding. In the encounter that followed, the primary target, Marwan, was allegedly killed. Upon hearing the gunshots, Usman and his cohorts fought back. There were also non-combatants spotted in the houses in which Marwan and Usman were located; it was necessary for our forces to close the distance to avoid involving the innocent. Marwan’s house was the first attacked; Usman responded, and the element of surprise, which was necessary to avoid detection, was lost. This is why the SAF decided to withdraw and rendezvous with their companions, who were securing their exit route from the area where the encounter occurred. It appears that it was during this withdrawal when the bloodiest part of the clash happened.
Like so many others, I have many questions surrounding the incident, and I expect the board of inquiry to uncover the truth behind this incident. In the briefings the PNP gave me about the continuing operations against Marwan and Usman, I repeated countless times the need for proper, sufficient, and timely coordination. The terrain covered by this operation is complicated: muddy, with swampland, and there is even the need for our SAF to cross a river to reach their destination. There are also many other forces scattered in the area: the BIFF, MILF, and even a Private Armed Group.
Even if the MILF and BIFF now constitute two different groups, many of them are related by blood or by affinity. Strangers cannot just enter their territory. Our troops needed to enter quietly and carefully; otherwise, their targets may have been alerted.
It is precisely because the forces of the SAF were much smaller than the surrounding numbers who could intervene that it was important for the Armed Forces to be ready to position their troops, resources, and equipment like cannons or artillery, should our police require support. They needed sufficient notice to place their troops where they would be of greatest assistance. In these kinds of encounters, had the assistance of the Armed Forces been necessary, they would not have been able to mobilize and arrive at a moment’s notice, especially because the members of the 6th Infantry Division, who were nearest to the action, have other duties.
To my repeated reminders about the necessity of coordination, the director of the SAF answered, “Yes Sir.” All that he said was that operational security, or the restriction of information only to those who needed to know, was likewise necessary. Even then, I underscored the need to alert other branches, or their respective heads; the notification must come at the appropriate time, with complete information, for them to make the necessary preparations.
I wonder: how and why could it have happened that the notification of the AFP battalions close to the operation only came close to the time of jump-off, or even after our forces had already jumped-off? The problem there was that the soldiers who were members of the battalion assigned to guard the main supply routes to this location were scattered in different areas. In simple language, the notification to the AFP came too close to the time of the encounter, thus making it difficult to determine if they were given enough time to prepare, had their assistance been necessary. If my order to ensure sufficient coordination had been complied with, then perhaps it was pushed to the limit, resulting in very minimum compliance. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the heads of the Western Mindanao Command, or even of the 6th Infantry Division, had only been advised after the first encounter involving Marwan and Usman; the SAF forces were already retreating, and the situation had already became problematic.
Now, on the MILF: We have already made such great strides because we trusted one another. We have already proven that we can work together: in 2014, a Japanese national was rescued in Maguindanao; in that same year, we were able to prevent the explosion of a bomb in Maguindanao. I have also read the statement of Chairman Al Haj Murad about the Mamapasano incident; the MILF’s formation of a Special Investigative Commission in order to determine the details of the incident constitutes a good first step. I am hopeful that the MILF will show, in the soonest possible time, even more concrete evidence of their solidarity in the pursuit of peace, towards the pursuit of truth, and the accountability of those responsible.
Let us also avoid spreading rumors and fueling speculation about the incident. The Bible itself says: The truth shall set us free. There is already a board of inquiry assigned to uncover the whole truth. Let us wait for the results of their findings.
We have already come such a long way in our quest to realize the peace that we have long desired for Muslim Mindanao. All sides exhibited great trust to reach this point. The incident in Mampasano has already given rise to those who want to take advantage of this tragedy to undermine that trust; they wish to derail the peace process. There are even some already calling for a halt to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
This should not happen. The success of the entire peace process is contingent on this law. If this law is kept from being passed at the soonest possible time, the peace process will be derailed; the status quo will remain. If that happens, we cannot hope for anything but the same results: Citizens who take to the mountains after losing hope; individuals kept from gaining justice who instead choose to exact violence on their fellowmen. It would be as if we helped Marwan and Usman to reach their goals. Do we want to return to the point when communities are ready, at a moment’s notice, to flee to evacuation centers, because of the threat of an encounter? If this were to happen, who would benefit? If the peace process were derailed, how many more graves would we have to dig? How many more children will idolize Marwan; how many will want to grow up to be Usman; how many engineers will choose to build bombs rather than buildings?
Let us also remember: The members of the SAF lost their lives while fulfilling their duty to maintain the peace. If the peace process fails, if we return to the status quo, or if the violence were to worsen, is this not the exact opposite of the cause to which they gave their lives?
Is it not true: In facing this challenge, in order to realize peace, should we not link arms more tightly, and pursue with greater determination the next steps in the process, like passing the BBL; forming the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; widening opportunities for all; and correcting a political system where a few benefit to the detriment of the majority of our countrymen?
To the families of the SAF members who perished: I fully sympathize with your grief. I know that this grief may be accompanied by worries about your future, especially if your loved ones who sacrificed their lives were also your breadwinners. I guarantee: The state will give the maximum assistance it can, within the limits of the laws and rules. On this occasion, I also take the opportunity to appeal to the public: If possible let us extend our utmost support to the bereaved, and maximize the help we can give to the families of those who fell, in recognition of the valor of these heroes who gave their lives for the realization of the peace we have long desired.
In the face of our grief, in the face of the desire of some to exact revenge, in the face of the threats to destroy the trust we have forged over such a long period of time, today, our ability to show compassion to our fellowmen faces a great test. This is why, to all of my countrymen who desire peace, from lawmakers, to the members of the uniformed forces, to the leaders of the MILF, to our countrymen in the Bangsamoro, and to every decent Filipino: Let us show what heights a country united by a single aspiration can reach. Let us ensure that the ultimate sacrifice made by some members of the SAF does not go to waste. We will gain justice, in time, through the right processes, and without letting go of our dreams to realize a widespread and lasting peace.
Thank you, and good evening to us all.

2 NPA rebels yield

From Tempo (Jan 27): 2 NPA rebels yield

Two members of the New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered to government troopers on Saturday in Sitio Patil, Barangay Gupitan in Kapalong town, Davao del Norte, the Army’s 10th Infantry Division (10th ID) said.

1st Lt. Vergel Lacambra, chief of public affairs office of 10thID, said the two rebels, aged 26 and 30, are members of the NPA’s Front 34 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee. Their names were withheld for their safety.

Group to tackle concerns of former rebels formed

From the Baguio Midland Courier (Jan 28): Group to tackle concerns of former rebels formed

Mayor Mauricio Domogan created the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) committee to support efforts to bring rebels back to normal life. 

The mayor signed Administrative Order 5, s. 2015 institutionalizing the provision of immediate and long-term assistance that will mainstream former rebels and make them partners in the maintenance and promotion of peace and order and development.

CLIP is a program of the national government designed to provide financial assistance to former rebels.

The mayor will chair the committee with members from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Department of Interior and Local Government, City Social Welfare and Development Office, and a non-government organization.

The CLIP committee serves as the focal point of authority, assistance and management of the program. It validates applications for re-integration, issue certificate of authenticity, require affidavits in case applicant is not in the list or order of battle proving the he/she is a member of the New People’s Army; monitor and evaluate progress of the program; provide support as may be determined in the assessment and incorporated in the individual re-integration plan of former rebels; inform the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process and encourage former rebels to OCSWDO so that the latter will be able to do the preliminary interview.

Besao condemns summary killing of Baguio student

From the Baguio Midland Courier (Jan 28): Besao condemns summary killing of Baguio student

Officials of Besao, Mountain Province led residents in condemning the summary killing of their villagemate, who is also a Baguio resident, on Jan. 10.
The town officials through Resolution 1, s. 2015 said the summary execution of Rufino Posdo alias Kak-eo is unacceptable to the peace-loving villagers of Besao.

“All the barangay officials, the people of Besao, and this council condemn the undeserved killing of Posdo. (This) is a clear violation of indigenous laws, human rights, and due process,” reads the resolution signed by the 10 councilors and Vice Mayor Harry Baliaga, Sr.

No group has claimed responsibility over Posdo’s killing but a high-placed source from the Intelligence Unit of Cordillera Police Regional Office said it was the handiwork of the underground movement.

Posdo, who is a resident of Kias, Baguio, went home to Besao recently to help in the construction of his son’s house at Barangay Tamboan.

On Jan. 10, an armed group went to Posdo’s farm at Lobo, where they chanced upon the victim and his wife.

The victim was later taken from his farm hut by the armed group on allegations that he has committed crimes several years ago.

A female member of the armed group has informed the victim’s wife that her husband will not return alive. The punong barangay of Tamboan was later informed that Posdo was killed by the armed group.

Besao officials forwarded the resolution to the Mountain Province Provincial Peace and Order Council and other concerned agencies such as the Philippine National Police for action.

Last month, close to 500 students and teachers led residents in condemning the ambush that killed two soldiers and wounding of five more in nearby Sagada on Nov. 30, 2014.

The New People’s Army is suspected to be responsible for the Bonifacio Day ambush.

Since 1986, Sagada has been declared as a peace zone. Government forces and the NPA vowed to respect the town to be off-limits to combat.

But over the years, the town had several ambush incidents, greatly affecting its socio-economic activities, especially the tourism sector,  which is the backbone of the town’s economy.