Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Philippines: Addressing Islamist Militancy after the Battle for Marawi

Posted to the Relief Web (Jul 17): Philippines: Addressing Islamist Militancy after the Battle for Marawi (By Joseph Franco)

Report from International Crisis Group
Published on 17 Jul 2018 — View Original

The Philippine city of Marawi, on Mindanao island, remains in ruins more than a year after a five-month jihadist takeover. To avoid fuelling militancy, Manila must involve locals in reconstruction, implement a 2014 deal with Mindanao separatists and go beyond efforts to counter jihadist ideology
In May 2017, Muslim militants acting in the name of the Islamic State (ISIS) seized Marawi, a lakeside economic hub in the Lanao del Sur province of Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines. It took the Filipino military five months to regain control of the city. Now, more than a year after the siege began, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration in Manila appears overwhelmed by the task of reconstructing the destroyed city.

Manila faces significant challenge in restoring its writ, enabling the 200,000 civilians displaced by the fighting to return home and, more broadly, preventing a militant resurgence in Mindanao. Thus far, the government has tended to view jihadism in the archipelago as mostly ideologically motivated. Its policies, as a result, focus mostly on promoting counter-narratives, often through hand-picked local religious leaders who typically lack local legitimacy. In reality, jihadism’s roots lie in decades of separatist insurgency and dysfunctional local politics. Carrying out the provisions of a 2014 peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest armed group on Mindanao, would better suck the oxygen from jihadists than attempts to counter their ideology. Manila also should involve local communities in reconstruction, so those efforts do not fuel anger at the state.

Muslim Mindanao

Muslims are a minority in the Philippines, making up about 11 per cent of the population. On Mindanao, however, that proportion rises to roughly 23 per cent. In 1989 the government formed the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with Lanao del Sur and three other provinces. This west-central part of the island has a rich Islamic heritage, embodied by Marawi with its concentration of historic mosques. When, in 1980, the city council designated Marawi an “Islamic city”, many of the city’s inhabitants saw that step as a welcome acknowledgement of this history. Now the city centre, including the Marawi Grand Mosque, has been reduced to rubble and is littered with unexploded ordnance, preventing the displaced from returning. Manila’s vision of reconstruction is a showcase of promenades and resorts built by a China-led consortium in the ruined commercial district.

The struggle to retake Marawi was the largest urban engagement for the Philippines armed forces since the Battle of Manila during World War II. The Maute Group, a jihadist group hailing from Lanao del Sur seized the city in an operation ISIS propagandists likened to the capture of Mosul in Iraq. It remains unclear how much operational guidance the Maute Group received from the ISIS core in Iraq and Syria during the battle. Open source evidence showed the Maute leaders, brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, calling the shots during the final stages of attack planning.

This group of largely college-aged and, in some cases, particularly among the leadership, college-going militants held the city for months, thanks to a combination of local knowledge and planning capacity, funds generated locally and abroad, the arrival of dozens of foreign fighters and propaganda support from ISIS-linked media. The militant’s infiltration of the city before they seized it suggested the presence of sympathisers among Marawi’s inhabitants. Disenfranchised youth frustrated with the protracted Mindanao peace process and local clans who take an adversarial stance toward Manila-imposed policies provided a permissive environment for the Maute Group.

The protracted battle to oust the group highlighted limitations within the Philippines security forces in information gathering and urban warfare. These weaknesses, in turn, result at least partly from Manila’s struggle to adapt to the growing threat posed by jihadist cells adept at decentralised operations, after years fighting more hierarchical Mindanao secessionist groups whose structure emulates conventional military forces.

Jihadism in Mindanao should be understood against the backdrop of the 40-year Moro separatist conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced millions, and faltering efforts to find a political solution to that conflict. In 2014, the Philippine government and the MILF signed a peace deal – the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro – which pledged increased political autonomy, more equitable resource sharing and the demobilisation of former secessionists.

Since then, however, the agreement’s implementation has faltered due to factionalism among militant groups, objections from some legislators to the autonomy it envisaged for Muslim Mindanao and breaches of a ceasefire between the Philippines and the MILF. Prior to the Marawi siege, MILF commanders had warned that the longer the peace process remained mired in the legislature, the more receptive their junior cadres could grow to ISIS propaganda. Indeed, the Maute Group appears to have recruited former MILF fighters and has ties to armed factions previously aligned with the MILF.

Implementing the Bangsamoro deal is thus essential to efforts to curtail the influence and spread of jihadism, as well as the MILF’s splintering or return to combat. On 31 May, after an almost three-year delay, the Philippine legislature approved the bill that would enact a future Bangsamoro Basic Law, the most important component of the 2014 deal. Once signed into law by President Duterte, the bill would allow for the creation of a “new, political entity” – called Bangsamoro – in Mindanao to replace the existing Autonomous Region. This would address the MILF’s demands for self-rule and for Bangsamoro to benefit from a share of the wealth from Mindanao’s natural resources. Government surveys estimate natural gas reserves in the Liguasan Marsh at 68 billion cubic feet, leading some Maguindanao politicians to refer to the province as the “next Dubai”.

President Duterte is expected to sign the bill this month, which should check the growing impatience of younger MILF commanders. But while autonomy for Bangsamoro will be a good start, Manila also needs to rethink some of its core assumptions about what drives many Muslim Filipinos to militancy.

Domestic Roots of Mindanao Militancy

In the case of the Marawi takeover some observers solely attribute the Maute Group’s ability to occupy the city and then withstand the siege through foreign cash and fighters. Certainly foreign funds and the apparent reinforcement of the group’s ranks with seasoned fighters from abroad seem to have helped. But the full story is more complex. Mindanao’s jihadist milieu has its origins in local clan and electoral politics, as well as the grey economies that sustain militants such as the Maute Group.

Prior to pledging allegiance to ISIS, the Maute Group was in effect a private militia for the eponymous clan headed by matriarch Farhana Maute, intimidating other clans that contested in local elections in the province. It used coercion to mobilise votes and extort contractors involved in public works projects. This provided the group with experience in purveying violence that would prove useful during the Marawi siege. In 2016, after candidates backed by Farhana suffered losses, the Maute Group appeared to adopt ISIS-related imagery, less because of any particular affinity for ISIS’s ideology than to burnish its fading image as a tough enforcer. It also began to attract former fighters from MILF, especially younger members who felt that the peace process with Manila was taking too long.

In the past, other militants in Mindanao have similarly deployed jihadist rhetoric to promote a more ferocious image. Best known is the Abu Sayyaf Group, formed in the early 1990s by Abdurajak Janjalani, a Filipino veteran of the anti-Soviet mujahidin in Afghanistan. After Janjalani’s death in a 2006 police raid, the Abu Sayyaf Group became infamous for kidnapping-for-ransom activities under the guise of jihad. Kidnapping for ransom is a lucrative supplement to communities that would otherwise derive their incomes from fishing and subsistence farming. The lack of law enforcement and the challenging agricultural environment in western Mindanao incentivise kidnapping.

Abu Sayyaf leaders have long been connected to jihadist movements elsewhere. In its early years, the group’s leaders enjoyed al-Qaeda links and the global movement provided seed funding for attacks in the Philippines. Since mid-2014, Abu Sayyaf factions, particularly in the western Mindanao province of Sulu, have used ISIS-associated iconography such as black flags, apparently in part to extract larger ransoms from foreign governments.

Factors that motivate people to join Mindanao’s jihadist groups are complex. While ideology undoubtedly plays some role, motives among those in outfits like the Maute Group tend to be more material. As described, some local militias adopt the ISIS brand to intimidate rivals or project greater ferocity. Among the rank and file, involvement in jihadist militancy is often the result of a vocational decision within a family or a village, rather than an individual’s epiphany. Not a single Filipino Muslim has attempted a suicide bombing in nearly five decades of insurgency in Mindanao. The rewards in the afterlife promised by jihadist ideology have yet to trump the real-world needs of militants and their kin.

Nor have local jihadist groups produced ideological texts that indigenise the global jihadist movement. Compare this to the prolific writings of other non-state armed groups in the Philippines, such as the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army, which outline what form locally-rooted communism might take. Or compare it to jihadists in Indonesia, who have long produced original vernacular material in various formats including books, pamphlets and DVDs. No such material exists in the Philippines.

Thus far, Manila has not invested seriously in understanding the origins of jihadism in Mindanao. Since the election of President Duterte, the Filipino policy response has veered from military operations to policies framed through the lens of “countering violent extremism” (CVE) – mostly involving efforts to counter jihadist propaganda and indoctrination – despite the absence of a national policy that defines “violent extremism”. CVE framing tends to reduce the complex interaction of political and socio-economic factors that underpin Mindanao’s ongoing conflict to the single cause of jihadist ideology.

The dominance of CVE discourse is likely to render Manila’s policy in Mindanao ineffective. The government’s effort to promote Muslim clerics it views as “moderate”, for example, may further alienate a populace that derides them as mere mouthpieces. Strategic communications campaigns to counter extremist content on social media do not resolve the real-world issues such as dysfunctional politics and economic deprivation that jihadists tap to win recruits.


In the shattered city of Marawi, civil society and neighbourhood collectives eye Manila’s reconstruction plans warily. Many fear that reconstruction, which will most likely be carried out by a Chinese-led consortium, may mean permanent exile for the displaced.

The Duterte administration has declared it wants to build a “new Marawi”, which includes plans for transforming the battle area into an “economic zone”, though precisely what this would entail remains unclear. Its plans appear to ignore the murkiness of land ownership in the city, where competing deeds and informal property claims have sparked periodic clan and family disputes for decades. Many residents of the area that saw the worst destruction, known as the “most affected area”, do not have deeds to their houses, many of which now lie in ruins. They may lose the right to rebuild their homes, while potentially receiving no compensation from the government. Manila cannot solve the problem by paving it over.

Mishandling Marawi’s reconstruction, notably by carrying it out in a manner than angers inhabitants, also risks amplifying the idea, pushed by the Maute Group and its allies, that Islam is under attack in Mindanao. A botched reconstruction could also impugn the autonomy-centric political stance of mainstream groups such as the MILF, potentially driving more of its younger members toward jihadism.

Locals take considerable pride in the city’s heritage as the centre of Islamic education in Mindanao. Should the government disregard that sentiment – and proceed with plans to gentrify the city centre in order to lure tourists – it could further alienate inhabitants of the city from the state. It also could entrench the sentiment of some influential clans that deployment of state security forces in the city was tantamount to foreign occupation. This, in turn, would play into the hands of Maute Group remnants or other violent rejectionist movements that may emerge.

Instead, Manila should enhance measures to involve Marawi’s inhabitants in its reconstruction. Substantial local input would signal a deeper commitment by the central government to Mindanao’s autonomy, even beyond the provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which itself should be enacted without delay. The Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi) inter-agency task force supervising reconstruction should become an active partner of affected residents, rather than simply promoting the Chinese-backed plan.

Meanwhile, the Duterte administration should avoid pronouncements that cast Mindanao militants as “desperate” individuals driven to crime or hardcore terrorists who should be “eaten”. The Filipino security forces should instead refocus on intelligence analysis and build on their experience of peacebuilding, gained while the MILF was still in negotiations with the Philippine government. Nor should those officials who spearhead CVE policies pick which community or religious leaders will represent Marawi or Mindanao. Rather, they should focus on addressing the grievances that jihadist movements exploit, thus empowering individuals and communities that promote peace and support a political solution to the Mindanao conflict.

The jihadist takeover of Marawi, with the Maute Group able to leverage frustration at the gaps in governance and stalled peace process, was a jarring reminder to Manila of the depth of Muslim grievances in Mindanao. What started as militants’ tactical use of ISIS iconography ended in a protracted siege that brought into question the Philippines’ ability to attain peace in Mindanao. The government should take a holistic view of the drivers of conflict, being careful not to lose sight of those that predate the emergence of jihadist cells, notably the demands of many Muslims in Mindanao for a greater say in running their own affairs and reaping the benefits of the region’s natural resources. The Maute Group, for now, appears weakened, but if Manila mishandles the aftermath of the battle for Marawi and the reconstruction of that city, similar forces could easily arise in the years to come.

[Joseph Franco, Research Fellow with the Centre of Excellence for National Security, helped with research and preparation of this commentary as a Crisis Group consultant.]

Officials condemn NPA attack on its community

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 17): Officials condemn NPA attack on its community

BUTUAN CITY – Local officials strongly condemned the Communist New People’s Army (terrorists (CNTs) attack on its community.


Capt. Francisco P. Garello Jr., Ciuvil Military Opertation (CMO) officer of the 36th Infantry (Valor) Battallion (36th IB) told The Manila Bulletin on Tuesday that local officials led by Tago town Mayor Rogelio M. Pimentel unanimously passed a resolution condemning the alleged atrocities of the CNTs.

The public condemnation stemmed from an incident at 11:05 a.m. on July 10, 2018, when the security team tasked to provide security in the community of Barangay Lindoy of that same town during the turn over and installation of a farm equipment (water pump) was harassed by undetermined number of CNTs resulting to the death of Cafgu Active Auxiliary (CAA) member Reymond L. Besinga, a resident of Barangay Bajao of that same town.

The local officials, led by Mayor Pimentel, saddened by the incident expressed their grief.

“On Behalf of the local government of Tago, I strongly condemn the terroristic act of the CPP-NPA on the death of CAA Besinga,” Capt. Garello said, quoting the statement of Mayor Pimentel

“I have encouraged everyone not to support the NPA in order to attain genuine peace in our place,” the 36th IB CMO Officer said, quoting the statement of the local chief executive.

Mayor Pimentel immediately called the MPOC for a special meeting wherein the members unanimously adopted and passed a resolution, and it read: “Resolution condemning the harassment by the Communist terrorists at Barangay Lindoy where CAA Reymond L. Besinga was killed and expressing sympathy to the bereaved family”, Capt. Garello said.

On the other hand, the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) led by its president Geronimo D. Pimentel passed a resolution last weekend denouncing the incident and expressed their sentiments regarding the attack of the NPAs to the community as acts of terrorism. They encouraged every Tago resident to unite and support its government in order to realize an orderly and peaceful community, the CMO officer of the 36th IB added.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Xerxes A. Trinidad PA, commanding officer of the 36th “Valor” Battallion also expressed grief towards the tragic incident.

In a statement sent to The Manila Bulletin yesterday, the ground Army commander was bolstered even more to continue helping the farmers under the project “KaPALAYapaan” as it has proven effective in addressing the issues in the far flung barangays and disadvantaged areas in pursuit of the long and lasting peace in the province of Surigao del Sur.

The community was also harassed by the CNTs when they fired shots at the soldiers and innocent civilians during the community development program in Purok 2, Sitio Ibuan, Barangay Mampi, Lanuza town of that same province last February 21, 2018 which forced the residents to flee from their homes for safety.

“In behalf of 36the IB “Valor” troopers, we offer our sincerest condolences to the bereaved family. The ultimate sacrifice that CAA Besinga offered will always be remembered by us and the community he has served. The CNTs tried to disrupt the Army’s Peace and Development initiatives for the farmers in the area but we are even more emboldened to perform our mandate and will continue to pursue in attaining a peaceful and developed community under the Project KaPALAYapaan”, added Lt. Col. Trinidad.

Troops arrest Abu Sayyaf member

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Jul 17): Troops arrest Abu Sayyaf member

GOVERNMENT operatives have arrested an alleged member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in an east coast village in Zamboanga City, the police said Tuesday, July 17.

Chief Inspector Helen Galvez, Police Regional Office-Zamboanga Peninsula information officer,
identified the arrested ASG member as Nusrin Pawaji alias Nanir Bandahala.

 She said Pawaji was arrested by joint police and military operatives in a law enforcement operation at 5:20 p.m. Sunday at Sitio Niyog-Niyog in Muti village.

Galvez said Pawaji has standing warrant of arrest for the crime of multiple attempted murder issued by a court in this city date January 29, 2018.

The police officer said Pawaji belongs to the group of Jamiul Nasalon alias Jamih, which operates in the east coast of this city.

She said that Pawaji’s group was involved in atrocities like extortion to businesses and fishermen as well in the ambush of a passenger bus on February 14, 2017 in Buenavista village.

She added that he was involved in the killing of eight fishermen on January 9, 2017 near Siromon Island.

ICRC gives med supplies

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 17): ICRC gives med supplies

Medical supplies were recently donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Camp Siongco Station Hospital (CSSH) in Maguindanao.

According to ICRC, medical supplies such as tetanus vaccines were sent last week to help treat wounded soldiers in the recent clashes in Maguindanao province, central Mindanao.

CSSH is attached to the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

From June to July, it has assisted at least 30 wounded soldiers since the armed clashes between the military and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) occurred.

Liutenant Col. Himaya Matas, CSSH hospital chief, expressed gratitude towards the donated medical supplies, saying “[such] are sufficient to treat 10,000 people in the next three months.”

Esperon: 11,000 NPAs, terrorists neutralized

From Malaya Business Insight (Jul 19): Esperon: 11,000 NPAs, terrorists neutralized

NEARLY 11,000 communists and terrorists have been neutralized under the Duterte administration, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said yesterday.

“Neutralize,” in military language, means killing, surrender or arrest of an enemy.

“We have conducted focused operations against the communist terrorist group which, for the period, resulted in the neutralization of approximately 8,700 communist terrorist group personalities and recovery of 2,246 firearms,” Esperon said referring to the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The NPA, according to latest military figures, has only about 3,900 members. Sources said the 8,700 figure cited by Esperon are mostly NPA supporters.

Esperon disclosed the figures, which came from the defense and military establishments, during a pre-State of the Nation Address conference held in Pasay City.

The Duterte administration resumed formal talks with the communist group in August 2016. The resumption of the fifth round of formal talks, which was supposed to be last month, was postponed by President Duterte pending a review of all agreements the government and the communists have signed.

On terrorist groups, Esperon said government forces have killed 955 members of the Maute group and 35 others were arrested during the five-month Marawi City siege that started in May last year.

Esperon said the operations in Marawi City also resulted in the recovery of 902 assorted firearms, 2,594 ordnance and explosive devices, 12 kilos of shabu and rescue of 1,918 hostages.

Bicam OKs final Bangsamoro bill for Duterte signature

From Rappler (Jul 18): Bicam OKs final Bangsamoro bill for Duterte signature

(3rd UPDATE) President Rodrigo Duterte is set to sign the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law ahead of his 3rd State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 23

APPROVED. The bicameral conference committee approves the final version of the Bangsamoro bill, which will now be up for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

APPROVED. The bicameral conference committee approves the final version of the Bangsamoro bill, which will now be up for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

(3rd UPDATE) – The bicameral conference committee finalized on Wednesday, July 18, the bill that would establish and grant greater autonomy to a new Bangsamoro region.

It took the bicam more than a week to reconcile the differing provisions of the House and Senate versions of the measure, with heated exchanges between members.

The House and the Senate would now have to ratify the bicameral conference committee report. They are set to do it on Monday, July 23, during the opening of the 3rd session of the 17th Congress and ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Duterte is expected to sign the proposed Bangsamoro measure into law just hours before his SONA.
The final version, officially named the Bangsamoro Organic Law, seeks to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and replace it with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which would have greater fiscal autonomy, a regional government, parliament, and justice system.
The proposed region would be composed of the current ARMM – Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur – pending a regional plebiscite.

The bill also seeks to include 6 municipalities of Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays of North Cotabato in the Bangsamoro, provided that the province and their municipalities, respectively, vote for it. These areas previously voted to be included in the ARMM but failed when their mother units voted otherwise.

This was the most contentious provision in the bill, leading to an initial deadlock. The panel eventually sought the advice of the President, who in the end sided with the House on the issue and not with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

The chartered cities of Cotabato and Isabela would also be included in the proposed region, subject to the approval of their respective registered voters in the plebiscite.

The bill also has an opt-in provision, allowing adjacent areas to join the Bangsamoro, with a petition of at least 10% of their voters.

'Not perfect, but good start'

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri first moved to accept the Bangsamoro bill on the part of the senators. House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas followed soon after for the lower chamber. At 8:52 pm, both legislators hit their gavels, signaling the bicam's acceptance of the measure.

Cheers and applause erupted in the room.

Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chairperson and Moro Islamic Liberation Front vice chairperson Ghazali Jaafar as well as MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal were later called in front to join the ceremonial signing of the bill.

"We are satisfied. It is not a perfect law, but it is good to start with. It is very important to us," said Jaafar before the bicam members.

Some lawmakers hugged and patted each other's backs, having spent 6 grueling days reconciling the bill's contentious provisions.

CEREMONIAL SIGNING. House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri sign the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law on July 18, 2018. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Just before the approval, House Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema flashed a piece of paper bearing the words "Thank you" to Zamboanga City 1st District Representative Celso Lobregat, with whom she had several heated debates concerning the jurisdiction over the resource-rich Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf.

Sema then approached Lobregat as he wrote the words "You're welcome" on another piece of paper. The two lawmakers then posed for a photo.

Among the last issues the bicam settled were provisions over the preamble and the date of the plebiscite.

Fariñas said they finally settled on the phrase, "We, the Filipino people, cognizant of the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people."

The bicam also agreed the plebiscite would be held not earlier than 90 days and not later than 150 days from Duterte's approval of the law.

Zubiri added that the first regular elections in the new region would coincide with the national elections in May 2022.

Parliament, justice, wealth
Once the bill is signed into law, a Bangsamoro government would be established, headed by a chief minister and a ceremonial leader called a Wali.

There would also be a parliament composed of 80 members – 50% party representatives, 40% district representatives, and 10% sectoral representatives, including two reserved seats for "non-Moro indigenous peoples and settler communities."

Despite having its own government, the Bangsamoro would not have its own military and police force, as these would still be under the national government. (READ: Bicam adopts Senate provision vs Bangsamoro firearms purchase)

As for justice, the region will have its own system based on the unique cultural and historical heritage of the Bangsamoro. (READ: Bicam approves creation of Shari'ah High Court in Bangsamoro)

The justice system of the region would be aligned with the 1987 Constitution, Shari'ah or Islamic law, traditional or tribal laws, and other relevant laws.

Shari'ah law would apply exclusively to cases involving Muslims. If a case involves a non-Muslim, Shari'ah law may apply only if the non-Muslim voluntarily submits to the jurisdiction of the Shari'ah court.

The traditional or tribal laws, meanwhile, would be applicable to disputes of indigenous peoples within the Bangsamoro.

The bill also seeks 75-25 wealth sharing between the national and Bangsamoro government. This means 75% of the national internal revenue collection would go to the Bangsamoro, and 25% to the central government.

An annual block grant, pegged at a 5% share of the national internal revenue or some P59 billion, would also be automatically appropriated to the region without any conditions.

The Bangsamoro region would also primarily oversee all inland bodies of water, except for those that produce energy for other areas outside its jurisdiction. Energy-producing bodies of water, like Lake Lanao, would instead be co-managed by the region together with the Department of Energy.

Army to build hanging bridge

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jul 18): Army to build hanging bridge

The Army’s 542nd Engineering Construction Battalion is building another steel hanging bridge in a remote barangay of Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental.

The 80-meter steel hanging bridge, with a budget of P2.3 million, will connect Sitio Cabagal to four other sitios of Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Capt. Ariel Castro of the 3rd Civil Military Operations Battalion said.

The groundbreaking rites were held July 13 in the area, and was attended by 70 barangay residents headed by Buenavista barangay chairman Harry Higgins, Maj. Arvin Cabantug of the 542ng ECB, Chief Inspector Antonio Benitez, Himamaylan City police chief, and Councilor Emmanuel Castro, who represented Mayor Ernesto Agustin Bascon.

Castro said the steel bridge will connect sitios of Cabagal, Malo, Palay, Vito and Universal, all of Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City. The project is funded by the city government.

Two other steel hanging bridges were also constructed by Army engineers in Brgys Carabalan and Mahalang, all in Himamaylan City.

Cabantug, who is the executive officer of 542 ECB, said the new project is a symbol of “peace and development” dedicated to the Buenavista barangay residents, in collaboration with the city government of Himamaylan.

He added that the steel hanging bridge will provide access to the five Buenavista barangay sitios, whose residents and students now have to cross the river, in order to go to other sitios.