Thursday, June 22, 2017

WATCH | BIFF ends school occupation in Cotabato village but fresh fighting reported

From InterAksyon (Jun 22): WATCH | BIFF ends school occupation in Cotabato village but fresh fighting reported

Military armored vehicles patrol the national highway in North Cotabato on Wednesday, hours after BIFF members occupied a school and were reported to have taken hostages as they fled. DENNIS ARCON, INTERAKSYON

Tension continues to prevail over Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato hours after an attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who were also reported as having taken some hostages as they retreated.

Past 2 p.m. Wednesday (June 21), tension flared anew after the BIFF again figured in an encounter with soldiers, this time in a remote village in Midsayap town.

The military has gone on full alert in the entire North Cotabato, with military armored vehicles seen patrolling major roads, especially near the entry and exit points of Cotabato City.

According to a report by 6th ID Spokesperson Capt. Arvin Encinas, at least 50 armed BIFF members attacked Barangay Malagakit at 5 a.m. Wednesday. The attackers are under Kumander Abunawas, OB 10, Abu Saide and Sala, all sub-leaders of Kumander Bunggos.

Still unconfirmed reports said 15 civilians were still being held by the BIFF at the Malagakit Elementary School.

Some 100 families fled the fighting and took refuge at the Municipal Plaza.

One Cafgu member was wounded in the attack.

Despite the violence, the national highway remains passable, the military said.

BIFF withdraws

Earlier, the military said, BIFF members who occupied a village school in Pigcawayan town early Wednesday morning have withdrawn with no reports of casualties.

“It’s already resolved,” Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told reporters. “They’ve withdrawn, they are no longer there. The school area is again safe.”

However, Padilla also said the military was investigating whether five civilians were still being held by the militants, adding no children had been taken hostage.

Earlier, a spokesman for the gunmen said they had taken civilians to a safe place after a gunfight erupted with troops and did not intend to hold them.

Chief Inspector Reylan Mamon, Pigcawayan police chief, earlier said villagers had been trapped by the clash that erupted when the gunmen occupied the school around 5:45 a.m.

The BIFF, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front almost a decade go, is one of the armed groups in Mindanao that government claims have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Mindanao has been under martial law since May 23, when fighting broke out in Marawi City between government forces and extremist gunmen from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, who have been joined by a number of foreign terrorists.


Military: Islamist fighters in Marawi hemmed within 1 sq-km enclave

From InterAksyon (Jun 22): Military: Islamist fighters in Marawi hemmed within 1 sq-km enclave

air strike blast Marawi

Debris and fire is seen after an OV-10 Bronco aircraft released a bomb, during an airstrike, as government forces continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City, Philippines June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Islamist militants holed up in a southern Philippines town have been cornered and their firepower is flagging, the military said on Thursday, as the five-week battle for control of Marawi City raged on.

Joint Task Force Marawi spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said on Thursday the number of militants holding out in Marawi had dwindled to “a little over 100”.

Lt. Col. Christopher Tampus said: “Their area has been reduced to 1 km square only.” Tampus’ troops are blocking escape routes across bridges spanning a river to the west of the militants.

“Our forces are coming from the east and the north and we are blocking the three bridges,” he said.

Tampus told reporters that the militants were still using snipers who were firing from “strategic nests” in schools and mosques, and homemade bombs were hampering the progress of Philippine troops as they advanced house by house.

He said he had seen at least five civilians dressed in black who appeared to have been forced to stand in the street as human shields.

Despite signs that the insurgents are now on the back foot, Southeast Asian governments are worried that the siege could be just the prelude to further violence as the ultra-radical Islamic State group tries to establish a foothold in their region.

Jolted by the May 23 attack on Marawi, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have launched joint patrols to control the movement of militants across their archipelagic region and their foreign ministers gathered in Manila on Thursday for talks.

Malaysia is worried that militants who are flushed out of Marawi City by the fighting may try to cross from the Philippines to its eastern state of Sabah.

“We fear that they may enter the country disguised as illegal immigrants or foreign fishermen,” said Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) chief Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid, according to state news agency Bernama.

It said Esscom had drawn up a “wanted” list that included two militants who spearheaded the attempt to capture Marawi.

They are Abu Sayyaf group leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was proclaimed by Islamic State last year as its “emir” of Southeast Asia, and Abdullah Maute, whose followers accounted for a large number of the estimated 400-500 fighters who overran part of the town, killing Christians and taking dozens of civilians hostage.

The fighting in Marawi broke out on May 23.

According to official estimates late on Wednesday, 369 people have been killed during the month of hostilities, three-quarters of them militants. The number of security forces and civilians killed stood at 67 and 26, respectively.

Counting the dead in Marawi: of 384, at least 50 civilian deaths confirmed

From MindaNews (Jun 21): Counting the dead in Marawi: of 384, at least 50 civilian deaths confirmed 

The death toll in the month-long clashes between government forces and the Maute Group has risen to 384, at least 50 of them civilians. This, as the Marawi Crisis entered Day 30 on Wednesday, June 21,

At the Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacanang on Wednesday, Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said 268 terrorists, 66 government forces and 26 civilians had been killed, for a total of 360. Add to that 24 evacuees who died in hospitals, according to Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial, and the grand total as of June 21 is 384.

Of 384, however, only 110 dead bodies have been accounted for: 66 government forces (63 soldiers, three police officers), the 24 evacuees who died in hospitals in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte and 20 of the 26 civilians allegedly “killed by the terrorists” whose dead bodies were brought to the Capin Funeral Homes in Iligan City between May 27 and June 9.

Cemetery workers place the last of the 11 coffins containing the bodies of still unidentified victims in the Marawi City siege in their final resting place at the cemetery in Barangay Dalipuga, Iligan City. The interment was attended mainly by local government employees and the media. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

Nine of the bodies had been claimed by relatives while the remaining 11 were buried at the San Roque Cemetery in Barangay Dalipuga also in Iligan on June 15, after they were processed (including taking of tissue samplings for DNA matching) and tagged by the Philippine National Police’s Scene of the Crime Operatives.

Wounded In Action; terrorists killed

The number of soldiers wounded in action is no longer mentioned during press briefings. But on June 14, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, in a statement denying reports they had ordered the bombing of mosques, said, “that’s the reason why I had more than 50 KIAs (killed in action) and 297 WIAs (wounded in action) because of our extremely restrictive rules of engagements. He said mosques are “no fire areas.”

President Rodrigo Duterte pins medals and gives away phones and Armscor Caliber .45 pistols to 79 more soldiers wounded in action (WIA) in the fight against the Maute Group in Marawi City at the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital on Tuesday June 20, 2017. Each soldier wounded in action also receives a P100,000 check and P10,000 cash. On June 11, Duterte also pinned medals on 84 WIA in Marawi in the same hospital. MindaNews photo by FROILAN O. GALLARDO

In the early days of the still ongoing war, the military spokespersons — Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla in Manila and Lt. Col. Jo-Ar-Herrera in Marawi — would mention the number of terrorists killed, in two categories: “confirmed by body count” and “confirmed by eyewitness” accounts, e.g. 42 body count, the rest based on eyewitness accounts.

On the second week of the clashes, the military spokespersons stopped mentioning categories, just numbers.

The last “body count” of slain terrorists was on May 31, when the military reported 89 terrorists killed, 42 of them “confirmed by body count” and 47 “confirmed by eye witnesses.”

There is no way of confirming exactly how many terrorists have been killed since May 23. The 268 slain terrorists reported as of June 21, is a number claimed by the military.

Trapped / Hostaged

On June 9, as air strikes against the Maute Group in Marawi’s conflict zone intensified, the Provincial Crisis Management Committee (PCMC) spent Day 18 of the Marawi Crisis meeting with agencies to prepare for the retrieval of the dead in the conflict zone once the military declares these areas cleared.

Volunteer rescuers were also gathered to attend a crash course on retrieving dead bodies, conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Philippine Red Cross.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, PCMC Coordinator and member of the Secretariat, told MindaNews then that while conducting rescue operations to save lives remains the priority, “we are also conscious of the fact that the fighting has dragged on for a long time and as the day passes by, we have to contend with the reality that the chances of survival especially of those who have been injured decreases.”

Sinarimbo said there is a need to “calibrate our preparation as we may need to deploy for retrieval, which is why we are also training our rescue teams.”

No, this is not Aleppo. This is Marawi City, Sunday morning, 04 June 2017. A member of the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring, and Assistance Center of the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor assists an elderly woman leave the conflict zone, one of 134 trapped civilians rescued Sunday morning during a four-hour “humanitarian pause.” Photo courtesy of BANGSAMORO NEWS

PCMC spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong told MindaNews on June 19 that they reckon “300 to 600” civilians remain trapped within the conflict zone. This is apart from the estimated 100 civilians held hostage by the Maute Group, including Fr. Teresito Soganub, Vicar General of the Prelature of Marawi.

Adiong expressed fears at least 100 dead bodies are in various stages of decomposition within the conflict zone, based on accounts of survivors and rescue volunteers.

Retrieval of dead bodies cannot be done unless the military declares the area cleared.

Preparing for the worst

A week earlier, on June 12, Adiong told a press briefing in Marawi: “I guess we need to ready ourselves for the worst once this (Baanggolo) bridge is opened,” as he noted that photographs shared online have given the public glimpses of the destruction in the conflict zone located in the city’s center, and accounts of rescuers who were able to enter the “hostile area” on June 4 as well as survivors indicate there are many dead bodies lying on the ground, some of them in an advanced stage of decomposition.

Adiong narrated that during the flag-raising ceremony on June 12, a police officer narrated that one of his friends received a text message that a trapped family in Barangay Raya Madaya had sent word their child has died of hunger and that they and their Christian employees have been eating their blanket for survival.

Other survivors narrated eating raw noodles until their supply ran out, some turned to eating leaves and many relied on rain for water.

The remains of a slain civilian along Gomisa Avenue leading to Banggolo district on June 4, 2017. awaits retrieval. Photo courtesy of Amerol Ariel

Samira Gutoc of the Ranao Rescue Team, told ABS-CBN News’ Headstart last Monday that residents trapped in the conflict zone for 28 days have been without access to food “in the areas of Marinaut, the coommercial area, the Banggolo plaza, Cabili — these are areas where people are eating we don’t know, God knows what they are eating. Some have reported blankets, they are eating from little drops of water from somewhere so its like I don’t know if it’s Africa I am looking at or yung movies na pinapanood natin.. it’s so real.”

She said some have resorted to eating boxes and leaves.

She explained is “double burden” for the Maranaos because of the ongoing Ramadan, the month-long fasting. “Some of them would observe fasting but at night when they can eat, there’s nothing to eat because there’s no commercial establishment (that is open). So we’re asking the Philippine Army, government and the Maute Group to let the food in, especially also in the evacuation centers in the first district of Lanao del Sur.

Gutoc contested the figure on slain civilians in the conflict zone. “We don’t agree that numbers are at just 20 as reported by media,” Gutoc said, adding that as early as Day 1, “one our volunteers saw a summary execution by the MG (Maute Group) guy.”

She said a volunteer whose nine-month old child died likely from suffocation when the city jail was burning on Day 1, May 23, reported seeing cadavers there.

“Every day, if you count three people die times 28 days,” that’s a huge number, Gutoc said, adding “we’re not talking three in recent days.”

Gutoc narrated how a son whose family was trapped in the conflict zone, dug up a shallow grave to bury his ailing father “who died in front of his eyes.”

Under normal circumstances, Maranaos bury their dead before sundown or within 24 hours, following rituals that include cleaning the corpse and wrapping it in white shroud.

Volunteer rescuers had earlier said some remains had been preyed upon by animals and maggots.

Militants urge CHR to probe abuses during martial law

From MindaNews (Jun 22): Militants urge CHR to probe abuses during martial law

Different militant groups have called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate alleged human rights violations committed during martial law in seven provinces in Mindanao.

In a press conference Thursday, Sheena Duazo, secretary-general of the Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, said around 100 militants will hold a protest on Friday, exactly one month since President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s declaration of martial law, to urge the CHR to visit the hinterland communities where the alleged violations carried out by the military against farmers and Lumads took place.

She said their group also received reports, which included among others, threats and harassments, illegal arrest, arson, strafing, extrajudicial killings, forced evacuation, and frustrated killings in North Cotabato, Bukidnon, Davao oriental, Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, Davao del Norte, and Davao City.

Duazo said they are ready to present all reports of the human rights violations during the rally that will be participated by multi-sectoral groups, including Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Pasaka-SMR.

“They have to investigate. It’s their job to go to the communities and investigate. It should not be the affected residents who should go to their office. We will keep on pressing them to investigate in the communities and recommend charges against the erring soldiers,” she said.

Duazo said they demand that those military and paramilitary members be held liable for their abuses.

The progressive groups have renewed their calls for Duterte to withdraw his declaration of martial law and order the military to stop the use of aerial bombs they claimed have displaced around 1,700 individuals in North Cotabato and Bukidnon.

Karapatan-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Jay Apiag maintained that the martial law is “not the solution” to address terrorism in Mindanao because it has resulted in the displacement of civilian families who are caught in the crossfire.

He debunked the claims of the government that no human rights were violated under martial law, even as Duterte assured that the martial law will be “least of your worry” for the law-abiding citizens.

Apiag claimed that the number of political killings has gone up to 35 under the Duterte administration, of which five were recorded within the first month of the 60-day martial law.

He said families are also exposed to other forms of human rights violations such as threat, harassment and intimidation.

Apiag blamed the increase in the number of political killings to martial law that Duterte declared on May 23 when clashes broke out between military forces and members of the Maute Group in Marawi City.

He alleged that the declaration of martial law gives the soldiers the “license” to commit even more abuses against the Lumads and farmers who are the primary victims of the aerial bombings and military operations in the hinterlands.

“It is very clear that the martial law is being used by the military to perpetrate human rights violations. The human rights violation is worsening now. Even before martial law the violations were already increasing, what more now that they have the license to do so,” he said.

Duazo noted that these human rights violations should be enough reason for the President to withdraw his martial law.

Cosain Naga Jr., spokesperson of Kawagib, a Moro human rights group, said their community in Maguindanao has suffered from incessant aerial bombings carried out by the military.

He said the President must order the military to refrain from using aerial bombs because these are destroying both lives and properties of the Moro people.

Resumption of 5th round of GRP-NDF talks seen in 2-3 months

From MindaNews (Jun 22): Resumption of 5th round of GRP-NDF talks seen in 2-3 months

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is looking at the possibility resuming the stalled fifth round of peace talks between the government (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) either in August or September 2017.

Last weekend, both parties agreed, in order “to encourage the continuation of peace talks, to refrain from undertaking offensives against their respective forces in Mindanao to allow government troops to fight the Maute Group in the embattled Marawi City.

But in a statement Wednesday, the CPP has reiterated its demand to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to lift the all-out war policy he issued in February 2017 and the martial law in Mindanao that was declared on May 23.

The CPP said it “anticipates the fifth round of peace negotiations to resume in around two or three months” giving the reciprocal groups and committees of both panels sufficient time to thresh out the draft agreements on social and economics reforms and constitutional reforms.

It said the communists acknowledged the statement of GRP negotiating panel chair Silvestre Bello III on June 17, reiterating the commitment of the government to proceed with the peace talks.

“The commitment of the GRP expressed therein to proceed with peace negotiations with the NDFP is a welcome development and is well appreciated by the revolutionary forces,” the CPP said.

The NDFP announced it is recommending to the CPP to order the New People’s Army (NPA) to abstain from carrying out offensives against the government forces last Saturday, which was immediately reciprocated by the GRP.

“Action on the NDFP recommendation can be undertaken once conditions for it exist concretely,” it said.

Bello said both parties’ declaration to abstain from engaging their respective forces would “pave way for the eventual signing of a mutually agreed bilateral ceasefire agreement and agreements on social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and end of hostilities and disposition of forces towards a just and lasting peace.”

The CPP also acknowledged the GRP’s adherence to all previously signed agreements, most especially to the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), in which the communists said is “a critical element in peace talks which enables NDFP negotiators and personnel to freely travel and participate in talks without threat of arrest or reprisal.”

It reiterated that the NDFP stands firmly against “terrorism and terrorist acts which intimidate, terrorize, harm and murder civilians solely or mainly.”

The NDFP has even offered help to the government in fighting the terrorists.

During the Mindanao Hour on June 8, 2017 in Davao City, Abella said potential cooperation is unlikely if the communists continue to insist on the President to lift martial law and all-out war policy.

“To show that the CPP-NPA-NDF is truly in pursuit of peaceful coexistence, they must stand against a common enemy without conditions… The Duterte administration would rather pursue that path of genuine dialogue to build the nation worthy of its citizens,” he said.

Pigcawayan clashes left 8 killed, 10 wounded

From MindaNews (Jun 22): Pigcawayan clashes left 8 killed, 10 wounded

Eight were killed while 10 others were wounded at the height of the armed clashes between government troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Wednesday, combined reports from the Cotabato Police Provincial Office (CPPO) and the Philippine Army said.

The CPPO reported two killed – Abraham Cutay, a trainee of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and Towan Dading Esmael, 61, a farmer from Barangay Malagakit.

The Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, on the other hand, said six BIFF members were killed.

Soldiers rush to Barangay Simsiman in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato to reinforce troops fighting the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Photo courtesy of VALERIE ANN P. LAMBO

Capt. Napoleon Alcarioto, 602IB spokesman, said that of those wounded, two were CAFGU members identified as Angel Berona and Resty Segundera, and the eight others were BIFF members.

Berona and Segundera suffered only minor injuries and were already released from the hospital, according to Alcarioto.

Lt. Col. Angelo Lutera, commander of the 34th Infantry Battalion, said that as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, they already occupied Malagakit Elementary School, which was used by the BIFF as base after they raided the village and nearby Barangay Simsiman, both in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato.

Despite this, Lutera said they have not yet given the displaced families the “go signal” to return to their houses due to ongoing clearing operations in the area.

Lutera, in a radio interview Thursday over the Catholic-run DXND, said they are still searching for bombs the BIFF may have planted in their attempt to prevent troopers from pursuing them in their escape.

The attackers withdrew towards the marshland in Maguindanao, he said.

Data from the local government units of Pigcawayan and Midsayap show that at least 1,762 evacuees remain in several evacuation centers as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

Pigcawayan municipal administrator Jezler Garcesa said that of the 1,370 evacuees, 736 remain at the Pigcawayan National High School, 404 at the multi-purpose hall of Barangay Central Panatan, and 230 at the covered court in Barangay Bulucaon.

Karl Ballentes, Midsayap public information officer, said at least 392 evacuees remain in evacuation centers in Barangays Palongoguen, Gayonga, and Lagumbingan.

Citizens, OFWs write ‘Letters of Hope’ for troops, Marawi evacuees

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 22): Citizens, OFWs write ‘Letters of Hope’ for troops, Marawi evacuees

People from other regions and those living overseas can now reach out to government troops as well as displaced residents of Marawi through “letters of hope.”

The campaign was started by a group of private individuals in Luzon in coordination with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (ARMM) Cabinet Secretary Khal Mambuay-Campong.

“Actually, this idea started when a doctor who visited Marawi City launched a donation drive for garments and thank you notes to the soldiers in the city fighting the local terror groups,” Sec. Campong said.

Assisted by her colleagues from Luzon, Sec. Campong initiated the delivery of the letters not only to soldiers but also to civilians affected by the month-long fighting between government troops and local terror groups.

Official data from ARMM’s Crisis Management Committee, as of June 15, showed a total of 252,282 individuals, or 51,651 families, were displaced by the crisis and are now in evacuation centers, or are staying with their relatives.

Rinz Araneta, a teacher from PAREF Woodrose School in Ayala Alabang in Metro Manila, said her group has seen the positive impact of this campaign to the soldiers thus extending the campaign to include civilians, especially those most affected by the crisis.

The campaign also allows sending messages of hope through the email address:

“As our letters make their way to our noble soldiers, let us also extend this spirit of love and oneness to those severely affected by this war – our displaced brothers and sisters,” Araneta said. “Let us send them letters that express love, that give hope, that show, or maybe, even just attempt at understanding.”

She explained that a page with a heartfelt message can motivate the victims.

The Education department’s provincial office in Cavite also issued a memorandum requesting all the schools to encourage teachers and students to send letters to the victims.

“It is an expression of motivation and hope. We, the people of Marawi, need the prayers and words of hope,” said Campong, who is a native of Marawi City.

She said those who are interested in sending letters to children and parents in Marawi City can send through Araneta’s e-mail address, or through drop-off points at Quezon City Science High School and at Veritas Catholic School in Paranaque. She noted that many individuals have expressed their interest in delivering the letters.

In the first week of July, the group of Sec. Campong and Araneta will distribute the collected letters to the evacuation centers in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.