Sunday, March 3, 2013

'We can stop this war,' says Misuari on the Sabah standoff

From the pro-CPP Davao Today (Mar 3): 'We can stop this war,' says Misuari on the Sabah standoff

Nur Misuari, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said he is willing to go to Sabah and talk to the troops who launched a standoff, “in a brotherly way.”

Nur Misuari, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) says he is willing to mediate on the tension between Malaysia and the Sultanate of Sulu on the disputed island of Sabah, where violence erupted after a clash between the Sultanate’s police force and the Malaysian army.

He said he is willing to go to Sabah and talk to the troops who launched a standoff, “in a brotherly way.”

The MNLF leader said the governor of Tawi-Tawi Sadikul Sahali and “somebody from the national government” has pleaded with him to join an entourage going to Kuala Lumpur and Sabah. “They want me to contact these young people, tapos ngunit ngayon, aywan ko (but now, I don’t know),” he said.

Misuari said another way of solving the problem, is by making an appeal to his friend Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. He claims the Prime Minister is a cousin of his grand nephew, whose grandfathers are brothers. “So I intend to send him there, to talk to Najib and persuade him to desist from sending more forces [in Sabah].”

He said he will also talk to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, not to aggravate the situation.

“I can mediate with them, anyway, Sabah and Sarawak belong to me, and my clan. It doesn’t belong to the Sultanate, because this is the property of my great great grandfather Panglima Pahabasal Elija,” Misuari added.

Misuari flew in to Davao Saturday after attending a month-long meeting with the parliaments of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), conferred with Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in Mandaya Hotel to talk on these options.

He clarified that the accusations of his involvement in the Sabah tension are “baseless and unfounded.”

Duterte, for his part, assured Misuari of support if anything happens. The Vice Mayor, without elaborating, offered help “in connecting and talking it out” with the national government.

Misuari said he talked to Sultan Kiram in a discreet meeting the night before he left for Davao. He told the Sultan be careful because “(the government is) preparing to arrest you.”

Sabi niya, mas gusto ko ma-arrest na ako para makapagpahinga na ako sa loob ng prison. (He said, he wanted to be arrested so he can relax in prison.)

Misuari thinks it is a big gamble on the Sultanate royal army to send their troops and mass up in Sabah. He is worried that violence might spread in Kunak, then to Kota Kinabalu in Sandakan and to other places.

Misuari said he does not want any trouble with Philippine government and Malaysia. He thinks the problem is better left between the Bangsamoro people and the Malaysian people to resolve. “We should not allow other people to come in. It might only aggravate the situation,” he said.

Misuari lashed at President Benigno Aquino III for saying the Sultan’s claim and actions are “a hopeless cause”. “He knows nothing about what he is talking about. He will become a laughing stock in the whole world with the way he presents himself before the eyes of the peoples of the world.”

Maintaining that he has no hand in the incident, Misuari said he is in the midst of preparing for the resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and the MNLF this month in Jakarta. Indonesia has offered to broker the resumption of the talks.

Misuari sounded firm that peace is at hand in Mindanao, “if not for the Sabah problem.”

Misuari said, he will leave the next day and meet with them [MNLF troops]. “Maybe the brother might want me to report to them about my travel abroad, and possibly will also include the whole Sabah,” he said.

Misuari is expected to attend the 6th Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Convention/2nd ATM General Assembly/1st Bangsamoro-Highlanders Mindanao Grand Summit this afternoon where he will be conferred as “adopted sons of Mindanao” with senatorial candidate Jack Enrile

Army welcomes new spokesperson

From the Philippine Army Website (Undated): Army welcomes new spokesperson
FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – The Philippine Army welcomes its new spokesperson, Lt. Col. Randolph G Cabangbang who will officially assume office at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Cabangbang, the former spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command, replaces Maj. Harold M Cabunoc who will be designated as Commander of the 7th Civil Relations Group.
Lt. Col. Cabangbang has handled several key positions in units of the AFP mostly in Mindanao where he served for 17 years.
He has long years of experience in the field of Public Affairs being the former spokesperson of Eastern Mindanao Command, Western Mindanao Command and Southern Luzon Command. As a spokesperson, he has faced several of the most challenging circumstances in the AFP’s history.
In 2008, as the EASTMINCOM spokesperson, he was at the forefront of Public Information when Rouge MILF members under Umbra Kato launched attacks in several towns of Central Mindanao.
He also figured prominently during the State of Emergency and Martial Law that preceded the Maguindanao massacre in 2009 where he efficiently handled the volley of inquiries by local and international media.
Meanwhile, former Army Chief Public Affairs Maj Cabunoc is a Scout Ranger and has been known for his presence in the world-wide web which he largely used in delivering his duties as spokesperson.
During his time, he has set aside his rifle and took a new kind of weapon – the public media.
He has specifically taken advantage of the social media in sending command messages and engaging with public opinions. He has also maintained a personal blog featuring the heroism of Filipino soldiers.
Cabunoc, a member of the PMA Class 1994, is also a champion shooter. He is also the team manager of the renowned Philippine Army Dragon Boat Team.
Released from the very hectic life of a military spokesperson, Cabunoc is set to be more of a father and a family man.

CMOG welcomes new Commander

From the Philippine Army Website (Undated): CMOG welcomes new Commander
FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – The Civil Military Operations Group welcomes its new Commander here with the assumption of Col. Ramiro Manuel A Rey at 11 a.m. Wednesday, February 6.
Rey, a member of PMA Class 1987 was the Deputy, Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations, G7, Philippine Army.
He replaced Col. Ferozaldo Paul T Regencia, who assumed as Commander in acting capacity for a period of one month.
Rey spent the earlier years of his military career in Mindanao battling communist insurgents and lawless elements, first as a Platoon Leader, Company Commander, and then Battalion Operation Officer, all under the 36th Infantry Battalion.
He was also an intelligence officer who served under the 98th Military Intelligence Company, 4th Infantry Division.
He was also known for his excellence in staff duties. He served as the Branch Chief of the MOWEL, Admin, Plans and Program, Budget and Fiscal Branch of the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel, G1, Philippine Army.
He commanded the Special Operations Task Group, Special Operations Command; 1st Special Forces Battalion, Special Forces Regiment Airborne, SOCOM; and the Security and Escort Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Support Group.
As the Army’s arm in conducting non-combat activities and engaging civil communities and organizations, CMOG carry out various activities in coordination with civilian entities, other government agencies, and non-government organizations. They are tapped by public schools for their maintenance programs particularly in electrical, carpentry and construction works.
It also responds in disaster relief operations, medical and dental missions, livelihood projects and trainings, and other community outreach programs.
Its mission is to produce and sustain a corps of CMO professionals capable of strengthening the soldiers’ will to fight, gaining popular support and weakening the enemies’ will to resist under the most demanding operational conditions.

US troops, PHL Army begin joint exercise in Negros

From the Business Mirror (Mar 3): US troops, PHL Army begin joint exercise in Negros

AT LEAST 40 members of the US Pacific Air Force (USPacAF) under the US Pacific Command (USPaCom) headed by Lt. Col. Alvin Alana joined the Philippine Army’s 302nd (Achiever) Brigade for a joint operation scheduled to begin Sunday.
The USPaCom troops arrived in Negros Oriental on Saturday via separate local flights from Metro Manila and through the Philippine Air Force’s C130, the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Public Affairs Office (AFP-PAO) said.
The AFP-PAO said the American troops, soldiers of the 302nd Brigade, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) will conduct a nine-day joint and combined Humanitarian Civic Assistance/Civil-Military Operations (HCA/CMO) beginning on Sunday up to March 11.
“This joint activity dubbed as the Pacific Angels 13-1 is an annual humanitarian assistance program sponsored by the USPACOM and implemented by the USPacAF in partnership with the AFP. The objective of this exercise is to enhance the response capability of the AFP and stakeholders during disasters and calamities.”
The AFP said the soldiers will provide medical, dental, and optometry services, undertake school repair and other engineering programs, and “hold lectures on various subject matter expert changes between the AFP-PNP and USPACOM forces.”
These lectures “aim to enhance interoperability and preparedness among different forces during calamities and disasters.”
Last year, a magnitude 6.9-earthquake hit Negros Oriental that led to 51 casualties, 112 injured and 62 missing, according to a report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRMMC).
“The total number of population affected in 180 barangays, nine municipalities, two cities, and two provinces in Region 7 [was pegged] at 63,899 families [and/or] 320,165 persons,” the NDRRMC report said.
Col. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade Commander, said the unit will support this humanitarian mission primarily in providing security to the contingents, facilitate the transportation of people affected by the previous earthquake to and from their location and assist in the construction and repair of selected school beneficiaries here in the region.
Aside from the USPACOM, the AFP and PNP, Pacific Angels 13-1 will be participated by the provincial government of Negros Oriental and non-governmental organizations led by the Oriental Negros Children’s Advocacy Network.
MGen Jose Z. Mabanta Jr., Commander of 3ID, said Negros has suffered from previous calamities and disasters.
“Our ability to mitigate, prepare, respond and recover from the effects brought about by these calamities is necessary to be enhanced. This is an opportunity for all stakeholders to learn and enhance our interoperability during disasters and calamities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Col. Oscar Lactao, commander of the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade, in Negros Occidental, said that a brother of one of the victims of an ambush by the New People’s Army late January committed suicide.
Lactao said 39-year-old Eddie Mateo committed suicide on February 20 apparently due to deep depression after his brother Jonathan was among those killed in the ambush in La Castellana on January 27.
The ambush, according to Lactao, led to the death of a policeman and eight civilians and the serious wounding of 12 others.
Lactao said Mateo’s suicide stemmed from the long-term effects of violent incidents.
“Violence caused by the armed struggle, particularly in La Castellana, has a long effect not only to the direct victims but also to their families. There is no problem with activism or fighting for a just cause as long as it does not use violence as a means for attaining it,” Lactao said.

Sulu Sultan ignores RP, Malaysia ultimatums

From the Daily Tribune (Mar 3): Sulu Sultan ignores RP, Malaysia ultimatums

As an ominous sign the Sabah conflict is far from over. Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram said the orders of both President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak for an unconditional surrender of his followers who have dug out in Lahad Datu were “not acceptable.”

“All they know to say is surrender, surrender. Why should we surrender in our own home? They (his followers now in Sabah) are not making trouble in their own home,” Kiram said in Filipino.

Kiram’s daughter, Jacel, said the President’s surrender order was “not acceptable.”

The aging and ailing sultan appeared briefly with action movie star Robin Padilla before dozens of journalists holed up in his home in Taguig City.

Jacel Kiram also belied Malacañang’s claim that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was in “direct contact” with her family on the day a firefight erupted between Kiram’s followers and Malaysian forces.

She said someone who claimed to represent the justice secretary had contacted them, demanding a “categorical statement” from the sultan ordering his followers to come home without any conditions.
She said previous emissaries tried to impose their terms on them.

“We need negotiations not dictations,” she said.

“There was never any option given us except to surrender,” she added.

United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidate, re-electionist Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan also batted for the creation of a council of state leaders composed of Aquino, former presidents and other top leaders of the land.

In an interview, Honasan said following the bloody confrontation Friday between Kiram’s supporters and Malaysian authorities resulting to a still unconfirmed number of casualties, and the pronouncement of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari he would willingly lend his group’s support to Kiram, there is a strong possibility the tension would escalate to a much higher level.

“The situation is very, very much far from over,” said Honasan. “It could further escalate and that is what we should try to avoid.”

Honasan said the government might have mishandled the situation which led to the bloody confrontation.

“The government was telling Kiram and his followers to simply go home and that it had send a ship to ferry them home. But at the same time, the government was telling Kiram and his followers it is studying possible charges it would slap against them,” Honasan noted.

“You should not do that. At stake here are our integrity and sovereignty and most of all people’s lives,” Honasan stressed. “There was some serious communication problem and I’m sure it was not what the President meant.”

“And what we should consider here is its effect on the peace talks as this could again strain the relationship of the Philippines and Malaysia which was seriously strained during the infamous Jabidah Massacre,” the senator added.

“Thus. I suggest that sultan Kiram, from hereon, be involved in the Mindanao peace process and that the issue of Sabah be included in framework agreement,” he said.

Honasan said the problem could be traced to the government’s failure to convene the Joint Executive–Legislative Committee on Sabah which could have handled the issue much better.

“I have been a senator for 15 years but I cannot recall a single instance when the Joint Executive– Legislative Committee on Sabah was convened,” Honasan said.

“But because of what happened, I suggest that the creation of a council of state leaders to handle the resolution of this issue,” said Honasan.

Honasan, a former rebel who staged at least seven coup d’ etats against Aquino’s late mother, said the council could be composed of the president, the vice president and the senate president, since they all enjoy high trust ratings, and former presidents, including Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the children of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

“The president, vice president and the senate president are not candidates in this election so they could devote their time to finding solutions for the Sabah issue. They should let the candidates run their own campaign,” said Honasan.

“With regards to former Presidents Ramos and Arroyo and the children of former President Marcos, they have handled the Sabah issue before so they could be in the best position to give their insights on the problem,” the senator said.

“The council of state leaders could direct the process and serve as command center for the Sabah resolution. They should for the moment, avoid their personal differences and rise to the level of being state leaders. In that way, Malaysia could view our move as a serious step towards the resolution of the problem,” Honasan averred.

But when reminded Aquino himself appeared not to be concerned much on the Sabah issue as he was with Team Pnoy’s candidates in their out of town sortie I Pampanga Friday while Kiram’s followers were engaging Malaysian authorities in a shootout, Honasan said it was not tueir call to tell the president on how to manage his time and priorites.

However, Honasan added the creation of the council of state leaders could more more easier said than done considering his proposed composition.

“What could be contentious here is the proposed composition of the council. What I am afraid of is someone would start intriguing its composition linking the vice president, senate president and former President Estrada and accuse them even before the council could take off, of having an agenda to exploit the situation and only se the opportunity to benefit our candidates,” Honasan lamented.

“But as I have said, now is the time to rise to the level of being statesmen,” the senator stressed.

“In fact, the vice president has already offered to help ease the tension and I’m pretty sure he is doing that guided by the framework of our foreign policy and not for any election purposes,” he added. “We are all aware that helping the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is one of his advocacies and there are lots of OFWs in Sabah,” Honasan said.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares charged the Aquino administration for mishandling the standoff in Sabah that resulted to unconfirmed number of casualties after a firefight broke out yesterday between the Malaysian military and “royal army” of the heirs of Sulu Sultanate.

“Our claim of Sabah is very strong especially since Malaysia paid rent to the Sultanate as early as during the British occupation. In fact it is as strong as our claim over Panatag shoals. It was a wrong move for the Aquino government to distance itself from the claim even portraying the claim as nuisance and threatening the Sultan’s men with arrest when they return,” he said.

“There was obviously a serious lapse in handling the issue. The standoff might be avoided if Aquino recognized the legitimacy of Kiram’s claim of Sabah and helped them negotiate with the Malaysian government on how to resolve the standoff peacefully without abandoning our claim”, Colmenares added. “Aquino should have asserted our claim in the same way that we asserted our territorial integrity over Panatag Shoal,” said Colmeranes.

“This is a clear sign of selective patriotism largely influenced by the US who wants to use the Panatag tension as reason to deploy troops and weapons in the region,” the solon said.

Based on a report, a spokesman of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III claimed that 10 of their men were killed and four others were wounded in the firefight while DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said that at least two were killed and one wounded from the side of the Malaysian Police.

“The Philippines and the Sultanate, more than any entity, have solid historical and legal basis for claiming Sabah. Sabah is within the Philippine territory and Aquino should have had asserted along with our Muslim brothers and sisters our sovereignty,” Colmenares explained.

“The attack of the Malaysian military is an attack on Filipinos which requires accountability, and the Philippines must lodge a strong protest and the government must defend our territory. Aquino should
face this territorial dispute with patriotism,” said Colmenares.

UNA senatorial candidate Dick Gordon commiserated with the families of the Filipinos who have been killed and wounded in the conflict.

Gordon described the Philippine government’s handling of the situation in Sabah as “severely woeful, anti Filipino, and subservient to Malaysia,” and said that a bloody encounter could have been avoided and should never have happened.

He questioned the manner in which foreign affairs officials handled the situation and advised the President. According to him, the DFA should be at the forefront of the matter and must never compromise the President of the Philippines by allowing him to make comments on such issues.

“Should not our ambassador to Malaysia been the one at the frontline? Or our DFA officials?” Gordon asked.

He further questioned the lack of attention, priority and importance given to Sultan Kiram’s letters to President Aquino.

“And what about our intelligence officials? How is it that no one even knew that a large number of Filipinos was headed to Sabah?” Gordon continued.

“Whoever is advising the President on foreign policy matters has done terribly wrong by our people and has put us on a slippery slope with regard to this conflict,” he continued.

Honasan said that the Philippine government “should seriously consider the impact of the standoff on the peace process and our relationship with Malaysia because more lives might be put on jeopardy.”
Former senate president Ernesto Maceda said “further necessitates the Philippine government to take stronger steps to resolve the situation peacefully. To date the Philippine government has hesitated and vacillated on the issue, encouraging the Malaysian authorities to take armed action against the badly outnumbered Filipinos.”

Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, who is also running for senator under UNA, said that it is about time the administration says where they stand on the Sabah issue.

“Are they with us Filipinos or with the Malaysians? Will they just allow our brothers to be killed there and do nothing? Is this how the government show their love for our Muslim brothers? It’s is the government’s fault that it has come to this because they did not give any importance to Kiram’s concerns which they brought to the attention of the President last year,” Magsaysay said.

“I grieve with the families of Filipino casualties. Let’s make sure Philippine government aid is immediately extended to those in need and take needed measures to ensure the safety of other Filipinos in Sabah,” said UNA senatorial bet Nancy Binay.

UNA secretary general and campaign manager Toby Tiangco chided DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas II’s description of Kiram as “matigas ang ulo (hard headed)” adding that the irresponsible remark from the interior secretary is patently improper and reflected the failure of the Aquino government to resolve the issue diplomatically.

“Sec. Roxas’ reckless remarks reflect his arrogance. Being the one in-charge of peace and order, his high-handed dismissal of the legitimate issues raised by the Sultan is unacceptable. The mishandling of the Sabah incident clearly reflects the political failure of the administration and the utter lack of leadership displayed by Roxas and Malacañang,” Tiangco said.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said they are now securing the family of Kiram in Taguig City.
PNP chief director General Alan Purisima said that police operatives have been installed in Maharlika Village where the Kiram famiyl are staying.

The PNP are implementing security meaqsure since the situation has gained much public attention and there might be threats that occur.

It can be recalled that Kiram’s follower arrived in Sabah in Febryary and engaged Malaysian security forces in a standoff that last 17 days until the clash between the two groups took place over the weekend.

However, the standoff ended on Friday in a shootout, with the Sultan’s followers using mortar fire to kill two Malaysia policemen while sustaining 12 fatalities.

The PNP intelligence units are gathering data in the Muslim community whether the situation in Sabah has provoked outraged.

As this developed, the PNP chief has already beefed up security at the Malaysian Embassy as part of “preventive measures.”

“It is but normal to secure installations such as an embassy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Purisima said the situation in Mindanao remains calm although the PNP continues to monitor the situation in hot spots.

So far, he said he has not heard of any plan to retaliate for what happened Friday.

Based on records the standoff in Sabah that erupted in violence on Friday morning, with 12 followers of the sultan of Sulu and two police officers killed as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak declared his patience had run out.

Reports showed that 12 members of the group, which was led by a brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, were killed in the clash that began at about 10 a.m. and lasted for 30 minutes.

A spokesperson for the sultan of Sulu, Abraham Idjirani, denounced the raid on Agbimuddin’s group as a “massacre.”

The National Capital Region Police Office is closely monitoring Muslim communities in Metro Manila to prevent the spillover of the Sabah fighting in the metropolis.

Giant clams to fight insurgency

From Malaya (Mar 1): Giant clams to fight insurgency

The Armed Forces is deploying 200 giant clams to Bohol to help prevent the resurgence of New People’s Army in the province which had been declared insurgency-free in 2009.

A C-130 plane was due to transport to Bohol an initial 100 clams cultured from a University of the Philippine marine laboratory in Bolinao, Pangasinan, last week, said Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Garcia, Deputy Chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office.

He said military trucks fetched the clams from Bolinao and brought them to San Fernando, La Union, where the Air Force plane was waiting to fly the endangered species to Bohol where they will be seeded by military divers.

Garcia said another 100 giant clams will be transported by the military to the province in June as part of the project with the Bohol provincial government and the UP Marine Science Institute (MSI).

Giant clams “attract fish because they have hard shells that serve as sub-straits for marine organisms to settle down,” said Prof. Sylvia Suzanne Licuanan of MSI in Camp Aguinaldo.

“They are like artificial reef though live organisms and as long as they are kept alive, they will continue to improve the marine biodiversity in our seas,” she said. “Giant clams have also been used as a tool for marine conservation.”

Licuanan said giant claims are “very attractive organisms” and can draw the attention of tourists. “Divers appreciate finding giant clams in the reefs so our divers pay just to see giant clams in our seas.”

The size of the clams to be brought to Bohol range from 40 to 60 centimeters and their age is nine to 11 years.

Garcia said the giant clams that will be seeded will provide additional livelihood to Bohol locals.
“It will address security issues because it will entail additional livelihood for the people. It will be a major component of our Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) because people won’t be recruited by the New People’s Army and will stay in the folds of the law,” he said.

He was referring to the IPSP Bayanihan, the military’s blueprint in winning the war against insurgency. The campaign plan was crafted by Garcia when he was the AFP deputy chief of staff for operations.

The threats to national security raise the issue of poverty, the reason why insurgents are pursuing revolution, he said. “If we can provide livelihood to the people, we can lessen the reason for them to take up arms against the government.”

Garcia said the seeding of the giant clams is also in line with the military’s thrust on environmental protection and preservation which he said is “one of our expanded roles in nation building.”

Bohol provincial agriculturist Liza Quirog said the giant clams will be seeded in five of the 172 marine protected areas in the province, including in Panglao and Balikasag islands which are popular dive sites in the country.

“This is an added value to tourism,” she said, adding the clam sancturaries will be managed by the Marine Protected Area Council which is composed of fishermen groups.

“They can use this as an opportunity to gain income if they allow tourists to swim, snorkel or dive, to get near (these clams) but not touch them. This will increase their income and livelihood of the fishermen,” she added.

The giant clams also attract other marine species and help preserve or rejuvenate the corals where fish live. “It will enhance biodiversity in the area and improve the livelihoods of the people,” said Quirog.

She said studies show fish populations have decreased in Bohol because of coral reef destruction. Fish in the rich waters off Bohol also attract fishers from other regions.

“We know that giant clams are fish recruiters and would heal and enhance the biodiversity in an area,” Quirog said, adding the project is “a major intervention for livelihood and poverty reduction.”

5 Malaysian cops, 2 Sulu gunmen killed in fresh clash in Sabah

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 3): 5 Malaysian cops, 2 Sulu gunmen killed in fresh clash in Sabah

Seven people – five Malaysian policemen and two Sulu gunmen – were killed in a fresh clash in Semporna in Tawau district in Sabah, the Malaysian media quoted Malaysian police as saying on Sunday.

Ismail Omar, Malaysian police inspector general, was quoted by Bernama news agency as saying that the new fatalities brought to 21 the total number of combatants killed since Putrajaya decided to take on forces of the so-called Sulu “royal army,” following three weeks of stand-off in Lahad Datu.

On Friday, 14 people, including two members of the Malaysian police’s elite VAT69 (commando unit), were also killed when Malaysian security forces stormed the encampment of the “Sulu intruders” on Felda Sahabat 17 in Tanduo town.

Ismail later told reporters during a noontime news conference aired by a shortwave station based in Tawau, whose broadcast was monitored here, that when reports came in that remnants or supporters of Agbimuddin Kiram had been sighted in Semporna, some 150 kilometers from Lahad Datu, Malaysian security forces were immediately deployed there on Saturday afternoon.

Bernama quoted Ismail as saying the 8 p.m. incident in Siminul village took place as Malaysian security forces were also verifying reports that some people in the village, where many Filipinos live, possessed firearms.

“The five ill-fated personnel were tasked to conduct ground assessment when fired upon as they approached a house in Kampung Simunul,” he said, adding that the policemen managed to fire back and had killed two of the gunmen.

“Two of the intruders were also killed and we are still after their companions,” Omar said.

Hamza Taib, Sabah police commissioner, said during an earlier news conference also broadcast by a Sabah shortwave station that some 40 policemen were sent to Semporna following reports that some armed men had been sighted there on Saturday.

He said the Semporna operation began around 4 p.m. and while police were heading for Siminul, a group of men numbering not more 10 fired on them.

Hamza said members of the Malaysian police were approaching a house in Siminul when they were fired upon by the unidentified men, using automatic rifles.

Ismail said some areas in Lahad Datu, Semporna and Kunal, were now being closely watched because armed men had been monitored there in the aftermath of the Lahad Datu clashes on Friday.

Ismail said in fact, armed men had already been sighted in two villages of Kunak as Agbimuddin’s forces tried to evade the manhunt staged by Malaysian security forces.

“Ten foreigners with three in camouflage uniforms and arms are currently hiding in one of the houses in Kunak,” he said.

As this developed, Ismail said three more “intruders” were arrested as they were sneaking out of Tanduo in Lahad Datu.

Hamza said the situation in Semporna remains under control despite the incident and that no further incidents had taken place after the ambush.

Earlier, reports had it that an explosion also rocked the Pulau Bum Bum police station in the town but Hamza said these were without basis.

“The police had encircled the village in hunt of the attackers,” the newspaper Borneo Insider quoted Hamza in a separate report.

Ismail said the Malaysian authorities had not restricted movements of people within Sabah despite the series of violence.

He said Sabahans had been advised to remain calm and refrain from believing unverified stories.

“Only statements from me should be taken as fact,” Ismail said.

Malaysian opposition facing probe for ‘instigating’ Sulu Sultanate to reclaim Sabah

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 3): Malaysian opposition facing probe for ‘instigating’ Sulu Sultanate to reclaim Sabah

The Malaysian prime minister has directed Malaysian intelligence to investigate claims that the opposition was among parties responsible in instigating the heir of the Sulu Sultanate to reclaim Sabah.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said he regarded this as a serious allegation and that it needed to be supported by evidence.

“There are photographs and circumstantial evidence but we need solid evidence to know who really is behind this,” he said this at the launching of University Malaysia Perlis main campus on Sunday.

Najib said the Sultanate’s claim on Sabah was not new but the fact that the issue was raised again now was suspicious.

He added that Malaysia and the Philippines needed to investigate the matter separately but would exchange information.

Sulu sultan open to talks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 3): Sulu sultan open to talks

The sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III said Sunday he was still open to negotiating with the government, even as he stood his ground on his rejection of its order for his supporters in Sabah to leave without condition.

But as of early afternoon Sunday, no official emissary from the Aquino administration had gotten in touch with the family.

“The negotiation is not too late as I said because everything is open. The door of the sultanate for negotiation is open,” the Sultan told reporters in his home in Taguig City, after morning prayers.

Jamalul made the statement in the face of the Philippine government’s hardline stance on the standoff in Sabah between the sultan’s supporters and the Malaysian police. The sultanate says the supporters are only laying claim to land that is theirs.

President Benigno Aquino III had demanded that the group in Sabah, led by Kiram’s brother Agbimuddin, surrender without conditions. This was after the tension in the area boiled over and led to a gunfight between the two sides that left 12 people dead.

Kiram’s spokesperson, Princess Jacel Kiram, said what the family wanted was for an official emissary to meet with them, one whose communication with them would not be denied by the government later on.

“If they are really concerned and really serious to resolve this peacefully, how hard would it be to sit with us and talk with us directly without going through a middleman? This is a national issue, even international issue. Why can’t our government come to us?” Jacel said.

She said that when the family earlier met with an emissary–Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao officer in charge Mujiv Hataman–the administration announced it did not know an emissary was sent to meet with the family. The government’s denial was reported on TV while the family was talking to Hataman, she noted.

Sultan Kiram said that the Philippine government is stubborn, but he is, too, as well. He said the current issue is a serious one, and many Tausugs and Muslims are prepared to die for the cause.

“This is not a joke. Malaking gulo ito, malaking gulo ito (This is big trouble),” he told reporters.

But he also said he was praying for the problem to be resolved and was not encouraging his supporters to instigate violence. Even his supporters who went Sabah only wanted to settle in that area since it belonged to the sultanate.

He wondered why the Philippine government was siding with Malaysia.

“Why not side [with] us? We are Filipinos and they side with Malaysia?” he said.

Jacel also called on supporters and sympathizers of the family to be calm and not to do anything drastic. She said she had received reports that they are now angry at Malaysians, and reminded them that Malaysians in the country are not their enemies.

“Let’s not do anything that would worsen the situation. Let us all be calm,” she said.

But she said it hurt that the Philippine government had sided with Malaysia on the issue of the Sabah standoff.

She also lamented that the government was treating the Sultanate’s supporters as if they were “terrorists.”

“Why are they treating this as if they are treating a terrorist? All we have in our hands is historical truth. Our only weapon is the truth. Why are we being treated as the enemy?” she said.

She added that the sultanate’s supporters are taking action not for the family alone, but for all Filipinos.

“By the mere fact that the government is stating the statement of the Prime Minister, they are on the same side. As a Filipino, it hurts that your government is siding with Malaysia instead of protecting the interests of many Filipinos,” she said.

Salvage team removes USS Guardian’s bridge deck

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 3): Salvage team removes USS Guardian’s bridge deck

The USS Guardian dismantling operation continued on Sunday shortly after the vessel’s bridge deck was successfully lifted and transferred to a barge by the crane ship Jascon 25, said the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, the PCG spokesperson, on Sunday said “the Guardian’s Level 2 (bridge deck) had been transferred to the (support ship) Archon Tide and later moved to the barge Seabridge.”

In a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he also said “the remaining equipment and materials at Level 2 have been removed piece by piece.”

“The lifting of the bridge deck on Saturday went well and was successful as planned and without any untoward incidents,” Balilo also disclosed, citing a report from the PCG team closely monitoring the salvage operation in the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.

Earlier, he reported that while the weather in the reef area had been very good and the ship dismantling operation was progressing, the PCG did not “discount the possibility that the March 23 deadline for the removal of the Guardian from the reef may be extended.”

Balilo said that “aside from the changing weather conditions in the Sulu Sea, the salvage team is also considering the structural integrity of the ship, as well as newly discovered obstacles in dismantling the Guardian’s superstructure.” He did not elaborate.

Last week, the dismantling of the Guardian resumed with the removal of the vessel’s mast and funnel by the Jascon 25, which the Coast Guard said was the main vessel tasked with dismantling the grounded US Navy ship.

Aside from the Guardian, the Jascon 25, Archon Tide and the Seabridge, eight other vessels were in the vicinity, either involved in the salvage operation or observing the operations, including the PCG search-and-rescue ship, the BRP Pampanga.

The 68-meter US Navy mine countermeasure ship ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-designated World Heritage Site, on Jan. 17 while on its way to Indonesia after a brief stop in Puerto Princesa City.

289 Filipinos deported from Sabah arrive in Zamboanga

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 3): 289 Filipinos deported from Sabah arrive in Zamboanga

At least 289 Filipinos arrived here from Sabah early Sunday after they were deported by Malaysian authorities. The deportation occurred amid the “homecoming” of the followers of the Sultan of Sulu to Sabah.

Jamila Arasid, head of the Social Welfare Department Western Mindanao’s Processing Center for Displaced Persons here, said among those who arrived at around 1 a.m. Sunday were women and children on a commercial vessel from Sandakan, on the east coast of Sabah.

But Arasid clarified the deportation had nothing to do with the tension in Lahad Datu.

“They are Filipino workers or Filipinos without proper working papers previously arrested in Malaysia, jailed and their papers are completely processed for deportation to our country,” Arasid said.

But she could not explain why Malaysian authorities only decided to send them home in the aftermath of the “homecoming.”

Pepe Manaloza, 49, a baker in Lahad Datu, said a business rival (“competition”) had him arrested for not having a passport.

Manaloza, a native of Sindangan in Zamboanga del Norte, had lived in Lahad Datu for 10 years before his arrest. His wife was also arrested and is now jailed somewhere in Sabah. He is worried that his 16-year-old daughter was left behind in Lahad Datu.

He said he would immediately process his passport so he can return to Sabah.

Adzlina Sibung, 26, surrendered to the Malaysian police to escape from her abusive husband. To her dismay, she and her five children were also arrested and jailed for two months. Now she wants to return to her home to Tawi-tawi.

“I really wanted to go home. My children do not deserve to grow up in jail,” Sibung said.

The last time Malaysian authorities deported illegal aliens from Sabah was in January.

Putrajaya has been deporting Filipinos accused of illegally coming to Sabah for years now although in some cases, authorities in the Malaysian state would reportedly turn a blind eye on illegal aliens.

Arasid said that for 2012, a total of 7,532 Filipinos had been sent home, 5,622 of whom were males, who worked in oil palm plantations there. But in the last quarter of 2012, some 158 children of illegal workers in Sabah had also been sent home.

Gov’t intel eyes 3 groups abetting Sulu sultan’s claim

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 1): Gov’t intel eyes 3 groups abetting Sulu sultan’s claim

Whether the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu acted on their own to reclaim Sabah or were instigated by an external force to do so, one thing is certain, according to government intelligence sources: It was a business that proved too big for the heirs to handle on their own.

The sources said that the Philippine government’s policy on Sabah is to keep it in the back burner.

But apparently “some people” want to push it forward now. And why now, at this time, is one of the questions government intelligence is looking into.

The sources consistently mentioned three groups that appear to have taken advantage of the decision of the Kirams to pursue their Sabah claim.

“These are groups that wanted to ride on the Kirams’ pursuit with their own interests in mind,” one of the sources said.

Another source added: “There are a lot who can gain from this, not just in the Philippines but in Malaysia as well.”

These “external factors,” as an Inquirer source described the groups, are one small faction that is in it for the money, an anti-Aquino administration group, and the Malaysian political opposition.

“The Kirams planned to pursue their claim as early as last year. But they went to Lahad Datu also on the instigation of these groups,” the intelligence officer said.

The small group supposedly goaded the Kirams to ask Malaysia for a higher rent on Sabah. If Malaysia gives in, this small group would allegedly have a share of the increase.

The anti-administration group simply wants to discredit President Aquino and is using the peace process as a cause of disenchantment for the Kirams.

“All those who do not like P-Noy (the President’s nickname) have joined forces. This is one way to really test how this administration will react (to such an issue). Whatever happens in Malaysia, there will be a backlash on us,” one source said.

“In a way, whoever wants to disrupt the peace process or the gains of President Aquino has already won,” the source added.

The third group is allegedly the Malaysian political opposition, which is gearing up for general elections that may be called before June.

The intelligence officer said that one member of the Malaysian political opposition allied with Anwar Ibrahim was running for a post in Sabah.

“Apparently, this politician was one of those who spoke with the Kirams. He supposedly gave the opposition’s support to the Kirams’ claim to Sabah,” the source said.

November meeting

The source also believed that in their meeting in November last year, the Kirams decided to “reclaim Sabah or at least ask for a compensation for Sabah that is commensurate to the land’s value today, and for the royal family to be given due recognition by Malaysia.”

But it is being Tausug that is keeping Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, his family, and their subjects stubbornly pressing their renewed claim to Sabah, even to the extent of defying President Aquino, one of the Inquirer sources said.

“This is the last stand of Sultan Jamalul. Being Tausug, they already gave their word they would pursue their claim. This is now do or die for them just to keep their word of honor,” the source, a senior military officer, told the Inquirer.

But for another security administrator analyzing the events of the past three weeks, the Kirams appear to be quite edgy of late.

“They are confused. The government is hopeful that we can buy more time, find a diplomatic way out,” the source said, referring to the government’s efforts to help settle the standoff between Malaysian security forces and an armed group led by Jamalul’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town now in its third week.

Kiram unity

The Inquirer’s sources are from the diplomatic and defense establishments. They asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak to journalists about their analysis of developments in the so-called journey home to Sabah of the Kirams.

The source said the Kirams decided to unite because they felt left out of the peace negotiations between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a premilinary peace deal last October.

Calling gov’t attention

“The Kirams wanted to get the attention of the Philippine government,” the source said.

“For so many years, the family felt they have been exploited in politics. Sultan Jamalul was goaded to run for senator in 2010 but he lost. Then their letter to President Aquino (in 2010 before he assumed office) got lost,” the source said.

The source said the Kirams and their followers “conceived the details of the plan to go to Lahad Datu” in late January this year.

“In February, a small group of the Kirams’ followers left for Lahad Datu, followed by Raja Muda Agbimuddin,” the source said.

The estimated 70 firearms now in the hands of the group holed up in Tanduao are owned by residents in Lahad Datu, Tausug and Badjao holding Malaysian identification cards, the source said.

Malaysian security forces have encircled Agbimuddin’s group but are holding action, with the grace period for the group to leave having been extended three times and a fourth being requested by the Philippine government.

Malaysians careful

The Inquirer’s military source said the impasse continues because the Malaysians are extra careful in dealing with Agbimmudin’s group.

“They are all Muslims and they know that if there is violence, it would go on forever. There are 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah. It would be a huge problem in Sabah if violence erupts. The Malaysian security forces may end up dealing with guerrillas or a rido,” the source said, using a Muslim term for clan war.

DOJ junks murder raps vs soldiers in botanist’s death

From the Philippine Star (Mar 2): DOJ junks murder raps vs soldiers in botanist’s death

The Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed yesterday the murder charges filed against Army soldiers allegedly involved in the death of noted botanist Leonard Co and two other civilians during an operation against communist rebels in Leyte in November 2010.
In a 19-page resolution released yesterday, the DOJ ruled that there is no probable cause to indict nine men of the Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion led by 1Lt. Ronald Odchimar for murder, as sought in the complaint filed by Co’s widow Glenda.

The DOJ panel though did not totally clear the respondents, as it found them liable for a lesser offense: reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and attempted homicide.

A panel of fiscals led by Assistant State Prosecutor George Yarte Jr. concluded after preliminary investigation that a key element of murder – intentional felony or motive to kill – was absent in this case.

The fiscals bought the defense of the respondents that they were unaware of the presence of Co’s team in the area where they were conducting an operation against New People’s Army rebels.

The troops, according to the fiscals, only operated under “a mistake of fact,” citing the “remoteness and seclusion of the forested areas where there is little or hardly any possibility of civilian presence.”

Apart from Odchimar, also charged were Cameron Perez, Cpl. Marlon Mores, and Pfcs. Albert Belonte, Michael Babon, Elemer Forteza, Roger Fabillar, Gil Guimerey, Alex Apostol, and William Bulic.

They were also indicted for obstruction of justice along with 27 other officers.

Co, 56, a specialist in plant taxonomy and ethnobotany who was serving as biodiversity consultant of Lopez-owned EDC, was gathering specimen seedlings of endangered trees with a five-member team of civilians when elements of the 19th IB sprayed them with bullets on Nov. 15, 2010 in Barangay Lim-ao in Kananga, Leyte.

Co, Sofronio Cortez, a forest guard of the Energy Development Corp.’s Environmental Management Division; and Julius Borromeo, a member of the Tongonan Farmers Association, were killed in the incident.

Trial of Sulu bombing suspect moved to Manila

From the Philippine Star (Mar 3): Trial of Sulu bombing suspect moved to Manila

The trial of the prime suspect in the Patikul, Sulu bombing in 2009 is set to continue tomorrow at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 10.

Temugen Sahipa “Cocoy” Tulawie will be tried in Manila after Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, one of the complainants, asked the Supreme Court to move the trial from Davao to any RTC in Metro Manila.

Tulawie was arrested in Davao on Jan. 13, 2012. He was first detained at the Sulu provincial jail but moved to Davao City for his trial.

Tulawie was charged with multiple frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder for alleged possession of explosives used in the Patikul bombing in 2009.

He was also linked to the 2010 bombing at the Zamboanga International Airport, which left one person dead and 12 others wounded, including Tan.

The bombing occurred a few days after the arrest of Edgar Malaydan, a suspected member of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah in Monkayo, Compostela Valley.

Tan earlier declared that he has no political or personal motives in filing the case against Tulawie, who reportedly has the support of at least two non-government organizations – the Mindanao People’s Caucus and the International Solidarity Conference – and a strong backing from prominent personalities in Davao City.

Tan said Manila would be a neutral place where neither party would have any advantage, and the trial would be free from outside influence.

However, several concerned persons and sectors have expressed fears that Malacañang officials may try to influence the trial. Commission on Human Rights chairperson Etta Rosales openly aired her support for Tulawie’s innocence.

Consortium of Bangsa Moro Civil Society secretary-general Sammy Maulana said Tulawie’s detention is political harassment. A Free Cocoy Tulawie Movement has also been launched. 

SABAH CASUALTY SWAP | Suluanons say Malaysians killed imam, 4 others; KL says 5 cops slain in ambush

From InterAksyon (Mar 3): SABAH CASUALTY SWAP | Suluanons say Malaysians killed imam, 4 others; KL says 5 cops slain in ambush

Malaysian commandos in Sabah standoff (AFP file photo)

The Sabah stand-off between hundreds of followers of the Sulu sultan and Malaysian authorities deteriorated into a deadly tit-for-tat Sunday, as both sides claimed they sustained five fatalities each.

An imam and four others were killed when Malaysian forces reportedly attacked the village of Semporna in Sabah Saturday, the camp of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III said Sunday. Another imam was also wounded.

Those involved were not members of the Royal Sulu Army but were "supporters" of the group, said Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the sultanate.

The supporters also reportedly took hostage four people, including two officials of Malaysian police and a civilian.

Princess Jacel Kiram, the daughter of the the sultan, said Malaysian forces entered the residences of Semporna residents.

5 Malaysian cops killed

But a report from Malaysian state news agency Bernama said Malaysian policemen were ambushed, leaving five policemen killed.

The shootout late on Saturday in the town of Semporna followed a firefight the previous day between Filipino followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Malaysian security forces that left 12 Filipinos dead along with two Malaysian police officers.

An estimated 100-300 Filipinos have been surrounded by Malaysian police and military in the state of Sabah since landing by boat from the Philippines, insisting the area belongs to the Sultanate of Sulu.

Semporna is about 150 kilometers from Lahad Datu, where followers of the sultan of Sulu have been held in a tense and violent standoff with Malaysian forces since last week.

An initial report from Malaysian state media Bernama quoted Sabah police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib as saying that authorities were investigating whether the group that ambushed the policemen were connected with the Royal Sulu Army holed up in Lahad Datu.

Bernama said the policemen were shot at by an unidentified group of about 10 members in Kampung Seri Jaya Siminul 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Hamza was quoted as saying that the Royal Sulu Army were "cordoned off" by security forces and said police were in control of the situation.

Another Malaysian news outfit, this time, quoted police inspector-general Ismail Omar as confirming that "five police officers were killed in a skirmish with an armed group in Semporna, Sabah."

The attack was attributed simply to "an armed group in Kampung Sri Jaya Simunul, Sempoerna." said Malaysian officials are still investigating whether the ambush on the policemen is linked to the Lahad Datu situation.

Meanwhile in Manila, the camp of Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III said they have yet to talk to Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram since Saturday night.

The sultan said negotiations were not too late even as Malacanang said yesterday that Filipinos in Sabah should immediately surrender before it was too late.

The sultan also appealed for followers to calm down.

Malaysian peace monitors in PH at risk after Sabah assault

From Rappler (Mar 3): Malaysian peace monitors in PH at risk after Sabah assault

Members of Malaysian-led international monitoring team (IMT) in Mindanao are facing security risks after violence erupted in Sabah Friday, March 1, that left 12 followers of the Sultanate of Sulu and two police officers dead.

Malaysian soldiers monitoring the truce between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government were adviced by the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities to limit their movement in the region, former MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu said in a phone interview on Saturday, March 2.

This is to prevent sympathizers of the Sultanate of Sulu from taking advantage of the conflict, according to Kabalu, who is now working with the government as a peace consultant.

“Authorities are now beefing up the security as part of precautionary measures,” Kabalu said.
“While there is still no prior information, (members of the) Malaysian contingent were asked to limit their movement,” he added.

Peace broker

Kuala Lumpur, which brokered the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF, is leading the IMT which has been monitoring the ceasefire, socio- economic and humanitarian agreements between the government and the MILF since 2004.

On Friday, March 1, at least 12 followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III were killed as fighting broke out in Lahad Datu. Two members of the Malaysian security forces were also killed.

In a phone call on March 1, Datu Raja Mudah, leader of Sulu Sultanate followers in Sabah, confirmed that ten of his men were also captured by Malaysian authorities. This was according to Princess Jecel Kiram, daughter of Sultan Kiram III.

Princess Jecel Kiram said his uncle, along with 214 men, is hiding in Sabah and will not leave the island.

The Sulu sultanate's power faded about a century ago but it has continued to receive nominal payments from Malaysia for Sabah under a historical lease arrangement passed down from European colonial powers.

PH wants access to Sabah standoff victims

From Rappler (Mar 3): PH wants access to Sabah standoff victims

Philippine diplomats have been sent to Sabah to assist Filipinos affected by the deadly standoff between Malaysian police and supporters of the Sulu Sultanate, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Sunday, March 3.

“We would like to see how we could work with local authorities in further assisting our nationals affected by the situation,” DFA Undersecretary for Special and Ocean Concerns Jose Brillantes explained in a statement.

Brillantes, sent to help end the crisis, said the consular team in Lahud Datu is on a "humanitarian mission" to extend consular assistance to the wounded and other affected Filipinos.

A week ago the DFA dispatched a Navy ship to evacuate women and civilians from the site of the standoff, but the vessel remains at the border, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte noted on Sunday.

In a radio interview, Valte said that Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has officially requested full access to all detained and wounded Filipinos.

"We have social workers there to provide support, assistance, and counseling to the families of those who perished," she explained.

At least 21 people -- 14 militants and 7 Malaysian policemen -- died in 2 separate firefights in Sabah. Malaysia's national police chief however did not confirm whether the second clash was linked to the standoff between local security forces and supporters of self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

The 74-year-old Kiram claims to be the heir to the Islamic sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of the southern Philippines and the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo.

President Benigno Aquino III has sharply criticized the intruders and urged them to surrender unconditionally, but a spokesman for Kiram has said his followers were prepared to die to defend their historical claim over Sabah.

7 killed in fresh Sabah clash

From Rappler (Mar 3): 7 killed in fresh Sabah clash

Five Malaysian policemen and two gunmen died in a fresh clash in Sabah as fears mounted that violence linked to a deadly standoff with Filipino intruders had spread to other areas, police said Sunday, March 3.

The shootout late Saturday in the town of Semporna followed a firefight the day before between Filipino followers of a self-proclaimed sultan and Malaysian security forces that left 12 intruders dead along with two police officers.

The new clash in Semporna, 300 kilometers (190 miles) from the site of the 3-week standoff, occurred when police were "ambushed" by gunmen during a security sweep, Malaysia's national police chief Ismail Omar told reporters.

An estimated 100 to 300 Filipinos have been surrounded in a farming village by a Malaysian police and military cordon since landing by boat from the nearby Philippines on February 12 to insist the area belongs to their Islamic leader.

The leader, Jamalul Kiram III, 74, claims to be the heir to the Islamic sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of the southern Philippines and the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo.

Malaysian media also quoted Ismail saying that police were pursuing yet another group of armed men in Kunak, another town in the area.

The fresh developments have sparked Malaysian fears of a possible wider campaign of violence by supporters of the group in Sabah, which has large numbers of Filipino immigrants, both legal and illegal.

Linked to standoff?

Officials issued calls for calm as some stores in the region reported panic buying of goods.

"I am calling for cooperation and assistance from local leaders to tone down the sentiments and numerous rumors on what is happening in Sabah," the state's chief minister Musa Aman was quoted saying by Malaysian media.

Earlier Sunday, Sabah police chief Hamza Taib was quoted as confirming the latest clash was linked to the ongoing seige in the village of Tanduo, which is hours away by road. Reports provided no further details.

Ismail said, however, it remained unclear whether there was any link.

The situation is a highly delicate one for the Southeast Asian neighbors.

The Philippine government is looking to consolidate recent progress in mending fences with Islamic separatists in its predominantly Muslim south.

Muslim-majority Malaysia, meanwhile, could face pressure at home for taking harsh action against the Islamic intruders.

Following Friday's initial firefight, Malaysian police threatened "drastic action" to clear out the trespassers.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who has sharply criticized the intruders, also urged them to surrender unconditionally.

But Kiram's spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, repeated on Sunday that his followers would not budge.

He added the sultan would seek US intervention, citing a past agreement with Washington, which controlled the Philippines in the early 1900s.

"(Malaysia) want to hide the truth, that they do not own Sabah. It is owned by us," he said.

US embassy officials in Manila were not immediately available to comment.

Sabah claim

The standoff has embarrassed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak -- who must call elections by June -- by exposing lax border security and fueling perceptions of lawlessness and massive illegal immigration in Sabah.

His long-ruling government was already on the defensive over allegations that in the 1990s it gave citizenship to possibly hundreds of thousands of illegal Filipino and Indonesian migrants in Sabah in exchange for their votes.

The Sulu sultanate's power faded about a century ago but it has continued to receive nominal payments from Malaysia for Sabah under a historical lease arrangement passed down from European colonial powers.

Kiram's people are demanding Malaysia recognize the sultanate owns Sabah and share profits from economic development in the state.

Militiaman hurt in an ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 2): Militiaman hurt in an ambush

A former barangay chairman turned militia was wounded while his two companions escaped unscathed in an ambush in a remote village in Bayog municipality, Zamboanga del Sur, a police official disclosed Saturday.

Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) spokesman Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca said the incident took place at around 7:55 a.m. Friday at Purok 3, Barangay Datagan, Bayog town.  Huesca identified the victim as Loreto Lumayan, 49, of Datagan. Those unscathed were Edgardo Angel and Roberto Tinda, both members of the militia force.

Huesca said Lumayan and his two companions were heading to their detachment in Barangay Bubuan to report for duty when they were met by gunshot from men hiding in the bushes along their way. Lumayan was rushed to the hospital by responding soldiers. Investigation continues to identify the suspects.

Army vows to quell renewed NPA atrocities in N. Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 3): Army vows to quell renewed NPA atrocities in N. Cotabato

The Army here has vowed to contain renewed hostilities initiated by the communist New Peoples Army in North Cotabato in retaliation to heavy losses they suffered following recent Army-rebel encounters.

Brig. Gen. Ademar Tomaro, chief of the Army’s 602nd Brigade based here, said the rebels planted landmines in civilian communities to get back at the soldiers of the 57th Infantry Battalion who figured in a clash with the rebels that left eight guerillas killed.

Two soldiers also died in the clash that took place in the mountains Bulatukan, Makilala, North Cotabato.  Following the skirmishes, the guerillas stormed the village of Lacobe and disarmed Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members.

The MNLF in the village served as police multipliers to help maintain law and order in the community inhabited mostly by local Muslims.  Due to intensified military offensive against communist insurgents, they were dislodged from their camps at the foot of the country's highest peak and moved to other villages where they harassed and intimidated civilian communities and multi-national companies.

"They would like to get back at the Army but the sad thing was they include non combatants and harassed them when they refused to provide protection money to the rebels," Tomaro told reporters.

As a preventive measure, communities vulnerable to NPA harassment are regularly covered by Army patrols.  Tomaro lauded the civilians who have been providing the Army with information on the location and movement of communist rebels.

Tomaro had ordered the 57th Infantry Battalion to immediately deploy soldiers in the surroundings of Barangay Lacobe to prevent the rebels from coming back.  An Army team has been deployed to Barangay Lacobe to ensure the safety of civilians.

Tomaro said the rebels regularly plant landmines in areas patrolled by soldiers to prevent NPAs from regaining control of their former strongholds.  NPA rebels had been repeatedly harassing big banana companies in Makilala, North Cotabato that ignored their demand for protection money.  Several heavy equipment have been torched by the rebels and disarmed the firm's security guards of their firearms.

3 suspected NPAs nabbed for violation of election gun ban

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 3): 3 suspected NPAs nabbed for violation of election gun ban

The believed to be Maoist-Leninist-inspired New People's Army (NPA), arm wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), may be losing battle of winning the hearts and minds of the Boholanos as their alleged comrades-in-arms were nabbed recently.

Suspects identified as certain Alberto Pancho, 30, single and resident of Bugang, Bilar town and Cristuto Lastomen, single and resident of barangay Villaflor, Carmen town were recently nabbed in this town for breaching the Comelec's gun ban. Both are now facing charges in court for illegal possession of high-powered firearms and ammunitions, police report said.

Police accosted the duo who were on standby with a single motorcycle at past 9 PM on February 26, 2013 when the former were conducting mobile patrol along the highway of barangay Alegria in this hinterland town, more than 30 kilometers from capital Tagbilaran City.

Police report said that they seized from Pancho and Lastomen Beretta 9mm caliber pistol, Colt .45 handgun with live ammunition in the magazines.  The same spot (barangay Alegria of this town) where alleged rebel leader known as Ruben Nabas with different aliases, "Elmer," "Padi," and "Rex" was arrested by police officers for violating gun ban, based on the report of the 302nd Infantry Brigade of Philippine Army based on Tanjay City, Negros Oriental.

Mayor Bert Salinas, in an exclusive interview, of this town confirmed the arrests of Nabas and Lastomen. He said he was still waiting for an official report from police authorities regarding the arrests of the suspected rebels. Asked what could be the motive why they're in his town, the mayor answered in the negative, saying maybe "they're into something we don't know."

Acting on an information, the police together with the Philippine Army officers also found the next day in same barangay two sacks loaded with materials, such as wire cord and batteries believed to be made for improvised explosive device (IED) and the other sack with already made IED, police said.

The police probers are now looking into the possibility if Pancho, Nabas and Lastomen were really involved in the bombings that crippled of power transmission lines installed by the Natinal Grid corporation of the Philippines in barangay Sta. CAtalina, Sagbayan town in 2011 and in barangay Sto. Nino, San Miguel town.

The provincial police command last year downplayed that the rebels are responsible for the said bombings of the power transmission lines because the rebels did not issue statement claiming such incident but the Centcom revealed otherwise --- that the rebel movement was allegedly instrumental for those bombings.

Malaysian forces corner Sulu rebels as PM offers ultimatum to surrender

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 2): Malaysian forces corner Sulu rebels as PM offers ultimatum to surrender

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday negotiations with Sulu rebels - a Philippine rebel group - are over after a gunfight between the group and the Malaysian armed forces Friday killed 14 people and injured scores others.

"The government gives them two options: surrender or face the security actions. What they have done is a serious crime they have armed themselves and killed two Malaysian law enforcers," Najib said.

He said the Sulu rebels had entrapped the Malaysian security forces by pretending to surrender hoisting a white flag and fired at them. "They were cowards if it is true what they have committed. "

The bodies of the two Malaysian commandos killed in the gunfight, 29-year-old Zulkifli Mamat and 46-year-old Sabaruddin Daud, were flown back to Kuala Lumpur Friday and were given a police honor at an air force control base where Najib had given the press briefing and consoled the victims' family members.

The Malaysian queen was also present at the air force base to comfort the victims' family. The both fallen soldiers, killed in a mortar attack, were promoted to a higher rank. Three other Malaysian law enforcers were injured in the gunfight.

Najib said he spoke with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III Friday night. The Malaysian armed forces imposed a curfew since 4 p.m. on Friday and said they have cornered several remaining Sulu gunmen in Sabah's Lahad Datu in the Tanduo village.

Gunbattle broke out between the Philippine rebel group and Malaysian armed force Friday morning after the rebels started firing at the armed forces. Police said 12 Sulu gunmen were killed and an unknown number of them were injured.

Some among the rebels have surrendered while others fled to the sea. The rebel group have refused to heed an ultimatum earlier set by both the Philippine and Malaysian authorities to leave. They were followers of Philippine Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III based in the restive southern Philippines. Kiram insisted Sabah was his home and that his Sulu sultanate once controlled parts of Borneo.

The Malaysian authorities have been in a standoff since Feb 9 with 180 armed Filipinos who Malaysians said invaded Taduo village in Sabah's eastern Lahad Datu to reclaim the area as their ancestral territory.

Dozens of families living in the village were said to have been displaced after the occupation. Negotiations collapsed as the rebel group refused to surrender.

Analysts said the group had resorted to invade Sabah after they felt being left out in a landmark peace deal between the Philippine government and Muslim separatist group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that was brokered by Malaysia.

MILF: IPs Peace Summit held in Teduray Mass Based

From the MILF Website (Mar 3): IPs Peace Summit held in Teduray Mass Based

This morning an Indigenous People (IP)peace summit held in South Upi, one of the mass based municipality of Teduray Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo, all Mamalu descendant, the brother of Tabunaway.

The summit attended hundreds IPs leaders which organized and sponsored by local government unit of South Upi under leadership of South Upi Mayor Abdullah Campong, a Muslim Teduray.

The summit was meant to educate the area’s indigenous people (IPs) on the importance of the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro (FAB), which the government and the MILF crafted Oct. 15, 2012 in Malacañang.

Teduray communities are key stakeholders to the Southern peace process. Mamalu and Tabunaway settled in the Bangsamoro proposed area even before the coming to Mindanao of foreign missionaries Sheik Karimul Makdum and Shariff Mohammad Kabunsuan in the Majority of Teduray and Lambingan tribes are non-Muslims and have their own customary laws their leaders use as guides in managing the socio-economic, political and religious affairs of their communities.

Timuay Melanio Ulama, MILF peace panel consultants for IPs issues and now member of Transition Commission (TransCom) nominated by MILF, explained the rights of the IPs included in the FAB.

The TransCom, to be comprised of eight representatives from the MILF and seven from the national government, will oversee the implementation of the FAB and the drafting of the law creating the Bangsamoro region.

Aside from drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the TransCom is also tasked to work on proposals to amend the Constitution “for purposes of accommodating and entrenching in the Constitution the agreements of the Parties whenever necessary without derogating from any prior peace agreements” and to coordinate, when necessary, development programs in the Bangsamoro communities in conjunction with the MILF’s Bangsamoro Development Agency and the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute and other agencies.

According to the FAB, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will include the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), will be certified as an urgent bill by the President and upon promulgation and ratification, “the ARMM is deemed abolished” and the BTA takes over until it is replaced in 2016 “upon the election and assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro goverment.”

The FAB cites indigenous peoples’ rights thrice.

It provides under Article I Section 5 on the Establishment of the Bangsamoro, that “freedom of choice of other indigenous peoples shall be respected.”

Artcile III, Section 6 on Powers, provides that the “customary rights and traditions of indigenous peoples shall be taken into consideration in the formation of the Bangsamoro’s justice system” and that “this may include the recognition of indigenous processes as alternative modes of dispute resolution.”

Article VI, Section 3 on Basic Rights, provides that “indigenous peoples’ rights shall be respected.”

Timuay Atonio Batitao a Teduray leader said he are now convinced that the ongoing peace overture between the government and the MILF will never leave Mindanao's tribal non-Moro folks out.

"We are confident that the government and the MILF will focus attention on the plight of Teduray in the proposed Bangsamoro area and I am optimistic that a final peace agreement are underway," Batitao said.