Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sulu sultan files complaint vs Malaysia before UN

From ABS-CBN (Jul 8): Sulu sultan files complaint vs Malaysia before UN

The Sultanate of Sulu has filed a complaint with the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR), accusing Malaysia of violating a 1963 agreement over the arrest of several people involved in the attempted takeover of Sabah earlier this year.

Sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani maintained the people arrested by Malaysian authorities were never involved in the attempt.

Idjirani said the complaint against Malaysia was filed at the UN office in Makati City last week.

The complaint detailed several human rights violations committed by Malaysians against Sultan Jumamul Kiram III and other personalities suspected to have provided support to the failed invasion.

Idjirani pointed out Malaysia is a party to the accord signed in Manila in 1963.

He said the Manila Accord was signed on 31 July 1963 by the Federation of Malaysia, Republic of Indonesia and Republic of the Philippines.

The countries agreed to abide by the wishes of the people of North Borneo (now Sabah and Labuna) and Sarawak, within the context of the UN General Assembly Resolution 1541 (XV), Principle 9 of the Annex, taking into account referendums in North Borneo and Sarawak that would be free and without coercion.

The accord also called for the peaceful resolution of the Philippine claim to North Borneo or Sabah.

“The arrest of Datu Amirbahar Kiram, who was not involved in the standoff, is a clear violation of the treaty,” Idjirani said.

“Datu Amirbahar, a nephew of Sultan Kiram, was never involved in the fighting. In fact, he was mediating for the peaceful resolution of the standoff,” he said.

Photo: BRP Alcaraz starts journey to PHL

From GMA News (Jul 7): Photo: BRP Alcaraz starts journey to PHL

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz arrives in San Diego, California on Tuesday, July 2, before embarking on a three-week maiden voyage to the Philippines. The Alcaraz is the second Hamilton-class cutter that was acquired by the Philippine Navy under the Foreign Military Sales Program of the United States. The ship was named after Commodore Ramon Alcaraz, a World War II hero who commanded the Philippine Offshore Patrol’s Q-Boat Q-112 Abra which shot down three Japanese aircraft. US Embassy

MILF: Heed the voices of CSOs on peace

Editorial posted to the MILF  Website (Jul 8): Heed the voices of CSOs on peace

Some 37 non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs)  have met in Davao City on July 4 and signed an official position paper: “URGENCY FOR PEACE IN MINDANAO: SIGN AND  IMPLEMENT A COMPREHENSIVE AGREEMENT NOW! They also called on government and MILF peace negotiators to bring home a breakthrough for the Bangsamoro!
Some of the NGOs or CSOs are bigwigs in the field of legal struggle for justice and human rights: Anak Mindanao (AMIN), Gaston Ortigas Foundation (GOF), Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS), Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), and many others.      
It is a matter of principle and policy that the MILF hears all voices that contribute to the attainment of genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao. But the voices coming from the NGOs and CSOs deserve special spot in our hearts, because they are the least affected or none at all by petty considerations. They speak from the bottom of their hearts. If peace is borne by now they are the last to demand for a share of the pie. We are sure of this because we have been dealing with them for decades.

Some of them even sent short message system (sms) to members of the MILF peace panel and perhaps also to the government peace panel. Notable of these well-wishers is a Catholic nun named Sister Arnold Maria, who despite her advancing age vowed unto herself to continue to support the peace negotiation through to the end or as long as she is alive. Thank you very much!

However, there are exceptions. Other NGOs and CSOs, despite their billings, are taking cues from shadow interests groups. This, however, is very hard to spot, except in how they manage issues. Sometimes, they take a gray position, which is actually a countervailing one. Ambiguity, which is closely akin to non-committal, can mean choosing either side of the equation.

It is time that these so-called cause-oriented groups start calling spade a spade! If what is just and truthful is their cause, then they are natural allies of the oppressed and suppressed. Here they belong and are identified with.

MILF: MILF, GPH invite 3rd party monitors to KL meeting

From the MILF Website (Jul 8): MILF, GPH invite 3rd party monitors to KL meeting
Members of the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) are formally invited to the 39th GPH-MILF peace negotiation in Kula Lumpur by peace panels of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
With the concurrence of the Malaysian facilitator, Dato’ Tengku Ab’ Ghaafar bin Tengku Mohamed, GPH peace panel chair Prof. Miriam Ferrer-Coronel and MILF chair Mohagher Iqbal signed a joint letter addressed to members of the TPMT.

Earlier the parties agreed that former European Union ambassador to the Philippines and now ambassador to Cambodia, Alistair McDonald, will head the TPMT, which is tasked to monitor the implementation of all agreements of the parties especially the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its annexes (Transitional Arrangement and Modalities, Power-sharing, Wealth-sharing, and Normalization) which will be signed as comprehensive peace agreement, and finally to evaluate the full implementation of the parties leading to signing their “Exit Agreement”.

Immediately after the signing of the exit agreement, the peace panels of both GPH and MILF will cease to exist.

The other TPMT members are Dr. Steven Rood, representative of the Asia Foundation (TAF), a representative of Turkish IHH (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı; in English: The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief), Lawyer Zainuddin Malang, representative of Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC), and Karen Tanada, representative of Gastos Ortigan Foundation based in Manila, Philippines.

IHH, which is active in more than 100 countries, holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 2004.

The İHH was owner and operator of three flotilla ships involved in an aid convoy intended to breach the blockade of Gaza in 2010. These ships included the MV Mavi Marmara, a passenger vessel that served as the flagship of the convoy. Nine passengers, many of them members or volunteers for the İHH aboard the Mavi Marmara, were killed in a clash with Israeli forces that raided the vessel as it was on its way to Gaza.

To discharge their tasks effectively, members of the TPMT are required to spend some of their precious time in Mindanao in order to know the real happening obtaining on the ground.

Fighting in Southern Philippines triggers exodus of civilians

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jul 7): Fighting in Southern Philippines triggers exodus of civilians

Philippine Army armored personnel carriers and trucks and villagers pass by a checkpoint in Maguindanao province. (Mindanao Examiner Photo - Mark Navales)

Thousands of people have fled fierce fighting between military and rebel forces in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Clashes were reported in the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato where army soldiers and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have been fighting.

Rebel sources said at least a dozen soldiers had been killed in the fighting this week and that several BIFF members were also reported slain and wounded.

The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center also reported that at least 7 people, including a four-year child, were wounded from the shelling in the village of Ganta in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao.

There was no immediate statement from the provincial and regional governments about how it would resolve the crisis. Many of those who fled their homes are in temporary shelters and have no access to medical facilities or food.

Most of the members of the BIFF were former fighters of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

But the slow progress of the peace talks is also threatening the negotiations and many rebel leaders are becoming restless and some have threatened to wage war if a peaceful settlement to the Bangsamoro problems is not settled soon.

Manila has downplayed the threats and said the talks are going on smoothly even though the MILF has rejected a government draft on wealth sharing in the so-called Bangsamoro homeland.

The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for self-determination in the restive southern Philippine region.

62 rebels surrender to 3rd ID this Q1

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 7): 62 rebels surrender to 3rd ID this Q1

The 3rd Infantry Division, based in Camp Gen. Macario Peralta Jr, Jamindan, Capiz, announced that 62 members of the New People's Army have surrendered to its units for the first three months of 2013.

Brig. Gen. Jonas Sumagaysay, 3rd Infantry Division acting commander, said these ex-rebels are now living normally in the mainstream society.

This number includes 26 rebels who are members of Komiteng Rehiyonal-Panay (KR-P), 33 from Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros (KR-N) and 3 from Komiteng Rehiyonal Sentral-Bisayas (KR-SB).

The number does not count NPA members who have been monitored to have left the movement for the period.

Sumagaysay said this year's first semester surrenderers are up by 18 or 40 percent compared to 1st semester last year where 44 NPA rebels have laid down their arms and returned to mainstream society and chose to live peacefully.

“We expect more rebels to surrender in the coming days because we know that they are already tired of the futile armed struggle and wanted to go down and abandon the armed violence,” he added.

He also stressed that the continued "Bayanihan" project of the military in Western Visayas is a successful effort of the people who have longed for lasting peace in this part of the country.

“Your Army in Western Visayas remains committed in performing its mandated task of protecting the people. Together with other government security forces, we will intensify our combat operations in the region. We will likewise continue our efforts working hand in hand with the local government units, the local government agencies, the civil society organizations and the local populace to end the threats of violence of insurgency and bring peace, stability and development in this part of the country,” he added.

Bicol University student hurt as NPAs harass fun run

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jul 7): Bicol University student hurt as NPAs harass fun run

New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Sorsogon harassed elements of the Gubat Municipal Police Station while marshaling the fun run activity of Bicol University students Sunday morning.

The harassment in Barangay Buenavista was seen as retaliation to a recent setback incurred by the NPAs last July 4, where eight of their members were killed following an encounter with 9th Infantry Division units, wounded a 17 year-old female student whose feet were shot during the attack.

The victim was rushed to Sorsogon Doctors' Hospital for treatment while personnel of the municipal police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)'s 31st Infantry Battalion are already pursuing the communist armed group.

The AFP condemns this recent attack by the NPA against innocent civilians.

"This is a heinous crime, and violates human rights, and the International Humanitarian Law. Their armed struggle has degenerated to criminal acts which put innocent civilian lives in danger, and cause serious damage to their properties," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

Arnel Estiller alias ‘Ka Ariston’, Secretary of Larangan 2 of the Komiteng Probinsya (KomProb) in Sorsogon province and known NPA-Bicol Spokesman Greg Banares were among the eight killed during an encounter with the military in Barangay Upper Calmayon, Juban, Sorsogon on July 4.

This was confirmed by Col. Joselito E Kakilala, 903rd Infantry Brigade commander.

The incident led to a follow-up security operation in Barangay Gabao, Irosin, Sorsogon, Saturday where one NPA member was killed.

Army, PNP launch punitive action vs. BIFF in Maguindanao, NorCot

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 7): Army, PNP launch punitive action vs. BIFF in Maguindanao, NorCot

Government forces have launched a massive manhunt against a group of renegade Moro rebels who have repeatedly attempted to derail the government peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in southern Philippines, the Army here said.

Two days before the formal resumption of GPH-MILF peace talks in Kuala Lumpur Monday, members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters harassed government forces in the borders of North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

The GPH-MILF peace panels will meet July 8 in Malaysia to address the remaining annexes on wealth and power sharing of the proposed Bangsamoro Framework Agreement.

The military said the manhunt was in coordinating with the police and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) of the GPH and MILF peace panels.

No casualties on the latest incident that occurred in Barangay Paidu Pulangi in Pikit, North Cotabato and Reina Regente in Datu Piang, Maguinanao at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Capt. Anthony Bulao, speaking for the 602nd Infantry Brigade, said BIFF forces attack with shoulder fired rifle grenades the detachment of 7th Infantry Battalion.

Major General Romeo Gapuz, 6th Infantry Division chief, said that since last month, the BIFF had conducted sporadic attacks on civilian communities and military detachments in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

Gapuz said that on June 19, the BIFF launched an attack in barangay Bagumbayan, President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat Province killing a farmer and a Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) member.

On that same day, the BIFF also attacked a patrol base of the 33rd Infantry Battalion located in Barangay Bagumbayan which prompted the Army to launched artillery fire against more than 200 BIFF forces, led by Uztads Zukarno Sapal.

Gapuz the 6th ID, PNP and the GPH-MILF AHJAG jointly launched a law enforcement operation against BIFF which led to the arrest of eight BIFF members, recovered the remains of the slain guerilla in barangay Kulasi, also in Bagumbayan.

Five of those arrested were turned-over to the President Quirino municipal police station and charged with illegal possession of explosives while three, who were found to be minors were turned-over to DSWD.

“Groups advocating against abuse of children should look into these, even last year that was in August, when the BIFF also conducted attacks in various communities and military detachments aiming also to disrupt the GPH-MILF peace-talks, our field commanders also reported of minors allegedly used as child warriors by the BIFF,” Gapuz said.

Elements of the 33rd IB captured a BIFF camp in nearby Gen.SK Pendatun town in Maguindanao complete with running trenches, perimeter defense and fox holes.

Days later, the BIFF launched a series of retaliatory attacks by setting off improvised bombs along a highway in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao that left two soldiers and a civilian wounded.

They also attacked two detachments of 40th Infantry Battalions in the borders of Midsayap in North Cotabato and Datu Piang in Maguindanao.

Gapuz said BIFF members also shot dead a 15-year-old high school student in Barangay Labo-Labo, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on Monday.

The following day, two detachments of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Barangay Iginagampong in Datu SAudi Ampatuan were attacked by BIFF forces, Gapuz said in a statement. No casualty was reported.

He added that the BIFF, aside from publicly proclaiming it will launched offensives against military installations in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, also circulated text messages that portions of the Davao-Cotabato highway and portions of the Cotabato-Gen. Santos highway had been closed and they are in control of it.

Gapuz said the BIFF also launched misinformation drive that the GPH-MILF talks had collapsed.

Abu Misry, BIFF spokesperson, said the BIFF will continue to harass and launch guerilla attacks against military forces in Maguindanao.

Speaking over DXMS Radyo Bida, Misry said: "We continue our offensives against the Army and other government forces."

To date, Gapuz said armed clashes are still on going between pursuing government forces and BIFF elements in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

“We are on top of the situation. We are ready and committed along with our counterparts from the MILF to defend our communities from BIFF abuses and the massive displacements and lost livelihoods they cause which are clear violations of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and to preserve and guard the primacy of the peace process in Mindanao,” Gapuz said.

"We are doing our best to secure our communities and prevent more displacements especially so that our brothers and sisters in Islam are going to start the observance of the Holy month of Ramadan this coming week," he added.

The fasting month of Ramadhan will officially start on Tuesday, July 9.

Army division honors 5 soldiers who died protecting lives in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 7): Army division honors 5 soldiers who died protecting lives in Maguindanao

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, 6th Infantry Division commander, led Sunday the Army division officers and men in honoring an Army Lieutenant and four enlisted men who were killed in action while protecting peoples' lives in Maguindanao.

Five days earlier, Gapuz told government troops during the 7th Infantry Battalion’s 40th anniversary celebration in Pikit, North Cotabato "to protect every citizen from violence, threats, intimidation or harassment of any kind by any group or individual".

“It is our mandate to serve and protect the people and maintain peace and security,” Gapuz recalled, reminding the officers and men of 7th IB.

On Saturday, five infantry men, three from the 68th Infantry Battalion and two from the 7th Infantry Battalion, were killed in separate attacks by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in efforts to derail the government peace process with the MILF.

"We are saddened by their deaths but it is with pride and honor that 6ID mourns the deaths of our fallen officer and men, for they did not die in vain, they bravely put their lives in the line of fire to protect and secure our civilian communities while observing the primacy of the ongoing GPH-MILF peace process," Gapuz said.

Gapuz's marching orders during the 7th IB anniversary was put immediately to test after BIFF bandits first attacked Saturday soldiers in Barangay Paidu Pulangi in Pikit, North Cotabato, killing Privates First Class Megan Bello and Jonathan Mores,from the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion.

While 7th IB infantry men were battling the BIFF attackers who positioned in Barangay Regente, Datu Piang, Maguindanao across the Rio Grande de Mindanao, another band of BIFF rebels set off a powerful roadside bomb in Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao, 1st Lt. Gerardo Flores and his two soldiers.

Flores and his slain men died from multiple shrapnel wounds.

Responding soldiers and militiamen engaged the bandits that waylaid Flores and his men in a two-hour long running firefight, leaving eight BIFF fighters dead and seven others wounded.

Another group of BIFF gunmen also attacked on Saturday pursuing elements of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion and 45th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Bakat, Shariff Saydona Mustapha town also in Maguindanao, provoking a two-hour firefight resulting to numerous and unaccounted BIFF casualties.

Quoting village officials in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, Colonel Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the 6th ID, said about 18 BIFF fighters were killed.

The PNP PRO-ARMM and 6th Infantry Division in coordination with the GPH and MILF Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) was prompted to launched a joint law enforcement pursuit operation against the BIFF in the boundary of Maguindanao and North Cotabato in response to BIFF's wanton attacks to civilian communities and military detachments causing major displacements including Moro communities who are about to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan early this week.

Last week, unruly BIFF bandits killed a member of the CAFGU and a farmer in President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat, where they also tried, but failed to take over an Army detachment of the 33rd Infantry Battalion before escaping towards a marshy area near Maguindanao’s General Salipada K. Pendatun town, bringing with them more than a dozen water buffaloes they took from farmers at gunpoint.

The BIFF had also earlier set-off improvised explosives in Shariff Aguak, also in Maguindanao that left to soldiers and a civilian wounded.

They also fired rockets and assault rifles on two detachments of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Gapuz said the BIFF also attacked civilians like the strafing of Cotabato City bound Husky bus in Guindulungan, Maguindanao. Nobody was hurt.

"As we honor our fallen heroes, we will continue our punitive action against BIFF who we now consider as terrorists who disregard even their relatives who are preparing for the fasting month," Gapuz said.

The Maguindanao social welfare office said about 5,000 individuals have fled their homes in at least three towns after sighting BIFF forces in their communities.

Warring MNLF, MILF in Nor Cot declare ceasefire

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 7): Warring MNLF, MILF in Nor Cot declare ceasefire
Convinced nobody can settle their dispute but themselves, officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front agreed to form a joint task force to finally end clashes that have claimed several lives and displaced civilians from three remote villages here.

On Sunday, Mohammad Ameen, speaking for the MILF, said an interim agreement had been reached and ready for implementation.

First both sides declared a bilateral cessation of hostilities last week while further meetings were held to end the hostilities which started on May 5 and already killed at least four persons from both sides and displacement of about 3,000 villagers.

The conflict started when the MILF was to hold a forum on the Framework Agreement Bangsamoro in Barangay Marbel, Matalam, North Cotabato.

Barangays Kilada, Marbel and Elian, all in Matalam, formed a peace zone where former MNLF combatants and their families live and farm after the signing of the GPH-MNLF peace agreement in 1996.

Dima Ambel, MNLF leader in North Cotabato, said since the villages are MNLF peace zone he requested the MILF not to carry guns or wear fatigue uniform during the supposed forum on FAB.

However, the MILF arrived in full battle gear with high-powered firearms on the eve of the forum which triggered "misunderstanding" as the MNLF felt the MILF invaded their communities.

The forum was cancelled as sporadic fighting erupted between Ambel's MNLF armed followers and MILF commander Ali Mansur men that also sent thousands of civilians fleeing.

In mid-May, a localized truce brokered by the representatives of the MNLF, MILF, International Monitoring Team and the local government of North Cotabato temporarily halted the skirmishes.

Few days later, MNLF and MILF forces were at it again, trading bullets and mortars after accusing each other of violating the truce.

Ameen said with the creation of a joint task force composed only of MNLF and MILF representatives, a formula is expected to end the clashes.

Ameen said the joint task force was approved by MILF chair Mohammad Al Haj Murad, MNLF chairmen Nur Misuari and Muslimin Sema.

He said the conflict did not only stemmed from the May 5 supposed FAB forum but deeply rooted and triggered by a long standing land dispute.

Ameen said only the MILF and MNLF leaders can settle their misunderstanding as all of them are Bangsamoro people with the same aspirations.

He said the creation of task force was timely as the Muslims will observe the fasting month of Ramadhan starting Tuesday.

Phil-US Military Exercises for Peace

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 7): Phil-US Military Exercises for Peace

The military exercises of the Philippines and the United States in Philippine territories is not an act of belligerence, much less warmongering.It is a peaceful way of keeping national sovereignty – and peace in the region.

It’s a fact – America is still the policeman of the world.

If there are bullies – even just one bully – in the neighborhood, who won’t feel safe to be America’s “little brother”?

Accept it. There will always be nations bullying smaller nations.

Because it is a historical fact – might is right. Bertrand Russell, in his anatomy of power, made the point quite clear.

Genghis Khan and later his grandson Kublai Khan, Alexander of Macedonia, Napoleon and, down to the 20h century, Hitler – all are worshippers of power.Who won’t be tempted to join the club of the world’s strongmen?

The Philippines is puny – but not a pushover. Diplomatic but won’t kowtow to a foreign aggressor. That’s why the so-called militants rallying against the on-going Philippine-US military exercises can pause and reflect.

To keep sovereignty the Philippines need partnership with America and fellow members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Even with its erstwhile conqueror in World War II – Japan.

The Philippines and America had shown to the world that partnership between a big nation and the little brother could enhance sovereignty –even dignity. Go back 68 years ago in Bessang Pass, a little known place in Northern Luzon.

US-Philippine partnership hastened the formal surrender of Gen. Tomayuki Yamashita, the overall commander of the Japanese Imperial Forces in the Pacific.

Yamashita the “Tiger of Malaya” who had the reputation of capturing Southeast Asia at the initial stages of the war in only 14 days, was tamed by all-Filipino soldiers and guerrillas in the battle of Bessang Pass and then in Kiangan, Ifugao.

For more than three years , the Northern Luzon guerrillas – a ragtag Filipino fighters -- survivors of the Bataan Death March, escaped POWS, young college students and the native bolo men – were pushed back in their countless attempts to take Yamashita’s mountain fortress.

Most prominent leader of the Filipino freedom fighters of the North was Gen. Simeon Marcos Valdez, whose two nephews became Philippine Presidents – Ferdinand E. Marcos and Fidel V. Ramos.

More than 26,000 Filipino guerrillas participated in the Northern Luzon battles. More than 70,000 Japanese troops under Gen Yamashita surrendered at the end of the war.

The final assault of Bessang Pass was participated only by less than 100 all-Filipino ground forces. The battle of Bessang Pass lasted two weeks from June 1-14, 1945.

Victory was not possible without America, who provided air bombardment and field artillery support. US armament and ammunition secretly landed by US U-Boat from a US submarine doomed Yamashita’s forces. The bolos were replaced by powerful US armenents.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the U.S.Supreme Commander in the Pacific, recognized the sheer contribution of the Filipino guerillas with a glowing tribute by saying, “The work of the Northern Luzon guerrillas alone was equal to a front line division.”

23 killed in PHL gov't, BIFM clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 7): 23 killed in PHL gov't, BIFM clash

Five government soldiers and at least 18 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement were killed in renewed hostilities in the southern Philippine provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato, a military spokesman said Sunday.

Three of the slain soldiers, including a first lieutenant, died when the BIFM fighters detonated a landmine in the outskirts of Sharriff Saidona Mustapha town in Maguindanao around 4 p.m. Saturday, said the 6th Infantry Division spokesman Dickson Hermoso.

Two other soldiers were injured in the explosion which was followed by fighting, he said.

"They were conducting law enforcement operation against the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters)," he said.

Five hours earlier, Hermoso said two other soldiers, one from the 7th Infantry Battalion and another from the 5th Special Forces Battalion, died in clash with BIFM fighters in Paidu Pulangi Village in Pikit Town in North Cotabato.

"They were on a blocking position when the fighting ensued," Hermoso said.

The BIFF is the original name of the group which was founded by former Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander Ameril Umbra Kato in 2010. Its leadership later renamed it to BIFM which has about 300 men.

POWERFUL PRESENCE | US warship patrolling Philippine Sea - US Navy official blog

From InterAksyon (Jul 7): POWERFUL PRESENCE | US warship patrolling Philippine Sea - US Navy official blog

USS Bonhomme Richard. US NAVY PHOTO

The USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD6), a forward-deployed amphibious assault ship of the United States 7th Fleet, has been patrolling the Philippine Sea since July 1, according to a photo essay posted on July 5 in the official blog site of the US Navy.

Spokesmen from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Navy (PN) refused to comment on the blog report, which some quarters say may have unwittingly revealed a violation of international law, including the Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines which limit the entry of US military forces in the Philippines. However, sources said this may not necessarily be a problem, since the "Philippine Sea" strictly speaking extends from Taiwan to the Marianas to Japan.

One of the photos, datelined “Philippine Sea” and dated July 1, showed the warship being refueled by oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202). It was posted by “Stanbailey” and entitled “Your Navy Today – Arabian Gulf, Philippine Sea, Guam.”

Earlier, an article posted on the 7th Fleet’s website said the warship departed Sasebo, Japan on June 25 to conduct patrols in its area of responsibility in the Asia Pacific.

“The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD6) completed embarkation of Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in support of joint force operations in the US 7th Fleet area of responsibility, June 25,” the article said.

The ship reports directly to Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, commander of the Amphibious Force 7th Fleet.

Earlier this year, the former USS Guardian (MCM5) “minesweeper” strayed into Tubbataha Reef in Sulu Sea, Palawan. It ran aground and had to be dismantled on-site to prevent further damage to the UNESCO Heritage Site. The USS Guardian belonged to the same naval fleet.

The article said the USS Bonhomme was loaded with “more than 100 vehicles and 300 pieces of equipment from the MEU's ground combat element, aviation combat element (ACE), logistics combat element, and command element” after weeks of embarking preparations before it departed Sasebo.

It said the 31st MEU consists of a reinforced infantry battalion, a reinforced tiltrotor squadron, a combat logistics battalion, and a command element that allow the Bonhomme Ricahrd Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) to conduct amphibious operations from the sea and project power ashore.

“This patrol will also feature MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265, embarked as part of the ACE for its first forward-deployed patrol with Bonhomme Richard,” the article said.

Just recently, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City and discussed the possibility of a joint hosting of aerial exercises with the US MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.

In an ambush interview, Onodera neither confirmed nor denied this but he emphasized that the US presence in the Asia Pacific is “very important.”

“The US presence is very important…We talked about rebalance strategy of United States but we did not talk about any in the future specific equipment of the US forces,” he said.

Gazmin said the government may forge an agreement based on the VFA to give greater access to military base and facilities of visiting American and Japanese forces.
These developed as China becomes more aggressive, intruding into territorial waters of the Philippines and Japan.

5 soldiers killed in weekend clashes with Kato's men in central Mindanao

From InterAksyon (Jul 7): 5 soldiers killed in weekend clashes with Kato's men in central Mindanao

An Army officer and four enlisted personnel were confirmed dead, and eight civilians, including two children were wounded in weekend clashes between the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in parts of central Mindanao. 

The military also cited unconfirmed reports that 18 BIFF  fighters were killed.

Among the dead on the government side is 1st Lt. Gerardo Flores of the 68th IB and two of his subordinates, victims of an improvised explosive device when they responded to the scene of the skirmish in Datu Piang, Maguindanao Saturday.

PFC Megan Bello and Jonathan Mores of the 7th IB, based in Paidu Pulangi in Pikit, North Cotabato, also perished.

Being treated in hospital are civilians from Datu Piang--Alimundo Gutong, 45; Armina Guntong, 42; Deding Dalimbang, 35; Ugalingan Kamid, 45, and Fatima Mamakung, 28; and her children, 2-year-old son BabeKung Mamakung and 4-year-old Babukuy Mamakung .

Authorities in control, thousands in evacuation centers

Authorities remain in control of the situation, according to 6th ID spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso.

The last clashes happened around 4am Sunday.

In the latest clashes, thousands of families remain in evacuation centers in Datu Piang and Shariff Aguak.

It could not be known exactly how many casualties there were on the BIFF, but the military said there were unconfirmed reports that the rebel side incurred 18 fatalities.

Hermoso said the gun battles happened Saturday in Shariff Saidona Mustapha, Maguindanao and Pikit, North Cotabato. “First was the landmine ambush that killed the officer and two soldiers at around 4 p.m. in Maguindanao. Prior to this, an encounter at around 11 a.m. killed a member of the 7th IB and a member of the 5th Special Forces Battalion in North Cotabato,” Hermoso said.

Officer Flores and his two soldiers were on foot patrol when the landmine was detonated by the Moro bandits.

Citing “human intelligence” provided by the town’s Peace and Order Council, Hermoso said the BIFF suffered at least 18 fatalities. “On the other side, and I don’t to hype this, there are so many casualties. There was a report from the Peace and Order Council of Shariff Saidona Mustapha town that the BIFF had 18 fatalities,” he said.

Hermoso said that in the past two weeks they have monitored and recorded “BIFF atrocities” that led the military to attack the bandits’ positions.

In August last year, BIFF forces under the command of Ameril Umbra Kato, attacked the detachments of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Barangay Cabengi, Datu Saudi Ampatuan; Barangay Bagan, Guindulungan; and Barangays Meta and Maitumaig in Datu Unsay.

Umbra Kato was expelled last year by the MILF for not supporting the resumption of peace talks with the government.

The military estimates Umbra Kato has 1,000 armed followers--formerly members of the MILF’s 106th base Command.

At least 84 multiple murder cases have been filed against Kato in various courts for allegedly launching attacks in North Cotabato in 2008 when the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was struck down by the Supreme Court.
The attacks also displaced thousands of residents in North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces.

PREMATURE REJOICING | Chinese Navy ship, fishing boats still in Ayungin

From InterAksyon (Jul 7): PREMATURE REJOICING | Chinese Navy ship, fishing boats still in Ayungin

Contrary to a newspaper report, a Navy ship of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China and several fishing boats never left Ayungin Reef a week ago, according to highly-placed military sources.

Referring to a national newspaper’s story the source, who requested anonymity, said, “No, that’s not true (story). The Chinese never left Ayungin. [They’re there] up to the present.”

As proof that the Chinese are still in the reef area which they claim entirely, and over which they recently issued a protest against supposed Philippine incursions, the source explained that “In the vicinity of Ayungin the PLA Navy ship with bow number 83, is still there, along with many fishing bancas.  The other PLA Navy ships go back every so often to Ayungin whenever they monitor new movements by the Philippine Navy.”

Ayungin is part of the municipality of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in Palawan located in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon of the KIG recently complained of overt instances of “harassment” by Chinese boats. He is based on Pagasa Island, the KIG’s center of political power, which also hosts over 400 civilians.

The Ayungin Reef area is strategic, because it is near where the Philippine military several years ago deliberately grounded a decrepit military vessel, the BRP Sierra Madre, as some sort of blockade against intruders. A Marine contingent lives in the unusual “garrison” on the ship. Two months ago, a fleet of Chinese military, maritime and fishing vessels entered the Ayungin area, mounting a direct challenge to the Marines’ presence.

There is fear that the Chinese will do to Ayungin what they did to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Masinloc, Zambales, in April 2012.

Manila has raised its territorial dispute with the Asian giant before an arbitral court, but Beijing rejected the move and has expanded its presence in the West Philippine Sea.

6 civilians hurt in Maguindanao clash

From Rappler (Jul 7): 6 civilians hurt in Maguindanao clash

INJURED. Barangay Kagawad Omar Kalimbang is treated for injuries inside the Cotabato Regional Hospital and Medical Center after government forces launched a major assault against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao. July 6, 2012. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

At least 6 residents, including a 2-year-old, were hurt as government shells allegedly fell in their community during an assault in a major camp of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao on Saturday, July 6.

Lying at the surgery ward of the Cotabato Regional Hospital and Medical Center, Barangay Kagawad Omar Kalimbang, who sustained a shrapnel wound in his right chest, writhed in pain as he tried to narrate the incident.

Kalimbang said the firefight in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha started around 2 pm Saturday.

"We immediately evacuated and sought shelter at the Ganta Elementary School," he said.

Residents said they knew it was heavy fighting as they heard rapid firing, explosions and mortar shelling.

The fighting raged for hours and died down at 4 pm.

The residents waited two hours before going back to their homes to secure their possessions.

"After the fighting stopped, we went out of the school to get our things from our homes and to secure our livestock. But as we are walking through our community, cannon shells rapidly fell from the sky," Kalimbang narrated.

Kalimbang said he could not count how many shells hit their community.

"We saw and heard successive explosions. I got hit by a shell, which exploded near me."

The casualties were identified as Fatima Balilid and her 2-year-old daughter, Nasser Kamid; Alon Alimundo; Donna Alimundo; and Kalimbang.

Residents said the shelling was part of a clearing operation to recover military vehicles stuck in the area.

Major General Romeo Gapuz, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, said recent "atrocities and threats" perpetrated by the rebel group prompted the military, Philippine National Police, and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group of the government, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to launch the assault.

Gapuz said the BIFF is "hell-bent on derailing the peace process" between the MILF and the government.

Col Dickson Hermoso, 6th ID spokesperson, said the first encounter between forces from the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion and Moro rebels transpired in Sitio Dam, Barangay Damablas, Datu Piang town at around 10:40 am.

It was followed by a clash between the rebel group and elements of the 45th Infantry Brigade in Barangay Dasawao, Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, 20 minutes later.

Another encounter transpired 10 minutes after this in Sitio Mapagkaya, Barangay Paidu Polangi, in Pikit, North Cotabato.

BIFF members harassed the soldiers in Pikit to divert the attention of the military.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the BIFF, claimed that the Moro rebels damaged 3 government tanks and sank a speedboat.

He also said they were able to confiscate one M60 machine gun from government forces.

Hermoso brushed off the claims, saying these were propaganda.

For Barangay Kagawad Rolly Kamid, the shelling was definitely perpetrated by the military because only government forces have 105mm artillery cannons.

"What is more raging is that the shells dropped 30 meters from the evacuation centers," Kamid said.

He added that it was impossible for government forces to not know that the shells were hitting civilian areas.

"We thought we were safe at the designated evacuation centers," Kamid said.

"We took the initiative to bring our relatives and neighbors to Cotabato City. We took pumpboats and transported them to the nearest health center which has an ambulance.

We arrived at the hospital at around 10 in the evening," Kamid narrated.

"Right now it is still very painful for us. It will be not easy for us to forgive the soldiers," he added.

Hermoso said they are still verifying the reports about civilian casualties caused by government forces.

However, the BIFF accused the military of purposely targeting the civilians to pressure the rebel group to surrender.

"The soldiers knew that civilians are in the area. They did it on purpose," Mama said.

Bai Ali Indayla, spokesperson of Kawagib Moro Human Rights, said the military consistently attacked Moro areas during the start of Ramadan in the past few years.

"This is a total disrespect to the Bangsamoro people. Civilian communities are suffering from the combat heavy mentality of the military. We are condemning these atrocities perpetrated by the government," Indayla said.

Indayla added that the 6th Infantry Division must be immediately investigated and that those who are responsible must be punished.

Presently, more then 100 families are taking temporary shelter in schools, mosques and day care centers.

Led by former 105th Base commander Ameril Umra Kato, the BIFF broke away from the MILF after serious disagreements on the conduct of the peace talks.

8 slain as soldiers clash with rebels

From Rappler (Jul 7): 8 slain as soldiers clash with rebels

Five soldiers and three Muslim rebels have been killed in clashes ahead of the resumption of peace talks aimed at ending a decades-old rebellion, the military said Sunday, July 7.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a splinter guerrilla group, ambushed an army truck and attacked an army camp on Saturday, said regional military spokesman Major-General Romeo Gapuz.

The fighting occurred two days before the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's largest Muslim guerrilla force, were to resume talks in neighbouring Malaysia on Monday.

"The BIFF is hell-bent on derailing the (Philippines-MILF) peace talks by launching simultaneous attacks against civilian and military installations," Gapuz said in a written statement.

The BIFF set off a roadside bomb as a military truck drove past in the mainly rural Datu Piang municipality, killing three soldiers, officials said.

A Philippine Army unit based nearby killed three of the rebels in a subsequent firefight, they added.

BIFF forces simultaneously attacked an army detachment in another section of the town, killing two other soldiers, a military report said.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misry confirmed that his group was behind Saturday's attacks.

"We will continue our guerilla offensives against the military until they leave Maguindanao," Misry told Catholic-run local radio station DXMS in a telephone interview.

The group is led by Ameril Umbrakato, a former senior MILF official who was expelled in 2011.

His renegade group has been blamed for a series of raids across Mindanao in 2008 that left nearly 400 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The MILF, which is observing a ceasefire, is to resume negotiations in Malaysia on Monday, the Philippine government said.

The talks aim to create an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million.

The two sides signed a preliminary agreement in October outlining the broad terms for a peace treaty that would be signed by 2016.

The Malaysia talks seek to resolve remaining differences on key issues like wealth and power-sharing within the proposed autonomous region, as well as disarming and demobilising the MILF.

The 12,000-member MILF has waged a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao since the 1970s that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.

6 dead in clash between military, BIFF

From ABS-CBN (Jul 7): 6 dead in clash between military, BIFF

A firefight erupted between government troops and rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Saturday, two days before Ramadan.

These clashes resulted in six casualties from the government troops’ side. A report from Army's 6th Infantry Division also said seven civilians were wounded.

The encounter took place at Sitio Mapagkaya, Barangay Paidu Polangi, Pikit, North Cotabato at about 11 a.m. on Saturday.

The clash happened in an area covered by troops of the 7th Infantry Battalion, subsequently escalating to areas under the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion.

This was followed by another encounter with the BIFF at Barangay Dasawao, Shariff Saydona Mustapha in Maguindanao, which is under the 45th Infantry Batallion.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama, in a text message, said there were no casualties on their side.

Joint MILF-MNLF task force eyed to resolve N. Cotabato clashes

From GMA News (Jul 7): Joint MILF-MNLF task force eyed to resolve N. Cotabato clashes

A joint task force is being formed to finally end Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front leaders' clashes that have claimed several lives and displaced many families in North Cotabato.

In an article posted Sunday on its website, the MILF said representatives of both groups met last week to find ways to end the clashes.

The MILF noted the conflict had been ongoing in Marbel, Matalam in North Cotabato.

MILF central committee chairman Muhammad Ameen said both sides agreed to organize a "joint task force which will concentrate on finding the acceptable formula to all concerned."

Ameen said the task force has the mandate to decide on all matters, except major decisions that require the final say of their respective principals.

He said both the Misuari and Sema wings of the MNLF agreed to the formula, adding Datu Dima Ambil, who chairs the MNLF Sebangan Kutawato Revolutionary Committee, is recognized by both Misuari and Sema.

The MILF cited earlier reports indicating the conflict stemmed from land disputes.

Earlier, the MILF said representatives from the MILF, MNLF and government Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCHs), political leaders, and North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza had the warring parties attend a dialogue.

While the dialogue brought forth a covenant of peace on how to stop the fighting and how to address the roots of the conflict, the MILF said the arrangement did not take hold, "as both camps accused each of bad faith by initiating armed incursions on both sides’ positions."

5 soldiers killed in separate attacks by MILF renegade group in Mindanao

From GMA News (Jul 7): 5 soldiers killed in separate attacks by MILF renegade group in Mindanao

Five soldiers were killed Saturday in two separate attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the armed wing of a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a military official said Sunday.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division, said three soldiers, including a military official, were killed when a landmine exploded while they were conducting operations against the BIFF in Shariff Saidona Mustapha town in Maguindanao at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Earlier on the same day, two soldiers were killed in a firefight with BIFF members in Pikit town in North Cotabato at 11 a.m., Hermoso said.

Hermoso said the identities of the fatalities will not be revealed until their families shall have been notified.

The Army official said the attacks may have been launched by the BIFF, the armed component of the renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), to derail the MILF-Philippine Government peace talks—scheduled to resume on Monday.

“Nagpapansin dahil [napag-iwanan] sila sa talks kasi it was declared a lawless group by the MILF, di ba?” Hermoso said.

He likewise said the BIFF usually launches attacks weeks before the Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, which is supposed to start on July 10 for this year.

Last October, the government and the MILF signed a landmark framework agreement that would pave the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro territory to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar earlier appealed to the BIFM to support the preliminary peace agreement with the government.

On eve of peace talks resumption, gov't wants legally firm deal with MILF

From GMA News (Jul 7): On eve of peace talks resumption, gov't wants legally firm deal with MILF

On the eve of the resumption of peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Malacañang reiterated its push for a legally firm deal with the secessionist group.

“We have been very careful in the crafting—at least on our end—of the annexes. We don’t want the framework agreement to go the way of the MOA-AD. It should stand legal scrutiny,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Sunday on government-run dzRB radio.

She was referring to the row over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which the Supreme Court eventually thumbed down in 2008.

The scrapping of the deal prompted attacks by rogue MILF commanders, including Ameril Umbra Kato.

Government and MILF peace panels are to resume on Monday in Kuala Lumpur their peace negotiations. The annex on wealth-sharing is one of the more contentious issues to be discussed.

“Hintayin natin magiging development bukas,” Valte said.

MILF: MILF, MNLF set to meet to resolve conflict in North Cotabato town

From the MILF Website (Jul 7): MILF, MNLF set to meet to resolve conflict in North Cotabato town

Representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) met Thursday, July 4, to continue finding ways to address the raging conflict between two leaders of both Fronts which had already claimed the lives of some combatants and displaced hundreds of families from both sides.
The scene of the continuing conflict is Marbel, Matalam in North Cotabato.

Muhammad Ameen, chair of the MILF Central Committee, told Luwaran that the two Fronts agreed to organize a joint task force which will concentrate on finding the acceptable formula to all concerned.

Ameen described the task force as clothed with enough mandate to decide on all matters, except major decisions which require the final say of their respective principals.

He said both the Misuari and Sema wings of the MNLF agreed to the formula. It was learned that Datu Dima Ambel, chair of the MNLF Sebangan Kutawato Revolutionary Committee, is recognized by both Misuari and Sema as their man in this part of the once Empire Province of Cotabato, now subdivided into five provinces.

Ambil belongs to the once powerful clan, the Matalams, who controlled the Empire Province for decades after the grant of independence to the Philippines in 1946.

However, with the active support of the military particularly the Philippine Constabulary and the late strongman, President Ferdinand Marcos, the Matalams’ suffered a humiliating defeat after Former Philippine Constabulary Provincial Commander, Col. Carlos Cajelo, defeated then Acting Governor Simeon Datumanong, the protégé’ of then Datu Udtog Matalam. 

Cajelo became the first Christian Governor of North Cotabato prior to its partition in 1973.

The conflict, report said, has its root over land disputes and then compounded by various selfish or vested interests at play including “hitchhikers” who also have an eye on the vast lands in the area.

Earlier representatives from the MILF, MNLF, MILF and government Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCHs), political and traditional leaders, and North Cotabato Governor Emmylou “Lala” Taliño-Mendoza brought together the warring parties into a dialogue which brought forth a covenant of peace on how to stop the fighting and finally how to address the roots of the conflict.

However, the arrangement did not take hold, as both camps accused each of bad faith by initiating armed incursions on both sides’ positions.

The fresh initiatives are welcome by residents of Matalam in North Cotabato.