Saturday, August 10, 2013

Grenade blast hurts 1 in Basilan; probe underway

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 10): Grenade blast hurts 1 in Basilan; probe underway

ISABELA CITY, Basilan -- A thorough probe is underway to unmask the identities of two people who were behind the grenade explosion that injured a 26-year-old man in this city, police said Saturday.

Supt. Albert Larubis, local police chief, disclosed the incident took place around 2 a.m. Saturday in Barangay Timpul, this city.

Larubis identified the victim as Almer Ho, 26, a resident of San Jose road, Zamboanga City, who sustained shrapnel wounds and was admitted for treatment.

Investigation showed the victim was eating his midnight snack when suddenly the suspects tossed a grenade into the house that exploded and injured Ho, according to Larubis.

Two people were seen to have fled on foot from the explosion site, he said.

Explosive ordnance demolition personnel, who sifted the explosion site, have recovered a safety lever of a fragmentation grenade, he said.

All possible motives are being looked into aimed to establish the identities of the suspects, he said.

Army encounters NPA in Surigao City

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 10): Army encounters NPA in Surigao City

Government troops from the 30th Infantry "Python" Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Philippine Army while on a combat patrol encountered a team of the New People's Army which resulted in a firefight, Friday morning.

Army reports said that while their troops were on a combat patrol 10:47 a.m., Friday, at Sitio Brazil, Brgy. Mat-i in Surigao City, they encountered about five heavily armed NPA members believed to be members of Guerilla Front 16B of the Northeastern Mindanao Revolutionary Committee.

A three-minute firefight ensued before the rebels withdrew towards the northeast direction. There were no casualties however on the side of the government troops.

Hot pursuit operations by the government troops are now on against the fleeing rebels, the military said.

5 moro insurgents dead after clash with Army in Cotabato

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 10): 5 moro insurgents dead after clash with Army in Cotabato

Five members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed while three others were wounded following fierce fighting between government forces and rogue Moro insurgents in North Cotabato.

Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the 6th Infantry Division (6ID), said among the wounded were two soldiers and one BIFF member.

As of late Saturday afternoon, Gapuz said: "We are replenishing and we are reinforcing our troops".

Col. Dickson Hermoso, the 6ID spokesman said the fighting broke out around 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Barangay Tubak in Aleosan and Barangay Pagangan in Pikit, North Cotabato.

But Hermoso said prior to the clash, the brigand group burned a house in Barangay Baliki in Midsayap town.

"May sinunog na bahay itong mga armadong grupong ito, and then kinuha nila yung mga farm animals ng mga residente, mga civlian Muslims," said Hermoso.

The residents then reported the incident to the military, which immediately conducted law enforcement operation against the armed group.

In the course of the pursuit operation, the soldiers figured in a clash with the BIFF bandits, who then splintered into small groups to evade government forces.

Hermoso said the armed men who figured in fierce fighting with government troops on Saturday in Pikit and Aleosan were the same group of bandits who committed atrocities in Midsayap last Friday.

Sporadic fighting was still on-going as of late Saturday afternoon.

Gapuz, when asked if they expect the fighting to continue during the night, said: "We will refresh and we will encounter them again . . . we are now on relentless pursuit."

He also assured the civilian communities in Maguindanao and in Cotabato that the Army is doing its best to contain the threats that brought by the BIFF.

On the number of fatalities from the enemy side, Gapuz said this is based on information from the ground.

Earlier, Lt. Col. Demy Zagala, the Armed Forces of the Philippines - public affairs office (AFP-PAO) chief also said that an explosion from a 40mm grenade launcher wounded two civilians along the national highway in Kabacan, North Cotabato around 7:00 p.m. Friday.

The military immediately sent its Explosion and Ordinance Division (EOD) Team to support the Kabacan Police in conducting post-blast investigation while the wounded civilians were taken to Kabacan Medical Specialist clinic.

In the wake of the spate of violent incidents in Mindanao, Zagala  said: "The entire intelligence community, including the AFP and the PNP, is on its toes to thwart further possible attacks against and pursue perpetrators in recent bombings in Mindanao."

"Although our security forces are focused on its intelligence and security operations, we call on every citizen to be alert and vigilant," he further stated,

Zagala went on to say, "preventing terror attacks is a shared responsibility and we encourage the civilian community to be perceptive of their surroundings and maintain immediate and constant communication with government authorities."

Davalan promotion defended

From Malaya (Aug 9): Davalan promotion defended

THE Army yesterday defended the designation of Col. Eduardo Davalan as commander of the elite First Scout Ranger Regiment amid questions about his reputation in the service.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said the Army leadership recommended Davalan, who assumed the post last April, because he is a “competent officer.”

“He is a well-rounded officer with operations as his expertise,” said Cabangbang.

Malaya columnist Romeo Lim, a retired Scout Ranger, said he has gotten persistent reports about the alleged poor management and leadership skills of Davalan, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1985.

After Davalan assumed the post, Lim said, the chief of staff, and personnel, intelligence, operations and training officers of the FSRR left the unit, without waiting for an available assignment.

Cabangbang said Davalan said is “hardworking” and is respected by his “subordinates, peers, seniors and even foreign officers.”

“In the few years that I served under him, I learned many things. I know no other officer who knows so much about joint operations, special operations and campaign planning,” added Cabangbang who once served under Davalan in another unit.

“It is not true that there are derogatory reports against Colonel Davalan. Had there been, then the Army would not have recommended him. In truth, he is the most qualified full colonel to lead FSRR,” Cabangbang said.

Pastor shot dead in church

From the Visayan Daily Star (Aug 9): Pastor shot dead in church

The killing of A World of Life Church pastor inside a church Tuesday by six suspected New People's Army rebels in Brgy. Calupaan, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, was condemned by members of the church, barangay residents and the military yesterday.

The victim, Leonardo Bacolod, was reportedly mistaken for a military informant, 1Lt. Von Ryan Gomez, 11 th Infantry Battalion Civil Military Operations officer, said.

Bacolod succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds, after he was shot by six armed men using high-powered firearms, military records showed.

Empty shells of AK-47, M-14 and M-16 assault rifles were recovered at the scene.

Gomez said Bacolod was about to officiate at a regular worship service, when he was shot.

Lt. Col. Wilfredo Isaac, 11 th Infantry Battalion commander, yesterday condemned what he called an “inhuman act” of the NPA, who murdered the victim inside a church.

“ This only shows that the sustained military operations in the Negros Island have made the NPAs desperate to get back at the government," Isaac added.

Gomez said Calupaan barangay captain Joseph Cabugnason will lead an indignation rally today in the place, to be participated in by residents and parishioners of the World of Life Church, to condemn the brutal killing of Bacolod.

Misuari faction rejects allusion to bombings

From the Manila Standard Today (Aug 10): Misuari faction rejects allusion to bombings

The Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front on Friday accused the government of ‘dragging’ the MNLF into the recent spate of bombings in Central Mindanao.

MNLF Peace Panel Head Absalom Cerveza made the statement after President Benigno Aquino III said in Davao on Thursday that three Muslim militant groups had joined forces to derail the peace process that would create a new Bangsamoro entity in the region.

Aquino did not mention the MNLF, but Misuari’s camp felt alluded to since it strongly objects the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which both parties signed in October last year.

Cerveza said President Aquino “is being fed with wrong information and wrong advice.”

He even challenged Aquino to come up with evidence linking the MNLF into terroristic activities as he emphasized that “we are legitimate MNLF freedom fighters.”

“We are not threatening anybody, but we are doing whatever we have to protect ourselves,” he said.

Cerveza added that “Aquino should stop making reckless insinuations. We are not out to harm people. Mayroon bang di magandang ginawa ang MNLF?”

In other developments:

• France and Hong Kong issued travel advisories to their citizens against traveling  in the Southern part of the country, particularly in Cotabato, Cagayan de Oro and the rest of Central Mindanao.

• Malacanang said it would announce the details of the “reward system” against those behind the spate of bombings at the proper time.

• The National Capital Regional Police Office said it was strengthening its intelligence gathering operations to prevent the violence in Central Mindanao from spilling over to Metro Manila.

Cerveza also denounced the military for attacking an MNLF camp in Al-Barka, Basilan, saying that the attack was “a classic case where it (military) failed to respect (the MNLF’s) religious obligation,” referring to the Eid’l Ftr.

Cerveza claimed the attack resulted in the deaths of seven soldiers and three MNLF regulars.

Earlier, Col. Carlito Galvez, Commander of the army’s 104th Infantry Brigade said that a firefight between army troopers and a group of Abu Sayaff erupted in Al-barka, Basilan that left a soldier and seven militants dead.

Galvez said that “the rebels were preparing for an attack in Tipo-Tipo or Pukan in Basilan or a bombing attack in Isabela town, “that’s why  we launched a preemptive strike against them.”

The ASG camp, Galvez said, yielded more than 20 explosive devices, which were allegedly to be used to bomb several places in Central Mindanao.

Cerveza, however, said that it was not the ASG lair that the government soldiers attacked but an MNLF camp.

He said that the MNLF fighters were about to take their breakfast before doing their morning prayers as  part of the Eid’l Ftr celebrations when they were attacked by army soldiers.

“They were about to take the 6 a.m. when army troopers surrounded their area and the MNLF members were forced to defend themselves, which resulted to the fighting,” Cerveza said.

“They have kept the incident under wraps, why? We’ve given them all our camps location and satellite areas and yet they attacked the MNLF without justifiable cause,” Cerveza said.

Cerveza said that Misuari has told MNLF fighters and members to return to their territories in preparation for the supposed creation of the Bangsamoro Republic which would coincide with the declaration of independence for Mindanao which Cerveza said would take place on the third week of August.

Cerveza said Misuari even advised his fighters not to engage in any criminal activity but to remain ready for any eventuality.

The MNLF official said he has doubts whether the peace accord between the government and the MILF would succeed, since he claims that more MILF fighters who are opposed to the “normalization” annex continue to defect to the MNLF side.

The normalization annex requires MILF fighters to surrender their firearms and integrate with the local police in the region.

“Surrendering one arms means surrendering his life,” Cerveza said.

Meanwhile, Misuari reportedly left the country to still unknown destination but is expected to be back for the formal declaration of  independence for Mindanao.

Meanwhile, France and Hong Kong became the latest countries to issue advisories to their citizens against traveling in violence-prone areas in Mindanao.

In its travel advisory, the French government reminded its nationals in the country to remain alert due to the “upsurge of terrorist attacks in Mindanao.

The French government said that Islamic militants, including the Abu Sayaff, remain active in areas such as Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi along with criminal groups involved in kidnapping and extortion.

It also called its citizens to exercise extreme concern when traveling in the Zamboanga peninsula, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Sarangani province.

Meanwhile, the The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region issued a black travel alert against the Philippines for the second time, as it advised its nationals to avoid all travel to the country due to the recent bombings in Mindanao.

Hong Kong issued the advisory following a similar advisory from countries such as United Kingdom, Australia and the United States against traveling in Southern Philippines.

The travel alert also cited the hostage-taking incident at the Quirino Grand Stand on August 23, 2010, where eight  Hong Kong nationals were killed.

In Manila, Malacanang assured the public that intelligence agencies would be able to capture the real perpetrators of the spate of attacks in Mindanao, and not ‘fall guys.’
“We’re certain (that investigators will be able to capture the real suspects),” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

The Palace, meanwhile, has yet to provide any details on the reward system announced by President Aquino for information leading to the arrest of the suspects behind the bombings.

Malaysian terrorist hiding in Moro rebs’ camp

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 10): Malaysian terrorist hiding in Moro rebs’ camp

Ameril Umbra Kato, seated, the commander of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, is interviewed by the media inside his rebel stronghold in Maguindanao. The BIFF is said to be harboring Zulkifli bin Hir, a member of the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah. AP FILE PHOTO
SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao—A Malaysian wanted by the US government for terrorist activities in Southeast Asia is hiding in territory held by breakaway Moro rebels in this province, a senior Bangsamoro leader said on Thursday.

Another source said a member of the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian affiliate of the global terrorist network al-Qaida, is also hiding in this province.

Von Al Haq, a spokesperson for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), told the Inquirer on the phone that Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, is being coddled by the breakaway group led by Ameril Umra Kato.

Kato, formerly commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, broke away from the MILF in 2008 over serious disagreements with fellow rebel leaders on peace negotiations with the government.

He has since founded the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) whose armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), was involved in recent attacks on government security forces in Maguindanao, including a roadside bomb attack in Datu Piang town that wounded seven soldiers on Wednesday.

Al Haq said Marwan might have played a role in the Aug. 5 bombing in Cotabato City that killed eight people and wounded nearly 30 others.
Earlier, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia said on national television that the Cotabato City blast had similarities to previous attacks perpetrated by Marwan.
“That’s what we got on the ground. He’s hiding among BIFF members. We also got feedback from residents (of areas) near BIFF camps,” Al Haq said.
Marwan has been monitored in the country since 2003. He has also been reported hiding with Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Last year, a military report said Marwan had moved to Central Mindanao, an area of operation for the MILF.
Indonesian killed
A military source, who asked not to be named because he had no authority to talk to journalists, said an Indonesian national was among those killed in a recent military operation against the BIFF in Datu Piang.
In a separate talk with the Inquirer, Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson for the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said there was an intelligence report that a Jemaah Islamiyah member had been sighted among Moro rebels in Datu Piang.
But Abu Misry Mama, a spokesperson for the BIFF, denied his group had ties with Marwan or any Jemaah Islamiyah member.
The MILF said it had offered to help the authorities investigate the Aug. 5 blast in Cotabato City.
“We are offering our services to work alongside the police and the military in the pursuit operation against the bombing suspects,” Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF political affairs chief, said.
Cotabato measures
Police and military authorities in Cotabato City have prohibited motorists from parking and leaving their vehicles along Sinsuat Avenue and other major roads to prevent a repeat of the Aug. 5 car-bomb attack.
The authorities have also prohibited motorcyclists from using full-head crash helmets. A full-head crash helmet has a visor that covers the rider’s face.
Senior Supt. Rolen Balquin, city police director, said the measures had been decided following Monday’s attack whose perpetrators remain unidentified despite talk by authorities that they already had suspects.
President Aquino indicated during a visit to Davao City on Thursday that the bombings in Mindanao were the handiwork of terrorists.
Balquin said the 5-kilometer stretch of Sinsuat Avenue, the city’s main road, had been declared a “no parking area” for all four-wheel vehicles.
“This is to protect commuters and avoid similar car-bomb attacks in the future,” he said.
He said traffic officers would tow away vehicles left unattended and parked along Sinsuat Avenue, and the owners would be called in for questioning.
The prohibition against the use of full-head crash helmets will be strictly enforced, especially at night, Balquin said.
He said the measure stemmed from the police frustration at not being able to solve killings in the city carried out by gunmen riding motorcycles and wearing full-head crash helmets.
Terrorists can’t win
Businessmen in Mindanao said the bombings would not stop them from promoting the island to investors.
“We cannot be deterred. We just have to move forward. Being deterred means they—those who want to create trouble—have won,” Ricardo Juliano, vice president for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), said in a speech at the Mindanao Business Conference held in Davao City on Thursday.
Juliano said not all the bombings had been traced to terror groups reportedly operating in some parts of the island. Some have been traced to people who had specific targets, he said.
“It’s plain and simple criminality,” he said.
Juliano said businessmen had agreed to tackle other pressing concerns, particularly preparatory measures for the integration of Southeast Asian economies by 2015.
Perfecto Marquez, PCCI regional governor for Central Mindanao, said the public should not be overly bothered by the recent spate of bombings.
“We will not let the terrorists or those people behind the atrocities succeed, because if we get scared they will achieve their objective,” Marquez said. “We will not be cowed by these people.”
Monthlong fiesta
Cagayan de Oro City is getting back on its feet after a blast at a restaurant killed eight people and wounded 46 others on July 26.
Mayor Oscar Moreno said the city would proceed to celebrate a monthlong fiesta in honor of St. Augustine this August despite security concerns.
Insp. Lemuel Gonda, operations chief of the city police, said the authorities had finalized security and response plans.

The complex typology of bombings in Mindanao

From GMA News (Aug 8): The complex typology of bombings in Mindanao

As of this writing, the big blast in Cotabato City last Monday, 5th of August, remains a mystery. No claimant, unlike the series of explosions in Maguindanao that bore the signature of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and confirmed by its spokesperson, Musa Misri.  

The PNP identified a nebulous group called Khilafat Islamiyya as responsible for the Cagayan de Oro bombing.
Do the series of bombing incidents bear a common "signature" or is each distinct in the confusing tapestry of "terrorism" in southern Philippines?
To begin with, the more notorious acts of terror are identified with the Abu Sayyaf Group or simply ASG.  Its notoriety is known and feared not only in cases of IED blasts but also for kidnapping that have included men and women of religions.

The ASG group is not ONE organization with ONE central leadership.  Each group in the ARMM provinces where they operate seems to enjoy relative autonomy, except for big and celebrated cases of kidnapping.  These cases appear to be "centralized" in terms of negotiation for ransom.
Besides the ASG that appears prominently on lists of terrorists, there are groups that are more internationally known like Al Qaeda and Jamaah Islamiyah. The former is associated with the late Saudi engineer, Osama bin Laden, and the latter is associated with the Indonesian movement of the same name headed by Shayk Omar Bashir.  There are also lesser known groups. This is true, especially when there is a "local flavor" in the terror movement. The Cagayan de Oro bombing belongs to Khilafat Islamiyya – one local version of the terrorist group identified by the PNP. 
The lines that have distinguished one group from the other have been blurred by political agenda. The reading of bombing along local political fault lines has complicated the so-called "war on terror." This is further exacerbated by the government’s counter-insurgency programs that go by many names (Balikatan, PAMANA, etc.)
The bombing along the highway between Buluan and Tacurong is an example that points to rivalries between political dynasties in Maguindanao province. The politically related bombing seems to be obvious and needs no further explanation.  The rivalry will continue until the force (physical and logistics) is spent.
The cause-oriented cases of bombing are related to rebellion, and the perpetrators, like the BIFF, claim the bombings.  Thus in the latest cases of bombing in Maguindanao that wounded seven soldiers along the highway leading to the municipality of Mustapha Saydona, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have claimed responsibility. This is true also in practically all the cases of explosions along the highway between Guindolongan municipality and the municipality of Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
From this complex typology of bombing, where do we locate the car bomb in Cotabato City, the first use of a big volume of explosives in this city?
The city mayor, Guiapar Guiani, and his sister, the City Administrator Cynthia Guiani, believe that they were the targets of the car bomb parked close to a busy intersection along the route that they usually take on their way home.  The fact that the blast occurred when their convoy was passing through was a clear indication that bolsters their belief.  This reading is also shared by the followers of the mayor and people who are knowledgeable about local politics in the city.

On the other hand, there are variances of bomb explosions in Cotabato City in particular and southern Philippines in general.  There are bomb explosions that are meant for acoustic purposes. They are not meant to injure but simply to serve warning or to sow confusion.  There are bomb explosions that are meant to injure, with a small amount of powder with no shrapnel or nails. Then there are bombs explosions that are meant to do little damage and kill few bystanders that are within the effective range of the bomb. 
The latest Cotabato City blast does not belong to anything mentioned above.  First the amount of explosives used was meant to cause maximum damage. It was effective, killing eight people (five instantly and three in the hospital); wounding more than 30; damaging three motorcycles and about eight vehicles; and causing fires in four establishments and breaking glass windows.

This is definitely a new type of bombing, more familiar in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria.
We have the expertise or we used to have it to analyze (if we have not let this expertise deteriorate, as usual). I am referring to the PNP's Bomb/Explosive Laboratory at Camp Crame.  The only problem with PNP expertise is the fact that it is slow and that the PNP on the ground where explosions occur do NOT have the discipline and science to quarrantine evidence for the laboratory analysis.
The authorities should have a database for all types of explosions down south. Ordinance is an exacting science and not a guessing game.  Each bomb carries a particular print akin to a finger print.  The identifying prints should give us not only the provenance of the bomb and but also the identity of the perpetrators.

2 dead as BIFF, Army clash in North Cotabato

From the Philippine Star (Aug 10): 2 dead as BIFF, Army clash in North Cotabato

Marauding bandits wounded two soldiers in an attack at an Army team patrolling the southwestern border of North Cotabato’s adjoining Pikit and Aloesan towns, sparking a running firefight that sent some hundreds of villagers running for their lives.

Two members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), initially identified only as Sanday and Dimasangkay, were killed in the ensuing firefights, according to senior members of the municipal peace and order councils in the two towns.

The wounded soldiers, Sergeants Greg Sarte and Alexis Amando of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion, were rushed to a hospital for medication.

The soldiers, led by 1Lt. Dexter Magbitang, were on their way to a secluded area at the border of Barangays Pagangan and Nalapaan, in Aleosan and Pikit, respectively, to verify the reported presence of heavily-armed BIFF bandits when they were attacked from different directions.

Magbitang and his men were dispatched to the area on request of local officials after learning of the presence of BIFF bandits, reportedly carrying powerful improvised explosive devices, as if poised to approach a secluded stretch of the Cotabato-Davao Highway.

The hostilities erupted just as Army and police bomb experts safely deactivated a powerful roadside bomb that the BIFF bandits had planted along a portion of a provincial road connecting the municipalities of Datu Odin Sinsuat and North Upi, both in the first district of Maguindanao.

The prompt detonation of the bomb fashioned from a live 60 MM mortar projectile rigged with a blasting mechanism attached to a mobile phone, was preceded by a powerful blast along the same route of another explosive made up of the same materials.

North Upi Mayor Ramon Piang, chairman of the municipal peace and order council, said no one was reported hurt in the explosion.

The encounter was preceded by the bandits’ harassment Friday night of the battalion’s outpost in Barangay Tubak in the southwestern side of Aleosan.

Captain Antonio Bulao, spokesman of the Army’s 602nd Brigade, which has jurisdiction over the 40th IB, said a patrol was dispatched to an interior area at the border of the two barangays after sunrise to check on the reported massing of BIFF bandits in the area, coming from swampy areas in nearby Maguindanao province.

Bulao, citing initial reports from the 40th IB’s commanding officer, Lt.Col.Donald Gumiran, said the encounters had spilled over to at least four other areas near Barangay Lagundi in Pikit, when more bandits arrived to reinforce their companions trading shots with advancing soldiers.

Villagers have relocated to public school campuses along the Cotabato-Davao Highway, which straddles through Pikit and Aleosan.

Local officials said so intense were the firefights that soldiers have to use 60 mm, 81 MM mortars and 105 Howitzer Cannons to prevent the bandits from getting close to farming villages where they can possibly take hostages.

The BIFF is known for using innocent civilians as human shields upon escaping.

Malaysian who escaped Abu Sayyaf flown home

From GMA News (Aug 9): Malaysian who escaped Abu Sayyaf flown home

A plantation assistant manager who was abducted along with his cousin by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits last year finally returned to his home in Malaysia Thursday night.

Chong Wei Jie, 25, is now at his family residence in Bukit Pelanduk in Port Dickson, Malaysia's New Straits Times reported Friday.

"He was flown home from Manila and arrived around 10 p.m. He was then taken to a hospital for a medical checkup before his family brought him to Port Dickson," the report quoted state police commisioner Datuk Hamza Taib as saying.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits, notorious for their kidnapping activities including of foreigners, abducted Chong and his cousin Chong Wei Fei, 33, last Nov. 13 while they were at an oil palm plantation in Felda Sahabat near Tambisan in Lahad Datu.

The group took the two to Jolo by boat and held them captive.

Wei Jie managed to escape and was found on a highway in Pasil village in Indanan town in Sulu last Tuesday.

However, he told police his cousin had died due to illness as early as April 8.

Sayyaf member surrenders to military

From the Philippine Star (Aug 9): Sayyaf member surrenders to military

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - An Abu Sayyaf member voluntarily surrendered to the military in an east coast village this city late Friday afternoon, according to a military official.
Col. Andrelino Colina, commander of the Task Force Zamboanga,  said Abdurahim Nasalan alias Papoy Nasalon yielded as the government forces stepped up the security operation in the region following the spate of bombings.
Colina said the suspect, tagged as member of the Zamboanga City-based Abu Sayyaf group surrendered without firearm to the joint intelligence elements of the Task Force Zamboanga and the 14th Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC) about 4 p.m. at Barangay Muti. 
Nasalan’s surrender was  witnessed by Muti barangay councilors Abdil Amajad and Henry Aring.
“He surrendered may be because of the tight security operation and perhaps, it could also be an effect of the observance of Ramadan that one has to fast and repent,” Colina said.
Colina said Nasalan was placed under custodial debriefing to determine his participation in the Abu Sayyaf operation.
Meanwhile, the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) beefed up its coastal operation to intercept possible movement of the Abu Sayyaf group in this part of the region.
Rear Admiral Isabelo Gabor, NFWM chief, said naval assets have been strategically deployed in areas known as hot spots and used by Abu Sayyaf terror group as jump off points in staging attacks.
“We have intensified the maritime surface and air patrol in our area of responsibility, ” Gabor said.

Police dispel rumors of terror cadres in town

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 10): Police dispel rumors of terror cadres in town

Stay calm. It’s just a hoax.

The region’s top police official yesterday denied reports that a group of Abu Sayyaf cadres are in Cebu to sow terror as part of a test mission.

“Wala pong katotohanan ‘yon (That’s not true at all),” said Chief Supt. Danilo Constantino, director of the Police Regional Office 7, said after a meeting with police and security officials to assess the reported threat.

He said heads of various police intelligence units who were directed to verify the report which spread via text messaging, said there was no basis to say that Central Visayas was being targeted by terrorists.

“We assure (the people) that we are on top of the situation,” Constantino said.

“I’m appealing to the public not to glorify these rumors. It’s not good for our economy, particularly our tourism industry. Let’s put a stop to these jokes,” he said in Filipino.

One hoax text message said Abu Sayyaf cadres were holed up in a safehouse in Lapu-Lapu city.

Text messages had circulated in the last two days claiming that after the bombings in Mindanao theVisayas will be Abu Sayyaf’s next target, specifically the cities of Cebu, Dumaguete and Bacolod.

Constantino appealed to the public not to immedidately believe such reports and to refrain from forwarding alarming text messages that fan public anxiety.

“There’s no cause for the public to be alarmed, but we cannot discount the probability and we are ready (to respond to threats),” Constantino said

The meeting at Camp Sergio OsmeƱa involved the regional anti-terrorism committe convergence group.

Nonetheless, authorities are not letting their guard down.

As a precautionary measure, Constantino ordered all provincial and city directors to field more police patrols.

“There’s no truth to the report that Cebu is being targeted for bombing,” said Supt. Paul Labra II, chief of the Regional Intelligence Division (RID) after the meeting.


Jitters and overreaction almost got a woman in trouble yesterday.

The 27-year-old woman, a former sales agent, was intercepted by police at the Mactan Cebu International Airport after the ground staff of a local airline reported that she had made a bomb threat over the phone.

It turned out to be a “misunderstanding”, said the police. The airline’s call center agent who attended to the woman misinterpreted her query.

Senior Supt. Ritchie Posadas, chief of the regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) said they received a call from the Police Center for Aviation Security (PCAS) seeking their intervention.

The airline ground staff alerted them that the female caller told them about a bomb explosion in the airports in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro City. A team was immediately sent to the MCIA departure area to intercept the caller.

The woman denied making a bomb threat. She said she merely asked about a text message she received about an alleged bombing threat in airports in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.

The woman, a regular passenger of the airline, was immediately released and was allowed to board her flight to Bacolod.

In North Cotabato, Mindanao, four people were wounded when a grenade went off last night outside a house of a militiaman in Kabacan.

A 40mm grenade ammunition was fired at the residence of Eddie Antolin, who was wounded in the attack together with his 9-year-old son and his in-laws Benjamin and Lucena Ferrer.

Another blast hits Maguindanao

From the Sun Star (Aug 10): Another blast hits Maguindanao

MAGUINDANAO - Another bomb was detonated in an uptown municipality of Upi in Maguindanao on Saturday but nobody was hurt, authorities said.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the blast occurred at 7:10 a.m. Saturday in sitio Payong-Payong, Barangay Kebleg in Upi town. It was the third explosion in Maguindanao since Wednesday.

Upi Mayor Ramon Piang said the blast at a road leading to the town proper triggered panic among the residents in the village.

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Piang said the improvised explosive device was detonated by still unidentified men at an open field in Barangay Kebleg. Following the incident, elements of the 1st Marine Battalion Landing Team were deployed around the town center.

No one has claimed responsibility but an Army intelligence operative said the blast in Barangay Kebleg could be a test mission for new recruits of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

On Wednesday afternoon, nine members of an Army mechanized unit were injured when members of the BIFF set off a roadside bomb along a farm-to-market road in Barangay Nabundas in Shariff Aguak town.

It was followed by another blast on a bridge in Barangay Lintokan, Datu Piang, Maguindanao, which authorities blamed on the BIFF.

At dawn on the same day, an IED went off in front of a pawnshop in Midsayap, North Cotabato. Nobody was hurt. It was followed by a rifle grenade attack in Poblacion Kabacan, North Cotabato around 7 p.m. that left four persons wounded.

Soldiers and policemen were visible along major highways here as government forces were placed on heightened alert.

Army launches offensive on rebel group

From the Sun Star (Aug 10): Army launches offensive on rebel group

The Philippine military said it has launched an offensive against a breakaway Muslim rebel group that opposes a peace deal and has claimed responsibility for a bomb attack that wounded seven soldiers in the country's south.

Regional army spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso said there was "intense fighting" early Saturday between troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement in North Cotabato province's Aleosan township.

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The rebel group set off a roadside bomb that wounded seven soldiers on Wednesday and warned of more attacks. It broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has signed a preliminary peace accord with the government.

A similar offensive has been launched earlier against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf in Basilan province farther south to stop the militants from manufacturing bombs for attacks.

Be wary of false terror threats, Palace says

From ABS-CBN (Aug 10): Be wary of false terror threats, Palace says

The public should be wary of false reports about terrorism threats in the country, a Palace official said Saturday.

Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, in a press briefing aired over Radyo ng Bayan, issued the statement in response to a rumor that members of the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are in Metro Manila to allegedly conduct a "test mission".

"Let's be careful about reports like this. Let's make sure that it comes from the correct sources because as it is, we don't want to be spreading incorrect--may perhaps incorrect information," she said.

"Gumagalaw ho lahat ng kawani ng pamahalaan para siguraduhin ho naman na matigil na po 'yung mga ganitong pangyayari katulad ho ng sinabi ng Pangulo noong nakaraang araw," she added.

The BIFF, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is opposing peace talks with the government.

The group has been tagged in two of three bombings that occurred in Mindanao Wednesday.

Another grenade blast hurt 4 people in Kabacan town, North Cotabato Friday night, while an improvised explosive device went off in North Kupi, Maguindanao on Saturday morning.

No one was injured in the Maguindanao blast.

Valte said the bombings seem to be random.

"Alam niyo, kung mapapansin ho natin, 'yung mga ganitong pagsabog, talagang random ho 'yung ginagawa nilang targets," she said.

"It's not about religion, it's not about your affiliation but it's being done randomly.

Ongoing naman po 'yung operations. Of course, given the nature of the operations, we can't really discuss the details," she added.

She said security forces are investigating the attacks. "Mayroon na po silang mga imbestigasyon na ginagawa po doon para makita naman ho kung sino 'yung responsable para ho doon sa pagsabog."

Roadside bomb defused 3 hours after blast rocks town in Maguindanao

From GMA News (Aug 10): Roadside bomb defused 3 hours after blast rocks town in Maguindanao

Bomb experts defused what could be a powerful roadside bomb they found along the national highway in North Upi town in Maguindanao before noon Saturday.

The improvised explosive device was found three hours after the explosion of an IED fashioned from a 60mm mortar and planted in a area in Sitio Payong-Payong in Barangay Kibleg, also in North Upi.

Mayor Ramon Piang Sr. said authorities had again ordered the closure of the national highway as clearing operations are still underway.

Piang said minutes after the roadside blast took place at about 7:10 a.m., members of the Philippine Marines and the North Upi Police blocked the road to ensure safety of the commuters.

But while elements of the Explosives and Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team of the Army were scouring the area for possible explosives, they found another IED, also fashioned from a 60mm mortar, planted just few meters from the blast site.

The IED was placed in separate packages in different areas, Piang said, adding that EOD experts defused the bomb.

Due to the blast the highway was closed for hours and was opened only shortly before 1 pm.

“No one was hurt in the blast,” he said.

Meanwhile, soldiers securing the Cotabato-Maguindanao highway conducted a pursuit operation against an armed group that allegedly orchestrated an attack in Sitio Habitat, Barangay Pagangan in Aleosan town at about 9:30 a.m.

Captain Antonio Bulao, chief of the civil military operations of the 602nd Brigade, said the attack resulted in the wounding of a member of the 40th Infantry Battalion assigned in Pagangan.

Bulao said they strengthened the highway security after they received reports these armed men were out to sow terror against commuters and vehicles plying the route.

The blast in North Upi came hours after a 40mm shoulder-fired grenade exploded in front of a house of militiaman Eddie Antolin, 49, in Kabacan, North Cotabato, wounding him; his son Ezekiel, 9; and parents-in-law Lucena and Benjamin Ferrer.

MNLF--Eid message from Nur Misuari

Posted to the Nur P. Misuari Facebook page (Aug 8): Eid message from Nur Misuari

MNLF: Photo -- Misuari visits MNLF forces in Datu Piang, Maguindanao

Reposted to the Nur P. Misuari Facebook page (Aug 4): Photo: Misuari visits MNLF forces in Datu Piang, Maguindanao

Central Committee Chair Nur Misuari visited MNLF forces in Datu Piang, Maguindanao (Posted July 19).

MILF: MILF conveys sympathy to Cagayan de Oro Mayor over the tragic bombing

From the MILF Website (Aug 10): MILF conveys sympathy to Cagayan de Oro Mayor over the tragic bombing

Maulana M. Alonto, a senior member of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel and also a member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), paid a courtesy call on Mayor Oscar Moreno of Cagayan de Oro City at his office last August 7, 2012.
Alonto was mandated by the Chair of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel and concurrent Chair of the BTC, Mohagher Iqbal, to convey to the mayor the condolences and sympathies of the MILF, particularly Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Chairman of the MILF Central Committee, to the families of the victims of the tragic bombing that occurred in the city on July 28, 2013.

Seven innocent people were killed, including medical doctors who were holding a convention in the city, and more than forty others were injured in the blast that took place on Friday night in one of the city’s premier malls, Limketkai.

Alonto emphasized and informed the mayor that the MILF as a policy vehemently condemns such an act of senseless violence that victimizes innocent civilians.

Alonto also reiterated the support of the MILF for the mayor’s sincere initiatives to defuse the tension as a result of the bombing and to put a stop to the wild speculations that point accusing fingers at Muslims as the ones responsible for this act of senseless violence.

He also discussed with the mayor the developments in the peace talks and gave in advance a copy of the signed Wealth Sharing Annex.

Alonto explained to the mayor that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) provides for the protection by both the future Bangsamoro Government and the Central Government of the Bangsamoro communities living outside the territory of the Bangsamoro.

(A) significant number of Bangsamoro Muslims are residing in Cagayan de Oro. They are government officials and employees, long-time residents, and traders who have established businesses in the city. Most are from the Ranao provinces.

Mayor Moreno, on his part, was grateful for the visit and profusely thanked the MILF for showing concern over the tragedy in Cagayan de Oro City.  He expressed his profound his grief over the recent tragedy that happened to his city and told Alonto and his party that it is his policy not to put fuel on the tragic event that could detrimentally affect the good relations between Muslims and Christians.

It should be recalled that when Moreno was still the governor of Misamis Oriental, he honored the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel with a dinner when the latter was in Cagayan de Oro for an advocacy sortie. In that dinner, majority of his mayors and board members were present, including the leading Catholic leader in Cagayan de Oro, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma.

Moreno especially informed the group that right after the bombing took place, Archbishop Ledesma of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, who is a leading proponent of inter-faith dialogue, went out of his way to tell the public not to believe rumors and rush judgment that tend to create division and tension between Muslims and Christians.

The mayor also disclosed that he felt relieved when leads in the investigation of the bombing did not point to either the MILF or the MNLF as behind it.

He stressed repeatedly that the visit of Alonto as a representative of the MILF will generate a positive impact on the people of Cagayan de Oro who have been traumatized by the bombing. He called the visit “crucial”.

In the course of the discussion, both Mayor Moreno and Alonto also discussed the current problems of the Bangsamoro Muslim community in Cagayan de Oro in the light of the recent tragedy. On suggestion of Alonto, the mayor will be establishing a Muslim Desk in his office that would focus on Moro concerns in Cagayan de Oro and coordinate activities geared toward resolving any problem affecting the Bangsamoro community such as security.

Alonto was accompanied by his official staff in the Transition Commission, Zaynab Javier, his Executive Assistant, and Atty. Muhammed Alonto, his Legal Researcher. Present were also the representatives of KAAPED, a federation of Muslim organizations based in Cagayan de Oro City: KAAPED President Sultan Cosain Macalungan, Secretary-General Ibra G. Macapanton, and two other officials of the federation.

At the end of the meeting, the mayor and Alonto went into a hug symbolizing the friendship and sincerity that marked the visit.

They were also briefly interviewed together by the local media wherein both announced the purpose of the meeting for the information of the public.

Meanwhile, a day before the courtesy call on the mayor, Alonto and his staff broke fast (iftar) with the officers of KAAPED and discussed their problems. Alonto also briefed them on the FAB and updated them on the on-going negotiations with the Government of the Philippines (GPH) in Kuala Lumpur.  He also dispelled the unfounded speculation going around that Lake Lanao has been excluded in the peace negotiation.

The Moro leaders vowed to support the negotiation and even volunteered their services through advocacy and to work for the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law when it goes through a plebiscite.

MILF: BangsamoroTransCom holds 4th session; two other activities

From the MILF Website (Aug 9): BangsamoroTransCom holds 4th session; two other activities

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) held its 4th session at New Kutawato Diamond Township,Cotabato City On July 28 and tackled several important agenda. The agenda include a review of internal rules; committee membership, schedule of activities and a public engagement with the possibility of tie-up with civil society groups (CSO’s) and universities.
The Commission agreed that the BTC Chairman be given the go signal to craft a term of reference (ToR) for public engagements to be presented to the body for final disposal during its next session after Ramadan.  The body also agreedon the proposed amendments on the House Rules formulated during its 3rd session in Tagaytay City last May 7, 2013. Mohagher Iqbal, BTC Chair presided the session with all members in attendance.

In his opening statement, Chairman Iqbal said that, “The BTC is one body with one agenda and sole objectives for the Bangsamoro. He stressed that the, “Moro people should be given what is due to them and there is need for them to ask for it.” “The BTC is bound by the Framework Agreement (FAB) and is intended to solve the Bangsamoro question”. That is the very purpose of the peace process,” he pointed out. The session wound up before iftar (breaking of fast) with no hassles or arguments on the various items in the agenda. The commissioners acted very professionally and contributed to the smooth flow of the deliberations.

Meanwhile, the BTC held a general orientation for BTC commissioners and staff on July 26 in the same venue with Chairman Iqbalgiving his opening statement to about 60 or more participants comprising legal officers, research and technical staff, members of the secretariat headed by Mr. Ismail “Mike” Pasigan and security personnel. Ms. HellieBiruar of the CSC Regional Office No. 12 and Mr.Deity Manampan of GSIS Region 12 discussed the policies of their respective offices. They also answered queries from participants.

On the 27th, a “Special Convention on the Status of the Peace Process” was also held at the same venue with Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Professor Abhoud Syed Lingga, MILF Peace Panel member as resource persons.. Chairman Iqbal in his opening message said that, “We are about to conclude our task in finding solutions to the Bangsamoro question”, hopefully and that is the endgame”. “The GPH is most knowledgeable on what is going on in our quest for peace”. I would like to thank Madame Ferrer for being with us today”, he further said.

Professor Ferrer discussed the Framework Agreement signed on October 15, 2012 and the Transitional Arrangements and Modalities; and Revenue Generation and Wealth-Sharingannexes signed on February 27 and July 14, respectively. The latter include fiscal administration in the proposed Bangsamoro region. The two remaining annexes on power-sharing and normalization will be discussed in the upcoming exploratory talks in September at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The open forum ended past noon as Professor Ferrer and her group has to catch-up with their flight for Manila.

In the afternoon, Professor Lingga similarly discussed the signed annexes as well as the two remaining annexes on power-sharing and normalization. Among others, he said that under the annex on normalization, an independent commission shall be organized by the parties GPH-MILF) to recommend appropriate policing within the Bangsamoro. The Commission shall be composed of representatives from the GPH and the MILF and may invite local or international experts to assist them.

Preparations for dry-docking of BRP Ramon Alcaraz ongoing

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 10): Preparations for dry-docking of BRP Ramon Alcaraz ongoing

The Philippine Navy (PN) on Saturday announced that preparations for the dry-docking of BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), the second Hamilton-class cutter in the country's service, is now ongoing.

"Preparations are now ongoing for the dry-docking procedures," PN spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

He added that the ship's officers and other ranking Navy officials in the midst of several meetings which will decide on when and where the BRP Ramon Alcaraz will be dry-docked.

Dry-docking refers to the maintenance procedure where the entire ship is place in a large basin which is then empty of water so that repair work can be done all over its hull, including those below the waterline.

Dry-docking period of the Filipino frigate, which is now moored at the Alave Pier, Subic Bay, is expected to start this August up to October.

"The additional armaments which will be fitted to the BRP Ramon Alcaraz is part of our enhancement program," PN flag-officer-in-charge Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano said during the sidelight of the ship's welcoming ceremony Tuesday.

He declined to specify what weapons that will be fitted to the BRP Ramon Alcaraz.

But PN sources said that this include two Mark 38 Model "Bushmasters" auto cannon which will be mounted in between four to six .50-caliber and M-60 machine guns.

"The weapons are already here and it will be installed during her dry-docking period," the Navy source said.

Additional heavier weapons are also on the way to make the BRP Ramon Alcaraz a much combat capable ship, he added.

The Filipino frigate is presently armed with a quick-firing 76-mm Oto Melara main gun which has a range of 20 nautical miles.

Naval Forces Western Mindanao troops place on alert amidst spate of bombings

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 10): Naval Forces Western Mindanao troops place on alert amidst spate of bombings

The Philippine Navy has placed its forces on alert in this part of the region amidst the spate of bombings in the different areas of Mindanao.

Rear Admiral Isabelo Gador, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM), disclosed that all “assets” of the NFWM command “are strategically being deployed in key areas” as part of the intensified Maritime Surface and Air Patrol in its Area of Responsibility (AOR).

The move is aimed to prevent lawless elements from using the sea lanes in staging atrocities like bombings within its AOR.

The AOR of the NFWM encompasses all the seas within the area of the armed forces’ Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

Gador said all units under his command, including the marine forces in the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, have been ordered to be extra vigilant and “ready to respond to any emergency situation.”

Gador said that the NFWM’s Quick Reaction Force composed of the Naval Special Operation Unit-6 (NAVSOU-6) and the Multi-Purpose Attack Crafts (MPACs) are also placed on alert.

“They are on standby and ready for dispatch,” Gador added.

Aside from that, Gador said he has ordered an intensive intelligence gathering that could be useful for timely response against any atrocities to be carried out by the lawless elements.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar has called on all constituents to exercise vigilance and to relay proper and timely information to authorities to help prevent atrocities including bombing incidents in this city.

Five bombing incidents have rocked Mindanao since July 26 until early Saturday, August 10, that killed 16 people and injured 83 others including seven soldiers.

Another IED found in Maguindanao; BIFF harass North Cotabato village

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 10): Another IED found in Maguindanao; BIFF harass North Cotabato village

Government bomb experts found another improvised bomb in Upi, Maguindanao in an area where a home bomb went off Saturday morning, authorities said.

Mayor Ramon Piang Sr. of Upi town said the first blast occurred around 7:10 a.m. in an open field in Sitio Payong-Payong, Barangay Kebleg in Upi. It was fashioned from a 60-mm mortar with mobile phone as trigger mechanism.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Piang said, adding that the lone highway linking Cotabato City and Upi was closed to public transport beginning at 7:10 a.m. until past noon Saturday while investigation was on going.

While investigating, Army and Marine bomb experts found another IED about 10 meters away from the spot where the IED exploded earlier.

“Bomb experts found another IED at 10:30 a.m. in the same area where the first blast occurred,” Piang said. “Clearing operation is still on going for there might be more IEDs in the area,” Piang said.

The second IED was detonated by Army and Marine bomb experts shortly before noon Saturday.

“Upi is a very peaceful area, we cannot understand why it will be targeted for bombings," he said. “I appeal to our people to remain calm and vigilant.”

The Upi blast came hours after a 40-mm rifle grenade was fired from a distance toward a house of a militiaman in Kabacan, North Cotabato, leaving four persons wounded.

Senior Supt. Danny Peralta, North Cotabato police director, said the blast on Rizal Avenue, Kabacan on Friday night wounded Eddie Antolin, 49, a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), his son Exequiel, 9; and parents-in-law Benjamen Ferrer, 68 and his wife, Lucena, 66.

The bombing in Upi came after the rash of bombings in Mindanao which started in Cagayan de Oro on July 26 that left six dead and in Cotabato City on August 5, killing eight persons.

Authorities blamed the local terrorists trained by al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group. Intelligence agents said the JI had partnered with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who set off two IEDs in Shariff Saydona Mustapha which hurt nine soldiers and on a bridge in Barangay Lintokan, Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said suspected BIFF members also set off a powerful IED in front of a pawnshop in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

While bombings occur in various areas in Maguindanao, BIFF guerillas harassed government forces stationed in the borders of Pikit and Aleosan, also in North Cotabato Saturday morning.

The fighting between government forces and BIFF occurred in Barangay Bualan, Pikit, North Cotabato and in Sitio Tubak, Barangay Pagangan, Aleosan.

The two areas are situated in the tri-boundaries of Aleosan and Pikit in North Cotabato and in Datu Piang, Maguindanao where the BIFF was stationed.

About 100 families from the villages of the affected villages have fled to Panicupan, Pikit and in the center of Barangay Pagangan.

Moro residents were seen hauling their valuables and work animals along portions of the Cotabato-Davao highway which remained passable.

Civilians flee fighting between army, rebels in N. Cotabato

From Rappler (Aug 10): Civilians flee fighting between army, rebels in N. Cotabato


Government forces launched ground offensives Saturday, August 10, against members of renegade Muslim rebels allegedly coddling a Malaysian terror bomb expert.

The firefight started when the rebels attacked a military camp in Brgy Tubak, Aleosan, North Cotabato.

North Cotabato Gov Emmylou Mendoza said the gun battle involved soldiers under 40th Infantry Battalion and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rebels.

Since Friday night residents from 3 villages in the towns of Aleosan and Pikit vacated their houses as BIFF rebels arrived in the area.

According to Lt Col Donald Gumiran, commanding officer of 40th IB, residents of Brg Pagangan in Aleosan and village folks from Nalapaan and Bualan in Pikit evacuated near the national hiighway.

“At the moment continuous exchange of fires could be heard in Lagundi, Pagangan, and Nalapaan”, Gumiran said.

Mendoza said around 2,000 people have been evacuated. "Authorities will secure from rebels’ harassment the main Cotabato-Davao highway," the governor added.

'Kumander Bulldog'

Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the BIFF, said the rebel ground unit fighting right now is led by a Kumander Bulldog.

"He's called Bulldog because he's like a crazy dog when fighting," Mama said.
Mama said they started the fight after they received reports that the military is preparing to launch a siege against them Saturday night, August 10.

"We heard that they will attack us tonight that is why we launched an attack a step ahead of them," Mama said.

He also warned the government not to underestimate the fighting capacity of the rebel group.

"The government should not underestimate us. They said that we are small but this perceived small group will be the dust that will sting their eyes," Mama said.

Peace advocate Fr. Bert Layson who is monitoring closely with other monitors, said the military offensive has clearance from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) targeting only the intruding BIFF rebels.

"Military officials and local MILF commanders, in the spirit of the peace accord, are closely coordinating with each other avoiding mis-encounters. We pray this will not worsen," Layson said.

The skirmishes in a remote village of Aleosan were sporadic, Von Al Haq, spokesman for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said by phone.

"We are in constant communication… blow by blow… with our counterparts in the government to prevent a miss encounter between our men and soldiers," Al Haq said.

"The central committee have reiterated with our ground troops not to participate or to augment their former comrades now subject of military operation," he added.

Marwan wanted

Earlier, Al Haq said a Malaysian wanted by the US government for terrorist activities in Southeast Asia, Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, is being coddled by the BIFF in Maguindanao.

Marwan has been monitored in the country since 2003. He has also been reported hiding with Abu Sayyaf bandits.

He is believed to be behind the series of bomb attacks in the region, including the August 5 blast in Cotabato City that left 8 people dead and dozens wounded.

Last year, a military report said Marwan had moved to Central Mindanao, an area of operation for the MILF.

It was not clear if Marwan was in "Habitat," a lair of BIFF situated in the village of Bualan.

Al Haq said they are currently checking existence of Khilafa Islamiya, a young jihadist group based in Lanao del Sur with links to the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

"Our men in Lanao have not heard of it. We also learned about that organization from our counterparts in the government’s ceasefire body.

Earlier, Prof. Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said his group received information that the Khilafa Islamiyah and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters recently held a joint training on bomb-making with the help of JI-linked individuals.

Khilafah in Islam means caliphate which refers to an Islamic state representing political unity for the entire Muslim community.

"So far we are not sure if this organization is real or not. It could be fictitious and created by people against in the peace process," Al Haq said referring to Khilafah.


However, Mama said it the speculations that Marwan is the target of the military.
"He is not here. We do not even have camps for him to take shelter on," Mama said.

The rebel spokesman added that they cannot confirm the existence of a new local Islamist group called Khilafa Islamiya.

"We are still confirming it. We still have no intelligence reports about this group," Mama said.

Government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer for her part said the operation against BIFF fighters will not hamper the ongoing peace talks with the MILF.

He said a mechanism was in place to prevent a miss encounter between soldiers pursuing BIFF and MILF rebels.

Hundreds flee as military, BIFF clash in North Cotabato

From MindaNews (Aug 10): Hundreds flee as military, BIFF clash in North Cotabato

ALEOSAN, North Cotabato -- Hundreds of residents fled their homes as the military launched offensives Saturday against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the neighboring towns of Pikit and Aleosan in North Cotabato.

Lt. Col. Donald Gumiran, 40th Infantry Battalion commander, said the military operation came after BIFF forces attacked a military camp in Barangay Tubak in Aleosan town.

The evacuation of residents from three villages in the towns of Aleosan and Pikit reportedly started Friday night as BIFF elements were sighted in the area.

Gumiran said that residents from Barangay Pagangan in Aleosan and Barangays Nalapaan and Bualan in Pikit have evacuated near the national highway.

“Exchange of gunfire could be heard in [Barangays] Pagangan, Lagundi [in Pikit] and Nalapaan,” Gumiran said at around 8 a.m. Saturday.

MindaNews was at Barangay Pagangan at around 2 p.m. and gunfire could be heard here where evacuees were massing.

Peace advocate Fr. Bert Layson, who is closely monitoring the situation with other local peace monitors, said the military offensive has been coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to avoid misencounter with MILF fighters.

The target of the operation is the BIFF rebels, he said.

“Military officials and local MILF commanders, in the spirit of the peace process, are closely coordinating with each other to avoid misencounter. We pray this will not worsen as time goes on,” Layson said.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the MILF.

Jessie Enid, executive assistant of North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza, said they have so far recorded 49 families from Barangay Tubak in Aleosan that sought refuge at an evacuation center in Barangay Pagangan on Saturday morning.

“That’s just an initial record,” he told MindaNews on the phone.

Enid added that some of the displaced families from Barangay Pagangan have yet to be validated since they fled to their relatives in the neighboring town of Pikit.

As of 1:20 p.m., he disclosed that the military pounded suspected lairs of the BIFF in Barangay Tubak using 105mm howitzers, as clashes continue.

Enid said the local government of Aleosan has already deployed trucks in Barangay Bago Libas to transport residents to evacuation centers should fighting escalates.

Saturday’s clashes came a day after the celebration of Eid ul Fitr, a Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadhan.

Thousands flee fighting between military and BIFF in North Cotabato

From InterAksyon (Aug 10): Thousands flee fighting between military and BIFF in North Cotabato

BIFF fighters (InterAksyon file)

Thousands of residents of three villages in Aleosan and Pikit towns, both in North Cotabato, have been fleeing their homes since Friday night, when government forces mounted an offensive against rebels from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who attacked a military camp.

Fighting, reportedly involving hundreds of BIFF fighters, continues to rage as of this posting, a day after Eid'l Fitir, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“At the moment, continuous exchange of fire could be heard in (the villages of) Lagundi, Pagangan and Nalapaan,” Lieutenant Colonel Donald Gumiran, commanding officer of 40th Infantry Battalion, said.

The hostilities were triggered by the BIFF attack on a camp in Tubak village, Aleosan.

The BIFF is a rebel group that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is engaged in peace talks with the government.

Gumiran said villagers from Pagangan in Aleosan and from Nalapaan and Bualan in Pkit had evacuated near the national highway.

Peace advocate Fr. Bert Layson said he and other local monitors are keeping close watch on the military operation, which he described as having the clearance of the MILF.

"Military officials and local MILF commanders, in the spirit of (the) peace accord, are closely coordinating (with) each other, avoiding misencounters. We pray this will not worsen as time goes on," Layson said.

Early last month, BIFF forces also launched simultaneous attacks and IED blasts in Pikit and several towns in Maguindanao that left scores dead and wounded.

Meanwhile, in Maguindanao, adjacent to North Cotabato, a roadside bomb went off in the town of North Upi, but caused no casualties.

Following the blast, another improvised explosive device and two grenades were found in Sitio Payong-payong, Barangay Kibleg, the same village where the explosion happened.

The highway linking North Upi to Cotabato City has been temporarily closed to allow security forces to conduct clearing operations.

It was not clear whether the North Upi blast was related to the fighting in Pikit and Aleosan, although the BIFF has, since last month, owned responsibility for several bombings in Maguindanao, including a roadside attack earlier this week that left seven soldiers wounded in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town.

On August 5, a powerful car bomb was set off in Cotabato City, killing eight people and wounding at least 30 others.

Although no one has claimed responsibility, Cotabato Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. has accused criminal syndicates linked to politicians of targeting him and his sister, city administrator Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who had passed by the site of the explosion in a bulletproof van just seconds before the bomb went off. Two of her bodyguards were among the dead.

The Cotabato blast happened 10 days after another bombings in Cagayan de Oro City killed eight people and wounded more than 40 others.

North Upi Mayor Ramon Piang, who is also a member of the government panel in peace talks with the MILF, would only say that “some groups” were “sowing terror” by “riding (on) the situation of terror attacks in Central Mindanao.”