Monday, September 16, 2013

‘Freed NPA commander led battle’

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 17): ‘Freed NPA commander led battle’

An arrested New People’s Army commander, who had been released from jail in July last year, after posting a P40,000 bail for robbery-in-band charges, was the leader of the group of rebels who figured in a recent encounter with Army soldiers at the boundary of Toboso and Sagay City, Negros Occidental, Lt. Col. Efren Morados, 62nd Infantry Battalion commander, said yesterday.

Hernando Llorente, alias Ka Ador, who was arrested in San Carlos City April last year, led about 17 armed rebels who encountered the 62nd IB troopers on Saturday, Morados said.

While Llorente was unhurt during the encounter, Morados said Joey, alias Boboy, and a brother of Llorente, was reported among the three rebels injured in the brief gunbattle.

Llorente was among several key personalities of the CPP-NPA arrested in Negros island who include Romeo Nanta, commander of the Regional Operational Command of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros, Rogelio Danoso, secretary of the Northern Negros Front Committee; Nilda Natan Bertulano, secretary of the Central Negros Front Committee, Arturo Moleta, secretary of the Kilusang Larangan South West, who rejoined their comrades in the mountains, after their release from jail, military records show.

Morados said they are still pursuing the fleeing rebels headed by Llorente, in tandem with the 6th Special Action Battalion of the Philippine National Police and 33rd Division Reconnaissance Company.

Llorente was reported by the military to be a platoon leader the Sentro De Grabidad of the NPA Northern Negros Front.

DND’s Oplan Bayanihan budget is budget to kill – Karapatan

Posted to the Samar News (Sep 3): DND’s Oplan Bayanihan budget is budget to kill – Karapatan

Amid the people’s call to abolish the presidential and congressional pork, Karapatan and several people’s organizations today held a picket at the House of Representatives, in time for the hearing of the proposed budget for the Department of National Defense (DND) for 2014. The protest underscored the “DND’s more than 82.1 billion-peso proposed budget meant to oil the Aquino government’s killing machine, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the primary implementer of Oplan Bayanihan.”

Karapatan called for “ZERO budget for the DND.” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay echoed the people’s clamor to redirect huge amounts of government money “to social services like hospitalization and medical care for the poor and marginalized, education and subsidies to public colleges and universities and, housing facilities where people could access the funds directly and benefit from, instead of ending up either in the generals’ pockets or used to bomb communities as what is happening now in Sagada, Mountain Province.”

Palabay cited the use of MG520 by the Air Force 1st Division’s Strike Wing on August 31 on suspected lair of the New People’s Army, destroying communal hunting grounds, uma (farms) and, water sources near rice fields and communities.

Earlier, on August 23, Blaan tribal chieftain Anting Freay, 60 and his son 16-year old Victor were killed by elements of the AFP’s 39th Infantry Battalion and Task Force Kitaco (Kiblawan, Tampakan, Columbio) Task Force Kitaco was created under the 1002nd IB-PA to secure the areas covered by the SMI-Xstrata’s mining project. The Freays were killed when their house was strafed by the soldiers who were positioned three meters from their house. The older Freay was immediately killed while his son sustained 18 gunshot wounds when he was fired at by another group of soldiers.

“Public funds are being used to kill the people and perpetrate thousands of rights violations. Under Aquino’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, Karapatan has documented and recorded to 142 documented cases of extrajudicial killing and 164 frustrated killing; 16 incidents of enforced disappearance; 76 cases of torture; 540 cases of illegal arrest; and more than 30,000 victims of forced evacuation,” Palabay said.

Included in the DND budget is the allocation of P2B for compensation of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs), despite wide and persistent clamor for the disbandment of paramilitary groups, civilian volunteer organisations and private. The European Parliament and several States also called on the Philippine government, in the Universal Periodic Review in 2012, to immediately disband all paramilitary groups.

Palabay said Karapatan also documented several extrajudicial killings and human rights violations since 2010 involving paramilitary groups, such as the incidents involving Datu Jimmy Liguyon, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, and the massacre of Juvy Capion and her two children. “Similarly, the operations of the Special CAFGU Active Auxiliary (SCAA) units, which are co-funded and organized by the AFP and mining/transnational corporations, have continued, with Pres. Aquino categorically giving the go-signal for it on October 20, 2011. The question then is why are we still funding CAFGUs and SCAAs?” she asked.

Karapatan’s research showed the Oplan Bayanihan budget, with at least a total of P162 billion, is allocated in various government agencies.

Palabay explained the inclusion of the proposed budgets of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), National Security Council (NSC) and of some specific projects as in the case of PAMANA in the overall budget of Oplan Bayanihan “because these agencies and programs are conduits in the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan’s components, specifically the psy-ops and intelligence aspects.”

2 NPA rebels nabbed, 5 guns seized in Toboso

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Sep 16): 2 NPA rebels nabbed, 5 guns seized in Toboso

TWO suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were arrested and five high-powered firearms were recovered following an encounter with government troopers early morning Saturday in Toboso town, Negros Occidental.

The military and police were patrolling Sitio Magtuod, Barangay Bug-ang in Toboso town around 4:45 a.m. Saturday when they chanced upon about 17 NPA rebels. A 10-minute firefight ensued, the Army reported.

Another gun battle occurred around 7:15 a.m. when government troopers pursued the rebels, who fled toward sitios Vergara and Magtuod in Bug-ang village, Toboso.

While fleeing the scene of encounter, the NPA rebels left behind their two comrades, the military report said.

Authorities captured Rene Villarin and Richard Gallego at Sitio Magtuod, Barangay Bug-ang. They also recovered three M-16 rifles, two caliber .45 pistols, one rifle grenade, eight ammunition for AK- 47, two backpacks containing subversive documents of high intelligence value, and personal belongings from the two suspected rebels.

Villarin and Gallego were brought to the Sagay City Police Office for medical check-up, proper documentation, and filing of appropriate criminal charges, the military added.

OPAPP chief Deles: PHL sought Indonesia's help in resolving Zamboanga City crisis

From GMA News (Sep 17): OPAPP chief Deles: PHL sought Indonesia's help in resolving Zamboanga City crisis

The Philippine government sought help from other countries in trying to end the standoff between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front fighters in Zamboanga City, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said Tuesday.
Deles issued the statement after former President Fidel Ramos suggested that the government should allow the intervention of an international mediator in the crisis, which entered its ninth day Tuesday.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa earlier said their country, which is also facilitating the implementation review of the 1996 GPH-MNLF peace pact, is also ready to mediate in the standoff.
But in text messages to GMA News Online, Deles said the Philippine government was the one who asked Indonesia to "open their communication lines" to assist in finding a peaceful resolution to the Zamboanga standoff.
"They agreed and accordingly gave instructions to their embassy here," she said.
She said embassy officials explained to them that this meant that their lines would be "open" to receive and transmit messages from one side to the other.
However, Deles said Indonesia reportedly said that "they did not see it to be within their role to proactively make a call to either side."
Deles likewise said they requested the entire OIC [Organization of Islamic Conference] peace committee last Thursday to help resolve the standoff.
"None of the eight countries present offered a proposal. We understand from Indonesia that in the several times they received a message from the Misuari group last week, the only topic they raised was regarding travel arrangements to attend the meeting in Yogyakarta until they asked for the postponement of meeting last Thursday," she said.
She added that Indonesia said the Misuari group never asked or offered to talk about resolving the standoff in Zamboanga.

AFP: Three soldiers die in rescue of hostages from MNLF

From GMA News (Sep 21): AFP: Three soldiers die in rescue of hostages from MNLF

At least three soldiers gave their lives in the last 18 hours in efforts to rescue more than 100 hostages held by the Moro National Liberation Front, an official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Tuesday.
Maj. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the Philippine Army’s 7th Civil Relations Group, said 10 were also wounded in the "tug-of-war for the hostages."

BTC on air-Central Mindanao gains huge following

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 17): ‘Freed NPA commander led battle’

An arrested New People’s Army commander, who had been released from jail in July last year, after posting a P40,000 bail for robbery-in-band charges, was the leader of the group of rebels who figured in a recent encounter with Army soldiers at the boundary of Toboso and Sagay City, Negros Occidental, Lt. Col. Efren Morados, 62nd Infantry Battalion commander, said yesterday.

Hernando Llorente, alias Ka Ador, who was arrested in San Carlos City April last year, led about 17 armed rebels who encountered the 62nd IB troopers on Saturday, Morados said.

While Llorente was unhurt during the encounter, Morados said Joey, alias Boboy, and a brother of Llorente, was reported among the three rebels injured in the brief gunbattle.

Llorente was among several key personalities of the CPP-NPA arrested in Negros island who include Romeo Nanta, commander of the Regional Operational Command of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros, Rogelio Danoso, secretary of the Northern Negros Front Committee; Nilda Natan Bertulano, secretary of the Central Negros Front Committee, Arturo Moleta, secretary of the Kilusang Larangan South West, who rejoined their comrades in the mountains, after their release from jail, military records show.

Morados said they are still pursuing the fleeing rebels headed by Llorente, in tandem with the 6th Special Action Battalion of the Philippine National Police and 33rd Division Reconnaissance Company.

Llorente was reported by the military to be a platoon leader the Sentro De Grabidad of the NPA Northern Negros Front.

OIC expresses intent to help end Zamboanga crisis

From the MILF Website (Sep 17): OIC expresses intent to help end Zamboanga crisis

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has offered its intent to mediate to help end the crisis in Zamboanga City that has claimed lives of government troops, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces and civilians and has displaced more than sixty thousand constituents.
In a statement published in their website, it says that the OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is, “deeply disturbed by the reported resumption of violence that occurred in the city of Zamboanga and other places in Mindanao in Southern Philippines.”

Ihsanoglu condemned the loss of innocent lives and called for “calm and maximum restraint to avoid further bloodshed and to allow peaceful resolution to the incidents.”

“The OIC strongly rejects all unlawful acts and expresses its deep concern at the shortcomings that occurred in the peace process which led to the resumption of violence and unlawful acts,” the statement said.

“The OIC calls for the resumption of the Tripartite Review Process as soon as possible in order to attend to the remaining unresolved issues that impedes the full implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) to pave the way for a just and durable peace in Mindanao.”

“The OIC warns against the untimely termination of this process as it will create a vacuum that is not conducive to building peace or enhancing security,” it continued. 
The OIC pointed out that, it “stands ready to offer all possible assistance to ease the tension and resume the peace process.”

Government officials say at least 51 Moro rebels, six soldiers and policemen, and four civilians were already killed from of the weeklong clash. Government troops continue to contain and constrict the guerillas from their positions where at least 100 civilians are held as human shield.

Lawmakers and different groups have been calling both parties for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

OIC, the largest pan-Islamic body with 57-member countries, brokered the peace talks between the Philippine Government and MNLF in 1970s.

The peace talk concluded with the signing of GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement (FPA) in 1996 under the Ramos administration. MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari was the signatory in behalf of the Bangsamoro people.

However, after more than a decade of implementation, the MNLF laments that the government did not fully deliver all the provisions of the peace deal. A tripartite review is on-going since 2007, mediated by OIC through Indonesia which chairs the Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (PCSP).

The tripartite review which was set on September 16, 2013 was suspended following the request of Misuari to OIC-PCSP. The Office on the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Deles disclosed Indonesia has notified the Philippine Government.

Deles said, “The Department of Foreign Affairs has accordingly conveyed to the Indonesian Embassy that the Government will respect the decision of the OIC-PCSP Chair.”

The skirmish started when government troops stopped the MNLF forces who attempted to hoist their flag in front of the city hall for a peace rally. The MNLF claimed the soldiers fired first.

It was reported that Misuari declared Independence and formed Bangsamoro Republik last month. The MNLF held peace rallies in different parts of Mindanao following the declaration. MNLF flags were also hoisted in their camps.

Poster: Battle of Jambangan 2013

Posted  to the Facebook page of Nur Misuari (Sep 17): Poster: Battle of Jambangan 2013

May Allah (SWT) gives our Mujahideen Victory or Martyrdom!

Ameen Ya Qawi, Ya Aziz !

Quadripartite Council proposed to monitor 1996 FPA accords

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 17): Quadripartite Council proposed to monitor 1996 FPA accords

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) group chaired by former Cotabato City vice mayor Muslimin G. Sema has proposed a Quadripartite Council to monitor the implementation of the accords following the six-year-old tripartite review of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA).

The proposal was presented this month to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said lawyer Bayan G. Balt, legal counsel to the MNLF-Sema group.

The proposed Quadripartite Council includes representatives from the OIC, the Philippine government, the MNLF, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Balt said the MNLF indicated in the proposal includes all MNLF factions, including that led by founding chairman Nur P. Misuari, the Sema group, and the one headed by Habib Mujahab Hashim, the Islamic Command Council (MNLF-ICC).

Balt said the proposal was submitted to the Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (OIC-PCSP) through Indonesian Ambassador Hassan Kleib in Davao City on Sept. 5.

Indonesia has been chairing the OIC-PCSP for 20 years.

“Representatives from the MNLF groups met separately with Ambassador Hassan Kleib for a consultation on the tripartite meeting in Jogjakarta,” he said.

“Our proposal was relayed to the representatives of Brother Nur Misuari,” said Balt.
It was during the consultation that the group of Sema submitted the proposal for the Quadripartite Council to the Indonesian official, he said.

“The objective of the council is to monitor the implementation of the 42 consensus points in the tripartite review and to discuss problems affecting the FPA and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB),” said Balt.

He said the proposal was supposed to be discussed at the Jogjakarta peace meeting, which was postponed on the request of Misuari.

“Hopefully, it would be in the agenda when the meeting is held in the first week of October,” Balt said.

As this developed, Abdul “Kong” Sahrin, secretary general of the MNLF-Sema group, said a meeting of MNLF senior leaders was planned for today.

Sahrin said he was not aware of the agenda, and that the venue being talked about is either Pagadian City or Zamboanga City.

Balt described it as a “convergence meeting.”

“Our brothers in Zamboanga City preferred that it would be held in the city, close to the ongoing crisis,” said Sahrin.

“They will not want to leave their families behind with the very fluid situation,” he said.

150 hostages rescued in Zamboanga

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 17): 150 hostages rescued in Zamboanga

Government troops have rescued at least 150 civilians who were held hostage by the rogue rebels in Zamboanga City as the combined forces of military and policemen continue to recover affected barangays.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director General Alan Purisima confirmed that 120 civilians were rescued early Tuesday.

So far we have rescued 120 hostages today bringing to 150 hostages in totality. Still continuing saving lives,” Purisima, who is presently at Zamboanga City, said on his twitter account.

Meanwhile, Interior Sec. Mar Roxas III said that a total 71 hostages are recovered through government operations Monday night, while Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said that Army SOCOM forces have rescued “64 hostages from the hands of of [Nur] Misuari’s armed followers” in Sta. Barbara, at around 4 a.m., Tuesday.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has earlier said that the rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction is no longer an organized force, and some of its members are fleeing the area.

 AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said Monday that they have constricted the rebel group and has gained the “momentum.”

US joins humanitarian efforts in Zamboanga

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 17): US joins humanitarian efforts in Zamboanga

The creation of a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to allow the safe passage of civilians held by the rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in war-torn Zamboanga City is being urged by the United States government in a recent communication with the United Nation Humanitarian Coordinator, Luiza Carvalho.

At least 183 village folks are still reportedly held captive by the MNLF in that city, as of this writing. Some 67,000 evacuees are temporarily sheltered at the designated 20 evacuation centers, one of them the Sports Complex in Zamboanga City. The civilians are caught in the crossfire between Philippine government and MNLF forces.

The US government assured its continued support to the Philippine government efforts to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of those affected by the fighting.

“The United States government continues to support the Philippine government,” Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr., Ambassador of the United States of America, said in a press statement over the weekend.

To date, the U.S. Government has allocated P27.4 million (US$ $623,000) for emergency relief assistance, and has delivered 19,000 bottled water and supplies, such as sleeping pads, toiletries, canned goods and other food items.

The press statement also delivered the condolences of the United States to the families and friends of those killed or wounded in the clashes and continue to hope that the situation be resolved quickly and without further loss of life.

“We fully support the ongoing peace process in Mindanao and hope the parties will continue to avoid violence as they work toward a final enduring resolution that will benefit all the people of the Philippines,” added Ambassador Thomas.

Human Rights Watch

In a related move, an international human rights group appealed to the Philippine government to abide by the International Humanitarian Law to ensure the protection of civilians affected by the armed conflict in Zamboanga City. The group, the Human Rights Watch, said the Philippine government should take all necessary measures to reduce the risk to civilians, while conducting military operations against the MNLF.

It cited that an undetermined number of civilians remain trapped in at least five coastal villages as a result of an armed standoff. Several residents who escaped the villages told Human Rights Watch that many civilians left in the villages could not leave for fear of getting caught in the crossfire or are being prevented from leaving by Philippine security forces because they lack identification documents and thus are suspected of being rebels.

Residents who had escaped their coastal villages told Human Rights Watch they feared that civilians left behind would be accused of being rebels and could be subject to government attack or mistreatment in custody.

“Both sides to the fighting need to be doing more to protect civilians from harm,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Government forces should not be making blanket assumptions on whether individuals are rebels based on proper documents. Officials can check those leaving the conflict zone, but they need to ensure that civilians have safe passage and are not put at unnecessary risk,” he added.

Aside from demanding documentation, it is unclear how the authorities are distinguishing civilians from rebel fighters as required by international law, the group said.

In the village of Rio Hondo, some 300 civilians are trapped in an ice plant building after fleeing from their homes for the safety of the concrete structure. Others stayed in the villages to safeguard their homes and belongings, it added.

“Others could not leave because they did not have the money to pay operators of outrigger boats, which became the only safe way to escape the coastal villages caught up in the fighting,” it also said.

The group cited that under the International Human Rights Law, all sides are prohibited from deliberately attacking civilians, conducting attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants, or could be expected to cause disproportionate civilian harm.

Army cites 2 wounded soldiers

From the Leyte Samar Daily Express (Sep 17): Army cites 2 wounded soldiers

For the gallantry they displayed against their enemies, two soldiers were given honor by Col. Rafael Valencia, brigade commander of the 802nd Infantry Brigade based in Ormoc City.


Col. Valencia said Sgt. Erwin Palacio and Corporal Rolando Legado of the Bravo Company of the 19th Infantry Batallion are still recuperating at St. Paul’s Hospital here, deserved to be recognized for their courage.

They were among those who fought against a band of 10 members of the New People’s Army that attacked them while they were navigating through a terrain on their way home together with civilians after a `pintakasi’ in developing a `hot spring’ in Sitio Campagal, Barangay Robas, Jaro Leyte, afternoon of Sept. 14, 2013.

While under heavy enemy fire, Sgt. Palacio and Cpl. Legado, immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that the civilians were endangered and could be caught in a crossfire, Sgt. Palacio and Cpl. Legado exposed themselves to withering enemy fire and raced towards the civilians, and protect them not to be hurt.

According to Col. Valencia, Palacio and Legado’s unwavering courage, selflessness and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to their platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush.
Sgt. Palacio and Cpl. Legado’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon themselves, Bravo Company, 19th Infantry Batallion, 802nd Brigade and the entire Philippine Army’, said Col. Valencia.

Aside from the Wounded Personnel Medals, the two wounded soldiers were also given financial assistance for their hospitalization.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Nedy Espulgar, commaning officer of the 19th IB based in Kananga, Leyte, told Leyte Samar Daily Express that such violent incident is a clear manifestation that the NPA is resorting to violence to sow fear and panic among civilians especially those in a far flung barangays.

The NPA rebels continues to pursue armed violence despite ongoing peace efforts by the government. And such the npa wanted to spoil the good relationship of the army and civilians in Brgy. Robas, Col. Espulgar added.

The military strongly condemned this recent attack and the battalion commander of 19th IB vowed to continue its focused security operations in the area aimed at targeting those who continue to pursue armed violence that has caused suffering to the people and loss of innocent lives.

It was learned that Robas was previously infested with rebels, thus the government’s development efforts were hampered.

“We expect development to flow into these areas, these brgy will continue to be threatened by the NPA if their issues and concerns are not being addressed accordingly,” he added.

The battalion commander of 19th IB believe that the convergence of government efforts and the key role of local government officials were the right formula that contributed much in enlightening the people.

China, Asean hold talks on disputed W. Phil Sea

From the Daily Tribune (Sep 17): China, Asean hold talks on disputed W. Phil Sea

A code of conduct for handling disputes in the South China Sea should be discussed “gradually,” Beijing said after meetings with Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), suggesting any agreement is still far off.

The 10-member Asean has been trying for more than a decade to secure agreement from China on a legally binding code of conduct.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of neighboring countries, and has resisted agreeing to the code, wary of giving any concessions that may weaken its claim.

Tensions have mounted over the waters in recent years, with the latest spat over concrete blocks the Philippines says China has placed on the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Senior officials from China and Asean held two days of talks over the weekend in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou.

“All parties at the meeting... have agreed to gradually widen consensus and narrow divergences... and continue to steadily push forward the agendas on a code of conduct,” the foreign ministry said in a statement posted late Sunday.

A joint working group to carry out “concrete consultations” on the code was agreed, it added, giving no details or timetable.

Competing claims to the sea have for decades stirred tension in the region and the waterway, which is believed to sit atop vast deposits of oil and natural gas, has long been seen as one of Asia’s potential military flashpoints.

China has refused to upgrade a 2002 “declaration of conduct” into a legally binding code, instead preferring to negotiate individually with each country.

The state-run China Daily on Monday lashed out at Manila for trying to “once again disrupt China-Asean consultations,” referring to the accusations over the concrete blocks.

“Manila’s irresponsible stance will only further estrange it in the region, as there is an irreversible trend to achieve appropriate solutions to the South China Sea disputes through consultation and bilateral cooperation,” it said in an editorial.

Beijing humiliated Manila last year by taking effective control of the disputed Scarborough shoal, just 200 kilometers from the Philippines.

The Philippines said in June it was looking to give the US — its former colonial ruler — and Japan greater access to its military bases, as it seeks to counter what it perceives as a growing threat from China.

MNLF blames Noy, Mar for prolonged conflict

From the Daily Tribune (Sep 16): MNLF blames Noy, Mar for prolonged conflict


The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction of Chairman Nur Misuari yesterday blamed President Aquino and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II for the drawn-out armed skirmish between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City that entered its first week yesterday with no resolution seen.

MNLF spokesman lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla even described Roxas and Aquino as the faces of Syria’s Bashar Assad whose government has been the subject of bloody uprising which has dragged for months now.

Fontanilla accused the Aquino government of militarizing the Zamboanga City incident, using its might against the MNLF fighters.

“Aquino and Roxas are the faces of Assad in the Philippines. What is only lacking is that they use chemical weapons against the civilians and the MNLF,” Fontanilla said.

“From the inception of the incident, the MNLF requested independent investigation by an international party, instead the government militarized the issue and used superior powers and number showing the brutal might of the State without regard to civilians,” added Fontanilla.

Fontanilla likened such action to Syrian leader Assad and the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. There are speculations that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in targeting anti-government positions in Syria. The MNLF spokesman warned that with such government response, the issue will just drag on.

“Under the baton of Roxas, this mayhem will continue,” warned Fontanilla.

The Zamboanga City crisis started last Monday when about 300 MNLF fighters, led by Misuari loyalist Habier Malik, infiltrated five barangays and took around 200 civilians as human shields.

The MNLF claimed that the MNLF supporters of Misuari were only out to hold peaceful march towards the city hall but were prevented and engaged by government forces.

Sporadic clashes have been erupting from time to time between the opposing sides. However, the MNLF forces remained holed up in five barangays, namely, Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Talon-Talon, Mampang, and Mariki.

As of press time yesterday, the MNLF, estimated at a “little over a hundred” continued to hold civilians as hostages.

The incident already prompted President Aquino to personally fly to Zamboanga City last Friday, apparently to assess the situation.

Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin have been in Zamboanga City at the early stages of the standoff but there has been no major breakthrough.

State forces continued to advance and move toward enemy positions since launching what the Palace called as calibrated actions Friday against members of the MNLF faction of Nur.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the government forces, including the elite Scout Ranger and Light Reaction Company, had gained control of some areas previously held by MNLF forces.

“We’re gaining ground, we’re moving forward, we have controlled some areas they held (but) I cannot delve into details,” said Zagala.

From about 200 armed men, the MNLF Misuari faction still subject of the calibrated action of the military went down to “a little over a hundred”, said Zagala.

“I cannot tell you the locations (because) our operations will be compromised,” he added.

Since Friday, fighting rages in Barangay Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina, where forced evacuation had been ordered by the Zamboanga City Council.

Other barangays affected by the forced evacuation were Talon-Taon, RioHondn, Mampang and Mariki.

“We have the operational momentum, the operational tempo is dictated by us,” said Zagala.

So far, six soldiers and policemen had been killed since the fighting erupted last Monday when MNLF forces infliltrated five barangays in Zamboanga City. Fifty-nine other government troops were wounded.

On the other hand, Zagala said that at least 51 MNLF members were killed while 19 others were either captured or surrendered.

Only yesterday, Zagala said that a number of MNLF rebels were either killed or surrendered and captured but he has no details.

“We are looking into a speedy conclusion but again we don’t want to use speed as our basis, it ust be calibrated because there are hostages. We are not in a haste. Our focus is really for the hostages not to be hurt,” said Zagala.

From as high as 200 civilian hostages, Zagala said that the number significant dropped since the launching of calibrated action against the MNLF.

“Our previous estimate was close to 180, of course, that has changed already but we don’t have the updated date,” said Zagala.

Meanwhile, the Office of Civil Defense-9 (OCD-9) reported that more than 20,000 families have been displaced by the week-long crisis in Zamboanga City.

Adriano Fuego, OCD-9 director, said that as of 11 a.m. Sunday, a total of 10,950 families composed of 58,051 persons evacuated from their homes and now staying inside 22 evacuation centers.

Fuego said there are approximately 10,000 others who opted to stay with their relatives.

As troops moved through the Santa Barbara district, the extent of the damage from seven days of fighting came into full view.

Several buildings were reduced to smouldering heaps while others were pockmarked with bullet holes, an AFP reporter said.

Soldiers recovered the bodies of two slain gunmen still clinging to their rifles, and several unexploded warheads for use in rocket-propelled grenades had been left behind by the fleeing rebels.

In the distance, black smoke billowed from another area that had just gone up in flames.

And in a nearby district, a group of soldiers could be seen crouched on the street as sniper fire whizzed just above their heads, television footage showed.

Heavily-armed MNLF forces entered the port city’s coastal neighborhoods Monday and took dozens of hostages.

The fighting was now concentrated only in two coastal districts, while other areas were secure.

Police said many hostages were either freed or escaped and the number was now down to only a few from as high as 200 in the early part of the crisis.

But the attack underscored the complexity of ending conflict in the southern third of the mostly Catholic Philippines, where there are several armed Muslim factions and which has seen a proliferation of unlicensed firearms.

Day and night operations by at least 3,000 elite government troops have now seen 51 MNLF rebels killed, as well as six soldiers, a policemen and four civilians.

Air and sea ports remained closed Sunday in a crisis that has paralyzed the city of one million, seen entire neighborhoods razed to the ground, and forced tens of thousands to flee.

“This is really catastrophic, we’re not prepared for this,” Zamboanga chamber of commerce president Pedro Rufo Soliven said.

He said that based on initial estimates the economic losses to Zamboanga, home to a major sardine canning industry, could be as much as P50 billion a day.

“Even if the fighting ends now, this will have a long-term impact because investors now will be wary of the fragile peace,” he said.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the number of people who had fled to temporary shelters had risen to more than 69,000 by Sunday morning.

“The number swelled yesterday because thousands more evacuated from areas the rebels were likely to use as escape routes,” she told AFP.

At least 10,000 displaced persons, meanwhile, will now be served with hot meals by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) every day as the current standoff in Zamboanga continues.

Red Cross Zamboanga City Chapter reported that some 96,000 people are affected while 18,000 are now displaced and are staying in nine evacuation centers because of the fighting.

“PRC with the support from the International Committee of the Red Cross is serving 8,000 liters of water per day and has provided psychosocial support to some 3,000 residents, and addressed the health needs of at least 1,000 displaced persons,” PRC chairman Richard Gordon said.

Gordon said medical supplies and other essential non-food items are prepositioned for nonstop operations.

To support the continuous PRC shipments of human blood, food and non-food items, the ICRC also in close coordination with the PRC, provided food parcels, kitchen utensils, tarpaulin for basic shelter, medical supplies, and vital supplies of food.

Moreover, staff and volunteers from Zamboanga-Sibugay also arrived at the local PRC to assist in the operation.

Red Cross staff and volunteers strive to continuously deliver services amid all the chaos caused by the exchange of gun fire.

At least 10 Red Cross staff and volunteers were wounded by a grenade blast while transporting patients to medical stations for treatment.

Spare the innocent civilians, especially women, children and the elderly, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said as he urged for a cessation of armed hostilities in Zamboanga City.

Both parties should negotiate for an immediate truce in good faith because bullets will not ensure the resolution of the problem, sparked by decades-old aspirations by the Muslims to secede from the country and establish their own Bangsamoro Republic in Southern Philippines, he said.

In the event of a cessation of hostilities, the government and the MNLF should then go to the negotiating table to discuss the terms of a lasting peace agreement or seek the help of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) when domestic talks fail, Pimentel said.

In the event though that no resolution is achieved at the ASEAN level, the senator said, the MNLF could still elevate the issue to the United Nations (UN) as the final arbiter of the conflict which has so far claimed several lives from both sides, including innocent civilians in addition to properties destroyed by fire.....

79 people leave Zambo City battle zone

From Rappler (Sep 16): 79 people leave Zambo City battle zone

HOSTAGES. Soldiers assist rescued hostages to a waiting vehicle taking them to Camp Batalla for processing. Photo by Rappler

HOSTAGES. Soldiers assist rescued hostages to a waiting vehicle taking them to Camp Batalla for processing. Photo by Rappler
At least 79 people trapped in the battle zone here were turned over by the military to the police on Tuesday morning, September 17, following a night of heavy fighting between government troops and the remaining forces of Habier Malik.
A total of 64 people were turned over to the police at 4:30 am. A second batch of 5 people was also able to leave the battle zone later, while a third batch of 10 did the same. This brings the total number of people brought to safety on Tuesday at 79. Some of them are children.

They are currently in Camp Batalla, regional headquarters of the Philippine National Police, according Maj Bernard Clavecillas of the Joint Special Operations Group.

City Councilor BG Guingona said the first 64 people who were either rescued or released are "unverified hostages."

"We have to assume that they are not hostages. We verify. Baka evacuees or, worse, rebels," he told Rappler. They were picked up at the Southern College along Pilar Street. It is near Sta Catalina, the site of heavy fighting since the standoff started September 9.

Two batches of a total of 36 hostages were either released or rescued Monday night, September 16. These batches have been verified as hostages, Guingona said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said the former hostages will be reunited with their relatives after 3 hours, after undergoing tactical debriefing.

"Ito ay pagsiguro na ang nalalaman nila ay nakukuha ng gobyerno," Roxas said. (We are making sure that whatever information they have, the government gets.)

After the PNP debriefing, the former hostages, if cleared, will be turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development to cater to their psychosocial needs, Roxas said.

"By 12 noon (Tuesday) makikita na ninyo ang inyong mga kamag-anak," he added. (You will see your relatives by 12 noon.)

Roxa said part of the debriefing is to ensure that no MNLF rebels have mixed with the group and are pretending to be civilians.

He shared many of the ex-hostages are dazed, but are now being fed.

READ: 36 hostages released

Total: 115

From Monday night to Tuesday at 8 am, the total number of people brought to safety and are now in government custody stood at 115.

Prior to this, at least 33 hostages were also either released or rescued from rebel positions.

READ: LIST: Hostages released in Zamboanga City

The Zamboanga siege entered its 9th day on Tuesday. Heavy mortar fighting occurred Monday night as government troops closed in on Rio Hondo, where Malik, the Moro National Liberation Front leader who led the attack, and his followers are believed to be holed out.

At least 87 people have been killed and 146 have been wounded in the weeklong siege, according to a latest military update.

Clavecillas said there are still 5 MNLF groups hiding in the villages of Sta Catalina, Sta Barbara and Rio Hondo. The military believes Malik is still alive but troops could not pinpoint his exact location.

In a statement on Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said civilians remained trapped in the 5 villages occupied by gunmen and soldiers because they either could not leave the area for fear of getting caught in the crossfire or are being stopped from leaving by soldiers and policemen.

"Others could not leave because they did not have the money to pay operators of outrigger boats, which became the only safe way to escape the coastal villages caught up in the fighting," HRW said.

READ: Civilians trapped in Zamboanga building

In an ice plant building in Rio Hondo, at least 300 people are believed trapped there, according to HRW. It's not clear now whether some of the residents or alleged hostages now in government custody had come from this building.

According to HRW, residents who managed to escape said they feared that "civilians left behind would be accused of being rebels and could be subject to government attack or mistreatment in custody."

"Aside from demanding documentation, it is unclear how the authorities are distinguishing civilians from rebel fighters as required by international law. Police sources told Human Rights Watch that more than half of the individuals arrested since September 9 have subsequently been released," HRW added.

US Navy ships dock in Subic Bay

From Rappler (Sep 17): US Navy ships dock in Subic Bay

SUBIC ARRIVAL. The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) arrives in Subic Bay September 16, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Brian P. Biller

SUBIC ARRIVAL. The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) arrives in Subic Bay September 16, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Brian P. Biller

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines – Two US Navy ships docked at the Subic Bay freeport Monday, September 16, for a port visit and to take part in a joint PH-US military exercise.

US Navy ships, the USS Boxer (LHD 4) arrived Monday afternoon, while USS New Orleans (LPD 18) followed soon after, carrying a total of more than 3,000 American navy and marine personnel.

They are scheduled to participate in the upcoming Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) 2014, alongside the Philippine Marine Corps, the US Navy said in a post Monday.

The Boxer is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship which can accommodate and send any type of helicopters in its platform.

On the other hand, the New Orleans is a San Antonio-class transport dock ship carrying 350 Navy officers and sailors, complemented with up to 800 US Marines.

The Boxer and New Orleans will join the USNS Emory S. Land and USNS Henson which are currently docked in Alava Pier here.

The crew of USNS Emory S. Land have participated in various community activities in nearby Olongapo City, including recently the basketball friendship game against local players.

The crews of the Boxer and New Orleans will also participate in community relations projects in the area, the US Navy added.

The US Navy visits come as tensions between the Philippines and China simmer over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Zamboanga City standoff: Basilan Sulu, Tawi-tawi affected as well

From MindaNews (Sep 17): Zamboanga City standoff: Basilan Sulu, Tawi-tawi affected as well

An estimated 180 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari on September 9 initially occupied four, later six coastal villages out of 98 barangays and held hostage an estimated 170 residents but while the actual arena of conflict is small, the standoff as it entered Day 8 Monday, has virtually held hostage not just  “Asia’s Latin City” of 807,000 residents in the Zamboanga Region but also 1.4 million residents in the neighboring island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi are three of five ARMM provinces. Like Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco, ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman has yet to estimate the economic losses since Day One, Monday, September 9, when the MNLF entered Zamboanga City purportedly to stage a peace caravan and hoist the MNLF flag at City Hall, in pursuit of Misuari’s alleged declaration of independence  of the “Bangsamoro Republik.”

“I will check with DTI (Department of Trade and Industry). But almost all activities are affected,” Hataman told MindaNews on Sunday.

In Zamboanga City, economic activities in the downtown area near the conflict zones have been at a standstill since Monday with most establishments closed.  Some partly open their establishments, but limit entry to ensure easy closure should the situation warrant. Queues are commonly seen outside partly-opened stores, as well as the automated teller machines of banks.

LONG WAIT. Residents of Zamboanga City queue for their turn to receive financial assistance remitted by relatives and friends on Monday, Day Eight of the standoff between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas

LONG WAIT. Residents of Zamboanga City queue for their turn to receive financial assistance remitted through a commercial entity by relatives and friends on Monday, Day Eight of the standoff between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas

On Monday, however, the longest queues were outside commercial cash remittance centers, apparently coming from relatives and friends outside the city who could not send money through the banks.

Commercial establishments are suffering huge losses. But daily wage earners, small entrepreneurs, market vendors and tricycle drivers are worried if they can still provide food on the table if the standoff continues beyond Day Eight.

Before the standoff, tricycle driver Sammy Yangco said he was earning an average of P300 daily. Since September 9, his average daily earning  has gone down to  P50.  “Walang pasahero. Takot ang mga taong lumabas”  (there are no passengers. People are afraid to go out), he told MindaNews.

Air and sea transportation between Zamboanga City, the hub, and the three island provinces in the ARMM has been suspended since Day One and few inter-provincial commercial buses that would connect the city with the rest of Mindanao via Zamboanga del Sur or Zamboanga del Norte, have been plying the route.

The only persons who have been allowed to travel from  the island provinces were at least a  thousand pilgrims to Mecca who boarded authorized seacraft from Basilan and Sulu to allow them to reach this city. Hataman said that from here, the pilgrims were transported by C-130 to Cebu from where they used their Zamboanga-Manila air tickets to reach Manila and catch their flights to Mecca. A commercial airline had special flights from Tawi-tawi direct to Manila with passengers using their Zamboanga-Manila tickets, plus an additional P2,000 each that Hataman said was shouldered by the provincial government.

The Sulu provincial government, on the other hand chartered boats to ferry stranded Sulu-bound passengers from Zamboanga and Zamboanga-bound passengers from Sulu.

Classes have been suspended not only in this city but in the neighboring provinces. In Jolo, Sulu, classes were also suspended last week, sometimes a whole day, sometimes half, Notre Dame University President Fr. Charlie Inzon told MindaNews.

In Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, where at least 50 residents were killed when armed men sacked the town on April 4,1995, classes were suspended from Monday to Wednesday last week as rumors of  landing of armed men spread through text messages.  In 1995, the armed men arrived from the sea and by bus and by noon, attacked the town center and set on fire the public market, killing at least 50.

In Basilan, several residents were also reported to have fled areas where a composite group of Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the MNLF reportedly attempted to attack. Hataman acknowledged “there is tension” and that fear generated by scary text messages has driven several residents to evacuate but added that the attempts of the armed in had been thwarted.

The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC)  late Monday reported 4,351 evacuees – home-based and in evacuation centers, in Lamitan City.

According to the National Statistical Coordinating Board, Zamboanga City has a population of 807,129 residents as of May 1, 2010. Total population of the six barangays in the theatre of conflict  – Talon-talon, Rio Hondo,  Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara, Mampang and portions of Tugbungan – is 112,874 with Talon-talon posting the highest at 30,535.

Mampang’s population is 22,857; Sta. Catalina’s population is17,955; Sta. Barbara’s is 7,961; Rio Hondo’s is 10,565 and Tugbungan’s total population is 23,001
According to the NSCB, Basilan’s population is 293,322; Sulu’s is 718,290 and Tawi-tawi’s is 366,550. The three provinces’ combined population is 1,378,162.

As of  Monday, September 16, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said 81,806 residents have been displaced and are presently in 24 evacuation centers. Of this number, 67,845 are in the Joaquin Enriquez Sports Center,

On Saturday, the total number of evacuees was 62,329. By Sunday it was 67,000 and by Monday, 81,806  even as the military said the arena of conflict has been constricted and is getting smaller every day.

Cop and MNLF guerilla lay down arms briefly for dialogue to free hostages

From MindaNews (Sep 17): Cop and MNLF guerilla lay down arms briefly for dialogue to free hostages

They laid down their firearms briefly – a policeman and a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerrilla – to talk “walang armas-armas”  (without firearms) early Tuesday morning at the checkpoint at the boundary of barangays Mampang and Talon-talon and when the MNLF guerrilla returned to where he and about 19 other comrades held hostage 12 residents, all the women and children were set free.

As the 45-year old Merceditas Hasinon and her four children aged between 7 and 18  (three daughters and a nine-year old boy) walked to freedom towards the police checkpoint,  the MNLF held on to  the remaining seven male hostages, among them her husband Yassin, 47, and their eldest son, Mubrid, 22.

Merceditas’ family was among several families held hostage during the standoff between government and MNLF forces loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari which entered its eighth day on Monday.

Although they were held hostage briefly, her story stands out among the thousands of narratives this eight day standoff has spawned because of what the policeman and the MNLF guerrilla did:  the combatants who talked “walang armas-armas” demonstrated that civilian hostages need not be collateral damage in war, that in life-and-death situations,  dialogue can save lives.

Merceditas’ story begins at 1 a.m.  on Tuesday, September 10, when an armed man in uniform knocked on their window in the mangrove area in Barangay Mampang to ask for water.

Speaking in Chabacano, Merceditas, a Catholic who married a Muslim, told MindaNews on Sunday and Monday that when she gave the man a small pitcher of water, he told her it was not enough as there were many of them.

When she looked outside, she saw about 20 armed men in uniform. Thinking they were soldiers on patrol, she handed them a bigger water container.

Initially, one of the armed men told her and her husband to accompany them to the roadside, which is quite far from the mangrove area. To reach it,  she said, they usually ride the sikad (foot-pedalled tricycle).  In the early hours of Tuesday, they walked.

“Puso ng saging”
The men, most of them in their 30s and 40s and a few in their 20s, carried long firearms including those she described as having muzzles that looked like “puso ng saging” (literally heart of the banana; apparently referring to RPGs or rocket-propelled grenades).

Strangers to the area, the armed men wanted to proceed to Barangay Sta. Barbara, the village next to Barangay Talon-talon, where their comrades were reportedly waiting for them.

The day before (Monday, September 9),  MNLF forces had laid siege on at least four of the city’s 98 villages, including Sta. Barbara.  Merceditas and Yassin thought they were out of harm’s way.

Besides, she said, her husband, a seaweed farmer like herself, was also worried over the seven cows and a goat that he was tasked by a cousin to watch over. They found no reason to leave.

Until that knock on the window shortly after 1 a.m. rudely interrupted not only their sleep but their lives.

Merceditas said the armed men got them in twos and threes and except for the two children under ten years old, tied their hands, using a thin nylon rope. “It was not tight, though,” she recalls.

The armed men neither introduced themselves nor explained their presence. All they wanted was to be escorted to Sta. Barbara.

Her 18-year old daughter Normina noted there were  “MNLF” patches on the right breast pocket of the armed men’s uniforms.

Normina said the MNLF warned them not to attempt to run or they will be shot. The armed men spoke Yakan, an indication they were from Basilan and  may have been sent over as reinforcement troops to the main group from Sulu under Ustadz Habier Malik, having arrived in the city only on Tuesday.

“Walang armas-armas”
Merceditas said the walk to the direction of Sta. Barbara took long because helicopters would occasionally hover.  She said the MNLF forces did not point their gun at them while walking but did so when they reached the police checkpoint at the boundary of Mampang and Talon-talon at around 5 a.m.

Merceditas said the hostages shouted at the police, “we are Zamboanguenos.”  The distance between them was about 20 meters, with two roadblocks between.

One of the policemen later shouted to the MNLF initially in Tausug and later in Yakan, to  meet midway and talk “walang armas-armas.”

The MNLF guerilla left his weapon with a comrade and both moved to meet each other midway.

But the two could not understand each other because the policeman spoke Tausug and a little Yakan while the MNLF guerrilla spoke Yakan and a little Tausug.  The policeman said they would find someone else who spoke Yakan.

At around 6 a.m.  a  Yakan-speaking man clad in  white shirt with some stripes arrived. Merceditas said she is not sure if he was also a policeman but the MNLF refered to him as “pulis.”  But he and the MNLF guerrilla also met midway,  for yet another “walang armas-armas” talk.

“Like brothers”

Merceditas could not recall how many minutes the talk took but when the MNLF guerilla returned to them, he informed his immediate superior about the demand to release the women and children. The superior then asked their commander if he would allow and the commander approved.  The women and her two teenage daughters were untied.

The Yakan-speaking man walked towards where the hostages and the MNLF were to fetch Merceditas and her children.  She said the two who spoke “walang armas-armas”  treated the other like they were brothers.

Three plastic bags of bread were distributed for the hostages which they shared with the MNLF.

Merceditas burst into tears as she narrated how her husband and son assured her to go ahead and not to worry about them because they can take care of themselves.

Yassin instructed his wife and children not to attempt to run as they may be shot and to make sure they would duck should there be a firefight.

There was no time for an embrace.  All that Merceditas could tell her husband and son was to pray that the minds of the armed men would be enlightened.

Before 7 a.m. on the same day,  Merceditas and her daughters were free.

But not completely as both mother and daughters, were not quite sure they would still be reunited with Yassin and Mubrid.

Worst case, best case

The worst-case scenario, however, did not happen.

On Monday, September 16,  Normina arrived at their temporary refuge at around 1:30 p.m. with the good news:  her father was, indeed,  alive and was staying in a relative’s house in their barangay and her brother, Mubrid, was a few steps away.

Normina had borrowed a mobile phone Sunday afternoon and texted a relative in Mampang who informed her her father and brother were back home.  Normina dared to return to the village Monday morning and returned to where her mother and siblings were, early afternoon, with her brother.

By chance, MindaNews witnessed the reunion of mother and son.

When Normina left to fetch her brother at the gate,  Mercedita’s face lit up and she excitedly chattered in Chabacano to MindaNews even if  she was communicating previously through an interpreter.  There was no need to translate the message she was conveying. Joy was written all over her face.

When Mubrid entered the hall at 1:35 p.m. Monday, mother and son embraced each other tightly, both of them in tears. Mubrid’s siblings cried with them as well.

“We’re just guides”

Mubrid narrated that when his mother and sisters were freed, the MNLF retreated a few steps and instructed them to take another route to Sta. Barbara. He said the MNLF had untied them when they untied his mother and two sisters but warned that if one of them would run, none of them can return home. The armed men again warned they would be shot if they run.

One of the seven actually did run but Mubrid said the MNLF may not have noticed because the escapee was walking behind them.   The remaining six were Mubrid, his father, barangay tanod (village guard) Nonito, Estrada, a cousin and uncles.

They reached Sta. Barbara in the evening, and another group of armed men asked them if they were “bihag” (hostages). Mubrid said he explained to them that they were just guides.  They were allowed to leave.

But one of the six “guides”  – the barangay tanod – asked if he could get back his short firearm and a cellphone, apparently irking the leader of the other group who ordered all six of them to proceed to the interior of the village.

Mubrid said they were being led to the two-storey house where the hostages where reportedly brought but they couldn’t see because there were no lights. Again he managed to convince them they were just guides.

The leader of the other armed group then told them they could go home but Estrada would be sent home the next day.

Mubrid said they have yet to find out if Estrada has been freed.

The five of them who returned to Mampang passed through the mangroves, walked through waist-deep mud to reach home.

Yassin sent Mubrid to join his mother and siblings to ensure their safety but opted to stay in Mampang.

Pursuing Army troops recovered armaments from fleeing NPAs

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 16): Pursuing Army troops recovered armaments from fleeing NPAs

Pursuing Army troopers recovered armaments left by the NPAs as they fled in haste from the encounter site after an encounter over the weekend at a remote town of Agusan del Sur.

Reports from Agusan del Sur Police Office reaching the regional police headquarters here Monday said that the Philippine Army's Bravo Team of the 26th Infantry Battalion led by 1Lt. Israel Soquereta while in a combat operation encountered an undetermined number of rebels 4:18 p.m. Saturday in Sitio Kilangkog, Brgy. Sabud in Loreto, Agusan del Sur. According to Loreto Police that the encounter site is 60 kilometers from the town proper.

A firefight ensued for about 40-minutes where the rebels accordingly suffered a drawback and fled in haste from the site of the encounter. The pursuing troopers led by Lt. Soquerata recovered some armaments consisting of an AK47 Rifle with a magazine and three live ammunitions, 1/4 kilo of ammonium sulfate, a VHF Handheld Radio, 10 pieces of assorted cellular phone chargers, 2 pieces of 12 volt wet cell battery and 2 emergency lights.

No casualties were suffered by the government troopers. Police stations in adjacent places were instructed to conduct checkpoints and alerted of possible individuals who will be admitted in the hospitals or medical clinics under their areas for gunshot wound treatments.

Don't broadcast positions of soldiers -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 16): Don't broadcast positions of soldiers -- AFP

With the Zamboanga City standoff now on its second week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) appealed to journalists covering the crisis not to broadcast the locations of soldiers conducting security and cordoning operations to safeguard their lives.

"A respectful appeal to media: Join us in safeguarding lives of soldiers in Zamboanga by refraining from posting their current locations," the AFP said.

Police and soldiers had engaged the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in a standoff since last week, where the group had taken several civilians hostage.

On Monday, fighting resumed in at least two villages in the city.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima appealed to the public to insulate state security forces from "intrigues and politics."

"Let us protect, insulate our fighting soldiers and police troopers from intrigues, politics. They are our true heroes," he said.

Purisima also posted a link to the PNP's Facebook page where a post asked the public to "allow our troops to do the job that they do best-- to protect the people from harm and defend the state and national institutions at all cost, even at the expense of their own lives."

In its Facebook post, the PNP reassured the public its combat support systems are "fully functional to ensure prompt replenishment of supplies such as ammunition and fuel; and replacement of equipment in the battlefront."

"This support system is almost seamless and designed to keep our troops in the best fighting form. If at all, there are situations when food rations cannot be delivered on time, it is understandably due to the exigency of the situation, nonetheless, more than enough supplies are available such that some units can afford to share supplies with affected residents and evacuees," it added.

It was referring to speculations that government troops may lack food and supplies.

"This dark episode will soon be over. Zamboanga will be back on its feet. The rule of law will prevail. The people will win. And peace will be restored," it added.

PAF choppers attack MNLF position in Zamboanga City

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 16): PAF choppers attack MNLF position in Zamboanga City
MG-520 "Defender" attack helicopters of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) conducted a "targeted air strike" on Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) positions in Zamboanga City Monday.

The aerial assault started 1:00 p.m. and ended around 1:20 p.m., said 1st Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Jefferson Somera said.

"The air strike started 1:00 p.m. It ended 1:20 p.m., MG-520 attack helicopters were used," he added.

The aircraft is armed with .50 caliber heavy machines and ground attack rockets.

Somera stated they have no specifics yet on the places hit by the PAF choppers but sources said that this includes Barangay Rio Hondo, one of the areas where MNLF fighters are still holed up.

He added that they are still waiting word for damages and casualties inflicted on the MNLF positions.

DILG: MNLF members mixing up with civilians to evade govt forces

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 16): DILG: MNLF members mixing up with civilians to evade govt forces

Apparently desperate in avoiding government forces, members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction of Nur Misuari are now trying to mix up with civilians in Zamboanga City to evade arrest.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, in a broadcast interview over ABS-CBN News Channel, said that government authorities have arrested at least one MNLF member crouching with civilians, apparently to evade arrest.

”Some of them were wearing civilian clothes. In fact, there was one captured where several civilians were walking or crouching towards security forces, and one of them was holding a rosary...and just to check, because the security forces are trained to check all of these surrenderees. They were asked to say Our Father and he did not,” said Roxas.

”...but quickly after they confessed that they were MNLF and that they have shed their uniforms and so they were captured,” added Roxas.

As of Monday afternoon, Roxas said that a total of 70 MNLF members have either been captured or arrested since the Zamboanga City siege erupted Sept. 9.

So far, Roxas said that government security forces have entered areas previously held by MNLF forces in Zamboanga City. However, he did not identify the areas.

”The Armed Forces and the police have entered the area previously controlled by MNLF. This is after three days of containment and constriction and they are now there engaging the MNLF fighters,” said Roxas.

Roxas said that government forces could not ascertain the exact number of hostages still being held by the MNLF forces.

”Right now, it is difficult to say. There may be hostages that have been able to escape since last night and yesterday and in fact they have been all processed by both DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) as well as the security’s really hard to say how many are still left behind,” said Roxas.

MNLF says it has nothing to do with Davao City blasts

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 17): MNLF says it has nothing to do with Davao City blasts

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), in a radio report, denied any participation in the explosion that hit two mall movie houses in Davao City Monday night.

MNLF Davao chairman Rolando Olamit went to one of the malls where Monday night's blasts occurred to show the MNLF was not involved.

Police are still determining the type of explosive used in Monday night's blasts.

Initial investigation showed the first explosion occurred at a cinema in the SM mall at 9:03 p.m. The second occurred at the Gaisano Mall at 9:25 p.m.

While no one was wounded, five people were brought to a hospital after experiencing pain in their ears due to the loud explosion.

Army chief in NegOcc urges rebels anew to surrender and avail of gov’t livelihood programs

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 16): Army chief in NegOcc urges rebels anew to surrender and avail of gov’t livelihood programs

The chief of the Philippine Army in Negros Occidental called on the members of the New People’s Army (NPA) anew to leave the rebel movement and talk peace with the government.

Col. Jon Aying, commanding officer of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, made the call after two NPA rebels were captured during an encounter in Toboso town over the weekend.

Aying said those who will surrender can avail of livelihood programs and other assistance from the government.

Under the Armed Forces of the Philippines “Guns for Peace” Program, rebel returnees who turn over their firearms are given cash rewards.

Aying also said that under the Provincial Wellness Program, NPA rebels who return to the mainstream society are being assisted to regain their normal lives.

“Why continue fighting when we can work together for peace?” the Army official said.

The Wellness Program is the five-year Peace and Development Plan (5YPDP) of the Province of Negros Occidental that seeks, among others, to promote poverty reduction, food security and sustainable economic development, and reduce the vulnerability of grass-roots communities to armed conflicts, disasters and health risks.

The Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit (Pro-PIDU) is implementing the Wellness Program.

“Our lines are open any time for them. We will continue reaching out to our brothers. We hope our message reaches them so that no more lives will be lost,” Colonel Aying said.

Following the launch of the “Guns for Peace” last May, five rebel returnees received P320,000 after they surrendered their firearms to the Philippine Army.

Under the AFP Guns for Peace Program, light machine guns have a cash equivalent of P200,000; Colt M16 rifle, P50,000; M14, P60,000; and M203 grenade launchers, P40,000.

As of July this year, the provincial government of Negros Occidental has extended almost P1 million in financial and livelihood assistance to 90 former rebels, who have surrendered to the 303rd Infantry Brigade since 2010.

MNLF, religious group rally for peace

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 16): MNLF, religious group rally for peace

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY--About 50 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) here led a rally dubbed as “Prayer for Peace in Mindanao” at the Divisoria Plaza on Sunday.

Sammy Tagalog, head of the MNLF in Northern Mindanao, said the peace rally was also participated by Christians and other religious groups who want an end to the Zamboanga City armed clashes between former MNLF rebels and government forces.

He said that the MNLF in Northern Mindanao has nothing to do with the ongoing armed skirmishes with government troopers in Zamboanga City.

“We have been living in peace since the MNLF and the government forged a peace pact in 1996 and provided the MNLF various livelihood projects in the region,” Tagalog said.

Other Christian and religious groups that joined the prayer for peace rally here were representatives from the Aid to Life Ministries, Jesus for All Nations, Youth of Glory, Lamp Foundation and the Philippine Envangelical Network in praying for peace.

During the prayer rally, the MNLF and other sectoral groups signed a covenant to build a culture of peace in the region in particular, and in Mindanao in general.

Gov’t troops pounce rebels, continue to gain grounds in Zambo

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 16): Gov’t troops pounce rebels, continue to gain grounds in Zambo

The government forces have already gained control of at least 70 percent of the areas occupied by the rebels when they infiltrated this city last week.

Armed Forces’ Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala announced this Monday citing the troops continue to gain grounds as offensive continues in the adjoining barangays of Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina.

“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is pushing forward. We are gaining grounds,” Zagala said without elaborating further citing operational mater.

Zagala assured that the troops are ensuring the safety of the hostages are they continue to pounce on the rebels’ position.

“These are calibrated responses. We are very careful,” Zagala said.

Shortly after noon time Monday MG-520 rocket-firing helicopters pounded with rockets the rebels’ positions while ground troops continue to advance.

Zagala said the airstrike is a closed-air support to the ground troops.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Deputy Director-General Felipe Rojas, Jr. said so far 51 rebels were killed while 26 others, including women, were captured.

Rojas said 15 high-powered and seven low-powered firearms were seized by the advancing troops.

Zagala disclosed in a press briefing late Monday there are still estimated of over MNLF rebels “in the area.”

5 hurt as bomb blasts hit cinemas in 2 Davao City malls

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 17): 5 hurt as bomb blasts hit cinemas in 2 Davao City malls

Two bombs exploded inside cinema houses of Gaisano Mall along J.P. Laurel Avenue and SM City Davao in Quimpo Boulevard almost simultaneously at 10 p.m. Monday.

According to reports reaching Davao City Central 911, five were injured in the explosion at Gaisano Mall while no one was reported hurt at SM Cinema 1. The victims were immediately brought to the nearby San Pedro Hospital.

Almost all moviegoers were already outside the movie houses when the explosions occurred.

The bombs used in the two explosions were reportedly improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as K9 bomb sniffing dogs of the Davao City Police Office were brought there to check the crime scenes.

It was not immediately known how the bombs were brought into the malls and in the movie houses as there were security guards assigned in the main entrances to inspect baggage sand conduct body check.

DCPO chief Senior Supt. Ronald dela Rosa already raised the alert level in the city since last week following the escalation of violence in Zamboanga City.

People displaced by Zamboanga City stand-off now at 82,106 -- NDRRMC

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 17): People displaced by Zamboanga City stand-off now at 82,106 -- NDRRMC

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Tuesday announced that the number of people displaced by the fighting between the military and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City has reached the 82,106 mark.

This is equivalent to 16,533 families living in 14 barangays and even one barangay from Zamboanga Sibugay province.

In an update posted on its website early Tuesday, the NDRRMC said 24 evacuation centers had been set up to serve 13,028 families or 67,845 people.

It added that the death toll as of Monday reached 87, including 71 from the MNLF, six from the military, three from the police, and seven civilians.

At least 165 were wounded, including 86 soldiers, 12 police personnel and 67 civilians.

Meanwhile, the NDRRMC said at least 20 houses were destroyed while five were partially damaged.

Some P4.5 million worth of properties were destroyed by fires that hit Ayer Village in Sta. Barbara; houses near the mosque in Sta. Barbara; Lustre in Sta. Barbara; Fisheries Compound in Rio Hondo; and Kasanyangan Village.

The NDRRMC said the Zamboanga City Crisis Management Center is continuously providing food and maintaining sanitation in evacuation centers.