Friday, September 20, 2013

Army official says Sagada town no longer seen as a "peace zone"

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep  20): Army official says  Sagada town  no longer seen as  a "peace zone"

With the recent activities that occurred in the  mountain resort town  of Sagada  involving New People’s Army and the government forces,  the town is no longer seen as a peace zone.

Maj. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., Northern Luzon Command head, said “Sagada cannot be treated anymore as a peace zone”  following the recent events in the area.
Sagada which is home to the famous Sumaguing Cave and hanging coffins being flocked by local and foreign tourists, was declared as a peace zone in 1989 and is supposed to be off limits to armed members.

But on August 29, 2013, two police officers were hurt in an encounter between forces of the Police Regional Office Cordillera and the NPA.

According to Police Regional Office Cordillera Regional Director, Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong,  operatives of the Deep Reconnaissance Teams of Abra and Benguet Provincial Police Offices encountered undetermined number of armed NPA guerillas in Sitio Data, Barangay Aguid in Sagada. It was then followed by air strikes and ground attacks which led to the capture of the NPA camp in the area.

The NPA group in Sagada was allegedly behind the ambush in Tadian, Mountain Province last  June 28 where they attacked 95 police officers who were on training, killing one of them as they  were having their morning jogging.

Catapang, who was the guest of honor and speaker of the Philippine Military Academy Class 2017 Recognition Rites at the Fort Del Pilar, Baguio City  on September 14, said, “It (Sagada) is a place where they train the new NPA’s or their new recruits and it is a place where they stage their ambush and where they conduct their atrocities against the troops.”

He said he had scheduled talks with Mountain  Province Governor  Leonard Mayaen about the peace zone status of Sagada town.

Catapang issued orders to track down and arrest rebels operating in Northern Luzon, believing the military could clear these provinces of rebel presence before the year ends.

MNLF commander Malik alive, says Misuari spokesperson

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 20): MNLF commander Malik alive, says Misuari spokesperson

A Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) spokesman on Friday confirmed reports that ground commander Habier Malik was still alive and fighting.

“Yes (he is still alive). (He) is formidable. He has proven his experience, his agility and everything,” Emmanuel Fontanilla told Radyo Inquirer 990AM.

Fontanilla said the leader of Moro forces in Zamboanga City was able to prevent government forces from controlling their area.

He dismissed reports that the MNLF has been constricted in only two villages.

He said the MNLF rebels locked in a gunbattle with government troops in Zamboanga City remained in control of four villages, adding the group was intact, except in Sta. Barbara where the military allegedly burned houses being used by rebels as hiding place.

He said there were still “pockets” of MNLF fighters in Sta. Barbara.

Fontanilla also contradicted reports that their people were hungry and running out of ammunition, forcing them to surrender to the government.

“We’re getting a lot of support!” Fontanilla said. Laughing, he asked, “Why is it that many of their forces are dying?”

He said that as of Wednesday, hundreds have been killed on the side of the government compared to only 18 from their forces.

Fontanilla said since Day 3 of the fighting, they had received reports that Governor Mujiv Hataman, of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was planning to make civilians pretend that they were MNLF members who wanted to surrender.

He said the conflict might last for “a century” if the Aquino administration continues with its “military solution.”

“We will not pursue aggressive action because that is not our purpose,” he said, explaining that they only want to continue talks with the Philippine government through international negotiations.

“If we say that we want the [United Nations] (to intervene) and they are not allowed into the Philippines, what happens?” Fontanilla said. “President [Benigno Aquino III] is smart. [He] should stop using other approaches.”

He said the government is resorting to the “divide and rule” tactic by referring to other supposed MNLF factions “with mayors as members,” referring to former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema.

“Let’s not kid around,” he said.

Fontanilla lamented that the more than 40 years of peace talks between the MNLF and the Philippine government would be put to waste because of the ongoing conflict.

But the President, in a press conference on Thursday, said the group’s objective was “hard to understand” because of conflicting reports.

Aquino said that Nur Misuari “declared independence but [in the same breath] said that the peace process continued.”

Clashes between the MNLF and the Philippine military started September 9, coinciding with the talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The MNLF has long been criticizing the Philippine government and the MILF’s Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, claiming that it will water down the gains of its own final peace accord in 1996.

The group also claimed that several provisions of the 1996 agreement have yet to be implemented amid the government’s alleged termination of its review.

Misuari Costs MNLF Any Goodwill After Zamboanga Debacle

From the Diplomat (Sep 20): Misuari Costs MNLF Any Goodwill After Zamboanga Debacle

By storming the Southern Philippine city of Zamboanga, veteran fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) tipped popular perceptions upside down. For more than 15 years MNLF had been seen as a moderate group in a land dubbed as the alphabet soup of insurgents.

Among these are the odious Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the defunct jihadists Jemaah Islamiyah, the communist New People’s Army, and the MNLF splinter group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which over the last year has hammered out a peace deal with Manila.

That peace deal has caused ructions through a redistribution of power and has upset traditional relations. It was also largely behind the Sabah insurgency earlier this year which led to more than 70 deaths after a minor Sultan – insisting he be seen as the Sultan of Sulu – decided to reassert his traditional claims over the neighboring East Malaysian state.

As a prelude to the current violence in Mindanao, the MNLF has also threatened to reassert its claims over Sabah and Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, along with large swathes of the Southern Philippines. But much of the angst is personal.

Nur Misauri has led the MNLF with his own personal brand of crusade since he founded the group in 1969 during a quest for an independent homeland for his Bangsamoro people, who are also Muslim.

“I think most people are baffled by Misuari’s sudden reappearance, and the apparent willingness of his fighters to engage on what for many seems to be a near suicidal attack on a major city,” Gavin Greenwood a security analyst with Hong Kong-based Allan & Associates, told The Diplomat.

However, a pattern of sorts has emerged. Misuari is widely viewed as incapable of sharing power with any other group in Mindanao. His agreement in 1996 that appeared to decommission the MNLF seems, in his mind, to have been a personal deal between himself and the Philippine state.

“His reward was extensive political power and a degree of autonomy in as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) between 1996 and 2001 and he was removed from office in an internal coup following accusations of mismanagement and other offences,” Greenwood said.

His personal relationship with power in the troubled south took another hit in May this year when Mujiv Hataman – an ally of President Benigno Aquino – was proclaimed winner of a gubernatorial election in the ARMM, effectively defeating Misuari.

But importantly, the kidnappings and firefights in Zamboanga, which cost more than 100 lives, failed to inspire other rebels to lend a hand – the MILF the particular. Even the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has close links with Misuari, accused the MNLF of engaging in politico-military adventurism designed to protect Misuari’s fiefdom.

It also said his position was threatened by a rearrangement of resources and political power which has been forged between President Begnino Aquino, his administration, and MILF.

Misuari and those of his cohorts who survived the bloody attacks will probably spend the rest of their lives behind bars, an ignoble end for man who risked all, including the lives of many thousands he had once sought to protect.

Habier Malik: Misuari's loyal commander in Zamboanga

From GMA News (Sep 19): Habier Malik: Misuari's loyal commander in Zamboanga

Armed men of the Moro National Liberation Front have been fighting it out with government forces in Zamboanga City for 11 days, as of this writing. As the rebels continue to fight with diminishing resources, some of the attention has focused on the man leading their attack in the southern city.

Habier Malik is not a newcomer to firefights, having been involved in clashes against either government troops or other rebel forces such as the Abu Sayyaf Group in the past.

He is reportedly one of those most loyal to MNLF founder and former chairman Nur Misuari.

In November 2001, he led the MNLF armed men who attacked Kabatangan complex, also in Zamboanga City—and also took residents as human shield.

In 2005, Malik's group allegedly went on a killing spree in Panamao, Sulu, leaving 37 soldiers dead, including Lt. Col. Dennis Villanueva.

Malik's group also held hostage former Marine General Benjamin Dolorfino, Undersecretary Ramon Santos and 16 others in February 2007. The group had gone to the MNLF camp in Sulu to conduct a dialogue on problems in the full implementation of the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the group.

Earlier this year, Malik and his men engaged Abu Sayyaf in a firefight in an effort to rescue Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani after negotiations initiated by the former reached an impasse.

Last week, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita 'Ging' Deles was able to talk with Malik in an effort to solve the crisis in Zamboanga City. Malik said Deles should talk with Misuari about the attack on the city. He even said that he would arrange for her to speak with him, but the talk did not push through.

However, Misuari, in a phone conversation with Mayor Beng Climaco, disowned Malik's actions in Zamboanga City.

As of Thursday morning, more than 100 people have been killed in the fighting, including 14 government and police troops and at least seven civilians. On the MNLF's side, 86 have been reported killed.

Surrender of 21 MNLFs brings hope to Zambo: But residents saddened by death of young PMA grad

From the Daily Zamboanga Times (Sep 20): Surrender of 21 MNLFs brings hope to Zambo: But residents saddened by death of young PMA grad

The surrender of 21 battle-fatigued MNLF fighters out of their dugout in Sta. Barbara yesterday brought glimpse of hope  to ZamboangueƱos who have been praying for an immediate end to the Zamboanga City crisis. But this good news came along with a sad report that a young lieutenant, a Philippine Military Academy graduate (Class 2008), was killed in the final assault in the conflict areas.
Fifteen surrendered early morning, while six others yielded in the afternoon as troops continued the mopping operations yesterday.
Gunfight and mortar shelling resumed on the 11th day.of the crisis yesterday as government troops punched deeper into rebel positions on a house-to-house operation in Sta. Catalina and Sta. Barbara. Soldiers and policemen chased rebels retreating to Rio Hondo where another firefight erupted. Two fires broke out in Sta. Catalina and Rio Hondo.
Killed in the Sta. Barbara clearing operation was 1Lt. John Kristopher B. Rama.
The number of casualties has risen to 114. Fatalities included 83 MNLF fighters, 12 soldiers, three policemen, and seven civilians.
Officials said that several MNLF fighters were also wounded while 93 were captured or had surrendered.
From the ranks of the AFP, 105 were wounded. At least 12 policemen and 67 civilians were also wounded.
Chief Supt Felipe Rojas Jr, deputy police director for operations of the regional police, saif that those who surrendered were brought to the barangay hall of Sta Catalina,
Western Mindanao Command spokesman Col Rodrigo Gregorio confirmed the surrender of the 15, which took place  at 6:30 am.
“The way I look at it, our calibrated military response is paying off. They are constricted and they have no choice. They either fight it out or surrender,” said Gregorio.
“Their surrender is an indication na nahihirapan na sila,” he added.
“The surrenderers turned over 3 M16 rifles, 1 garand rifle, and 1 shotgun,” according to a military report.
DZT reporter Dan Toribio Jr. reported that six more surrendered in the afternoon.
“It was a sniper that killed the soldier at 5 am in the same barangay, according to Gregorio.
Zamboanga City is slowly trying to regain normalcy. Flights are expected to resume but the first flight of Cebu Pacific was a few minutes delayed, arriving at 10:06 am. yesterday.
The Armed Forces said MNLF men loyal to Nur Misuari have been trimmed to less than 70 members who are contained in the conflict areas.
In Manila, AFP spokesman Domingo Tutaan said ending the standoff is taking longer than expected because MNLF forces continue to use hostages as human shields.
“They would start firing at the soldiers then put the hostages in front. That was causing the delay. We have to be discerning in launching our calibrated response,” he said.
Gen. Domingo Tutaan earler said the surviving MNLF fighters, believed holed up in Barangays Sta. Catalina and Sta. Barbara were running out of ammunition.
He made this statement after noting that fire from the rebel force has not been intense for the past few days.
“It is not as intense as (Tuesday). One, their number has been neutralized, (there have been) arrests and (some were) killed as far as the MNLF-Nur Misuari faction (is concerned) and also, we can attribute that to the efforts to gradually constrict and contain them in the areas where they are right now,” he said.
Tutaan estimates the number of remaining MNLF fighters at 75. He believes that MNLF commander Habier Malik is the one leading the rebel force.
The AFP spokesperson also stressed that the military is focusing its attention on the two above-mentioned barangays.
Flights from Zamboanga to Cebu, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi remain suspended.

Day 12: 4 Misuari followers killed; rebels now in 'smaller groups'

From the Philippine Star (Sep 20): Day 12: 4 Misuari followers killed; rebels now in 'smaller groups'

Four members of the Nur Misuari-led faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) were killed on the 12th day of the ongoing standoff in Zamboanga City.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, head of the military’s 7th Civil Relations Group said four armed followers of Misuari were killed on Friday morning and their high-powered firearms were seized by government forces.

In a televised press briefing on Friday noon, Cabunoc said a rebel was killed around 9:15 a.m.  in Barangay Sta. Barbara and three more were slain in the same area by around 10 a.m.

Cabunoc said only 40 to 50 MNLF rebels remain in the standoff and they have been divided into splinter groups.

"Sila ay nag-splinter into smaller groups. Ang iba sa kanila ay leaderless," Cabunoc said."Kanya-kanya. Ang iba sa kanila walang bala."

A total of 111 of Misuari's followers have been captured or have laid down their arms, the army official said. Six rebels surrendered on Friday.

Cabunoc believes the capture and surrender of more MNLF rebels could be an indication that the crisis situation might reach its end.

"Positive tayo na malapit na itong matapos," Cabunoc said.

But he said at least 21 hostages are still used by the MNLF rebels as human shields.
According to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the fatalities so far include 10 soldiers, three policemen, eight civilians, and 92 MNLF rebels.

A total of 48 civilians have also been wounded in the hostilities that started last September 9 when the MNLF rebels tried to occupy several coastal villages in Zamboanga City.

Read: Zambo City crisis death toll: 113 - military

Troops want LOS to secure Phl territory

From the Philippine Star (Sep 20): Troops want LOS to secure Phl territory

The military unit overseeing the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal sees the need to build four new radar stations in Northern Luzon to prevent intrusions and boost its territorial defense efforts.

Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) chief Maj. Gen. Gregorio Catapang said they are proposing the construction of littoral observation stations (LOS) in Batanes, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan and Aurora.

The littoral observation stations will allow naval forces to monitor vessels and maritime activities in Philippine waters. Such structures will enable security forces to act on threats like smuggling, terrorism and human and drug trafficking.

“We are also proposing to put up LOS in four provinces. We are not only interested in the West Philippine Sea. We are also interested in the Pacific Ocean, where we have several resources,” Catapang told reporters here.

The government has existing observation stations in Pangasinan and Zambales, where the Panatag Shoal is located. Catapang, however, admitted that the capabilities of these stations are “very limited.”

“The stations do not cover the entire area,” Catapang said.

"What we want is to have a system where the Navy can detect illegal entries from as far as Batanes and the West Philippine Sea," he added.

Catapang believes the new radar stations would prevent incidents similar to the intrusion of Chinese ships in Panatag Shoal last year and the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese poacher in Batanes last May.

“If you have maritime awareness, you can monitor the ships that enter and leave your area,” the NOLCOM chief said.

The NOLCOM is now crafting its proposal for the government to construct the four radar stations.

Catapang said former Navy chief Alexander Pama, who now works for the National Coast Watch Council, has vowed to help him fine-tune his proposal.

He could not say how much is required to build the stations, saying such details would be determined if the proposal is approved.

China started shoring up its presence in Panatag Shoal on April 10, 2012, when surveillance ships from Beijing prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese poachers.

Chinese ships have since cordoned the area illegally despite the diplomatic protests of the Philippine government.

The need to enhance the country’s maritime domain awareness was highlighted further by the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese poacher in Batanes last May.

The Coast Guard personnel involved in the incident are now facing criminal charges despite observations that they were just performing their duty of securing the Philippines’ territory.

Security forces to continue operations in Zamboanga City until all hostages are freed, says Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20): Security forces to continue operations in Zamboanga City until all hostages are freed, says Palace

The government has not set a timetable when to end the Zamboanga City standoff but assured the public that security forces will continue to push forward until all the hostages are freed, the Palace said on Friday.

“On the side of the government, we will continue to push forward what we have been doing in the past days, which is to make sure that none of the citizens are harmed or put in harm’s way,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a press briefing in Malacanang on Friday.

The military and the police will continue to constrict the movements of the rebels and the President has asked for an inquiry to determine why the MNLF fighters still have the resources to wage battle after more than a week of fighting.

“The President has also asked to check, to look into reports… iyong tuluy-tuloy ang supply or bakit parang hindi nauubusan ng supply? He has asked some officials to look into that as well,” Valte said.

The military and the police have also started clearing operations and have requested for the assistance of barangay officials to determine the identity of people staying in evacuation centers to make sure that no rebels were among those present in temporary shelters.

Asked if the President’s presence in Zamboanga was a sign for the immediate conclusion of the standoff, Valte said his presence was a manifestation of the President’s resolve to be with the residents until the crisis is over.

“The President’s presence there is testament really to his statement to the people of Zamboanga City na hindi namin kayo iiwan, nandito kami para i-extend lahat ng puwedeng gawin ng pamahalaan para sa inyo,” she said.

PN to acquire 3 more multi-purpose assault vessels

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21): PN to acquire 3 more multi-purpose assault vessels
With four of the Philippine Navy's multi-purpose assault craft (MPAC) seeing action for the first time and giving a good account of themselves on the ongoing stand-off in Zamboanga City, the PN announced that plans to acquire three more of these excellent vessels are still on going.

The Navy currently has six of these high-speed craft in it inventory.

Four of the 28 PN vessels conducting blockade operations off the Zamboanga City coast are MPACs.

"(Acquisition of three MPACs) is part of the PN's medium term capability upgrade program. Three MPACs (are scheduled) to be acquire within 2013 to 2017," PN spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

A PN source earlier said that these MPACs are already in Stage 1 of the acquisition process.

Fabic said that the MPACs, as proven in the ongoing Zamboanga City operations, are ideal craft for coastal patrol and defense work due to high speed and maneuverability.

Three of the MPACs are sourced from Taiwan while the remaining three were ordered from Filipino shipbuilder Propmech Corporation, which is based in Subic Bay, Zambales.

These ships are 16.5 meters long, 4.76 meters wide and has a draft of one meter and a top speed of 45 knots.

Each one is worth around P90 million.

It has a range 300 nautical miles.

The hull is made of high-quality aluminum and is crewed by one officer and four enlisted personnel.

It is capable of carrying 16 fully-equipped troopers or two tons of cargo.

The MPAC is capable of operating in territorial waters up to "Sea State 3" (slight waves) without any system degradation.

It is armed with one .50 caliber and two 7.62mm machine guns.

Aquino: Why are rebels not running out of ammo?

From Rappler (Sep 20): Aquino: Why are rebels not running out of ammo?

'TIRED ANG HUNGRY': This batch of 15 MNLF rebels surrendered to combined forces of military and police on September 19. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

'TIRED ANG HUNGRY': This batch of 15 MNLF rebels surrendered to combined forces of military and police on September 19. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

President Benigno Aquino III is curious himself. It's the 12th day of the crisis and it seems that Moro National Liberation Front commander Habier Malik and his followers are not running out of ammunition.

"This is one of the things the President wants the intelligence community to study.
 They may have prepositioned [the ammunition]. There are several theories. After the crisis, we will look into that," Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II told reporters on Friday, September 20.
About 200 rebels attacked the city on September 9. Twelve days later, 96 rebels have died, 72 were captured, and 45 have surrendered.
The military said 30 to 40 rebels remain in the battle zone with more or less 50 hostages. A total of 172 hostages have been rescued.
"It's a good sign. They are discouraged. They are surrendering. We are hopeful that this will soon be over," said police deputy director general for operations Gen Felipe Rojas Jr.
The rebels who were captured or have surrendered are facing charges of rebellion.

US: We're not seeking base in PH

From Rappler (Sep 21): US: We're not seeking base in PH

The United States said Friday, September 20, that it was not seeking a permanent base in the Philippines as the allies expand military cooperation at a time of tension with China.

"I want to make a point very clear that the United States is not seeking to create or to reopen any military bases in the Philippines," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

The United States and the Philippines have been working on a new pact to boost security ties ahead of President Barack Obama's October 11-12 visit to Manila.

Harf said that the United States was talking with the Philippines about how "to promote security and stability for our nation and in the region."

President Benigno Aquino has called for greater military cooperation with the United States as the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan accuse China of increasing assertiveness in staking claims in contested waters.

But reopening bases would likely also trigger resentment in some quarters of the Philippines, a former US colony.

The United States ended its permanent military presence at two bases in the Philippines in 1992 in the face of protests.

Obama has put a growing focus on Asia, with plans to shift the majority of the US Navy to the Pacific by 2020.

But US military strategists have soured on opening permanent bases, which can prove costly both financially and politically.

The United States plans to move more than 2,500 Marines to the northern Australian city of Darwin by 2016-17, but through rotations.

Nearly 80,000 US troops are stationed in Japan and South Korea on bases in a military presence that dates more than 60 years and has often been the source of discord.

Zamboanga explosion kills volunteer

From Rappler (Sep 21): Zamboanga explosion kills volunteer

DAY 13. Another explosion hits the city. Photo by Richard Facaltan/Rappler

DAY 13. Another explosion hits the city. Photo by Richard Facaltan/Rappler

An explosion hit a residential area near Alta Mall in Zamboanga City on the 13th day of the security crisis.

The suspected mortar explosion happened in Atilano compound in the village of Tetuan, near the 3-hectare Alta Mall and the regional building of state-run pension fund Social Security System (SSS) east of the city.

It killed one resident, a volunteer who attends to evacuees.

"We just woke up and were starting to prepare for breakfast. When I opened the refrigerator there was an explosion. I thought it was the power plug. [My mother] was near the door," the daughter of the elderly woman who was killed said in Filipino.

"They are one of the volunteers who give food to the evacuees," a local police officer told reporters.

Zamboanga City has been in a conflict for almost two weeks, after rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front initially seized 4 barangays and have since been fighting it out with government forces.

THE BUILDING. The explosion hit a residential area near mall. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

THE BUILDING. The explosion hit a residential area near mall. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

MORNING BLAST. Residents were preparing for breakfast before the explosion happened. Photo by Richard Facaltan/Rappler

MORNING BLAST. Residents were preparing for breakfast before the explosion happened. Photo by Richard Facaltan/Rappler

MORTAR? The explosion was reportedly caused by a mortar. Photo by Richard Facaltan/Rappler

MORTAR? The explosion was reportedly caused by a mortar. Photo by Richard Facaltan/Rappler

Progress made in 10-day GPH-MILF talks but no annex signed

From MindaNews (Sep 20): Progress made in 10-day GPH-MILF talks but no annex signed

The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended their ten-day talks Friday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur with none of the two remaining annexes signed.

The two panels, however, signed a Joint Statement “welcoming the gradual return to normalcy in the lives of the people of Zamboanga City” and acknowledging the “challenge.. to ensure that the peace process… should make a lasting contribution to the task of building peace and understanding among all peoples in Mindanao.”

The eight-paragraph statement said there was progress in the negotiations “despite the gravity and difficulty of the issues.”

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, however, hinted on September 19 that the two annexes on Power-Sharing and Normalization, would not be finished in this 40th round of exploratory talks since the 2003 war but the 20th under the three-year Aquino administration .

“In all honesty, the negotiations in the past few days have been difficult. We constantly tether between big ideals and realistic possibilities; between ‘ours’ in the exclusive sense to ‘ours,’ inclusive.

But in doing so, we have been able to achieve better understanding across the table and to work out compromises,” she said in a 22-paragraph statement, most of which were on government’s efforts to make the GPH-MILF peace process inclusive of all groups, including Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction.

She explained that it is taking them a long time to thresh out the details in the last two annexes but it is “necessary to ensure that the end results will bring about positive change and less conflicts. Not the other way around.”

“Please keep the faith with us in this process,” Ferrer said.

The panels began their 10-day talks in Kuala Lumpur on September 10, a day after some 200 MNLF forces under founding chair Nur Misuari laid siege on at least four of 98 villages in Zamboanga City, holding hostage at least 170 residents.

Day One of the talks ended with a Joint Statement signed by both condemning “in the strongest terms the violence concurrently being inflicted in Zamboanga City.”

“The perpetrators must be stopped and held accountable for their acts,” the statement read, adding that those behind the continued acts of violence in Mindanao “do not want the current peace process between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to succeed. Their actions intend to derail the process using violence and disinformation to spread fear and chaos in Mindanao.”

Ten days
“Mahirap talaga,” (It’s really difficult), MILF peace panel chair Mohagher said of the just concluded negotiations.

Both panels had agreed in August to meet for ten days this month to finish the annexes. Two other annexes – Transitional Arrangements and Modalities; and Wealth-Sharing – were signed in February and July, respectively.

Iqbl told MindaNews they spent “seven or eight days” on the Annex on Power-sharing and that the number of consensus points has increased. He cited an estimate but asked that it be off the record.

The parties also reached several consensus points on the Annex on Normalization, he said.

Canada heads Independent Commission on Policing
The panels on February 27 this year signed the Terms of Reference for the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP).

The ICP was convened by the Parties on September 10, Day One of the talks.  As agreed, the ICP shall start work by mid-October.

The ICP is provided in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that the parties signed in Malacanang on October 15, 2012. The FAB provides that the “status quo is unacceptable” and that the parties would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity named the Bangsamoro.

Under the FAB’s Chapter VIII on Normalization, the parties agreed that the Independent Commission be organized “to recommend appropriate policing within the area.”

The FAB provides that the Commission “shall be composed of representatives from the parties and may invite local and international experts on law enforcement to assist the commission in its work.”

Randal J. Beck, Assistant Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), has been appointed Chair of the ICP.

“We are honored to see a Canadian chosen to play such an integral role in such an important process,” Canada’s ambassador to the Philippines Christopher Thornley said in a press statement.

“As a senior member of the RCMP, he comes with vast amounts of experience and knowledge, an informed perspective and the kind of leadership skills that will serve the ICP well as they move forward in developing their recommendations,” he added.

“It is with a sense of pride and purpose that I accept the role as Chair of the ICP, and am ready for the challenge,” the statement quoted Beck as saying.

“I look forward to working with the respective panel chairs and ICP members to develop the recommendations that could best serve all vested interests,” he said.

Philippine bus bombing kills 3 (w/ photos)

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Sep 20): Philippine bus bombing kills 3

A powerful bomb explosion late Friday ripped through a passenger bus and killing 3 people in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines where two weeks of fighting between security and rebel forces left over 100 soldiers and rebels dead.

Army officials said an improvised explosive was left under a passenger seat and exploded inside a bus depot in the coastal town of Labuan. The bus, owned by Biel Transit, just returned from a daylong trip shuttling village passengers to downtown Zamboanga and back.

The blast was powerful that it totally destroyed the roof of the bus and damaged several others parked nearby.

Bomb experts sifted through debris looking for shrapnel and pieces of evidence to determine what type of explosive device was used and what they recovered were the decapitated bodies of three people – two teenage bus washers, Hudson Guinilac and Allison Saavedra; and the bus conductor Meliton Orquijo.

The driver, Bello Domingo de Jesus, who was walking near the bus, was wounded from the explosion.

“It is very tragic. Those who were killed in the bus were really hard working people, especially the bus washers. We mourn their deaths,” one man, who is a neighbor of two of the victims, said.

No individual or claimed responsibility for the attack, but Col. Androlino Colina, commander of an army anti-terror task force, warned citizens to stay vigilant and report to authorities any suspicious or abandoned baggage they see.

“We appeal to everyone to report to us any suspicious or abandoned baggage and please do not touch them,” he said.

The blast occurred near a penal farm where authorities would put dozens of captured Moro National Liberation Front rebels after processing them at a police base.

Hundreds of rebels stormed several villages on September 9 and took over 180 civilians and used them as shield against security forces, but officials said at least 175 people were freed, escaped or rescued since the violence erupted. And that about two dozen more are believed being held captive by rebels, who split into several groups.

Security officials said 13 soldiers and three policemen, including 81 rebels were killed in the fighting. The clashes forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes and resulted to a humanitarian crisis in Zamboanga and severely affected the economy of the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Sporadic clashes still continue in the villages of Santa Barbara and Santa Catalina where they rebels are scattered with their hostages.

A powerful bomb explosion September 20, 2013 ripped through a passenger bus and killing 3 people in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines where two weeks of fighting between security and rebel forces left over 100 soldiers and rebels dead. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

(Joint Statement) Philippines, MILF End 40th Exploratory Talks

Posted to the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Sep 20): (Joint Statement) Philippines, MILF End 40th Exploratory Talks

THE 40th round of Exploratory Talks between the negotiating panels of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) held in Kuala Lumpur on September 10-20, 2013 ended today with the Parties welcoming the gradual return to normalcy in the lives of the people of Zamboanga City.

The Parties acknowledge the challenge before them to ensure that the peace process between the Government and the MILF should make a lasting contribution to the task of building peace and understanding among all peoples in Mindanao.

Despite the gravity and difficulty of the issues, there was progress in the discussions. The Parties remain committed to find creative solutions to finish the remaining annexes and resolve to forge a comprehensive peace pact that will be inclusive of the interests and welfare of all Bangsamoro.

The Independent Commission on Policing (ICP) was convened by the Parties for the first time. As agreed, the ICP shall commence its work by mid-October. The Parties also welcomed the new member of the International Contact Group, the Community of Sant’Egidio and the attendance of representatives from two Mindanao civil society organizations as observers to the meeting.

The Parties thanked the new UK Ambassador-designate to the Philippines, His Excellency Asif Ahmad, for his presence and inspirational message on the second day of the talks.

The Parties expressed their appreciation to His Excellency President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for his commitment to a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, to His Excellency Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak for his continued support in the facilitation of the GPH-MILF Peace Talks, and to the members of the MILF Central Committee headed by Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim for their unwavering commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Bangsamoro Question.

The Parties also extend their gratitude to the members of the International Contact Group (ICG), namely Japan, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Republic of Turkey, the United Kingdom, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah, and Community of Sant’Egidio.

Zambo City standoff death toll now at 117

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20): Zambo City standoff death toll now at 117

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday disclosed that the combined death toll, both friendly and hostile forces, in the standoff in Zamboanga City has now reached 117.

This is as the fighting between government troopers and Moro National Liberation Forces (MNLF) fighters raged on for the 12th day.

In its 3:00 p.m update, AFP deputy public affairs chief Major Angelo Guzman said the casualty list can be broken down into the following:

-AFP: 10 killed, 117 wounded in action

-PNP: 3 killed, 13 wounded

-Civilians:8 killed, 48 wounded

-MNLF: 96 killed, 72 captured and 45 surrendered.

Guzman said number of hostages rescued remained at 172 with 11 more still at the hands of the MNLF fighters.

The rebels earlier took captive 183 civilians.

Roxas: Gov't to look into huge ammo supply of MNLF forces

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20): Roxas: Gov't to look into huge ammo supply of MNLF forces

The government will look into how the Moro National Liberation Front faction of Nur Misuari was able to obtain huge supply of ammunition that enabled the armed men to sustain the prolonged sporadic clashes with government forces in Zamboanga City.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas II on Friday said that the matter was among issues ordered studied by President Benigno Aquino III, still in Zamboanga City to personally get updates on the prevailing situation there.

”Isa ito sa mga pinapaaral ng Pangulo…maaring nag-reposition at may iba’t ibang teoriya pero matapos itong putukan na ito ay magkakaroon ng mas malalim at mas malawak na aral ditto sa kung bakit nga parang hindi nauubusan ng bala,” said Roxas.

Around 300 fully-armed MNLF followers of Misuari infiltrated several barangays the Zamboanga City since Sept. 9 and had engaged government security forces in sporadic clashes almost daily.

On Friday, intense clashes erupted anew, resulting in the killing of four MNLF fighters.

So far, 10 soldiers, three policemen and eight civilians had been killed since Day One. A total of 117 soldiers, 13 cops and 48 civilians were also wounded.

On the other hand, 96 MNLF fighters had been killed while 117 others were either arrested or surrendered.

Neutralized MNLF fighters to be transferred to Bucor facility in Zamboanga City

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20): Neutralized MNLF fighters to be transferred to Bucor facility in Zamboanga City

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas II on Friday announced the 94 members of the Moro National Liberation Front faction of Nur Misuari will be transferred to a detention facility of the Bureau of Corrections in Zamboanga City.

Roxas, in a radio interview, said that the 94 either arrested or surrendered MNLF members will be transferred soon to the Ran Ramon Penal Farm of the Bucor.

The DILF chief noted that the neutralized MNLF followers of Misuari are now detained in a jail facility allotted for those arrested for ordinary crimes committed in Zamboanga City.

”Inaayos na yung minimum risk na mga preso doon (San Ramon Penal Farm) ay ililipat muna sa ibang facility at itong 94 na mga ito that are awaiting processing ay ililipat doon sa Bureau of Corrections facility na ito. This is San Ramon Penal Farm na nandito din sa Zamboanga City,” said Roxas.

According to Roxas, the Philippine National Police will still be tasked to provide food to the 94 detainees.

”All of them will be moved. There will be a security operation or movement. Hindi naming sasabihin kung ano yung detalyeng ito pero ililipat sila doon in thenear future,” said Roxas.

Explosion hits bus terminal in Zamboanga, 3 dead

From Rappler (Sep 20): Explosion hits bus terminal in Zamboanga, 3 dead

An explosion hit a bus terminal here close to evening Friday, September 20, leaving three people dead and one injured.

According to initial police reports, the explosion occured at 5:55 pm at the terminal of Biel Transport Company in Barangay Labuan, a coastal village 36 kilometers west of the city's commercial center.

"An alleged improvised explosive device (IED) exploded at the bus of Biel Transit Bus No. 2871 bearing plate number JAW 651 while parked at the storage of the said transit at barangay Labuan, this city," reads a police situation report.

Killed were:
  • Meliton Orquiho, conductor
  • Aleson Saavedra, washer
  • Hudson Guinilac, washer
Bus driver Doming de Jesus, 63, was wounded.

The responding policemen from the Labuan station have cordoned off the area.

As of posting, authorities were also checking out another suspected explosive device reportedly found at a Petron gas station on Gov. Lim Avenue.

Zamboanga City has been in a conflict for 12th days, after rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front initially seized 4 barangays and have since been fighting it out with government forces.

Labuan is outside the battle zone.

GPH-MILF talks end without deal on power sharing, arms

From Rappler (Sep 20): GPH-MILF talks end without deal on power sharing, arms

'FULL AUTONOMY.' The Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiating panel during a short break in the talks. Photo by OPAPP
'FULL AUTONOMY.' The Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiating panel during a short break in the talks. Photo by OPAPP 

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – After holding the longest round of talks between the Aquino government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the parties ended the 40th phase of talks here on Friday, September 20, without signing a deal on power-sharing and normalization.

Both sides had high hopes all pending issues would be resolved this round. But proposed changes to the annex – both from the government and the MILF – extended discussions, described to be "generally constructive" during this round.
The negotiations are now down to the final details of power-sharing, considered the "heart" of the negotiations, and normalization, the "most sensitive and emotional" aspect of it and which includes decommissioning of arms.
"One of the most important things that happened is that we were able to understand each other's perspective and hopefully in the next round of talks it will be easier for both parties to settle the annexes," MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said.
As this round of negotiations wrapped up, the violence in Zamboanga City – launched by a faction of MILF's rival group Moro National Liberation Front on the day the talks were scheduled to resume – had waned.
Did the Zamboanga siege have a direct impact to the negotiating table? Both sides have repeatedly said the incident should not derail the talks.
"I don't think that affects the negotiations between the MILF and the government," Iqbal said. "On the contrary, I would say that it even give more strength to the parties, that there is a problem going on. It gives the parties more reason to really push the process forward."
The panels could not finish due to the sheer amount of issues that still needed to be resolved and consulted with their respective principals, Iqbal said.
 RACE AGAINST TIME. The government peace panel. Photo by Rappler

Race against time
It's been almost a year since the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which set hopes up for lasting peace in Mindanao, was signed.
The government and the MILF envision the transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the Bangsamoro political entity to be completed by 2016, before the end of the Aquino administration.
The longer they fail to resolve the issues, the more constricted the Bangsamoro peace process' 2016 timeline becomes.
With less than 3 years left in the roadmap, both sides are aware they are on a race against time.
"That's what we both have to weigh," government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer earlier said. "Do we want a perfect agreement that will not get you to 2016? Or you have to take leaps of faith and keep the trust and really, really go full blast in implementation? These are the questions that are I'm sure at the back of their minds and also in our minds."
It's better to be meticulous about the contents of the annex that will set the political structure for the future Bangsamoro government than leave it to the Basic Law, said Undersecretary for Political Affairs Chito Gascon, an alternate panel member.
"It's better to have no gray areas," Gascon said. "The work of the Transition Commission will also be expedited."
Although all set to start work, the Transition Commission, the body tasked to craft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, can only go full blast once the final peace agreement is completed.
After the basic law is crafted, it will then be deliberated in Congress. Aquino wants the law to be passed before the end of 2014.
Once the law hurdles Congress, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will take over until the 2016 elections. The MILF and the government will only sign the final exit agreement once the new Bangsamoro government has been installed.
'Balancing act'
Shortly after Aquino's historic meeting with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan in 2011, the MILF dropped their bid for independence, pushing instead for "full autonomy."
The MILF wants to include "all their aspirations" in the power-sharing annex, Ferrer said.
In this round for instance, Gascon said the MILF proposed to include more details about the "ministerial form of government," which was the structure agreed upon in the Framework Agreement.
Meanwhile, the government also wants to ensure that the power-sharing deal for the Bangsamoro would stand the scrutiny of legal experts.
This "balancing act" is taking time.
"All aspirations have a maximum, we're not saying a minimum but some kind of a middle ground within the flexibilities of politics and our Constitution," Ferrer earlier said.
She added: "They [MILF members] have a lot of ideas but they're not very sure maybe how to operationalize. But the process is constructive because we try to work together how these approaches can be utilized. It's taking a lot of time."
Iqbal, meanwhile, said there might be a need to create a better system for resolving issues on the table.
Territorial waters
The most contentious item in the power-sharing annex is the issue on "territorial waters" around the proposed Bangsamoro area as the MILF puts it or "water domain" as the government likes to call it.
Iqbal said this is the most difficult part of power-sharing because it involves many aspects.
"Many factors are factored in – power, wealth-sharing, communication, transportation," Iqbal said. "On the part of the government, the issue of security also comes into play."
Both parties aimed to complete both annexes on power-sharing and normalization this round but decided to just focus on power-sharing during the latter part of the talks. These are the last two annexes required before the final peace pact can be signed.
"The idea was really to come to terms, to have a common understanding and sometimes it really takes time to understand different perspectives but I think for most parts we were able to achieve that kind of clarity that we need to become very good partners not just to finalize annexes but for the implementation phase," Ferrer said.
Meanwhile, the normalization process being negotiated for the Bangsamoro will also include the disbandment of other criminal and private armed groups.
The MILF wants the decommissioning of their forces to happen once all other armed groups have been disbanded. The government, meanwhile, wants a "gradual and phased" approach.
The ball will be in the MILF's court once the discussion shifts to the normalization annex, according to Ferrer.
"In the normalization annex, this is where crunch time really comes for the MILF because this is the part where we will be working on the decommissioning of combatants and weapons, and as you can imagine, that is something that is not easy to give up for a group that has held on to its arms in order to pursue its cause," she said in a July press conference in MalacaƱang. "It is something that they cannot simply do when, in fact, there are so many other armed groups in the area.
In July, the parties signed a historic wealth-sharing agreement that gave automatic appropriations to the Bangsamoro, as well as a 75% share on taxes and revenues from metallic minerals.

Pentagon Twitter account pulled for joking about Davao blasts

From InterAksyon (Sep 20): Pentagon Twitter account pulled for joking about Davao blasts

The tweet that led to the suspension of a Pentagon Twitter account (photo from The Duffel Blog, "The American Military's Most-Trusted News Source.")

A Twitter account maintained by the US Department of Defense has been suspended for an "inappropriate" post about the explosions that hit cinemas in SM City and Gaisano Mall in Davao City Monday.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little confirmed in a tweet on his official account @PentagonPresSec Thursday: "I just directed the suspension of the @JIEDDO twitter account following inappropriate and offensive tweets. Plainly unacceptable."

Screencaps of the JIEDDO tweet showed that the person manning the account of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization said: "Were they re-showing Gigli? Bomb explosions occur at 2 movie theaters in the Philippines. The IED is a global threat."

Gigli is a 2003 romantic comedy starring Ben Affleck and then girlfriend Jennifer Lopez that bombed and is often cited as among the worst films of all time.

The JIEDDO tweet linked to the Philippine Information Agency article, "IED materials found in twin cinema blasts."

Though not many were able to reply to the tweet, those who did expressed disgust at the "bad taste" with which the "joke" was made.

JIEDDO was established to respond to "escalating" use of IEDs in Iraq, according to its website.

Authorities say the Davao blasts were caused by explosives packed in beverage cans and were not intended to harm since they did not contain shrapnel.

Five moviegoers at the Gaisano theater, which also suffered some damage, complained their hearing had been affected by the blast.

AFP bid to re-arrest security guard is attempt to save face, 'racket' - Karapatan

From InterAksyon (Sep 20): AFP bid to re-arrest security guard is attempt to save face, 'racket' - Karapatan

A human rights organization on Friday slammed the Armed Forces of the Philippines for seeking the re-arrest of a security guard the military claimed was a ranking communist rebel but who the Court of Appeals ordered released after ruling him a victim of “mistaken identity.”

Rolly Panesa was arrested in Cubao, Quezon City October 5 last year and was identified by the military as “Benjamin Mendoza,” the 61-year old alleged head of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Southern Tagalog.

He was also severely tortured following his arrest, according to Karapatan, which released photos of Panesa showing his badly battered face and other injuries.

On August 17, the CA, ruling on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Panesa’s partner, said there was no way the security guard, who is in his 40s, could be Mendoza and ordered him released.

The appellate court also said the evidence presented by the military actually helped demolish its claims against Panesa and also slammed the police of presenting fake witnesses.

Even after the decision, the military tried to stall Panesa's release and continued to insist he was "Mendoza."

But before the court ruling, AFP chief of staff General Emanuel Bautista had handed out a P5.6-million reward for the arrest of “Mendoza.”

The military has refused to explain what happens to the bounty with the CA ruling and Karapatan has mocked the reward system as an "organized racket."

In a statement Friday, Karapatan said the AFP had filed a motion for reconsideration before the CA seeking its permission to arrest Panesa once again.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, in a statement, called the military’s move a “desperate face-saving attempt to justify the illegal arrest, torture and detention of Panesa, and to keep the P5.6 million-loot they obtained.”

She urged the CA to uphold its decision and called on the AFP to “stop these desperate machinations against Panesa” and, instead, “answer the criminal charges of torture and illegal detention filed by Panesa at the Department of Justice.”

Interviewed by after regaining his freedom, Panesa said there are other people who, like him, have ended up in jail because they have been wrongully tagged as rebels by authorities.

Among these, he said, is a woman named "Evelyn" who is supposed to be the wife of "Mendoza," the rebel leader Panesa was supposed to be.

2 NPA rebels slain in clash with government troops in Surigao

From InterAksyon (Sep 20): 2 NPA rebels slain in clash with government troops in Surigao

A fierce encounter Friday morning between Army soldiers and the New People’s Army (NPA) left two rebels dead in Barangay Ima, Sison, Surigao del Norte. Soldiers also recovered high-powered firearms and explosives.

Capt. Albert Caber, head of the Public Affairs Office (PAO) of the Eastern Midnanao Command (Eastmincom), said there was no casualty on the government side in the 45-minute battle.

“The clash also resulted in the recovery of four assault rifles, improvised explosive device, radios, medical kit, backpacks and subversive documents while no casualty on the government side,” Caber said.

Meanwhile, the chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz III, lauded residents who alerted authorities on the presence of the bandits; as well as the troops who instantly responded.

Caber said the dead rebels' bodies were turned over to local authorities so their families can claim them.

3 die in bus terminal explosion in Zamboanga

From InterAksyon (Sep 20): 3 die in bus terminal explosion in Zamboanga

The Zamboanga City Mayor's Office confirmed Friday night that three people died and one person was injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) was set off in a bus parked inside a terminal in the city.

In a separate development, bomb squad experts took custody earlier of five plastic 1.5-liter bottles, tied together, and found in a clump of trees near City Hall. The bottles containing dark liquid and which appeared to have wicks were discovered by a media crew parked near the area. The bottles appeared to be IEDs, said the bomb experts.

In Philippines, Facebook turns into propaganda arena

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Sep 20): In Philippines, Facebook turns into propaganda arena

A village burns in Zamboanga City where troops and rebels fight since September 9, 2013 following simultaneous attacks by Moro National Liberation Front members. (Mindanao Examiner)

As sporadic fighting continues in Zamboanga, a new war is also heating up in social media – the battle for propaganda – where anti-government forces and pro-rebels have stepped up their attacks further inflaming the already tense situation in the southern Filipino port city.

In Facebook, Ustadz Haber Malik, the leader of Moro National Liberation Front forces who stormed Zamboanga on September 9, is now being immortalized by some groups as a hero for fighting their cause and self-determination in Mindanao – now they called Bangsamoro Republik.

Others have blamed the Aquino government for all the violence that is happening not only in Zamboanga, but to the rest of the southern region where security are fighting several rebel and terrorist groups.

While some insisted that hundreds of government soldiers were killed and wounded in the fighting and that many of rebels slain in the clashes were actually civilians shot by security forces during military assaults.

The media were also being blamed for not reporting the mounting death toll on the military side, accusing radio and television reporters for covering up the casualties and engaging in the government propaganda war.

One photo showing a destroyed military tank in Syria was also posted on Facebook with a caption saying it was hit by a rocket fired by MNLF rebels.

There were also those who jubilantly praised rebel forces for killing the soldiers they branded as infidels as if the fighting had anything to do with religion.

And this was aggravated by a headline story of a tabloid “Kristiyano Vs Muslim sa Zambo,” which generated so much criticisms that editors had to change its banner story and printed a second edition. Editors also apologized for their choice of the use of words in their banner story, but the next day, its screaming headline was “100 Moro Patay, Huli.” It was also largely criticized by many readers and netizens as a racial slur. Both digital images of the papers went viral on Facebook.

One regional newspaper had “MNLF DEMANDS REVIEW OF 1996 PEACE DEAL” for its banner story, referring to the accord the Philippines had signed with the rebel group.

But for pro-government forces, Facebook is a battle ground to praise the brave soldiers and policemen and all those who are running the operations to stop the rebels from further inflicting serious damages not only to physical structures in Zamboanga, but the very heart of everybody – Christians and Muslims and indigenous people – who are most affected by the violence.

Pictures of civilians handing out food and bottled water to soldiers and policemen battling the rebel forces and keeping them at bay also spread and went viral on Facebook.

President Benigno Aquino, who flew to Zamboanga with his Cabinet members and senior military and defense commanders to oversee the government efforts to feed over 100,000 refugees and end the crisis peacefully, have been largely praised on the social media.

Many civilians offered prayers on their Facebook timeline – posting verses from the Bible and the Quran - for troops and rebels fighting in the frontlines.

And religious groups – Christian, Muslim and Evangelist – also offered prayers for the clashes to come to an end; others pray for Divine intervention believing only God can stop the bloodshed in Zamboanga where over 100 people had already been killed.