Saturday, September 21, 2013

MILF: Ballots instead of bullets”- Sammy Al-Mansoor

From the MILF Website (Sep 22): Ballots instead of bullets”- Sammy Al-Mansoor

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in its sincere desire to participate in a democratic process through the ballots will join the political exercise in 2016 if the peace process will result to the signing of the comprehensive compact.
In a Seminar on Political Party Building last September 16-19, 2013 sponsored by the Germany-based Konrad Adenaur Foundation (KAF) in partnership with the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (IBS) and the MILF, Al Mansoor, BIAF Chief of Staff and Chairman of the MILF’s Interim Committee for the Formation of the Bangsamoro Political Party, hailed the seminar as “a first of its kind since the birth of the MILF. “This only goes to show that we are now gearing towards ballots instead of bullets,” Al-Mansoor added.

The activity was held at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) training hall, Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and attended by 42 Front’s officers from various areas in the proposed Bangsamoro Region.

In published report at the website of the IAG dated September 19, it said that political officers sat down in a four-day seminar geared towards boosting the rebel group’s bid of forming its own political party.

The event brought experts and specialists that included Dr. Peter Koepingger, KAF Resident Representative in the Philippines who delivered inputs on national and local politics, political party building and management, and government systems with focus on parliamentary system, the targeted form of government for the envisioned Bangsamoro region in the Philippines, said the report.

As agreed in the Framework Agreement (FAB), the envisioned Bangsamoro Region shall have a ministerial form of government; hence an electoral system suitable for the new government shall also be established. The system is seen to encourage the formation of “genuinely principled political parties,” a new development the MILF is keeping abreast of.
Dr. Koeppinger explored together with the participants the possible options on electoral systems applicable in the Bangsamoro region.

Other speakers as mentioned in the IAG report were governance expert Prof. Edmund Tayao of the Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF), a faculty of University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department whose talk examined the Philippine political party system, Dr. Parido Pigkaulan of IBS who provided context on past attempts at political party building in the Muslim region, KAS’s Aaron de Leon who talked on political communications and party financing, and KAS’s Cristita Marie Giangan whose talk centered on administrative and financial management of a political party and initiating local party activities and reaching out to sectors and civil society.

The report also quoted Mohammad Ameen, head of Secretariat of the Central Committee of the MILF, who expressed gratitude to the sponsors of the seminar. He urged the participants to put into practice “what you have learned” to become “effective workers of the future Bangsamoro political party.” He said a stable political party must be in place to complement the ministerial Bangsamoro government that “will provide the needs of our people.”

For the MILF, the establishment of a political party will be a “confirmation of status from revolutionary struggle to parliamentary struggle” by 2016, the target period for the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity.

Institute for Autonomy & Governance (IAG) Director Benedicto Bacani facilitated and moderated the seminar.“ballots-instead-of-bullets”-sammy-al-mansoor

MILF: Youth attends GPH-MILF 40th Exploratory Talks

From the MILF Website (Sep 22): Youth attends GPH-MILF 40th Exploratory Talks

(A) representative of the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD), a Moro Civil Society Organization (CSO) based in Cotabato City but operating nationwide, has attended the 40th Exploratory Talk of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia represented by Mahdie Amella, an organization’s senior officer.
Rahib Kudto, UNYPAD National President, disclosed that it was Conciliation Resources (CR), member of the International Contact Group (ICG), who sponsored financial requirement of the trip as part or within the frame of its “Building peace in Mindanao through public participation in governance”project in which UNYPAD is one of the partners.

“This presence of the CSO leaders in the two sets of Exploratory Talks (39th and 40th) as observers is a manifestation of transparency and inclusivity of both parties in the negotiation,” he stressed.

Kudto furthered saying that the CSO’s’ direct participation particularly the youth and women in the actual conduct of negotiation is not or rarely found in other peace processes taking place in other countries facing the challenges of handling negotiations with the revolutionary organizations legitimately fighting for freedom and right to self-determination.

“One thing I learned in my direct participation as observer in the 40th Exploratory Talk of the GPH and MILF is that their work is so stressful and I couldn’t help but imagine how they got tired for the 16 years of negotiations,” Mahdie Amella said.

“This tells us that the government and the MILF should be sincere enough in the negotiation and immediately resolve all remaining issues on the table and come up with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to finally end this time and energy consuming negotiations, and put everything agreed upon in the negotiation into implementation so that their painstaking will be compensated, and the war in Mindanao will finally be stalled,” he added.

“I hope and pray that these hard efforts of both the government and MILF will not be wasted and will never be derailed and hampered by the ominous work of the peace saboteurs,” he furthered.

Analiza Ugay of Balay Rehabilitation Center Inc., who represented women, said that the CSOs will help disseminate information to the communities about the development of the GPH-MILF peace process.

Atty. Marry Ann Arnado, who attended the 39th Exploratory Talk, believed that the tasks of the peace panels and their technical working groups are very difficult and can be very frustrating at times, but she is also, at the same time, very impressed with the determination and the commitment of the parties to bring this long overdue process to the ultimate goal to sign a comprehensive peace agreement.

MILF may participate in 2016 polls with peace pact seen signed soon

From GMA News (Sep 21): MILF may participate in 2016 polls with peace pact seen signed soon

With a new Bangsamoro political entity expected soon, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front indicated Sunday it may finally participate in the 2016 polls – if its peace efforts with the government will lead to the signing of a peace pact.

Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) chief of staff Sammy Al-Mansoor disclosed this at a seminar on political party building, the MILF said in an article on its website Sunday.

“This only goes to show that we are now gearing towards ballots instead of bullets,” Al-Mansoor was quoted in the article as saying.

Aside from being BIAF chief of staff, Al-Mansoor is also chairman of the MILF’s Interim Committee for the Formation of the Bangsamoro Political Party.

On the other hand, the MILF said the establishment of a political party will be a “confirmation of status from revolutionary struggle to parliamentary struggle” by 2016, the target period for the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity.

In the past, the MILF had adopted a hands-off stance on elections, which it had branded as "very divisive."

The MILF said the seminar was held September 16 to 19 at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) training hall in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

It said 42 officers from various areas in the proposed Bangsamoro region attended the seminar, which may help the MILF form its own political party.

The peace talks between the government and the MILF include provisions for a Bangsamoro political entity, which the MILF said shall have a ministerial form of government.

Because of this, the MILF said an electoral system suitable for the new government shall also be established.

MILF central committee secretariat head Mohammad Ameen thanked the sponsors and organizers of the seminar.

Ameen also urged the participants to put into practice “what you have learned” to become “effective workers of the future Bangsamoro political party.”

He said a stable political party must be in place to complement the ministerial Bangsamoro government that “will provide the needs of our people.”

Ex-CPLA rebels take to organic farming

From the Manila Times (Sep 21): Ex-CPLA rebels take to organic farming

At least 30 former rebels and members of the Cordillera Forum for Peace and Development (formerly the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army) went through hands-on training in organic farming as part of the livelihood program from the government.

Members of the Benguet Saguday Livelihood Association (BSLAI), the CFPD people’s organization in the province of Benguet, were given an on-site lecture and hands-on training for the organic feeds processing and organic free-range chicken raising by farmer scientist Eric Tinoyan at his demo farm in Klondykes, Camp 1 in Tuba, Benguet.

According to Charlotte Matias, Project Development Officer of the Department of Social Welfare and Development – Cordillera (DSWD-CAR), the training is part of the livelihood package of the Community-Driven Enterprise Development (CDED), a process adopted by the Sustainable Livelihood Program of the DSWD.

Matias said that the CDED hopes to contribute to poverty reduction by promoting enterprise activities at the community level. It hopes to generate opportunities for self-employment through business skills training and improved participation in value chains.

The livelihood program is part of the economic reintegration- a step towards the disposition of arms and forces and the transformation of CPLA into a socio-economic unarmed force. It is a commitment of the government for the socio-economic integration of CFPD members under the 2011 Memorandum of Agreement between the government and the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA) – Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA).

Last month, Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan signed the memorandum of agreement with BSLAI for the provision of livelihood funds from the provincial government.

Livelihood funds worth P2.7M allotted for the CFPD PO in Benguet is for the BSLAI members to practice and advocate organic farming for income generation, conservation of natural resources, food self-sufficiency and social development.

Matias explained that originally, the group was composed of 62 members after the profiling conducted but several members opted to join the Bantay Gubat or forest guards of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and some were integrated in the Armed Forces of the Philippines as members of the Philippine Army.

CFPD Political Officer Miguel Tuyawan the training program, which is part of the livelihood package for the former rebels, only shows the commitment of the government in delivering the packages as agreed upon in the MOA between them and the Philippine Government.

Hostaged priest: Still picking up the pieces

From Rappler (Sep 21): Hostaged priest: Still picking up the pieces

BRUISES: Catholic priest Fr Michael Ufana shows bruised he got from wires that tied him with fellow hostages. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/

Eight days after his “release” on September 13, hostage priest Fr Michael Ufana is ready to face the public. But he admitted he is not okay and that it would probably take months before he could recover.

“I’m trying to pick up the pieces…I cannot say I’m good. I cannot say I’m fine. I’m still trying to cope,” he told reporters in a press conference held after a very emotional Thanksgiving Mass.

The mass at the St Joseph Parish Saturday afternoon, September 21, was attended by former hostages and residents affected by the crisis.

“When I was in (the battle zone), I never thought that we will be freed,” he told his parishioners, pausing several times during his homily as his eyes welled up.

He told reporters about his 5-day ordeal with the hostages, his friendship with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Habier Malik, and the promise he was unable to keep.

Guns to his face

He also told reporters how paranoid he had become. The sound of a soft drink can being opened terrified him. A tap on any wooden structure had the same effect.

The scariest moment, he said, was when the rebels pointed their guns at him. Ufana said he did not know how the rebels knew he was a priest.

He was at his father’s house in Sta Catalina when the followers of MNLF founder Nur Misuari attacked Zamboanga City. He said the rebels knocked on their gate and took them hostage.

“They were really angry at me. I don’t know how come they [knew] that I am a priest. That is a question there. How come? They are from other places,” Ufana said.

Ufana said the rebels used the hostages as human shields. He was put in the frontlines and he showed the bruises he got from the ropes the rebels used to tie him with the other hostages.

Malik’s request for ambulance

Ufana said he was not released. He was allowed to leave the battle zone to bring the demands of Malik to the government — a ceasefire, an ambulance to bring wounded rebels and hostages to the hospital, and a “safe passage” meaning the rebels wanted to be able to go home in exchange for their release of the hostages.

Ufana said Malik allowed him to bring those demands to the government because he promised to go back. Malik, after all, was also holding his family.

Ufana left the battle zone on Friday, September 13. There was a temporary ceasefire but it was only during Ufana’s “release.” The ambulance did not come. The “safe passage” request was ignored.

READ: Rappler statement on the surrender in Zamboanga

READ: Zambo councilor-reporter involved in surrender speaks

Demand for another Cabatangan

On the same day that Ufana was released, the military had adjusted operations from “containment” to “calibrated response.” The military started its offensive following the many fires that broke out that day.

Ufana said Malik wanted a repeat of the infamous 2001 Cabatangan siege, when the rebels marched from Cabatangan to military vessels prepared to let them escape the city and sail to their homes in nearby Sulu or Basilan.

It was done in exchange for the safety of hostages. But it was a move that split the city.
He (Malik) was asking for a written [agreement] so when they go they would not be touched. Everybody would be left behind, all hostages. With you (media) there to take their pictures, they know also they will not be touched,” said Ufana.

Ufana said he agreed to relay Malik’s message because he was only thinking about the safety of the hostages and of his family.

“My priority was the hostages and my family. I had no other interest,” Ufana said.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle "Beng" Climaco has been firm, however, in saying that she doesn't want another Cabatangan. Climaco said she wants them jailed.

READ: Rebellion charges vs MNLF Misuari faction

But what Ufana regrets most, it seemed, was that he was unable to make good his word, particularly his promise to bring an ambulance to transport wounded hostages and rebels.

“When I was already at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, I was asking for the ambulance to be brought to Ustadz Malik…. When you know that no one can help you anymore, the only thing you are going to do is to leave everything in the hands of God,” he told reporters.

“I told the congressman and the mayor, I need to go home. I need to rest. I will leave it up to God,” he added.

The friendship of Ufana and Malik

Ufana and Malik had become friends in the 5 days that the priest was captured. They talked a lot. Malik talked a lot and Ufana listened. They ate together.

“They told me, Father, they have forgotten us. The government has turned their back on us. They have forgotten the Tripoli agreement,” Ufana narrated.

The government and the MNLF forged a peace pact in 1996. Misuari now opposes a new peace deal the government is negotiating with rival group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Malik, in a phone interview with Rappler, said the peace deal with the MILF should not sidestep the government’s pact with the MNLF.

It was on Thursday night that Ufana offered to talk to Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II to relay Malik’s demands.

But Ufana said Roxas did not give him any attention. “I told Mar Roxas, He called me. I told him the demands but he did not give them attention. ‘That is not my power. We will talk it over.’ I just waited. I do not know how they decided,” said Ufana.

Ufana was still able to talk to Malik over the phone on Friday when the MNLF commander told him, “Father, nandito na naman sila," despite the request for a ceasefire.

That was on the 5th day of the crisis. It’s now approaching its 14th day.

Veteran MNLF commander escapes Philippine military dragnet

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Sep 21): Veteran MNLF commander escapes Philippine military dragnet

A screen grab of MNLF chieftain Nur Misuari, center, and his aides Ustadz Khabir Malik and Khiad Ajibun during a plenum in southern Philippines. And his ATM card recovered by troops. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

A top Moro National Liberation Front commander Khabir Malik, who led rebel forces in the assault in Zamboanga City, may have already escaped from a military dragnet and rejoined his forces in the southern Philippines, one intelligence source told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Malik, a trusted aide of MNLF chieftain Nur Misuari, led about 200 rebels who stormed Zamboanga on September 9 to exert their rights to self-determination. He reportedly escaped on a speedboat with his trusted men and left behind a rag-tag army of fighters to hold off advancing security forces.

It was not immediately known whether Malik - who is facing rebellion charges along with his men - has returned to Sulu province or sought safe refuge in nearby Basilan province. The report cannot be independently confirmed, but security officials, quoting former hostages freed by rebels said Malik is trapped in Zamboanga’s Santa Catalina village.

Malik, a veteran MNLF fighter, had previously taken hostage more than a dozen soldiers, including Marine General Benjamin Dolorfino, in 2007 in Sulu province. 

Rebel forces under Malik and Khaid Ajibun held Dolorfino and Defense Undersecretary Ramon Santos and 23 soldiers and staff of Presidential peace adviser, Secretary Jesus Dureza and demanded the release of Misuari, who was then being detained in Manila on rebellion charges.

Misuari signed a peace deal with the Philippine government in September 1996, ending more than 20 years of bloody fighting in Mindanao.

After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of Muslim autonomous region. But many former rebels were disgruntled with the accord, saying, the government failed to comply with some of its provisions and uplift their standards of living.

They accused the government of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the South, which remain in mired in poverty, heavily militarized and dependent financially on Manila.

In November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the autonomous region, Misuari accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and his followers launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.

Misuari escaped by boat to Malaysia, but was arrested there and deported to the Philippines. He was eventually freed in 2008 after Manila dropped all charges against him for lack of sufficient evidence.

He was last reported moving from one island to another in Sulu archipelago to escape detection by security forces and has been in hiding since last month after police threatened to slap sedition charges against him.

Sporadic clashes still continue in Zamboanga with authorities saying the rebels now were low on food and ammunition after troops captured several key positions in Santa Barbara village which had been previously held by the MNLF forces.

The military said at least 78 rebels had been killed and over 130 others who were either captured or surrendered since the fighting began. Fifteen soldiers and policemen were also slain in the clashes and at least 126 more wounded.

The fighting forced over 100,000 people to flee their homes for fear they would be caught in the crossfire or captured by rebels and use as shield against military forces. Nearly 180 peopled taken by rebels had been freed or rescued by troops, but about two dozen more are still in the hands of the gunmen.

Brace for protracted fighting, PNoy tells troops

From ABS-CBN (Sep 21): Brace for protracted fighting, PNoy tells troops

President Aquino yesterday called on security forces to prepare for a protracted battle against members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) still occupying some villages in the city on the 12th day of fighting.

Aquino told police and military unit commanders to be patient and execute a “well thought out” operation against the hold-out rebel force.

The military said it was still running after an estimated 50 heavily armed MNLF rebels holding 20 civilian hostages.

Reports said the rebels have split into smaller groups with their respective hostages.

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said Aquino had a meeting with security advisers Thursday night following a briefing with Cabinet officials.

Aquino, during the meeting with the security commanders, told them to be patient, Roxas said.

Aquino told security officials that neither boredom nor their frustration with the rebels should obscure their plans.

“The President has reminded them that all moves must be well thought out and because this is what is needed and not because of boredom or because of frustrations, just because the operations have been dragging for too long,” Roxas said.

He said the President wanted to ensure that in this kind of operation, mission patience should prevail to avoid casualties.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vice chief Lt. Gen. Alan Luga said the military operations in the city have been calibrated to avoid civilian casualties.

Luga told the Senate yesterday that the siege in Zamboanga would have ended earlier if not for the rebels taking civilians as human shields.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. also said the military operations would have cleared out the entire area occupied by the rebels in one or two days if only there had been no hostages in rebel hands.

“But the order was protect the civilians, so we couldn’t do the usual doctrinal things that a soldier does. What we have is a calibrated response,” Tutaan said.

Grim stats

The 12 days of clashes have already claimed 113 lives, 172 wounded with 111 rebels either captured or have surrendered, while 172 civilian hostages have been rescued.

Of the 113 fatalities in the 12-day fighting in the city, 10 were soldiers, three policemen, eight civilians and 92 rebels.

Maj. Angelo Guzman, assistant chief of AFP’s Public Affairs Office (PAO), said 111 soldiers and 13 policemen were wounded. A total of 48 civilians were also wounded in the crossfire.

Guzman said the ongoing clearing up operations has resulted in the capture of 72 rebels and the surrender of 39 others.

The casualties are expected to further increase for as long as the rebels led by MNLF commander Habier Malik are holding out in the area.

According to military estimates, some 200 to 300 rebels led by Malik were involved in the Zamboanga siege but as the fighting dragged on for almost two weeks now, dozens of them could have already escaped by posing as civilian evacuees.

Even the military could not know exactly where Malik is, but Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, AFP-PAO chief and spokesman for ground operations here, said the rebel commander is still within the area of operations and leading the pocket of resistance against government troops.

On the other hand, MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari has cut off communications with his followers.

Sources said Misuari deliberately severed communication lines to his men to prevent government forces from locating him.

The rebel force, however, suffered more casualties with four of their gunmen killed by government forces, while two soldiers were wounded in the latest gunfight in barangay Sta. Barbara yesterday.

The village is among the areas still held by the rebels loyal to Misuari.

Zagala said the troops encountered what remained of the group led by Malik.

The 12 days of fighting also displaced close to 119,000 civilians who were moved to several evacuation centers.

Officials have yet to determine the exact figure of damage to properties brought by the fires set off by the rebels that razed hundreds of houses.

The military, on the other hand, continued to declare the area of operations in Sta. Barbara as a “red zone,” meaning it is critical due to the presence of the remaining rebel force.

The Philippine Navy, for its part, deployed BRP Gregorio del Pilar as a blocking force in the coastal villages of the city to prevent the rebels from getting reinforcements or slipping through.

General: Soldiers wear old boots in combat for sentimental reasons

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 21): General: Soldiers wear old boots in combat for sentimental reasons
Soldiers wear worn-out boots in combat to be able to fight with ease, not because they don’t have anything better to wear.

Soldiers who are superstitious find old footwear lucky.

So said Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr., spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, after a picture of a Filipino soldier wearing worn-out boots in Zamboanga City was posted on the Internet.

“There was only one soldier who was photographed in that situation,” Tutaan told reporters on the sidelines of Friday’s Senate hearing on the proposed P121-billion budget for 2014 of the Department of National Defense.

The hearing, presided over by finance subcommittee chief Sen. Loren Legarda, ended with the defense budget getting endorsed for approval by the plenary.

Ease of movement

Tutaan said the soldiers had adequate support, but added that he himself would not wear new boots in combat if they tended to limit his movements.

“When I’m in a combat situation I wear something comfortable. I cannot wear brand-new boots or branded boots because when a fire fight [breaks out], I [won’t be able to] move,” Tutaan said.

Other soldiers, he said, continue to wear old boots, especially if the soldiers have gone through combat and survived.

“[T]here are those who are superstitious.  A few of them say that the combat boots they wear are the ones they had on when they were ambushed.  ‘These boots saved me and so these are my lucky boots,’” Tutaan said.

“Even athletes have [t]heir lucky shoes,” he added.

Tutaan said wearing worn-out boots in combat “doesn’t mean the [troops] don’t have support.”

“The situation has taken this long not because [the MNLF rebels] have a lot of ammunition but because the AFP’s response is calibrated. If the order was to wipe them out or pulverize them, then probably it would have taken just one or two days,” Tutaan said.

“But the order was to protect the civilians…. Didn’t we hear interviews wherein hostages said they were placed in front whenever a clash started?” Tutaan added.

'Why are they not running out of bullets?'

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 21): 'Why are they not running out of bullets?'
Wondering why Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels occupying coastal villages in Zamboanga City were still fighting after 12 days, President Benigno Aquino III on Friday ordered military officials to find out who was supplying ammunition to the insurgents.

The President spent a seventh day monitoring from an undisclosed place the final military offensive to crush 30 to 40 rebels holding 20 hostages on the Zamboanga coast.

“They don’t seem to run out of [ammunition]. He has asked [military] officials to look into that,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters in MalacaƱang.

“They came prepared,” military spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told reporters in Zamboanga City, answering the same question as the President’s.

There were reports that the rebels stockpiled weapons and ammunition in Zamboanga City long before the MNLF force led by Habier Malik stormed ashore early on Sept. 9.

But Zagala said it was “only a matter of time” before the rebels run out of ammunition.

Civilian supporters

A 14-year-old boy who was rescued from his MNLF captors in Santa Catalina village on Thursday told the Inquirer that the rebels got additional supplies of ammunition from their civilian supporters.

The boy (whose name the Inquirer is withholding because he is a minor) said there were times when MNLF commanders directed their men to take some of the hostages, preferably young ones, and leave the village to get firearms and ammunition.

“They got firearms and ammunition from the villages of Talon-Talon and Taluksangay,” the boy said in Bisaya.

The boy was rescued in the company of a suspected MNLF rebel who claimed he was a hostage and his name was Wilfredo Ramirez.

Col. Jemar Johnson Aseron, commander of the 32nd Infantry Battalion, said he checked the list of hostages and found that Ramirez was 67 years old, while the suspected rebel was in his 30s.

“We immediately separated the boy and he admitted that his companion was a rebel,” Aseron said.

Medicines, too

Freed hostage Maricel Teves, who was wounded in captivity, said the rebels also had medicines and they treated her.

“They have supplies (of medicines),” Teves said.

She said the rebels knew the area, moving around the villages of Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara, Kasanyangan and Rio Hondo.

“They said they planned this a long time ago and that their firearms were already in these areas,” Teves said.

She said she had heard Paul Aukasa, an MNLF member from Basilan province, say that the group planned the attack even before the monthlong feast of Ramadan (July 10 to Aug. 9).

Support in villages

Former hostage Junior Morte, 60, said the MNLF rebels conserved their ammunition.

“They don’t shoot because they have to. They shoot if the need arises and if they need to defend or protect their position,” Morte said.

“I’ve seen how they deploy snipers, and they wait while the other side (military) is delivering heavy fire on their position,” he said.

Morte said Malik had “maps and contacts in the villages.”

He said Malik had bragged to the hostages that his group had support in the villages of Rio Hondo, Mariki, Talon-Talon and Mampang and that he and his men had enough food and ammunition.

Morte, who escaped from the rebels on Sept. 13, said the MNLF fighters did not carry boxes of ammunition.

“They just go to the houses where they left their supplies,” he said.

Down in number

After 12 days of fighting, government security forces have whittled down the number of the Moro rebels from 200 to a small band boxed in a 3-to-7-hectare area on the Zamboanga coast.

Zagala said on Friday the government troops were going after 40 MNLF fighters.

In a talk with reporters on Thursday, President Aquino called on the remaining rebels to surrender to prevent further bloodshed.

“Life is precious to me,” Mr. Aquino said, addressing the rebel holdouts. “You may want to consider your life precious as well.”

Mr. Aquino gave the rebels from Nur Misuari’s faction of the MNLF an ultimatum.

“It is not too late to end this, so we can put a stop to the deaths and injuries. That is in your hands,” the President said.

Fighting to death

But the remaining followers of Misuari in Zamboanga City reportedly have decided to fight to death.

Sulu-based university professor Octavio Dinampo said Friday that Malik had sent text messages to other MNLF leaders saying he and his men would no longer withdraw and would “make Zamboanga their graveyard,” as the “losses to fellow Muslims and everyone else” were their responsibility and they should “answer for all of it with their lives.”

Dinampo said an MNLF friend passed the message to him around 3 p.m. on Friday.

In that message, Malik said he would surrender only if Misuari told him to do so, Dinampo said.

Dinampo said Malik, an Amir (religious leader), claimed to have performed a ritual among his remaining fighters.

“They prefer to die as martyrs in a place where they are now stuck,” Dinampo told the Inquirer by phone.

He did not say where that place was.

20 remaining hostages

Fighting continued in Zamboanga City on Friday. Two soldiers were wounded in fighting in Santa Barbara village, while two civilians were hit in a crossfire in Santa Catalina village, the military said.

Twelve days of fighting left 92 rebels, 12 soldiers, three policemen and seven civilians dead.

One hundred ten soldiers, 13 policemen, 69 civilians and nine rebels have been wounded in the fighting.

The fighting has displaced 118,819 people who are now sheltered in 57 evacuation centers in Zamboanga City and other safe places on the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Six rebels surrendered on Thursday, the military said, bringing to 72 the number of Misuari’s followers who have either surrendered or been captured.

Misuari’s followers seized about 200 civilians when they stormed into five coastal villages on Sept. 9.

One hundred seventy eight of those hostages have either escaped or were rescued. One was killed in the crossfire between the rebels and the government troops.

Twenty remain in the hands of the cornered rebels.

Abandoned by the Navy

Friday, Narabelle Bue, spokesperson for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the region, said the agency would send food to evacuees on Tigbaon Island, two hours by boat from mainland Zamboanga.

The evacuees are residents of Mampang village, where government troops battled MNLF rebels on Tuesday.

The residents fled the village in boats but were intercepted by the BRP Bacolod of the Philippine Navy.

They said the Navy sailors ordered them to board the Bacolod, tied the hands of the men with rope and made them wait to be interrogated.

On Wednesday, instead of bringing the evacuees to an evacuation center in Zamboanga City, the Navy took them to Tigbaon Island and left them there.

One of the evacuees had been sending text messages to the Inquirer, saying there was no food on the island.

The Inquirer informed the DSWD about the evacuees’ situation on Friday and the agency said it would send food to them.

Rebels gun down Masbate lawman

From the Philippine Star (Sep 21): Rebels gun down Masbate lawman

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – A policeman was killed on the spot while a colleague was wounded when they were attacked yesterday morning by communist rebels while providing security and joining a tree-planting activity of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Barangay Buyo, Claveria, Masbate.

Inspector Malou Calubaquib, Bicol police spokesperson, identified the fatality as PO1 Randolf Alegre and the wounded as PO1 Mcdonald Casi, both members of the Regional Public Safety Battalion assigned in Masbate.

Ex-MNLF rebels build school in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Star (Sep 21): Ex-MNLF rebels build school in Maguindanao

A 79-year-old former Moro National Liberation Front guerilla, Sidik, receives a sleeping  mat from Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu (2nd from left) during a special outreach mission of the provincial government and Army officials led by Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz of the 6th Infantry Division (right). JOHN UNSON

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - A group of farmers who fought the government for more than 30 years under the banner of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are calmly constructing, alongside Army carpenters, a school building in a remote barangay in the province.

The two-classroom building for the Arabic school Madrasan Tarbiyah Al-Islamiya in Barangay Kulasi in Gen. Pendatun town was jointly launched Saturday by Muslim villagers, some of them supporters of Nur Misuari, Army Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz of the 6th Infantry Division, and Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.

The participation of Gapuz and Mangudadatu in the launching of the project shows that the government’s “convergence approach” in addressing security concerns is, by far, the easiest way to hasten in bringing prosperity to underdeveloped Moro communities.

Villagers and soldiers have began digging 30-inch deep trenches for the concrete foundation of the building. The office of the governor has initially allocated P400,000 for the project.

The event, witnessed by Col. Edmund Pangilinan of the 604th Brigade, was capped with the distribution of sleeping mats, blankets and mosquito nets to Moro villagers, who also availed of free dental and medical services provided by Army medics and a team from the provincial government.

A former MNLF guerilla named Sidik, 79, was among the more than 500 villagers who received the non-food relief supplies.

Sidik told reporters he has been wishing, if only he can have a way, to tell followers of Misuari fighting soldiers on the streets of Zamboanga City to go home to their families.

“I’m old and I’m not influential. I’m just a poor man, but maybe I can help make them realize that war can never be a good option in any advocacy meant to improve the life of Moro people,” the old former MNLF combatant said in the local dialect.

Gapuz, who addressed residents of Barangay Kulasi, had emphasized the importance of peaceful dialogues in resolving domestic peace and security issues.

Gapuz lauded Mangudadatu and Gen. Pendatun’s incumbent mayor, Shajid Khan Pendatun, for reaching out to residents of the barangay, where there are also hundreds of supporters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Mangudadatu said the school building to be built at the center of Barangay Kulasi will be a good venue for teaching children of local farmers “peace education” based on Islamic principles of fraternalism, tolerance and unity in religious diversity.

Lynette Estandarte, chief budget officer of the governor’s office, said they still have more programmed socio-economic projects for far-flung areas whose people were made poor by armed conflicts in the province.

Estandarte and her staff had distributed more than 20 boxes of medicines for common ailments, antibiotics and multi-vitamins to residents of Barangay Kulasi.

Mangudadatu and Gapuz both said they are grateful to Maguindanao’s community leaders, the local officials in its 36 towns, the central committee of the MILF and groups identified with Misuari for their continuing effort to prevent any spill over to the province of the hostilities in Zamboanga City.

There are more than ten groups of Misuari’s followers in Maguindanao, but all have just been standing down amid the armed conflict raging in Zamboanga City. Their leaders have promised Gapuz, through the intercession of the provincial peace and order council, not to embark on anything that can create trouble in any of the 36 towns in the province.

MNLF 'child warriors' detained in Zambo City

From the Philippine Star (Sep 21): MNLF 'child warriors' detained in Zambo City

The police have also arrested and detained suspected child warriors of the faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari that infiltrated villages in Zamboanga City.

Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Carlos Conde said he personally saw three child warriors in a cramped detention cell in Zamboanga City.

"The day before the clashes started, 15-year-old Hassan’s grandfather took him from their village on Basilan Island in the southern Philippines to attend what his grandfather described as a “peace rally” in nearby Zamboanga City. Three days later, I encountered Hassan in a cramped Zamboanga jail cell along with young men arrested for being alleged members of the Moro National Liberation Front," Conde said.

He also said the "other alleged child soldiers include Kiram, 14, and Abdul, 17, who had spent five days in police custody when I met them on Wednesday, handcuffed to three adults inside a police station."

Conde said that Hassan denies he is a combatant for the MNLF and he had been moved to a youth detention center.

The HRW said that armed groups, including the MNLF, should not recruit anyone under the age of 18, according to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

It also said that the government has also violated its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child which the Philippines ratified in 1990.

"If these children have indeed been used in the fighting by the MNLF, they are entitled to psychological services and assistance in social reintegration," the group said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said that as of 6 a.m. Saturday, a total of 103 people, including 10 civilians, have been killed since Misuari's supporters attacked villages in Zamboanga City last September 9.

A total of 113,389 people have also been displaced by the conflict and a total of 10,160 houses have been razed to the ground by the rebels.

CPP/NPA: NPA attacks camp of NIPAR bandit group in San Fernando, Bukidnon

Posted to the CPP Website (Sep 18): NPA attacks camp of NIPAR bandit group in San Fernando, Bukidnon

Ariel Magbanwag (Inda)
NPA South Central Bukidnon Sub Regional Command

Units of the New People’s Army under the South Central Bukidnon Subregional Command attacked the camp of the criminal bandit group NIPAR (New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform) led by Aldie “Butsoy” Salusad, September 16, 2013, around 5:00 AM in Sitio Kiranggol, Brgy. Dao, San Fernando, Bukidnon. The attack was launched in response to the overdue demands for justice of this group’s victims.

One was killed while five other bandit members were wounded inside their fortified camp in a chain of sporadic firefight which lasted for more than two hours. Surprised by the sudden assault of the revolutionary army, some armed bandits ran and hid among civilians; they returned fire using the gold panners in the area as human shield.

On the other hand, a few Red fighters were wounded in the battle. The unit command of the attacking force decided to withdraw orderly to avoid civilian casualties, leaving the mission of meting out punishment on Butsoy unaccomplished.

This incident proves that the reactionary troops of the AFP condone the criminal activities of this notorious group. Soldiers from detachments in Dao and Kibungkog, together with Nonong Salusad, regularly visit the NIPAR camp. Instead of arresting these bandits and prosecuting them for murdering Jimmy Liguyon and robbing Tessie Ombo, these soldiers happily share the spoils from the extortion activities of their cuddled armed monsters.

The AFP’s collusion with NIPAR is beyond doubt. Without military and police backing, how could Butsoy’s group freely do business and acquire high-powered firearms to control and dominate the small-scale gold miners of Kiranggol? Clearly, the military and police are among those who benefit from the spoils of NIPAR’s illegal activities. This is the reason why the long arm of justice apparently fails to catch them.

It would be a folly for the AFP-PNP to arrest Butsoy or make him surrender, since his bandit group NIPAR has served effectively their counterrevolutionary witchhunting.

In response to Butsoy’s lies peddled in the local media regarding the battle:

First, it is blatantly untrue that forces of the 23rd IB-CAA from the neighboring detachment of Kibungkog sent reinforcements to aid the beleaguered bandit group in repelling the attackers. The fact is, the group of Butsoy’s father, the CAFGU bandit Nonong Salusad, together with soldiers of the 23rd IB who were already in the NIPAR camp two days before the NPA attack, fiercely fought side-by-side with NIPAR.

Second, while it is true that a few were wounded, not one Red fighter was killed in the battle.

Third, the NPA firmly abides by its iron discipline. The alleged confiscation of a P350,000 cash from a gold buyer is pure and simple malicious accusation.

Fourth, not a single firearm of the NPA attacking unit was left in the place of incident. The M-14 rifle that Butsoy flaunted as a hard won prize captured from the NPA attackers is nothing but his own group’s firearm.

Although the mission of meting out punishment on Butsoy and his bandit group was not carried out successfully, the NPA as the people’s army has shown that, it never sat idly in waiting for an opportune time to serve revolutionary justice to NIPAR’s victims. Contrary to the nonchalance of the military and police of the ruling classes, we assure the victims and their families that the future is bursting with many more opportunities. They can hope for justice to be served in due time.

MILF: Gov’t, MILF end peace talks with high hopes to conclude agreement soon

From the MILF Website (Sep 21): Gov’t, MILF end peace talks with high hopes to conclude agreement soon

The 40th Round of Exploratory Talks between the negotiating panels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Philippine (MILF) concluded late afternoon of September 20, 2013, with the two parties still hopeful that their hard work and commitment to peace shall come to fruition soon.  
The 10-day talks, held in Kuala Lumpur, with Malaysian facilitation, was the longest to date, as the parties and the facilitator had hoped that one or both of the last two Annexes would be signed.

The negotiations, which started one day after the Zamboanga siege on September 9, 2013, had some very difficult discussions on the matters of decommissioning, transitional justice, and the details of the “architecture” for the “normalization process”, as envisioned to be captured in the Annex on Normalization.  There were also very hard issues discussed on the competencies of the Central Government and those of the Bangsamoro Government, as the parties tried to conclude the Annex on Power-Sharing.

The parties had discussed through their respective technical working groups the two Annexes.  They likewise had extensive plenary deliberations, and in some instances, tried to set up “special teams” for specific issues.  But even with strong desire and commitment to finish the process, no Annex was signed at the end of the negotiations.  There were just too many issues, many of which were extremely difficult, with the different perspectives of the two parties not finding any “bridges of compromise”.

The negotiations also coincided with the siege in Zamboaga City.  On the 2nd day of the talks, the parties even came out with their joint statement condemning the violence that civilians have had to suffer therein.  Parties continued to monitor the situation with regular updates that each party was able to get from their respective contacts from the ground.

While the parties were negotiating, the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP) was convened under the leadership of Randal J. Beck, Assistant Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  Under the Framework Agreement, the ICP is supposed to “recommend appropriate policing” in the Bangsamoro.  Its recommendations shall be submitted to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) for the latter’s consideration when it drafts the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Two members of civil society organizations, Mahdie Amella and Analize Ugay, attended the talks as observers.   The Community of Saint'Egidio, an Italian Catholic organization, was likewise welcomed as a new member of the International Contact Group (ICG).’t-milf-end-peace-talks-with-high-hopes-to-conclude-agreement-soon

MILF: BTC holds workshop on Basic Law and Public Engagement

From the MILF Website (Sep 21): BTC holds workshop on Basic Law and Public Engagement

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) held a three-day workshop on the intricacies of basic law making and public engagement from September 12 to 14 at the Alnor Convention Center along Sinsuat Avenue, Cotabato City.
The capability building seminar-workshop was sponsored by the European Union and the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue for the Commissioners of the BTC including their staff to prepare them in their main task of drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law for the soon-to-be formed Bangsamoro government.

It can be recalled that each of the fourteen (14) Commissioners and the Chairman are assisted by an executive assistant, legal officer, researcher and driver.

BTC Chair Mohagher Iqbal and the MILF Peace Panel are in Kuala Lumpur engaging the GPH Peace Panel to hopefully complete the annexes on the power-sharing and normalization prior to the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement.

The tandem of husband and wife International experts on Constitutional law Dr. Yash Pal Ghai and Dr. Jill Cottrell came all the way from Kenya in Africa, where they are currently based, to Cotabato City for the very important knowledge-sharing workshop.

Professor Ghai is the head of the Constitution Advisory Support Unit of the United Nations Development Programme in Nepal, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Cambodia on human Rights and Chairman of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission. He used to advise and assist NGOs on human rights law related work in many parts of the world, helped in drafting the Asian Human Rights Charter and also Director of the International Center for Transitional Justice. A professor of law, he taught in many Universities and did many research work in law and published numerous books and papers on constitution and basic law making.

His better half, Professor Jill Cottrell-Ghai is a scholar in constitutional law who had lectured in many universities and worked on constitutional projects in Sri Lanka, East Timor, Nepal, Somalia, South Africa, and Iraq. She also played a key role in the elaboration of the Kenya constitution and author of numerous books, articles and papers related to constitution-making, human rights, sovereignty and democracy.

Speaking alternate of each other, the two international legal luminaries began the workshop on the general principles of translating agreements into legal text, the basic law making process and presentation and critiquing of transitional provisions during the first day.

On the second day, case study of the Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Sudan and the Aland, Finland experiences were discussed one after the other as the resource persons were actually personally involved in those areas. Each day’s activity was capped by breakout group discussions where the participants were grouped into four for group reporting to ensure participation and understanding of the topic taken during the day.

The third and final day proved more lively and participatory as the topic of public engagement focused on informing people about issues and the drafting process, asking them what they think and strategies to deal with their responses.

Each group was made to report on their plan of action on who they will ask, what will they ask, and how will they engage the target consultation group.
Noticeably observed was the active participation of Commissioners Pete Eisma, Talib Benito, Froilyn Mendoza and the numerous inputs contributed by lawyer-commissioner Johaira Wahab.

Synthesizing on the workshop, Dean Ben Bacani reminded the Commissioners and the participants of their role as drafters of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the inherent difficulties to be faced in the days to come with the final note saying the agreements are on principles and the main task is to supplement them with the needed procedures.

It can be said that after the grueling and informative workshop and the group discussions and reporting that followed each session the participants are now well-equipped to hurdle the challenge ahead.

Duterte: Bombing, a ‘cottage industry’ in Mindanao

From the Sun Star-Davao (Sep 20): Duterte: Bombing, a ‘cottage industry’ in Mindanao

THERE are groups in Mindanao who produce “bomber-graduates”, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and they are training a lot.

“There’s a place here in Mindanao. There’s an academy here. Tinuturo nila yan araw-araw and they have produced graduates in numbers,” Duterte said in a press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel on Thursday.

“Cottage industry na yan dito,” he said.

Although Duterte did not mention details, he said that those who train bombers “use it for their cause.”

“They’re everywhere. That is really the worry,” he said.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte receives copies of CCTV footages on Davao twin blasts

SAME BOMBER. Ret. General Francisco Villaroman, chief of the Public Safety Command Center, presents printed documents to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on the actual and systematic diagram of the improvised explosive device used by a bomber in Thursday’s press conference called by the city mayor at the Royal Mandaya Hotel. Police investigation showed the IEDs that exploded inside SM City Davao and Gaisano Mall cinemas Monday night were planted by the same bomber. (King Rodriguez)

Authorities presented to media on Thursday the device that the bomber possibly used in the explosion on seat J5 of the orchestra portion of SM City Davao Cinema 1 at around 9:03 p.m. and sixth seat of the ninth row inside Cinema 5 of Gaisano Mall of Davao at 9:25 p.m. on Monday, September 16.

“We do not belittle the motives. I do not want trouble here in Davao. I do not want to start trouble here. But we have to arrest you. We have to prosecute you because that is the law,” Duterte said.

Davao City Police Office (DCPO) director Ronald dela Rosa said the same person, wearing a light-colored jacket and a sling bag, planted the explosive device in these separate areas.

Based on the closed circuit television footage, the man entered the SM City Cinema 1 at 6:42 p.m. and left, already wearing a cap, at 7:28 p.m. He was again spotted buying a movie ticket at Gaisano Mall ticket booth at 8:19 p.m.

Another man was also seen paying for the items he bought at the KSM Kim Sheng store inside the DCLA located along R. Magsaysay Avenue around 4:09 p.m. of September 16. It was found out that he was buying 21 pieces of MSM-HK battery, believed to be an accessory to the device, at the KSM Kim Sheng RTW and Fashion Accessories, the alleged sole distributor of the item in the city.

Duterte said the bomber might not have used materials that caused much damage, but, he “does not belittle” them because, whether it’s a big or small explosion, the terror created is the same.

Duterte on Thursday afternoon gave the two suspects a 48-hour ultimatum to report to the nearest authorities if they are not connected with any organization.

After the 48-hour deadline, a P2-million bounty one for each of the men is official offered for information leading to the arrests of the suspects.

Malik in his element

From GMA News (Sep 18): Malik in his element

Editor's note: Since leading over a hundred gunmen in an attack on Zamboanga City, MNLF commander Habier Malik has remained an invisible figure, directing his men from unknown quarters but unseen and unheard by the public. He has not been interviewed since the crisis began, but GMA News reporter Chino Gaston once did, in a jungle in Sulu in 2005. He recalls a fearsome figure who wore strong cologne, kissed comrades on both cheeks, and said he was prepared to die for his beliefs

Author Chino Gaston (seated, 3rd from left) with Habier Malik (seated, 3rd from right with blue head cover) in 2005.

I had sought out Commander Habier Malik in the jungles of Sulu in 2005 to confirm allegations that the MNLF was aiding the Abu Sayyaf. There was already speculation back then that the MNLF had struck an alliance with the terrorist group.

The man was a picture of stern indifference when I shook his large hands and introduced myself as a journalist from ABC-5 (my former employer). His light brown, almost gray eyes hovered warily over me, but there was no hint of emotion on his heavily bearded face.

There was power in the broad shoulders and the squat, stocky frame, clad in US-made, seven-color fatigues. On his head he wore a black and white checkered turban. On his feet  were desert-tan combat boots.

Up close I could smell his strong cologne and a mix of cinammon, incense, and perhaps, gunpowder.

In this file photo taken on February 5, 2013, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Khabir Malik (front left) gathers his fighters at their camp in Jolo, Sulu, after clashes with Abu Sayyaf bandits. Malik's group tried to rescue a kidnapped Jordanian journalist from the ASG. Reuters/File

He moved like a tank, ponderous in form but deadly. He did not carry a gun inside his camp, but a short kris hung from his waist. Behind him, an aide carried what looked like Malik's rifle, an AK-47.

My cameraman Ed De Guzman also shook the MNLF commander's hand but his voice
cracked when he tried to speak. It was easy to feel fear around this man who personally led
his men into battle, oftentimes against incredible odds.

A week earlier, Malik and his men used two passenger jeepneys and directly assaulted
and burned a Philippine Marine detachment, in what he said was a reprisal for the death of a three-year-old child who had been killed by mortar used by the soldiers.

I still remember that first handshake and Malik's thick, powerful fingers. His grip was strong and short, a quality no doubt reserved for strangers like me. But he broke into a wide smile when his eyes shifted to the man who had brought me to his stronghold.

"Assalamu alaikum," Malik greeted the man, embracing him and planting two kisses on either cheek.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries in Tausug, my contact fished out two satellite phone prepaid cards and gave it to Malik and the other MNLF personality there, the late Julambri Misuari, the nephew of MNLF chairman Nur Misuari. Next to the imposing visage of Malik, Julambri's status as then MNLF Island Commander of Jolo was just a title written on a piece of paper.

We were served native coffee and the strangely shaped snakelike pastries popular in Sulu.  Malik sat and listened to my intermediary rattle off the recent happenings in Jolo. But from time to time he would fix those penetrating, searching eyes on me.

Behind Malik, a trio of jet-black 80-mm mortars glistened in the sun.

Guarding the mortars was a group of young men, carrying mostly M-16 rifles. One or two carried AK-47s. One turbaned warrior was sitting coolly in the shade of the house, his  anti-tank rifle resting against a wall.

Some of the  MNLF fighters posed gamely for our cameras and even made me carry one of their grenade launchers. Most of the men at the perimeter of the camp were young and eager to know, like most young men, about movie stars and whether there were lots of pretty girls in the city.

The inner circle surrounding Malik, however, was a group of dark, brooding men in their late forties and early fifties. They carried the best guns in the camp and seemed to hang on to every word that Malik utters. The younger fighters reminded me of rascally lion cubs, the older MNLF, the older lions, stained red from the hunt.

In this file photo taken on February 7, 2007, MNLF commander Ustadz Khabir Malik (in dark shirt) looks on as Marines Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino (left) signs a three page document detailing the agreements reached in their extended negotiations in Sulu.Raffy Tima/File

Loyalty to Misuari

When Malik agreed to be interviewed by me in 2005, a blood-red MNLF flag was stretched between two trees as background for the MNLF commander.

When asked to react to government reports that he was tolerating the atrocities of the Abu Sayyaf bandits, his eyes suddenly filled with rage. He slammed his hands on the table, upending my microphone and almost giving me and my cameraman a heart attack.

I heard a few rifle rounds being chambered behind me. I did not dare turn around to see for myself.

It took a few seconds for Malik to regain his composure. Then in a deep voice, he explained that although he shared the same blood and ethnicity with the notorious group, he believed in the teachings of Allah. Rape and kidnapping were haram or unholy.

"But if the military attack us here, of course we welcome the help of our Muslim brothers here with us in the mountains," he said in heavily accented, sing-song Tagalog.

I asked him if he ever regretted his loyalty to Nur Misuari, whose arrest in 2001 prompted followers like Malik to once again take up arms against the government.

Malik was a member of the board of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development, the transitional body that oversaw the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, when he led the MNLF attack on the Cabatangan complex in Zamboanga City that year.

"We are prepared to die for Allah and our beliefs. We have been betrayed by government," he said, his voice calm, even gentle.

Covering the current Zamboanga crisis, I could not help but wonder whether any of the weapons I saw in Malik's camp were being used against government troops. I wonder how many of the fighters I saw there had joined Malik, and were either dead or captured.

I also wondered whether Malik was using the prized AK-47 or some other gun.

Palace expects financier in Zamboanga City crisis to be unmasked

From GMA News (Sep 21): Palace expects financier in Zamboanga City crisis to be unmasked

MalacaƱang on Saturday said it expects the financier of the attack on Zamboanga City by followers of Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari to be unmasked in the coming days.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that once the investigation into the incident gets underway, it should find clues on who backed the attack that triggered the crisis.

“Saka na natin makikita yan, in the coming days. Napagutos ng Pangulong Aquino ang imbestigasyon sa pangyayaring ito (We will know soon enough in the coming days. President Benigno Aquino III already ordered an investigation into what happened),” she said on government-run dzRB radio when asked who financed the attack.

“Pag doon sa investigation, makikita kung meron silang tulong na nakuha sa ibang tao o sa ibang grupo (In the investigation we expect to know the individuals and groups that provided help to these Misuari followers),” she added.

Followers of Misuari had infiltrated some villages in the city since Sept. 9, taking many civilian hostages. The crisis entered its 13th day on Saturday.

The military claimed the government forces had retaken most of the MNLF-controlled areas and is now in the clearing operations stage.

But Valte said the focus of the government efforts in Zamboanga City for now is still on the clearing operations.

“Ngayon ang focus ng pamahalaan ang clearing operations, at patuloy na paninigurado natin magiging ligtas ang lugar na inokupa ng member ng Misuari faction (For now our focus is on clearing operations. We want to make sure the areas previously occupied by the Misuari faction are safe),” she said.

Meanwhile, Valte said there will be no announcement on until when Aquino will stay in Zamboanga City, “for security reasons.”

But she also assured the Office of the President has made arrangements for urgent documents to be brought to Aquino’s attention.

Senators question lower budget for soldiers' pensions

From ABS-CBN (Sep 20): Senators question lower budget for soldiers' pensions

The Department of National Defense (DND) is proposing a budget of P121 billion for 2014, higher by 0.97% vs last year's budget of P120 billion.

The increase will go to Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses, which comprise around 16% of the budget. This is due to inflationary considerations, additional aircraft maintenance and the targeted increase in small arms arsenal.

The proposed allocation had a lower allocation for pensions though despite the shortfall of P1.2 billion. Pensions have been ballooning and comprise 32% of the DND's budget, the second biggest allocation next to personnel services.

During President Aquino's last State of the Nation Address, he mentioned the need to pass a law that would remove the provision allowing the indexation or automatic adjustment of pensions based on salary increases.

At the same time, AFP Vice Cief of Staff Lt. Gen. Alan Luga said, the Department of Budget and Management has been performing a "cleansing" program to reconcile their list of pensioners with that of DBM.

The cleansed list has brought down the number of eligible pensioners, which also brought down the required budget.

However, the shortfall remained due to arrears in pension, brought about by the recent increases in pay of uniformed men.

Senators Loren Legarda and Cynthia Villar had to clarify this part of the budget in particular, to make sure that no pension is being withheld from any legitimate pensioner, especially now that soldiers and other uniformed men are dying in the daily clashes with the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga City.

Senator Villar noted the government's resolution of the crisis is slow but understandable since there are hostages at risk.

She also sees nothing wrong with President Aquino's presence on the ground since she believes this is the President's way of showing support for the troops.

International NGO to help Sajahatra Bangsamoro team in project implementation

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21): International NGO to help Sajahatra Bangsamoro team in project implementation

An international non- government organization which has been working for peace in southern Philippines has entered into an agreement with the Bangsamoro Development Authority to implement capacity building and operation of Sajahatra Bangsamoro Project Management Team and staff.

The Community and Family Services International (CFSI) and BDA representatives inked the agreement in Davao City Friday, officials said Saturday.

Sajahatra Bangsamoro is an Arabic-Bahasa-Melayu derivative denoting “blessings, prosperity and peace,” is a joint government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) project, aimed at bringing Philhealth services to Muslim communities, improved health, education and social services as well scholarships from the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education Skills Development Authority.

CFSI is a fund recipient of the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development Program (MTF-RDP) in support to the Sajahatra Bangsamoro project management team.

Ustadz Mohammed Shuwaib Yacob, Task Force Sajahatra chairperson, said CFSI will provide technical support to the management team to ensure successful implementation of government projects under the Sajahatra Bangsamoro program.

Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Undersecretary Louie Montalbo lauded the Sajahatra Bangsamoro staff and the BDA for their efforts in helping the government implement the development projects in Moro communities deprived of basic government services due to armed conflict in the past.

Yacob said the staff development and capability building will soon start even if the peace process between GHP and MILF are still on going.

5 more MNLF rebels killed Saturday

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21): 5 more MNLF rebels killed Saturday

With the Zamboanga City stand-off now on its 13th day, Armed Forces public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala on Saturday said that government security forces have killed another five Moro National Liberation Front.

"There were five more of the enemy killed. This brings to 102 the number of enemies killed," he added.

Zagala said that entire AFP remains committed to "press on the fight and finish the crisis at the soonest possible time" so that peace can return to Zamboanga City.

Followers of MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari had engaged government forces in a standoff since Sept. 9 by taking civilian hostages.

But the government in past days had since retaken most of the MNLF-controlled areas.

Zagala also advised residents in areas still experiencing clashes, including Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina, to stay indoors.

Government forces are now engaged in close-quarter fighting with remnants of Misuari's followers.

Death toll in Zamboanga City standoff now 123

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21): Death toll in Zamboanga City standoff now 123
The death toll from the standoff between military and Moro National Liberation Front fighters, which remained engaged for the 13th day in Zamboanga City, has now climbed to 123.

Maj. Angelo Guzman, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deputy public affairs office chief, said the figures are as of noon Saturday.

The figures are broken down to:

-AFP: 10 killed, 123 wounded in action

-PNP: 3 killed, 13 wounded

-Civilians:12 killed, 49 wounded

-MNLF:98 killed, 72 captured and 45 surrendered.

Guzman said that a total of 174 hostages (out of the 183 taken earlier in the hostilities) were rescued.

Also recovered by military units conducting clearing operations were 63 high-powered firearms which include automatic and light machine-guns and 13 low powered firearms.

MNLF involved in Zamboanga stand-off face criminal raps

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 21): MNLF involved in Zamboanga stand-off face criminal raps

The Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) announced that charges have been filed against Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members who took part in the Zamboanga City stand-off, now on its 13th day.

Chief Insp. Elizabeth Jasmin, the agency's spokesperson, said that CIDG Region 9 head Senior Supt. Edgar Danao has filed cases for violations of Article 135 (Rebellion) and Republic Act 9851 (Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law) against MNLF commanders Uztads Habier Malik, Asamin Hussin, Bas Arki and Handji Ami Adjirin (all at large) and 25 others who were arrested and detained at the Zamboanga City Police Station.

The filing of charges took place Friday, Sept. 20.

She added that charges were also filed against an undetermined number of John Does and Jane Does.

‘Humanitarian crisis’ in Zamboanga – DSWD

From Rappler (Sep 21): ‘Humanitarian crisis’ in Zamboanga – DSWD

The national government asked citizens on Saturday, September 21, to send more aid for more than 100,000 people who had fled heavy fighting between troops and Muslim rebels here, calling their plight a "humanitarian crisis."

The conflict has claimed more than 100 lives since hundreds of rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) entered the key trading center of Zamboanga in a bid to derail peace talks with a rival group.

While many of the insurgents have surrendered and most of the dozens of hostages they took have been freed, attention has turned to conditions faced by refugees displaced by the fighting.

"This has become a humanitarian crisis," Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told Agence France-Presse.

She said those displaced were staying in 57 evacuation centers, including the city's main sports complex, where over 70,000 people jostled for space and erected tents and shelters fashioned from scavenged materials.

"We are trying to organize them by providing them better materials," she said, but appealed to the public to send in more aid in the form of clothes, food, education materials, and toys for the many children among the displaced.

"The tents are very fragile. If it starts raining hard, there will be a massive problem for children, women, the elderly, the babies and their lactating mothers," she said.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said in a report there was insufficient supply of tents, cooking utensils and health and sanitation facilities.

It added that children were traumatized, while immunisations for common diseases were being undertaken to prevent an outbreak.

MNLF rebels entered Zamboanga, a major trading center with one million residents, on September 9, taking over at least 4 coastal villages, burning thousands of homes, and taking dozens of civilians hostage.

President Benigno Aquino III flew to the area on September 13 to take direct command of the operations, with about 4,500 soldiers deployed to the city to push back the rebels.

As of Saturday, September 21, the military said 102 MNLF rebels and 13 policemen and soldiers had been killed, while over 100 gunmen were captured or surrendered.

However, at least 12 civilians had been killed, including a 71-year-old woman whose home was hit by rebel mortar fire on Saturday morning.

Police were also investigating whether a bombing far from the frontlines that killed 3 people late Friday was linked to the siege.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala told Agence France-Presse Saturday that only about 30 to 40 remaining gunmen holding about 21 hostages were engaged in sporadic fighting with troops.

"We're doing house-to-house search operations today and their area of operation has become smaller," he said.

Muslim rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland in Mindanao. An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict.

The MNLF signed a peace treaty in 1996 that granted limited self-rule to the south's Muslim minority.

However MNLF founder Nur Misuari deployed some of his men to Zamboanga to show opposition to a planned peace deal between the government and the remaining major Muslim rebel group, the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The MILF is close to signing the peace pact, which Misuari believes would sideline the MNLF.

READ: The MNLF, MILF, and 2 peace agreements