Monday, September 23, 2013

NPA burns heavy equipment for road projects

From the Sun Star-Davao (Sep 22): NPA burns heavy equipment for road projects

SUSPECTED New People's Army (NPA) rebels torched in separate incidents on Saturday a number of equipment used in road construction projects in Davao City.

The first incident happened at Purok 1-B in Barangay Mulig in Toril around 10:10 p.m. wherein suspected communist rebels set on fire a mini dump truck and a road roller.

Records at Toril police showed that the burned equipment were owned by Vicente Lao Construction.

Police said extortion is believed to be the motive behind the incident.

According to witnesses, four unidentified armed men burned the equipment.

 Initial investigation conducted by Police Officer 2 (PO2) Barney Jones Batuto of Toril police revealed that the four men were all wearing ball caps with towels covering their faces. The four arrived in the area onboard two motorcycles.

"According to witnesses, the men were also looking for the personnel of the Army's 84th Infantry Battalion detailed at the said construction site. But the Army personnel weren't around," Batuto said in his report.

When the suspected communist rebels failed to find the personnel of the 84th Infantry Battalion, the four fled towards the upper portion of Mulig, followed by a tribal green SUV adventure.

Recovered from the crime scene were an empty gallon container and two matchsticks boxes believed to had been used in burning the equipment. The mini dump truck was totally burned, while the road roller was faintly damaged.

The second incident happened in Barangay Manambulan in Tugbok around 10:40 p.m. of the same day wherein the rebels razed a backhoe. Records at Tugbok police showed that the equipment was also owned by the Vicente Lao Construction.

Police investigation showed that the incident was witnessed by Barangay councilmen Condrado Alcantara, 41, of Toril, and Reynaldo Bitil, 42, of Marilog.

According to the witnesses, four unidentified armed men onboard two motorcycles arrived in the area and identified themselves as members of the NPA.

They said the rebels have no intention to kill civilians, telling them that they only need the equipment.

The four started to pour gasoline on top of the equipment and burned them when the two councilmen left the area.

Bitil, however, turned back and tried to stop the rebels. Bitil loaded his shotgun with ammunition, but the rebels hit his right leg before he was able to fire. Bitil returned fire, prompting the rebels to scamper and flee to different directions.

Recovered from the area was one lavender Honda XRM motorcycle 125 with a plate number 1725-XE. The police also recovered six fired cartridges of caliber .45 pistol and two unexploded 12 gauge shotgun shells.

Further information revealed that during the incident, several armed men occupied the road around 100 meters away from the place of incident.

The police and the military are now conducting investigations on the incident.

Casualties continue to mount as Zambo clashes enter 3rd week

From GMA News (Sep 23): Casualties continue to mount as Zambo clashes enter 3rd week

Nearly 100 followers of Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari have been killed as the confrontation between MNLF gunmen and government troops is about to enter its third week.

On Sunday, the Philippine Army 7th Civil Relations Group commander Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the death toll from the fighting had reached 125, including 99 from the MNLF. Also,117 gunmen were  captured or have surrendered.

Cabunoc said 11 soldiers had been killed in action and 133 wounded in action, while three police officers were killed, with 13 wounded in action.

On Saturday, one soldier "paid the ultimate sacrifice" during clearing operations, but there was no letup on the ongoing security operations .

"Morale is high," Cabunoc asserted.

He added at least 174 hostages had been rescued.

A separate report on state-run Philippines News Agency quoted AFP deputy public affairs office head Maj. Angelo Guzman as saying 12 civilians were killed, with 49 wounded.

Guzman also said 64 high-powered firearms and 13 low-powered ones had been captured from the MNLF.

Meanwhile, Cabunoc said Misuari's followers are engaging the soldiers in "hit-and-run skirmishes" in the maze of buildings and concrete houses of Zamboanga City.

He said this may be due to Misuari's men running out of ammunition.

Cabunoc also said the soldiers were getting ready-to-eat rations as they "don't have time to cook nowadays."

BIFF frees remaining hostages in Midsayap fighting

From MindaNews (Sep 24): BIFF frees remaining hostages in Midsayap fighting

Fourteen persons who were reportedly abducted Monday by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in a remote village of Midsayap, North Cotabato were released early morning of Tuesday, an official said.

Nine teachers and five barangay officials undergo debriefing after they were released early Tuesday morning (24 Sept 2013). Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) held them hostage during clashes with soldiers in Midsayap, North Cotabato on Monday. MindaNews Photo by Karl Ballentes

Nine teachers and five barangay officials undergo debriefing after they were released early Tuesday morning (24 Sept 2013). Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) held them hostage during clashes with soldiers in Midsayap, North Cotabato on Monday. MindaNews Photo by Karl Ballentes
Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza said the hostages, nine teachers and five barangay officials, were released following negotiations led by Provincial Board Member Kellie Antao.

The victims underwent a debriefing and medical checkup in a government hospital in Midsayap.

They were abducted in Barangay Malingao on Monday when BIFF rebels launched simultaneous attacks on military outposts in Malingao, Polonguguen and Rangaban.
The teachers were identified as Dioden Camiros, Annamrie Corpus,Josefina Galvez, Hydie Marcelo, Pairosa Mohaiden, Lily Postrado,Geraldine Yunting and Tuday Zainal.

The barangay officials were identified as council members Norodin Delangalen, Payag Bulongan, Abdulkareem Duman and Inggi Abdul and barangay secretary Tex Managsa.

The BIFF rebels had earlier held 19 persons, mostly elementary school teachers, the military said.

Five of them were released Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the number of families displaced by the clashes between government troops and BIFF rebels rose to 2,000 on Tuesday morning.

In a text message, Capt. Antonio Bulao, spokesperson of the 602nd Infantry Brigade said 11 rebels were killed and three others were wounded as clearing operations continued. Three government soldiers were killed and one was wounded, Bulao said.

Police said at least 100 rebels launched the attacks in different villages.

Jessie Enid, executive assistant to the governor, said the evacuees from five villages are now staying at the evacuation centers in nearby villages and the town proper.

Enid said most of the displaced villagers were from barangays Malingao and Polongugen.

He added that two civilians were killed in the crossfire.

4 rebels killed in northern Mindanao encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): 4 rebels killed in northern Mindanao encounter

Four New People's Army (NPA) rebels were killed during a series of encounter with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Northern Mindanao beginning Sept. 20 to 22.

At 8:50 p.m. Sunday, elements of the 4th Infantry Division encountered around five rebels in Barangay Busdi, Malaybalay City in Bukidnon while conducting combat operations and were able to overrun enemy position.

Two NPAs were killed while two AK-47 rifles, ammunition, and other belongings were recovered.

Another encounter occurred last Sept. 20, between the 4th Infantry Division and around 20 NPA fighters in Barangay Ima, Sison, Surgao Del Norte, that left two NPAs dead.

Recovered were four high-powered firearms, one improvised explosive device, and ammunition among others.

No casualty were reported on the AFP side in both encounters.

Meanwhile, the NPA rebels destroyed at 1 a.m. Sunday a Citizens’ Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) outpost in Barangay Kibanban, Balingasag, Misamis City, killing one soldier and four CAFGUs and wounding three more.

The area was dubbed as the "Village of Hope" in 2005 as the local provincial government and the military regained and rebuilt it from communist influence.

The attack terrorized the former NPA stronghold where reports said civilians were hogtied during the attack.

Joint police and military forces were already deployed in the pursuit operations.

The AFP will continue its focused military operations against the NPAs who continue to exploit civilians in rural areas in the country.

"Our on-going operations in Zamboanga City will not compromise our security patrols and intelligence gathering, in line with the IPSP Bayanihan, in other parts of the country to prevent other threat groups from conducting atrocities," it added.

Malacanang says President Aquino still has full confidence in AFP Chief of Staff

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Malacanang says President Aquino still has full confidence in AFP Chief of Staff

Malacanang said on Monday that Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista still retains the full confidence of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

In a press briefing in Malacanang, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the President “saw no problem” with the leadership of the AFP and cited the response of security forces to dangerous situations, particularly the ongoing Zamboanga City standoff where government troops are engaging members of the Moro National Liberation Front-Misuari faction.

Lacierda also said the AFP was responsible for the immediate cessation of new hostilities in Midsayap, North Cotabato after a platoon from Alpha Company encountered an undetermined number of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) this morning.

“Nakita po natin ang tugon ng Armed Forces of the Philippines. Handa po sila tumugon sa Zamboanga City at ngayon handa po sila tumugon, at in fact tumigil na ang fire fight sa Cotabato laban sa BIFF,” he said.

“There is no problem in so far as the leadership of AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista. The President has full confidence in him,” he added.

According to Lacierda, troops conducting combat clearing operations in Sitio Mirasol, Barangay Prolomugen, Midsayap, North Cotabato at around 8:35 this morning, encountered an undetermined number of BIFFs under an unknown leader.

Malacanang trying to determine nexus between Midsayap attack and Zambo siege

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Malacanang trying to determine nexus between Midsayap attack and Zambo siege

Malacanang has yet to determine whether Monday morning's attack allegedly perpetrated by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Midsayap, North Cotabato was connected to the Zamboanga City siege.

"I will not be able to judge whether it is related to Zamboanga," Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told a media briefing.

"According to Lt. Col. Demi Zagala, they were on patrol when they encountered the BIFF. So we'll get more specific reports as to iyong encounter na 'yun," he added.

Citing a text message from Zagala, Lacierda said militarymen on patrol encountered an undetermined number of BIFF rebels while conducting clearing operations in Sitio Mirasol, Brgy. Polomugen in Midsayap at 8:35 a.m.

Lacierda said one solider was killed while another was wounded in the attack. He also said four teachers of Malingao Elementary School were abducted with one already released.

"Wala na pong firefight ngayon doon. Merong negosasyon doon po sa tatlong guro ayon sa balita ni Lieutenant Colonel Demi Zagala," he said.

He said the government has enough resources to respond to the hostilities in Zamboanga City, where government forces are on a standoff with Moro National Liberation Front fighters, and in Midsayap.

"We have resources capable of handling both Zamboanga and Midsayap," he said.

US, PHL air forces forge camaraderie with rural Palawan community

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): US, PHL air forces forge camaraderie with rural Palawan community

One can have no better friend and no worse enemy than a United States Air Force (USAF).

For many in Puerto Princesa, they understand the benefits of such a friendship, thanks to the efforts of the service members who participated in Pacific Unity 2013, an annual joint humanitarian assistance mission.

Pacific Unity had two main efforts: medical and engineering. While medical professionals helped heal Filipino civilians, military engineers built a two-room school building in Virgilio Magbanua Elem. School in barangay San Pedro.

The medical portion of the operation was held in Barangay San Jose multipurpose hall. Military doctors and nurses from the Western Command, the Naval Forces West and the US Pacific Air Force treated more than 1,000 patients.

Engineers with the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan of the US Pacific Air Force and the 570th Composite Tactical Wing, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa City worked together and shared their knowledge of construction projects.

Classroom at the Virgilio Magbanua Memorial Elementary School in San Pedro was renovated, and one brand new building was constructed from the ground up through the hard work, dedication and teamwork of these Airmen, and local contractors.

Pacific Unity is a bilateral Engineering Civic Action Program (ENCAP) conducted in the Asia-Pacific region in collaboration with host nation civil authorities and military personnel under the direction and coordination of 18th Civil Engineer Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.

“It is one thing to see USAF Airmen working hand-in-hand with PAF Airmen and to know that this relationship helps build peace and stability in the region. It generates an entirely different sort of emotion to hear about what it means to these Airmen and contractors and their community,” said MSgt. Steven Cordova, NCOIC of the 18CES.

“We went out to three different job sites,” Cordova said. “Each [site] had a number of different branches in it. We had a good opportunity to not just learn about the militaries of other countries but the other services as well.”

He said the schools that were repaired were in dire need of renovation.

They had no walls, electricity or windows, and the concrete fences around the campuses had dangerous rebar sticking out.

“Before [the work began] there were no walls,” Cordova said. “After, it had electricity, walls with fresh paint, fans and windows. It was a complete 180.”

“[The Filipinos] were very excited and thankful that we were there. The locals were very helpful,” he said. “[Pacific Unity 2013] was pretty heartwarming. It wasn’t so much the work we were doing but the time we spent with the people is what made it such a great experience.”

The US PAF used their experience as combat engineers to repair the dilapidated school.

Because of their integration into the other services, it was both a chance for them to learn and to teach their methodology of engineering.

“Instead of going out and doing something for training purposes, I was actually out there using my expertise,” said Cordova. “I was taking what I learned from the military and using it to help out a community.”

Each team of about 20 engineers took about 28 days working on the repair and construction. In that time, the locals treated the service members like family, Cordova said.

“It was a short amount of time, but the biggest thing for me was getting to know the people there,” he said.

“You got a chance to talk to them and learn from them.”

For the American airmen, the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a truly rewarding experience.

“I loved it,” said Cordova.

“I wish I could do it again because it was so rewarding helping those little kids out. When we left, the kids were crying, because they didn’t want us to leave.”

Pacific Unity 2013 is also a bilateral and joint engineering civic action program in cooperation with the city government, the Department of Education Puerto Princesa City District, and the Palawan-based Philippine Air Force 570th Composite Tactical Wing.

The AFP through the Western Command (Wescom) will provide personnel and mission-essential equipment in the conduct of the HCA/CMO.

Last year, over 20,000 residents of Samar benefited in the Pacific Partnership 2012, the largest annual humanitarian and civic assistance mission in the Pacific sponsored by the US Pacific Fleet.

The Pacific Unity 12-6 conducted in August 2012 in northern Luzon benefited at least 50,000 residents of the area.

Philippine Army assures continued livelihood support to insurgent-influenced communities

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Philippine Army assures continued livelihood support to insurgent-influenced communities

The Philippine Army (PA) will continue providing livelihood support to communities that are affected by insurgents, according to Col. Rafael C. Valencia, brigade commander of the 802nd Infantry Brigade of the 8 Infantry Division (8ID) of the Philippine Army (PA).

This he assured as they have been receiving calls from barangay leaders in Robas village in Jaro, Leyte for fear that they will abandon a project in the area following an ambush at the barangay’s Sitio Campagal last week.

The ambush staged by around 10 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) has wounded two soldiers of the 19th Infantry Battalion (19th IB).

“We will take appropriate action to strengthen security in the area,” he said.

Valencia said that the site is one of their focused areas where they help the community work on their livelihood. They just came from a hot spring that is being developed in the community into a tourist destination.

They were developing rest house for visitors, he disclosed.

Aside from a hot spring, he disclosed that they have been helping a farmer’s group engage in cassava production.

The Philippine Army (PA) linked them up with the Bureau of Crops for the technology and the Fatima Multipurpose Cooperative to purchase their produce.

The provision of livelihood support is being undertaken by the Bayanihan Team and in partnership with the Visayas State University (VSU) that assists them in coming up with proposals.

Proposals are submitted to various national government agencies for funding support.

Army ensuring communities in Leyte vote without intimidation

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Army ensuring communities in Leyte vote without intimidation

The Philippine Army (PA)here is intensifying their presence in the barangays so that the New People's Army (NPA) could not influence the result of the upcoming elections.

Colonel Rafael C. Valencia, brigade commander of the 802nd Infantry Brigade of the 8 Infantry Division (8ID), said they engage the people in the community and encourage them to freely vote for their rightful leaders and not "through force and intimidation."

Meantime, he added that they are not seeing any possible violence that may erupt within his area of jurisdiction because the Oct. 28 elections is supposed to be non-partisan.

"We just hope the politicians will not dip their fingers into the elections. But we are ready," he said.

He said that the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been discussing issues relative to the upcoming elections.

Puerto Princesa gov't activates barangay support vs New People’s Army

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Puerto Princesa gov't activates barangay support vs New People’s Army

The city government here treats the recent ambush by suspect armed members of the New People’s Army against two military trucks returning from a “log run” in Taytay in northern Palawan as an “isolated incident” that has no effect in its tourism industry.

Despite this, City Information Officer Henry Gadiano said Monday they are activating the help and support of barangay officials, particularly in the outlying areas of the center of the town, in monitoring suspicious activities and to report them immediately to authorities.

On Friday, he said Mayor Lucilo Bayron asked for the support and help of the barangay officials in the light of the ambush in Langogan that was allegedly staged by members of the communist-terrorist NPA.

“There was a breach in security, but it is really an isolated incident that has no effect to our tourism industry,” Gadiano told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

However, he said the mayor still recognizes the need to further strengthen security by enjoining the help and support of barangay officials who are more in entrenched in the communities.

“There had been an exchanged of contact numbers between the barangay officials and our military and police authorities so they know where to report when they see suspicious individuals, or activities being done. It is the barangay officials who see what are happening, and who know the terrains of their areas,” he stated.

A planning for what possible responses the barangay officials can do will follow, Gadiano added, and this will happen the soonest possible time.

Langogan, where the last ambush against the Marines happened, is the last barangay of Puerto Princesa going north.

City gov't signs peace accord with 14 senior MNLF leaders in Puerto Princesa

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): City gov't signs peace accord with 14 senior MNLF leaders in Puerto Princesa

Mayor Lucilo Bayron signed last weekend a peace accord with 14 senior leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front and the general Muslim community to ensure that harmony and amity remains in the midst of the ongoing clash between the military and Moro fighters in Zamboanga City.

Led by the City Peace and Order Council, which Bayron also heads, the senior leaders of the MNLF in Puerto Princesa signed the peace covenant in positive response to the city government’s appeal for them to continue standing down even if being solicited to support what is going on in Zamboanga City, according to City Information Officer Henry Gadiano.

Before the signing, Gadiano said Bayron had a healthy and committed discussion with the MNLF senior leaders on pressing issues, such as inclusion in city government programs on livelihood and housing.

“The senior leaders said they have long been inactive in the MNLF because it appears that their leader Nur Misuari is no longer listening to them. They no longer wish to participate in any war. What they are after right now is their own welfare; they appealed to Mayor Bayron to be included in the livelihood and housing programs of the city government,” Gadiano told the Philippines News Agency (PNA).

The peace covenant signing, Gadiano stated, was brokered by Bayron’s leadership with an aim to further strengthen the relationship among the city government, the general Muslim community, military and police authorities and the civil society that compose the CPOC.

“The mayor wants a trusting relationship among our Muslim brothers, the police, the military and all civil society groups to prevent any untoward incident that might have a serious effect on our tourism industry,” he added.

Part of the meeting Friday, was the commitment to sit down together again for the creation of a Crisis Action Plan (CAP) that can be activated in times of calamities and other emergencies, and breaches in security and safety.

This CAP will be coordinated and aligned with the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (CDRRMC) for proper employment when it is required.

Since the siege of Zamboanga City by the MNLF faction, Bayron has been actively engaging with the senior Moro leaders in Palawan to assure that spillovers will be avoided.

The policy and the military, on the other hand, have placed all their detachments on heightened alert, especially near borders and entry areas to the city and province.

MILF prepares to join Phil. political and democratic process

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): MILF prepares to join Phil. political and democratic process

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is preparing itself to participate in a democratic process once the new Bangsamoro political entity is in place in Mindanao, a ranking MILF official said.

With the ongoing peace process, Sammy Al-Mansoor, chief of staff of the MILF's military arm - the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), said on Sunday that the MILF, through its Bangsamoro Political Party (BPP), will actively participate in the 2016 plebiscite that will determine the fate of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement.

To prepare the MILF in democratic process, A-Mansoor said a seminar workshop was held under the sponsorship of German non government organization Kondrad Adenauer Foundation, the Institute for Autonomy and Governance and Institute for Bansamoro Studies held at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) training hall in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

“This only goes to show that we are now gearing towards ballots instead of bullets,” Al-Mansoor said. He is also the chair of MILF's interim committee for information of the BPP.

He said the creation of MILF's political party was a confirmation of status from revolutionary struggle to parliamentary struggle once the Bangsamoro political entity is submitted to the people for ratification.

Since its creation, the MILF was not participating in any government political and democratic processes claiming it was divisive and highly irregular.

About 45 MILF political leaders from various parts of the proposed Bangsamoro political area joined the seminar facilitated by Lawyer Benedicto Bacani of the IAG.

Mohammad Ameen, MILF central committee secretariat head, urged the political officers to become effective workers of the future Bangsamoro political party.

Ameen said a stable political party is necessary to complement the ministerial Bangsamoro government that will administer the government for Bangsamoro people in areas to be included in the new political entity in southern Philippines.

Military, police hit NPA for MEDCAP ambush in Butuan City

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Military, police hit NPA for MEDCAP ambush in Butuan City

The military and police authorities here hit the New People's Army (NPA) for staging an ambush against the military escorts which helped secure the medical and dental civic action program (MEDCAP) in Brgy. Nongnong, this city during the weekend.

SPO1 Philip Amer P. Mazo, information officer of Police Regional Office (PRO) 13, in an interview Monday said that he could not understand why the rebels can harass the Bayanihan team when all it did was to bring the much needed medical, dental and other services to the remote village of the city.

Mazo said that the medical and dental outreach offered free medical check-up with free medicines, free dental check-up, free haircut, mass feeding, distribution of food supplies and hold dialogue with the villagers.

The MEDCAP initiated by the regional police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) medical and dental team with the support of the local government unit of Butuan headed by Mayor Ferdinand M. Amante Jr., Mazo said served a total of 1,703 villagers benefited from the mission of which 437 in the medical check-up; dental check-up, 66; free haircut, 100; food supplies, 400 packs; packed lunch, 400 and mass feeding to 300 children.

Mayor Amante, Caraga PNP chief CSupt. Getulio Napenas, and Butuan City Police Director SSupt. Nerio T. Bermudo led the activity.

According to Mazo, that most of the convoy had already left the area, including the top officials, when the ambush happened. The rebels fired upon the joint AFP-PNP team who were the last to leave the area late in the afternoon led by PCInsp. Ave Mario Romero, commander of Butuan City Police Station 5 and 1Lt. Angelo Gomez of the 29th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. The group secured the remaining medical personnel and some civilians who were still at the area. They were ambushed by undetermined number of armed men believed to be members of the CPP-NPA Front Committee 4A, upon reaching Purok 3, Brgy. Bitan-agan, this city.

The exchange of fire lasted for five minutes after which the rebels withdrew towards the mountains who were pursued by some of the government troopers. No casualties on both sides were however reported during the incident, and the soldiers safely secured all the civilians who were with them, Mazo said.

5 killed, 3 wounded in Mis Or firefight

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): 5 killed, 3 wounded in Mis Or firefight
The commander of the army’s patrol base and four regular militiamen were killed when New People’s Army (NPA) rebels attacked a military outpost in a former rebel base in Misamis Oriental Sunday dawn, an army report said Monday.

Killed were army Sgt. Dante Laong, and regular militiamen Joel Tandayon, Miguel Lugar, Ali Saguiway, and Mauli Bacus. Wounded were Sonny Tandayon, Jonathan Castillo,and Ranilo Lindahay,all assigned at the army patrol base in Sitio Lantad, Barangay Kibanban, Misamis Oriental.

Lt. Col. Leo Bongosia, commander of the army’s 4th Infantry Division’s Civil-Military Operations, said that about 60 NPA rebels attacked the army patrol base past 1:00 a.m. Sunday resulting in a fierce firefight.

He said that Sgt. Laong, the detachment commander, was killed in the ensuing gun battle.

The rebels also carted away the firearms of the militiamen before fleeing toward the mountain forest before the army’s reinforcement arrived in the area.

The rebels reportedly called the civilian-farmers around Lantad to retrieve the bodies of the slain soldier and the militiamen while others secured the wounded for treatment, Bongosia said.

He said that Sitio Lantad was the stronghold of the NPAs in the 80s and the regional headquarters of the Northern Mindanao Revolutionary Party Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military regional guerrilla command.

The fabled periphery of Lantad was the scene of fierce gun battles between the NPA rebels and the government’s troopers where hundreds of lives, including innocent civilians, were lost.

The military overran the enchanted farming villages in the mid 90s.

In 2000, the government constructed farm to market roads in Lantad to make its rich agricultural products accessible to the nearby coastal town of Balingasag, Misamis Oriental.

Bongosia said that the military has established a strong presence in the area by putting up a patrol base to secure the farming village from the harassments of communist rebels who, most of the time, attacked innocent civilians and the military outpost in a bid to regain the NPA’s lost ground.

He said that the NPA rebels would only be frustrated since the government and the military would never allow the rebels to, once again, sow terror to innocent farmers and civilians in Lantad and Kibanban, all outskirt farming villages in Balingasag.

“After all, the civilians and farmers in the former rebel stronghold of Lantad already learned the harrowing lesson of terror and atrocities during the years of the NPA rebels’ excesses in the area,” Bongosia added.

Army commander in Central Visayas emphasizes respect for human rights

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Army commander in Central Visayas emphasizes respect for human rights

Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Central Command (CentCom) in the Visayas on Sunday emphasized respect for human rights as a primordial guiding principle for government troops.

Lt. Gen. Deveraturda was the guest speaker during the culmination program of the Peace Initiatives exhibit at a shopping mall in Dumaguete and attended by AFP and Philippine National Police officials, Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and other local officials as well as civic groups and non-government organizations.

In his message, the CentCom chief said he always places emphasis on respect for human rights when talking to the troops in the Visayas and that “the moment we violate it (human rights) we will never survive”.

Human rights is the very ideal which the soldiers have sworn to protect and defend, Lt. Gen. Deveraturda said.

Talking about peace, the AFP general also noted that poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease are issues that lead to violence, but these issues differ from place to place.

He also warned that these “issues can be exploited by anybody and by any political entrepreneur”.

“I am a soldier and I would always argue that nobody knows the meaning of peace more than the men and women who will be called in times of war”.

The CentCom mission is described is two very long sentences but simply put, it means peace in the Visayas, Deveraturda said.

When talking about peace, people must recall history wherein, in the 5,000 years of man’s recorded history, close to 14,600 wars, including major conflicts but not including minor skirmishes among or within nations, have been recorded, he noted.

This means an average of three major conflicts per year, Deveraturda said.

Despite all the wars and conflicts happening everywhere, the AFP official said people are “still capable of making this earth a place wherein we can have genuine peace”.

He said while war will always be present, there are two things that men must remember to attain peace: placing “our faith not on the perfectibility of man but of human institutions, and on gradual evolution of human institutions and not the evolution of human nature”.

Deveraturda also highlighted the value of democracy which he describes as the “moral compass that guides us all”.

To set the conditions for peace, soldiers must know that what is most local is most strategic and therefore they must understand what is going on in a particular locality.

He lauded the organizers of the event and the citizens of Negros Oriental for their efforts in fighting for peace.

AFP enforces 'constricting' strategy to save remaining hostages

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): AFP enforces 'constricting' strategy to save remaining hostages

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the "constricting strategy" being implemented by the military against the remaining Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters is being done to safeguard the lives of the remaining hostages.

"The area of constriction is now smaller and the forces of Commander Habier Malik only have a little area to move on," he added.

AFP operations are focused in Barangays Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina and Rio Hondo.

Zagala declined to give specifics but said that these areas will get smaller and smaller.

"That's the reason why our men are fighting in close-quarters and why we have a lot of men getting wounded," the AFP public affairs office chief stressed.

"Our goal really is to close in as much as we can so that we can eventually rescue the hostages and neutralize the (remaining) MNLF Misuari Faction," he pointed out.

The death toll between government troopers, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters and civilians caught in the crossfire has now climbed to 125 as of Sunday noon.

Maj. Angelo Guzman, AFP deputy public affairs office chief, said this can be broken down to:

-- AFP: 11 killed, 133 wounded in action

-- PNP: 3 killed, 13 wounded

-- Civilians: 12 killed, 49 wounded.

-- MNLF: 99 killed, 72 captured and 45 surrendered.

Guzman said the number of hostages rescued is now 174 (out of the 183 taken earlier).

Captured high-powered firearms is 64 and 13 low-powered ones.

AFP-BIFF firefight in NorCot town traps teachers and students in public school

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): AFP-BIFF firefight in NorCot town traps teachers and students in public school
Fresh clashes between government troopers and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) erupted around 9 a.m. Monday in remote Barangay Malingao, Midsayap, North Cotabato, trapping teachers and students of a public school in the area.

Initial reports said members of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion are initiating efforts to free the teachers and students inside the Malingao Elementary School from their present situation.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, Army’s Sixth Infantry Division spokesman, assured relatives of the trapped individuals that military troops in the area are doing their best to protect the school from the attacking rebels.

“Our forces are fending off the BIFF from entering the village as the ongoing firefight is at the periphery of Malingao. It is still unsafe as of this time to extract the people at the school because stray bullets might hit them,” Hermoso explained.

He said military troopers have engaged BIFF forces since dawn in the villages of Raradangan and Tugal in Midsayap, which spilled over to Malingao.

Fire breaks anew coupled with intermittent fighting in Zamboanga City

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Fire breaks anew coupled with intermittent fighting in Zamboanga City

Fire broke out anew, bringing to at least 16 the fire incidents since the standoff started last September 9 following the incursion of hundreds of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in this city.

Fire broke out around 1 p.m. in the interior part of Barangay Sta. Barbara at the height of intermittent firefight.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the troops continue to advance to retake positions earlier occupied by the MNLF rebels.

Zagala said the troops are cautiously advancing as the rebels are still holding hostage at least 21 people.

Two MG-520 rocket-firing helicopters are providing air support to the ground troops that continue to advance.

Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca said that continuous clearing operation is still being conducted by the government forces in the affected barangays.

Huesca said that the government forces suffered 14 killed--11 soldiers and three policemen--and 147 wounded--134 soldiers and 13 policemen.

Huesca said that 11 civilians were also killed while 70 others were wounded since the start of the standoff last September 9.

A total of 98 MNLF rebels were killed while 99 were captured and 24 have surrendered, according to Huesca.

Pursuit operations on vs BIFF still holding 3 hostages in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 23): Pursuit operations on vs BIFF still holding 3 hostages in North Cotabato

Pursuit and rescue operations are underway for three hostages still held by Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Freedom Fighters (BIFF) following a day-long skirmish with government troopers in remote Barangay Malingao, Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, Army’s Sixth Infantry Division (6ID) spokesman, said fighting subsided before dusk Monday but retreating rebels are still withholding three hostages whose identifies are yet to be determined.

Fierce exchanges of gunfire were heard in Malingao between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Intermittent crackles of gunfire could still be heard in the area late in the afternoon.

“They are still in side Malingao but we have cordoned the area,” Capt. Antonio Bulao, Army’s 602nd Brigade spokesperson, said.

Latest Hermoso report released by the 6ID placed casualties at one government soldier and four BIFF rebels.

The same report said the BIFF earlier held 15 hostages but released 12 as they withdrew to the interiors of Malingao village near the boundaries of Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces.

Close to 2,000 families displaced in N Cotabato

From Rappler (Sep 23): Close to 2,000 families displaced in N Cotabato

At least 1,800 families fled their villages in Midsayap, North Cotabato, while 15 civilians remain trapped Monday afternoon, September 23, following gun battles between government troops and members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

According to a 2 pm update from the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC), the following number of families have evacuated from their respective villages: Barangay Tugal - 118 families; Barangay Nabalawag - 605 families; Barangay Palungoguen - 188 families; Malingao- 505 families; and Barangay Rangaban- 395 families.

The BIFF attacked Barangays Malingao, Mirasol and Polongoguen in Midsayap early morning Monday, triggering a firefight that extended to other villages.

At least one member of government security forces was reported killed while another one was wounded, according to Col Dickson Hermoso of the 6th infantry division in a text message at 3 pm. Hermoso said civilians also saw 4 BIFF members killed.

Hermoso said the BIFF abducted 4 teachers and 11 farmers, but the BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama denied this.

Mama earlier claimed responsibility for the attack, saying he had already warned the government and the residents about their plan to launch offensives in the area.

Capt Tony Bulao of the 6th infantry division said the BIFF troops attacked the villages at 7 am, initially holding as hostages 3 school teachers at the Malingao Elementary School.

The renegade troops confiscated their personal belongings such as cell phones, Bulao added. They were led by a certain Commander DM and Commander Abas Kudanding, according to Bulao.

Mama denied they were holding hostages. "Hindi ito mga hostage. Iniligtas namin at pinatabi sila baka matamaan sila ng bala ng mga sundalo," Mama said. (They are not our hostages. We secured them to avoid putting them in the line of fire.)

The local police in North Cotabato also said there was no hostage taking, clarifying that the civilians were merely trapped in the encounter.

The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center also said the teachers and students were "reportedly trapped in the school."

North Cotabato Gov Emmylou Talino-Mendoza said the villages affected by the ongoing gun battle are Pulungugen, Maligao and Tugal.

Residents have already evacuated while classes have been suspended.

"We are on full alert. Our priority now is our evacuess. DepEd has canceled classes in some areas in Midsayap," Mendoza said. The governor said she is sending some representatives to talk to BIFF to allow safe passage for the civilians.

Led by former 105th Base Commander Ameril Umbra Kato, the BIFF splintered from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front after serious disagreements with the conduct of the peace negotiations.

The BIFF is demanding for a separate Islamic state.

MNLF to file counter-charges vs govt

From Rappler (Sep 23): MNLF to file counter-charges vs govt

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said it will file counter-charges against the Philippine government over the Zamboanga crisis.

The MNLF’s Absalom Cerveza said the group of founding chairman Nur Misuari will also sue the government for damages in the conflict in Zamboanga City.

Cerveza was responding to the statement of President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday, September 22, that that the government will file criminal charges against Misuari and his followers.

READ: Rebellion charges readed vs Misuari

“We will also charge the government for the destruction of houses and [other properties],” Cerveza said via phonepatch at the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel press forum on Monday, September 23.

On Sunday, Aquino said the government has witnesses who will directly link Misuari to the conflict, and that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is already preparing charges against him.

Misuari’s lawyer in Manila, Rexie Bugaring, said in the same press forum that the MNLF will sue the government using the laws of the Bangsamoro Republik, whose independence Misuari declared in August. The Aquino administration has refused to recognize this, saying there is only one government.

“That (filing of charges) is accepted from the very start once you declare independence but according to the spokesman (Cerveza), if they sue us, we will also sue them and ask for reparation of damages to their territory,” Bugaring said.

“What [the MNLF] said is, ‘We have our own Constitution, our own laws to follow. What [the government] did in Zamboanga is also their responsibility. In fact, we are intending to charge them with war damage,’” said Bugaring.

Bugaring refused to say when he last spoke with Misuari, invoking lawyer-client confidentiality. Misuari was supposed to be interviewed via phonepatch in the press conference but Bugaring said the MNLF founding chairman was “in the mountains,” making this impossible.

MNLF spokesperson Emmanuel Fontanilla said the government’s move to file charges against Misuari is “non-productive.”

“The government is pushing the other party to the extreme. If the government will not allow MNLF to play in political arena, what will be the alternative now? …. It’s embarrassing. There is a final peace agreement, the Tripoli agreement. Why isn’t the government using this agreement,” Fontanilla said also via phonepatch.

The spokesperson was referring to the peace agreement the MNLF signed with the Ramos administration in 1996. The MNLF signed the Tripoli Agreement earlier in 1976.

READ: Misuari and the lessons of inclusion

Protracted conflict

The Zamboanga conflict has dragged on for two weeks now, killing over 100 people and displacing 100,000 residents.

READ: Young officer killed in Zambo siege

In the press briefing, the MNLF spokespersons reiterated their claim that the government entered into an agreement with its breakaway group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) without fully implementing the 1996 deal with the MNLF.

Last year, the government signed a Framework Agreement with the MILF intending to create a Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Fontanilla said the Organization of Islamic Cooperation already asked the Philippine government to “synchronize” the two agreements but the MNLF does not see how the government can reconcile the 1996 deal with the Framework Agreement.

Fontanilla also cited a supposed letter from the Philippine government dated March 23, 2013 terminating the review of the 1996 agreement. He said the MNLF got the letter from the Indonesian Embassy through an explanatory note.

“Let’s put things in the proper context. What was the first deal the government signed? …. Why will the government take the first agreement for granted? Bakit ang nakatatandang kapatid ang luluhod sa nakababatang kapatid? That’s very sad. Kami ang pasusundin sa ikalawang agreement.” (Why will you let the elder sibling kneel before the younger sibling? It’s sad that we are being made to follow the second agreement.)

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda has denied that the government terminated the review, saying there is an ongoing review process of the implementation of the 1996 pact. The government also said it invited Misuari and his group to join the Transition Commission that will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law but they declined.

“If you know the chairman and if you just know him a person, he is a person who looks for all alternatives but unfortunately he realized the elections in the Philippines is so corrupt, very corrupt that an honest person can never try. We opted for political process. We announced we are opting for a peaceful process but unfortunately the Zamboanga incident intervened which became uncontrollable,” Fontanilla said.

Fontanilla and Bugaring said the MNLF only meant to organize a peace caravan in Zamboanga City and it was the military and police that “accosted” them.

The government though said it could not allow the MNLF to raise its flag in the Zamboanga city hall, and merely responded when the group seized 5 barangays or villages, took civilians hostages and used them as human shields.

PNP: MNLF members 'repeatedly' tried to surrender

From Rappler (Sep 23): PNP: MNLF members 'repeatedly' tried to surrender

DEBRIEFING. The 23 MNLF members who surrendered September 17 may be allowed to go home to Basilan if proven they didn't participate in the Zamboanga fighting. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

DEBRIEFING. The 23 MNLF members who surrendered September 17 may be allowed to go home to Basilan if proven they didn't participate in the Zamboanga fighting. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

Police interrogation of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters now in government custody shows they "repeatedly" tried to surrender in the early stages of the standoff but "attempts" to contact government officials "failed."

"They have decided to stop the fight and cease fire. Unfortunately, repeated attempts by the Yakan group to contact the government and state their opposition to [Commander Habier] Malik’s action failed," reads a police report released on Sunday, September 22.
Region 9 police spokesman Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca told Rappler this was the result of police interrogation of MNLF fighters who surrendered.
Rappler earlier reported that about 70 MNLF members, mostly from the Yakan tribe based in Basilan, surrendered to the police in Sta Barbara on September 12, or the 4th day of the siege. It was ignored, however.
They waited the entire night for their surrender to be processed by the Crisis Management Committee based in the city proper, but the committee later denied reports of their surrender. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas denied a surrender took place. But we stand by our story.
The surrender of 23 MNLF rebels would happen 5 days later — on September 17.
Clearing operations and intense fighting continued on Monday, September 23, the 15th day of the bloody siege. Two MNLF rebels were killed in Sta Barbara. Government troops were able to rescue two elderly who were trapped in the battle zone.
It's a close quarter battle that President Benigno Aquino III thought it would end last Sunday, September 22.
The Yakans and the Tausug
The police have been making a distinction between the Yankan MNLF fighters from Basilan and the Tausug MNLF fighters from Sulu.
As of September 22, a total 49 MNLF fighters have surrendered. Most, if not all, are Yakans from Basilan.
Malik and the remaining rebels fighting government troops in Zamboanga City belong to the Tausug tribe in Sulu.
The first big batch surrendered to Zamboanga City police chief Senior Supt Juan Chiquito Malayo on September 17. More MNLF fighters have surrendered since.
Malik's 'Grand Deception'?
The police have called the siege as "The Grand Deception" by Malik.
Huesca said the MNLF surrenderees claimed they sailed to Zamboanga City for a "peaceful rally." They were supposedly surprised when they were issued high-powered firearms.
"During interrogation recently conducted by the PNP to those who surrendered, particularly the Yakan MNLF members, specifically coming from Basilan, they consistently maintained that they were here for a 'peace rally,' and Php 10,000.00 will be given to them after the peace rally for these purposes," the police report added.
The MNLF earlier staged peace rallies in different provinces in Mindanao.
In Zamboanga City, however, the armed MNLF fighters supposedly wanted to hoist the flag of the "Independent Bangsamoro Republik" at the City Hall. Thus, the standoff.
Malik's anger?
The surrenderees admitted they initially engaged government troops. But they later decided to stop fighting and just surrender.
"Confused [with] their predicament and being now caught in the middle , they also fought with the government forces as they felt that they have no more choice and join what was clearly now, an attack on Zamboanga City," the police report added.
Their decision angered Malik, the report said.
"Malik subsequently ordered his men to disarm the Yakan group and two of them were killed," the police report continued.

PH, China in battle of photos on Scarborough shoal

From InterAksyon (Sep 23): PH, China in battle of photos on Scarborough shoal

That is the latest question troubling the strained relationship between the Philippines and China over the disputed Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal, off the South China Sea. This time, though, the dispute is playing out through photographs, more than words.

A week after the Armed Forces of the Philippines came out with photographs showing concrete blocks in Bajo de Masinloc, China released photos that showed only rocks and corals.

The photos sent by China to Philippine officials were said to have been taken second week of September to support the statement issued by China’s Foreign Ministry that the Philippine claim was “fabricated.”

Defense Department Spokesman Peter Paul Galvez and Philippine Navy Spokesperson Lieutenant Commodore Gregory Fabic both declined to comment on China’s photos and referred the matter to the Department of Foreign Affairs. 

The Philippine Navy, in a monitoring report on Sept 10, found “at least two concrete blocks,” on Bajo de Masinloc, which military officials feared would serve as foundation for future construction.

Navy officials, however, cannot tell from the photos if the concrete blocks were placed there recently or had been there before April 2012.

Navy Chief Vice Adm. Jose Luis Alano earlier said the removal of concrete blocks in the area, currently guarded by at least three Chinese ships, is under discussion.

The concrete blocks in Scarborough shoal, Huangyan Island to the Chinese, are the latest issue in the long-running dispute between the Philippines and China over rock formations 124 nautical miles west of Zambales. These are within the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the country but have been under the control of China since April 2012. 

DFA Spokesperson Raul Hernandez skirted the issue saying, “We think that to address the issue, the action to be taken would be to focus on the expeditious conclusion of the legally-binding code of conduct on the SCS and also on our preparation of our memorial for the arbitration case with China.”

He did not reply when asked if the concrete blocks on Scarborough Shoal would be included in the Philippine petition before the United Nations Arbitral Court nor did he provide updates on Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario’s earlier announcement that the Philippines would file a diplomatic protest.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin first presented the photos of concrete blocks in Scarborough shoal numbering 75, taken by the Philippine Navy, in a congressional budget hearing last Sept. 3.

Gazmin said the photos, taken on Sept. 2, showed “concrete blocks inside the shoal” which he said  “may serve as foundations, platforms, a prelude to construction.” The photos also showed Chinese Coast Guard vessels about 3.2 nautical miles off the shoal’s entrance.

Aside from the concrete blocks, there is a photo showing two vertical posts at north off the shoal’s entrance, which were first seen as early as July this year.

Immediately after Gazmin’s congressional disclosure, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei said, “No one knows the situation on the Huangyan Island better than China. What the Philippines said was completely fabricated.”

Hong reiterated China’s claim over the shoal. “I would like to underline that China's activities on the Huangyan Island and in its adjacent waters fall entirely within the scope of China's sovereignty. China urges the Philippines to stop stirring up new troubles and work together with China to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea and restore bilateral relations,” he said.

Philippines officials fear that the concrete blocks in Scarborough shoal would lead to another “Mischief Reef.”

In February 1995, the Philippines discovered a cluster of huts in Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, 130 nautical miles west of Palawan.  It is now a military garrison.

The islands in the Spratlys in the South China Sea are being claimed partly by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei and wholly by China and Taiwan. The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations is in talks with China for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has questioned before the U.N. Arbitral Court China’s nine-dashed line map which gives the Asian superpower 90 per cent of the vast South China Sea.

VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

At least 3 dead, 5 wounded as govt troops, BIFF clash in North Cotabato

From InterAksyon (Sep 23): At least 3 dead, 5 wounded as govt troops, BIFF clash in North Cotabato

At least one soldier and two rebels were killed as government forces battled the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in three villages of Midsayap town, North Cotabato on Monday, the military said.

Five other combatants were also wounded.

Hundreds of residents have also fled the fighting that broke out almost simultaneously around 7 a.m. in Barangays Bual Norte, Malingaw and Palunoguen.

Before this, BIFF fighters tried to enter Barangay Rangaban around 2:20 a.m. but were repulsed by members of the Civilian Volunteer Organization in the village.

The military also claimed that at least three of about 15 schoolteachers who were earlier reported trapped with an undetermined number of students at the Malingaw Central School when the clashes erupted had been taken hostage by retreating rebels.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misrie Mama confirmed that their forces attacked the three villages even as he stressed this had nothing to do with the continued standoff in Zamboanga City between security forces and the Moro National Liberation Front, which entered its 15th day Monday.

Capt. Tony Bulao, spokesman of the 602nd Infantry Brigade, said the BIFF gunmen barged into the school around 8:30 a.m. and seized some of the teachers and students, using them as “human shields” against pursuing soldiers and policemen but later releasing most of them.

However, Bulao said a cornered group of gunmen were still holding on to the three teachers and North Cotabato Provincial Board member Kiely Antao was negotiating for the unconditional release of the hostages.

“We’ve a soldier killed in action and another one wounded. There were two killed and four wounded on the BIFF side. (A) firefight (is) still ongoing,” Bulao said.

“Ongoing ang habulan. May mga ni-release sila (The pursuit is continuing. They have released some hostages) while withdrawing and they have splintered into smaller groups with their own captives as human shields,” Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said in a phone interview.

The fighting also led to the suspension of classes at all levels in Midsayap for fear of a spillover.

The BIFF is a rebel group that broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
In the early stage of the Zamboanga standoff, BIFF fighters were reported to have joined gunmen from the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf in unsuccessful attempts to seize Lamitan City in Basilan.

At least 15 public school teachers and a still unknown number of students are reported trapped as government troops battled the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Midsayap town, North Cotabato.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesman, said one soldier was killed and two others wounded in the fighting.

At the same time, Hermoso claimed the BIFF fighters allegedly took the teachers and students hostage, using them as “human shields” to cover their retreat, although he acknowledged, “May mga ni-release sila (They have released a few).”

Hundreds of residents have also fled the fighting in the three villages -- Bual Norte, Malingaw and Palunoguen.

The teachers and students were at the Malingaw Central School when the fighting broke out, reports said.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misrie Mama confirmed that their forces attacked the three villages even as he stressed this had nothing to do with the continued standoff in Zamboanga City between security forces and the Moro National Liberation Front.

The BIFF is a rebel group that broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Air Force flies relief goods to typhoon-battered Batanes; NEA to restore power

From InterAksyon (Sep 23): Air Force flies relief goods to typhoon-battered Batanes; NEA to restore power

A Philippine Air Force C-130 aircraft loaded with relief goods landed in Batanes, the worst-hit province when typhoon "Odette" (international codename: Usagi) struck Northern Luzon.

Malacanang also said personnel of the National Electrification Admiinstration are on their way to Batanes to restore power, which has been down since Friday, even before Odette made landfall.

Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said some telecommunication companies have also sent representatives to Batanes to provide charging stations to affected residents.

The country's northernmost province, which is regularly visited by typhoons, was battered by winds in excess of 200 kilometers per hour, although there have been no reports of casualties there.

Davao residents throw stones at rebels trying to set fire to construction equipment

From InterAksyon (Sep 23): Davao residents throw stones at rebels trying to set fire to construction equipment
A dispatch from the military says civilians threw stones at three armed communist rebels on a motorcycle, preventing the insurgents from setting fire to a backhoe and a payloader, both being used for a construction project in Panacan, Davao City. 
None of rebels were killed or hurt, as they managed to retreat to Monkayo, the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command said in a statement. 
The construction company that uses the heavy equipment had been refusing to give in to alleged extortion demands from the New People's Army, a civilian who refused to be identified said. "There will be no progress in our place if the NPAs are there asking for protection money," he said. "In the first place, it's for the progress of our town."
Combined Army-PNP elements from 25th IB responded to the civilians' call for help. Residents and local officials suspect that rebels belonging to the NPA's Front Committee 33 were behind the foiled attack. 
"Joint security operations in the areas of concern continue," Lt. Col Molina said in the military's statement. For his part, Eastmincom Chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz III congratulated the civilian residents.  "This is a concrete example of our bayanihan (communal spirit) in the community,” he said.

Misuari hiding in an island in Sulu, hunted by govt tracking teams - Hataman

From InterAksyon (Sep 23): Misuari hiding in an island in Sulu, hunted by govt tracking teams - Hataman

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari is now being hunted by a tracker team of government security forces in one of the islands in Sulu, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujib Hataman said on Monday.

Interviewed after the budget hearing for ARMM, Hataman said they received and validated reports from their sources that Misuari is now holed up in an island in Sulu, which he refused to identifty.

“We have reports [that he is in Sulu, though not on the mainland but on one of the islands there, and he] is mobile,” Hataman told media, speaking partly in Filipino. Misuari is no longer in the station he used to stay in before hundreds of his followers laid siege on Zamboanga City 14 days ago, according to the governor.

Hataman stressed the information relayed to him was updated by intelligence sources. “The information is updated, actually updated, as of this morning, someone informed me he is still in Sulu.”

Nur’s false promise

Meanwhile, Hataman offered the version he pieced together of what ignited the raid of the city. He said the group of Misuari's top aide Habier Malik attacked Zamboanga City because Misuari promised and informed them that the United Nations had sent a peacekeeping force to assist them in proclaiming independence from the Philippines.

Supposedly Malik's group was told that once the UN peacekeepers arrive in Zamboanga, they [MNLF men] will be given salaries and guns, Hataman said.

He claimed Misuari used a certain Daniel Xavier, an American expatriate living in Bacolod or Tacloban and posing as a representative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to the country.

“There is a man claiming to ba an American and UN representative named Daniel Xavier, who went to Sulu--we don't know if he's still there--about one month and two week before the crisis in Zamboanga,” Hataman said.

Misuari supposedly used Xavier to persuade Malik’s group to go to Zamboanga City and declare their Independence in the city as they did somewhere in Palawan last month.

Hataman said that when he learned of that report, “we called OPAPP (Office of Presidential Adviser for Peace Process), so the OPAPP communicated with the UN.”

A check with the UN representative in Manila, Hataman added, later had the international organization deny they have a man called Daniel Xavier.

“During the early days of this crisis, the UN issued statements twice [denying they had sent a representative],” Hataman said.

Hataman said a tracking team is now also hunting Xavier, who is believed to be hiding.

The ARMM chief added that Xavier is also being hunted for an estafa case lodged against him in Bacolod City.

9 confirmed dead in Subic landslides; US Embassy asked to re-direct Phiblex drills to rescue ops

From InterAksyon (Sep 23): 9 confirmed dead in Subic landslides; US Embassy asked to re-direct Phiblex drills to rescue ops

The fatality count from deadly landslides in a village in Subic, Zambales rose to nine as rescuers raced against time to save four people trapped beneath mud that buried their homes Monday morning.

Subic, Zambales Mayor Jay Khonghun together with Olonagpo City Mayor Rolen Paulino--who is reportedly on official business in the United States--appealed to US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. to “re-direct” the US Navy’s resources currently participating in the RP-US Phiblex exercises to search-and-rescue operations in flooded places.

The two local government units earlier declared a state of calamity and urgently appealed to the national government for help. Olongapo city officials, saying 12 hours of nonstop rains had given them the "worst flooding ever" sent out urgent appeals for help through social media as hundreds remained trapped on rooftops and in houses.
In Barangay Wawandue, Khonghun said they retrieved the body of the sixth fatality at around 3:40 p.m. At least 7 houses were hit by a landslide.

Meanwhile, authorities were verifying reports that four people were also killed in a landslide in San Marcelino town.

"In all, we have receovered nione bodies from the debris. We have to dig them out by hand because we remain hopeful there are others still alive. We don't want to use equipment that could harm them," Mayor Khonghun explained, speaking in Filipino.
Khonghun said thousands of families were still stranded on rooftops in Barangay Sto. Tomas, particularly in Sta. Monica Subdivision.

Floodwaters have already reached the second floor of their houses, and with PAGASA warning of more rains, officials fear the floods could keep rising.

The mayor appealed to the national government, especially the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Department of Public Works and Highways for help, adding, "this is the first time we saw this kind of flooding."

Subic, he added, was so isolated that even big vehicles could not make it through the flooded sites.

Barangays Sta. Rita, Old Cabalan and Banicain in Olongapo are severely affected by floods.

Barangays Gordon Heights, Mabayuhan and Little Baguio, which are located on higher ground, were not affected by floods.