Friday, September 27, 2013

MILF: Military option no solution

From the MILF Website (Sep 27): Military option no solution

(In) a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a leading newspaper in the country dated September 20, 2013, Abe Lukman of Zamboanga City considered the violence in Zamboanga City as a consequence of the past mishandling of peace agreements.
According to him, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) review of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the national government are now a subject of controversy of the Tripartite (Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC]-Philippine Government [GPH]-MNLF) talks. A look at what these peace processes had created is putting all parties concerned in a dilemma, if not in a state of confusion.

He said that, “Since the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the 1986 Jeddah Accord, and the 1996 FPA, it now virtually appears that everything was only good for signing but not for implementing. Hence, the review of Republic Act No. 9054 creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which began in 2007 and continues up to the present, came up with 42 GPH-MNLF legislative points. But the MNLF problem is being held in abeyance as the GPH negotiates another peace deal with the MILF.”

“Nur Misuari blundered into declaring independence last month, which seemingly abrogated any peace agreement. Anyhow, those who know Misuari are saying it is only a matter of how to handle him—like how former President Fidel Ramos treated and handled him. But that kind of handling is hardly an option for the present administration—as Misuari has already been found out to be a leader only but not one with managerial ability to govern. His declaration of independence, to the contrary, is not really meant to attain the impossible. It is his way of getting something short of independence, to suit what he wants”, Lukman said.

The national government knows that the majority of the MNLF senior leaders have been questioning the leadership style of Misuari. Misuari cannot be underestimated; this is correct because there are still thousands among the masses who can be easily misled.

While suggesting a solution to the Bangsamoro’s centuries-old problem, Lukman said, “A military option as a way of asserting one’s primacy is not at all a solution. The Bangsamoro people have never been subdued or conquered—not by the Spaniards or the Americans or the Japanese. (Take note of the Kamlon defiance and the ongoing rebellion.)

What matters most is a genuine, peaceful political solution that must prevail under the stewardship of a strong, sincere, determined leadership with exemplary statesmanship, he said.

He finally stressed, “That parties should act together in imposing a fair, genuine and lasting political solution under an atmosphere of a thorough, sustained, orderly and effective brotherly consultation with all stakeholders.”

In a latest report from our information officer on the ground relayed to Luwaran on September 26, it said that sources from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police put the casualties of the Zamboanga siege at 106 killed on the MNLF side and 18 killed on the government side with 169 wounded. There were 207 MNLF rebels captured including those who surrendered.
9:59 PM 9/27/2013.

As of 6:43pm of September 26 government assistance to internally-displaced persons (IDP’s) in 33 evacuation centers in the city through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had reached 86.18 Million Pesos; 10,160 houses razed to the ground and 200Million estimated damages to properties.

North Cotabato on alert vs BIFF

From MindaNews (Sep 27): North Cotabato on alert vs BIFF

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou TaliƱo-Mendoza on Friday assured her constituents that the provincial government is closely coordinating with government security forces to possibly thwart further attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Mendoza issued the statement amid rumors that the BIFF would launch another attack in some parts of the province.

In a text message, the governor said the military and police are on alert to avert “any diversionary, opportunistic and terroristic plans of any armed group in the province.”

“Our disaster, medical and relief teams are on standby for support. We are getting constant updates from the LGUs (local government units) down to the barangays for any sightings of the armed group,” the governor said.

The rumors came following the sporadic clashes in the rice-producing villages of Midsayap on Monday, which displaced at least 2,000 families and left two civilians dead.

On Thursday, government forces were able to foil another attack by the BIFF rebels in barangays Tibao in M’lang and Dalapitan in Matalam.

Mendoza assured that “it’s business as usual in the province of Cotabato.”

“We cannot allow fear to stop us from working and providing foods on the table,” she said.

MNLF-Misuari: Aquino government (has) chosen war, not peace for Mindanao

Editorial posted to the MNLF-Misuari Website (Sep 26): Aquino government (has) chosen war, not peace for Mindanao

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable," said John F. Kennedy.
It is recalled that the continuing 4-decade Filipino-Moro war in Mindanao was designed by the Philippine Commonwealth regime of President Manuel L. Quezon, who proudly declared the colonization and occupation of the Bangsamoro homeland of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan (MINSUPALA) with the enactment of the draconian law National Assembly Legislative Act No. 4197 otherwise known as the Quirino-Recto Colonization Act.
Years later after the presidential terms of Sotero Laurel, Sergio Osmena, Sr., Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia and Diosdado Macapagal, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who wanted to become Chief Exe-
cutive for life and even "king" of North Borneo ('Sabah'), ignited and sparked the genocidal Mindanao war by malevolently scheming the secret training of Bangsamoro Tausug Muslims in Corrigidor Island for the invasion and occupation of Sabah. The clandestine military training under Philippine Air Force (PAF) Major Eduardo Martelino was exposed to the whole world when the Muslim trainees mutinied once knowing the real dark motive. But they were mercilessly massacred by AFP officers except for one survivor, Jibin Arola, who revealed the dastard crime to the whole of humanity through local and international media. Thus, the massacre event day - August 18, 1968 - is observed by the Bangsamoro people of Mindanao as the time the criminal Marcos government declared and started the Mindanao war. And this particular dark event lead to the foundation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Chairman Prof. Nur Misuari, Vice-Chairman Datu Abul Khayr Alonto and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Al-Ustaj Salamat Hasim.

Since the outbreak of the Filipino-Moro war in Mindanao in late 1960s, the MNLF-launched Jihad Fi-Sabilillah (Armed Struggle in the Way of Allah) or freedom struggle was morally based on regaining the independence and national self-determination of the oppressed Bangsamoro people of Filipino-clonized Mindanao. But this was toned down later on to complete autonomy for the sake of Mindanao peace that was initially negotiated in Tripoli, Libya in 1976 by both the Philippine Marcos government and the MNLF  with the active participation of the OIC that forged the "historical" December 22, 1976 Tripoli Peace Agreement. Nonetheless, the Marcos dictatorship betrayed Mindanao peace when it strategized to divide the MNLF leadership and ground freedom fighters. The Marcos regime unilaterally put in place two region fake autonomous government - Region 9 and 12 - that was outright rejected by the MNLF and OIC because it did not conform to the letter and spirit of the negotiated peaceful settlement based on the 1976 Tripoli Peace Agreement.
Consequently, the succeeding  Aquino government engaged again the MNLF into peace dialogue, highlighted by the meeting of President Corazon C. Aquino and Chairman Nur Misuari in Jolo, and succeeded to ink the February 17, 1987 Jeddah Accord based on the principle of the previous 1976 Tripoli Peace Agreement. However, peace again gave way to war when the agreement was not implemented, but instead the Aquino government shrewdly established the bogus 4-province Autonomous Government in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The next Ramos government again convincingly initiated peace talks with the MNLF and successfully conducted exhaustive peace negotiations for more than three years in Indonesia and in the Philippines. The peace parley lead to the signing of the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements in Malacanang Palace, Manila. The Philippine Ramos government proceeded to establish the peace agreement by creating through presidential decree the 13-province and 9-city Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and together with ARMM as a political component was offered to the MNLF for direct administration while the correct and complete implementation was being worked out.
 However, the next Philippine administration, never mind the short-lived Estrada watch, but the Arroyo dispensation decided again to betray the MNLF and Bangsamoro people by dividing the MNLF leadership with the creation of the so-called Moro National Liberation Front- Executive Council composed of 15 leaders, who were promised government positions and financial dole-outs. The MNLF core leadership and gaosbaogbaog (solid mass supporters) considered this group as "Malacanang National Liberation Front-Easy money Currency (MNLF-EC15)" because this was only used by the Arroyo government to undermine and discredit MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari and to pursue the Philippine government's colonial interest to apply for OIC observer status. This is despite the fact that the Manila government have full knowledge that the MNLF is the official representative of the oppressed Bangsamoro people of Filipino-colonized Mindanao and is enjoying OIC "Permanent Observer" status. Simply put, the Arroyo government did not pay attention at all to the 1996 peace agreement and instead established the new 5-province ARMM crafted by Philippine Congress despite the concrete inputs and formal protest of the MNLF.
 On this end, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari and steadfast leaders decided to abandon the administration of ARMM and decided to resume the original objective of freedom struggle to regain independence for Mindanao. In the general meeting of all members of the MNLF central committee, state chairmen, political, military, religious and committed mass leaders in Zamboanga City sometime on April, 2000, the MNLF assembly formally proclaimed a peaceful struggle for Mindanao independence and spontaneously selected MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari as president and the MNLF Peace Panel Spokesman, Reverend Absalom Cerveza, as Prime Minister of the would-be established Bangsamoro Republik.
 However, the peaceful declaration of Mindanao independence did not sit well with the Philippine colonial government. The colonial AFP occupation soldiers provoked a war in Jolo as the MNLF Chairman was scheduled to leave bound for Jeddah to report the latest events to the OIC Secretary General.
Thus, following the usual backdoor route, Chairman Misuari departed from Jolo to pass by Sabah, but unexpectedly he was apprehended by the Malaysian authorities on direct order from Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad. It was revealed by a reliable source that the Malaysian Prime Minister complicitly conspired with the Arroyo government to create the MNLF EC15 in order to diminish the effective and strategic role of Chairman Misuari as a Tausug MNLF leader. The Malaysian Prime Minister, who have been denying helping the MNLF freedom fighters and hosting Chairman Misuari in highly confidential meetings in the past, cannot just convince the MNLF Chairman to compromise on North Borneo or Sabah as part of  Malaysia's sovereignty. Thus, to block the usual free passage of the MNLF Chairman in travelling and reaching the

Middle Eastern countries with no hassle and difficulty, the Mahathir regime this time arrested him and his 6-man entourage on malicious "illegal entry," whereas before his entry and exit in Sabah is facilitated by Malaysia's intelligence service, Special Branch, which is directly under the Prime Minister's office. 
While being detained by the Mahathir government in Malaysia, Atty. Ely Velez Pamatong, who served as legal adviser to the MNLF Chairman, rushed to Kuala Lumpur to file a writ of habeas corpuz compelling the Malysian government to release the MNLF Chairman from illegal detention. This was after submitting the Bangsamoro people's petition for independence from Philippine colonialism to the Decolonization Committee of the United Nations (UN) in New York. However, although without extradition treaty, the Mahathir regime decided to turn over Chairman Misuari to the Arroyo government to face rebellion charge and to suffer imprisonment for almost five years until release for lack of material evidence and strong pressure from the OIC. While the MNLF Chairman was imprisoned, the OIC proposed for the formation of a tripartite ministerial committee to review the 1996 peace agreement so as to be properly and correctly implemented. The proposed diplomatic and legal mechanism somehow anchored the continuing peace process and prevented any big scale war from happening similar to the present bloody Filipino-Moro war in Zamboanga City.
It is now a matter of historical fact that the large scale war inside Zamboanga City between the AFP soldiers and MNLF freedom fighters could have been averted before hand had the Aquino government exercised even only an elementary courtesy in respecting the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements. But in its bid to please the Malaysian government now under Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for mysterious reason, the Aquino government embarked on deceiving the Bangsamoro people and humanity that Mindanao peace was easier to reach by supporting the Malaysia-brokered peace talks between the Philippine government (PGH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and coming out with the framework agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB). Apparently, the Aquino government have belittled the 58-nation Organization of Cooperation to find a peaceful comprehensive solution to the Mindanao problem and that Malaysia alone can do it.
 On one hand, by banking strongly on Malaysia to solve the Filipino-Moro war in Mindanao, it is highly suspicous that the Aquino government have not compromised for monetary and material considerations the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo (SSNB) and Philippines' Sabah claim that until now remain unresolved as characterized recently by the SSNB-Malaysia war in Lahad Datu, Sabah. Underscoring on the Lahad Datu incident, Malaysia had showed its capacity to destroy human lives at the expense of harping on sovereignty over disputed North Borneo or Sabah that until now is considered by the Sulu Sultanate and the  Tausug Muslims as their historical property but leased only to a private British company. Malaysia until now is paying the measly annual rental of M$5,300 to the Kiram family heirs and legitimate claimants. But on this other volatile issue, the Aquino government have shown more backing for the Malaysian government rather than to the historical rightful owners, who have given authority to the Philippine government to reclaim Sabah for the benefit of both the Filipino and Bangsamoro peoples.
It is also quite strange why the Aquino government want to claim that the cosmetic ARMM is the by-poduct of the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements when it is a common knowledge that the "failed experiment" ARMM, following his claim, was manufactured by his mother's government only to  hoodwink people and humanity that there is in place an autonomous government for the Muslims of Mindanao. The MNLF and the 1996 peace agreement have nothing to do with the farsical ARMM as it was only unilaterally created by the Philippine colonial government to serve as a "cheating capital" of Philippine elections and a liquidation agency for the corrupt national bureaucratic officials, who have the habit of stealing people's taxes like the "pork dealers" of Philippine Senate and Congress.
On the present endless Zamboanga City war, which today has pictured the Aquino government as another Marcos-and- Estrada-type regime that capitalized more on military solution and "all out war" to solve the colonial Filipino-Moro conflict in Mindanao rather than peaceful comprehensive solution, it is just now a sorrowful state of devastating humanitarian disaster.
It is reported that more than 25,000 families and more than 120,000 individuals have been reduced into hapless evacuees seeking refuge in the city central grandstand and two other evacuee centers. Zamboanga City business centers have reported billion losses everyday and unstable condition as the commercial operators cannot concentrate on business operations for fear of sudden hostilities because the city may virtually become a war zone. Death and injury casualties are every day mounting as the media, quoting only AFP source, have reported more than 100 dead and wounded, including MNLF freedom fighters surrendering, but cannot be independently verified.
From the MNLF source, gathered from an insider mole, it is interestingly noted that as of the 10th day city war, AFP Camp Aguinaldo has listed, "503 dead, 741 wounded and 63 'war shock' (awl/deserter) soldiers." This does not include yet the casualties of the following days, like 1st Lt Michel Rama and two other soldiers, who were reportedly killed by MNLF sniper on the 12th day war, and so on. The mole insider even conveyed the message of, "almost the entire AFP soldiers inside the camp have been sent to the war zone"..."It's like Vietnam!"
 On MNLF surrendering as reported by the media sourcing from AFP, the MNLF source particularly observed the 23 MNLF freedom fighters with the 'tsinelas'-wearing commander who were brought on a big bus to the city by the Zamboanga City OIC Chief Police Chiquito Malayo, who was initially reported "kidnapped", "abducted" or "seized". It was later found out he was not kidnapped, but he was sent to Mampang on an AFP mission to pick up the 23 Basilan paid-followers, disguised as MNLF members, of ARMM Governor Mujib Hataman, who is also in tandem with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) in giving positions and financial dole-out to the MNLF-EC15 group that is today used by the Aquino government for cheap propaganda.
It cannot be denied now that the Zamboanga City war could not have happened at all if the city government only heeded the wisdom of effective leaders, like John F. Kennedy, Fidel V. Ramos and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. In the first place, no sane democratic  leaders would have forbidden the fundamental right of people to a peaceful assembly. It is now observed and analyzed, disputing any government alibi or justification, that the direct cause or powder keg that ignited the AFP-MNLF war was when the government blocked the supposedly peace rally of the MNLF members and mass supporters, who came to Zamboanga City from all over the nearby provinces, including far away Palawan. Worse, the MNLF members and supporters were not only allowed to a peaceful assembly in support of Mindanao independence, but they were also harassed by the government authorities and some were arrested and even jailed for a crime of wishing to participate in a peace rally. Yet, peace rallies were conducted in Jolo town and Davao City and no untoward incident occurred because the MNLF members and supporters were given leverage to their right to peaceful assembly. But not in Zamboanga City under Mayor Maria Isabel Climaco, daughter of former legendary Mayor Cesar C. Climaco, who was loved and admired by the Muslims not only Zamboanga City, but the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi because of his just, democratic and firm leadership. Thus, this incident compelled the active MNLF freedom fighters and militant mass supporters from nearby islands to enter the city to come to their aid and rescue leading to the immediate shooting war. MNLF reinforcements from Jolo followed after two days of heavy fighting transforming it into a big scale war.
On the 4th day of the AFP-MNLF war, Philippine Vice-President Jejomar Binay and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin took the initiative of striking ceasefire talks with MNLF Nur Misuari by telephone. The Vice President and MNLF Chairman were classmates before in the University of the Philippines (UP) and somehow has mutual trust with each other. The peace efforts could have ended the war on the 5th day, but the ceasefire move was torpedoed by President Benigno S. Aquino III and DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas for obvious reason. Vice President Binay and Secretary Roxas are bitter political rivals and of two different political camps. Yet the call for peace and the immediate end to the worsening war situation has been raised by the United Nations (UN), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), European Union (EU), Indonesia (being the principal arbiter MNLF-GRP peace talks), major humanitarian non-government organizations, church groups and civilian peace advocates. Nonetheless, the alarming concerns did not move the Aquino government, but instead issued a strongly worded "no ceasefire" and "surrender or die" statements published by the media.
Thus, the AFP-MNLF war inside Zamboanga City continued and extracted more number casualties, burning of houses in the five communities and growing number of civilian evacuees in the declared refugee centers        
 Today, "Zamboanga is bleeding," observed the military general-president turned statesman, Fidel V. Ramos, who is proud to have contributed tremendously to Mindanao peace by engaging the MNLF freedom fighters to peace talks rather than word war, and most importantly, inviting MNLF to the path of peace, not to the thorny road of war. In media reports, he is trying to reach out to the Aquino government reminding the Filipino leaders that in the case of peace and war, the government should not be "divided" and the need to "put the house in order" and furthermore "not to play with people's lives." As a learned, experienced and decorated military veteran, his discription of battle and war is a substantial food for thought for the Filipino colonialist leaders, "you may win a battle, but not a war." But seemingly nobody is listening.
In similar vein, since the Aquino government now have clearly shown no respect for the September 2, 1996 Jakarta Peace Agreement and have chosen war by adopting military solution instead of peace and peaceful solution for the Mindanao problem, the MNLF freedom fighters wish only to convey a simple message to the Aquino government that there is nothing most precious to them than fighting and martyrdom for the sake of freedom and independence of the Bangsamoro homeland of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan.  
 They also wish the world to know that if the war-mood Aquino government hope to kill all MNLF freedom fighters in Zambonga City and elsewhere in Mindanao, they can never hope and suceed to kill an idea whose time has come. Freedom and independence for Mindanao.
After personally overseeing the war in Zamboanga City for a good number of days, President Aquino returned back to Manila without an end to the AFP-MNLF blood-letting. The Aquino government have made a pronouncement to charge "rebellion" in Philippine court the MNLF Chairman and the rest of the MNLF leaders, who have presumably participated in the Zamboanga City battle. On the other hand, the MNLF have also the option to take formally the case of Philippine colonialism to the highest international court for whatever decision because it is about time that the Philippine Aquino government will be charged with a crime against humanity dealing on  continuous colonization and occupation of Mindanao and looting its natural resources.      
 Finally now, it is seen that the ember of war is again aflamed in Mindanao, the ancestral homeland of the Muslim and Animist Lumad natives. Having been for many years now immorally colonized by the Filipinos, they have surely witnessed cruelty and savagery of weak Filipino leaders and have experienced suffering and agony inflicted upon them by the colonial Philippine military occupation soldiers. On this light, there is now again a need to prepare for war if the present Aquino government have shifted from achieving "just and lasting" peace in Mindanao into engaging in genocidal war similar to the past Estrada and Marcos regime.
 So Allah Almighty bless the MNLF Mujahidin (freedom fighters)! - osm/

Malik unlikely to surrender – MNLF spokesman

From GMA News (Sep 27): Malik unlikely to surrender – MNLF spokesman

Hopes of any sign of surrender from Moro National Liberation Front commander Habier Malik became bleaker as the bloody Zamboanga crisis reached its 19th day.

Reverend Absalom Cerveza, the MNLF spokesman for the Misuari faction, said on Friday morning on GMA's News to Go that he received a text message from Malik saying they are ready for whatever fate awaits them in Zamboanga City.
Cerveza, however, did not say when he received the said message.
[Video: NTG: Exclusive: Misuari,ipinag-utos daw na paatrasin na ang pwersa ni Habier Malik sa Zamboanga City]
“Pag-alis nila ng bahay to go to a jihad, to go to a war like this, they do not expect to come home alive,” Cerveza said.

“This might be the darkest episode in the history of the MNLF,” he added.
Malik also asked for prayers for their group, Cerveza said.
Cerveza fears more blood will be shed as he said the MNLF rebels in Zamboanga City are the “hardcore” fighters of the group who were willing to fight to the death with no payment.
The same report, however, said that some arrested MNLF fighters admitted they were promised P10,000 to join the rally in Zamboanga City.

Misuari's order to retreat
Meanwhile, Cerveza said MNLF founder Nur Misuari asked him to tell Malik to retreat from the battlegrounds of Zamboanga City.
He said Misuari told him to call Malik soonest and relay the order to stand down.
However, Cerveza said he wasn't able to contact Malik or any of the MNLF commanders currently fighting the military in Zamboanga City.
Misuari's move came two weeks after he disowned the actions of Malik's group, according to Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco, who said she was able to talk with Misuari.
“Misuari disowned the actions of Habier Malik, the leader of the hostage-takers with whom I communicated separately,” Climaco said as quoted in a tweet of the Zamboanga City local government.
According to Cerveza, the MNLF wishes to continue talks with the government to maintain peace. The group is also ready to face charges that will be filed against it.
The Zamboanga crisis started on September 9 after MNLF forces engaged the military in a gunfight in Barangay Rio Hondo.
The crisis is now on its third week and has claimed at least 154 lives so far.

According to the military, there are an estimated 20 MNLF fighters remaining, including Malik. 

Armed minors recruited by BIFF captured in Midsayap

From GMA News (Sep 27): Armed minors recruited by BIFF captured in Midsayap

The Philippine Army on Monday captured several minors believed to be members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)  armed with improvised firearms and explosives in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

In a report aired on "24 Oras" Friday, Army spokesperson Col. Dickson Hermoso said soldiers caught a group of BIFF fighters with during military operations in several villages in Midsayap. They were approximately 17-years-old and below 

In the minors' possession were several improvised firearms and ammunition for various guns. Some of the young fighters were also caught carrying high-power explosives.

"Ginagamit nila (BIFF) ang mga batang ito, hindi lang bilang errand [boys] o runners, pero humahawak rin sila ng baril," Hermoso said.

The colonel added that the soldiers sometimes feel hesitant to fire at suspected members of the BIFF during combat for fear that they might hit children. 

Hermoso said the minors will be turned over to the supervision of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) because they are juvenile offenders who should not be jailed together with adult prisoners.

A report released by the United Nations (UN) in June revealed that rebel groups and the Philippine military recruited minors for their operations in 2012. 

According to the UN, a total of 26 children—23 boys and three girls between 12 and 17 years—were recruited by Philippine armed groups last year.

The Army, however, said the reported use of children in military operations is against their policy and they would have to check the veracity of the information.

Legal case against China's West PHL Sea claims gathers pace

From GMA News (Sep 27): Legal case against China's West PHL Sea claims gathers pace

The Philippines' legal challenge against China's claims in the South China Sea is gathering pace, emerging as a "proxy battle" over Beijing's territorial reach.

Manila has assembled a crack international legal team to fight its unprecedented arbitration case under the United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea - ignoring growing pressure from Beijing to scrap the action.

Any result will be unenforceable, legal experts say, but will carry considerable moral and political weight.

The Philippines has invested a "huge amount of political capital in this legal gambit and it wants to ensure success regardless of the cost," said security scholar Ian Storey of Singapore's Institute of South East Asian Studies.

"If the Philippine team submits a less than convincing case...this would be very embarrassing for Manila and put it right back to square one in its dispute with China.

"Beijing would also be emboldened to pursue its claims even more assertively than it has been doing over the past few years."

Beyond the legal questions, the case carries political and diplomatic risks and is being closely watched by Japan and Vietnam, locked in their own disputes with China over sea territory, officials from both countries say.

The United States, which is deepening military ties with the Philippines, a longstanding treaty ally, is also watching.

The legal battle mirrors tensions at sea, where China and the Philippines eye each other over rival occupations of the Scarborough and Second Thomas shoals.

Chinese vessels occupied Scarborough after a tense two-month standoff between rival vessels last year - a move some regional analysts have described as an effective annexation by Beijing.

The Philippines accused China of further encroachment when a naval frigate and two other ships steamed within five nautical miles of a dilapidated transport ship that Manila ran aground on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to mark its territory.

One Asian envoy from a non-claimant country said: "We are watching and worrying about an accident or miscalculation sparking an armed confrontation. So in some ways this growing legal fight looks like the proxy battle, you could say."

Overlapping claims in the South China Sea - traversed by half the world's shipping tonnage - are one of the region's biggest flashpoints amid China's military build-up and the U.S. strategic "pivot" back to Asia.

The claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are bisected by China's "nine-dash line" - the historic claim that reaches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

European states, Russia, India and South Korea are also monitoring events, given the sea's shipping lanes and potential oil and gas resources, diplomats and military officials say.

Manila's frustrations

Frustrated by slow progress by the Association of South East Asian Nations in easing tensions and fearing its sovereignty was threatened, Philippines officials said they had no alternative.

Unable to contest actual sovereignty in international courts without China's consent, Manila instead launched its arbitration in January - despite formal objections from Beijing.

Philippines Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez told Reuters this week that Manila remained positive that the action would clarify the claims and entitlements of claimants to "benefit the region and the international community as a whole".

Manila's team is preparing arguments to show that the nine-dash line claim is invalid under of the Law of the Sea. They are also seeking clarifications of the territorial limits, under the law, of rocks and shoals such as Scarborough - all part of a bid to confirm the Philippines' rights within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Philippines' lead counsel Paul Reichler, a Washington-based lawyer with Foley Hoag, told Reuters that his five-strong team included British law professors Philippe Sands and Alan Boyle as well as Bernard Oxman from the University of Miami's law school.

Independent legal experts have described the team, managed by the Philippines' Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, as "formidable", with deep experience of the arcane world of the Law of the Sea, a landmark document approved in the early 1980s.

China's anger

China has refused to participate, saying the case has "no legal grounds", and is widely expected to reject any outcome its does not agree with.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China views the move as a breach of a 2002 declaration between China and ASEAN.

"The Philippines has illegally occupied the reefs and islands in the South China Sea that belong to China... China has consistently advocated for resolution to the dispute at hand through bilateral dialogue," he said.

Behind the scenes, Chinese diplomats are telling the Philippines' ASEAN peers that the case has no merit, according to diplomats from the 10-nation grouping.

Philippines Foreign Ministry officials said Beijing demanded that Manila scrap the case as a condition for a long-planned trip by President Benigno Aquino to a regional trade show in southern China this month. Chinese officials said no invitation was ever offered. The trip never happened.

The Philippines' effort, however, was recently given a boost by a decision from an arbitration panel created to hear the case under the U.N.'s International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea.

The five international judges said the Philippines had until March 30, 2014 to produce written arguments about the case's admissibility and merits. China is a member of the tribunal but has forgone its right to select one of the judges to the panel.

Maritime scholar Clive Schofield said the request for the Philippines to provide arguments was potentially favorable. It also meant the case might take less than the three to four years anticipated by Manila when it was launched in January.

"It suggests that the Philippines will be able to present its arguments on the merits of the case as soon as the jurisdictional hurdle is overcome...If I was sitting the Philippines' chair right now I would be happier than sitting in China's," said Schofield, a professor at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

Schofield described the panel as "irreproachable. These guys are at the very top of their game and I expect it would be very unlikely they would be swayed by political issues."

He said that it appeared the panel would not be hostile to China even though it was not contesting the arbitration.

Ultimately, the Philippines was anticipating a "good return" on its investment, said Storey, the Singapore-based expert. A favorable ruling would give Manila confidence in developing oil and gas reserves in disputed areas such as the Reed Bank.

"Foreign energy companies would also feel more comfortable about investing in areas...that lie within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone," he said.

Soldiers swoop down on suspected Malik hideout in Zambo City

From GMA News (Sep 27): Soldiers swoop down on suspected Malik hideout in Zambo City

Government forces in Zamboanga City on Friday afternoon stormed an area believed to be the hiding place of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Habier Malik, according to Jun Veneracion's report on GMA News TV.

Veneracion reported that state troops were exchanging shots with MNLF rebels in the coastal village of Kasanyangan.

He said soldiers surrounded the village as it is a possible escape route for MNLF rebels fleeing the city.
Meanwhile, in an interview aired on GMA News TV's Flash Report, military information chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said troops continue to hunt down the remaining MNLF gunmen in clearing operations in several "areas of interest" in Zamboanga City.

Zagala, however, refused to identify these "areas of interest."
"Alam natin na kakaunti na lang ang bala nila, wala na silang pagkain at ang will to fight nila ay diminished na, so hanggang hindi natin sila natatanggal lahat ay patuloy po ang ating operations," Zagala said. 

An earlier report said military forces believe Malik was wounded during military operations two days ago.

In a report by dzBB correspondent Glenn Juego on GMA News TV's Balitanghali, Philippine Army 7th Civil Relations Group commander Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said at a press conference that Malik sustained wounds during an encounter in Sta. Catalina village.

No surrender

Signs of surrender from Malik, however, became bleaker as the bloody Zamboanga crisis reached its 19th day.

The MNLF spokesman for the Misuari faction, Reverend Absalom Cerveza, said on Friday morning during GMA News TV's News to Go report that he received a text message from Malik saying they are ready for whatever fate awaits them in Zamboanga City.

Nearing its end

Cabunoc said the military is confident the conflict in Zamboanga City is nearing its end with Wednesday's surrender of 36 MNLF fighters including Ener Misuari, reportedly the nephew of founding MNLF chairman Nur Misuari.

Cabunoc said 126 rebels have died while 128 of them have been captured since the conflict in Zamboanga City began on September 9. A total of 148 rebels, meanwhile, have surrendered to the military.

According to the AFP, 18 of its soldiers have died in the clashes while 167 others were wounded. The conflict has also resulted in 12 civilian fatalities with almost 120,000 families displaced from their homes.

AFP: We subdued, not beat up, MNLF fighters

From ABS-CBN (Sep 27): AFP: We subdued, not beat up, MNLF fighters

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday denied claims of some fighters from the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that they were beaten up by soldiers upon their surrender or arrest.

In an interview with ANC's "News Now," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said there is no truth to the rebels' allegations, adding that all of them were treated "humanely."

"There's no truth to that. If ever...we don't tolerate those things," Zagala said.

"One thing for sure is we were able to remove them from the area of operations, we fed them, gave them water and then turned them over to the [Philippine National Police]," he added.

He said they even attended to the rebels' wounds, which he said they sustained in the clashes.

Zagala also noted that there is a difference between "subduing" and beating them.

"Of course they had to be restrained, put down initially because of the tenacity of the firefight... Because of the violence that they brought to the city of Zamboanga, we had to be sure that we were able to subdue them," he explained.

But Zagala said in case the MNLF is able to produce evidence that they were indeed maltreated by the soldiers, the AFP will not hesitate to immediately conduct an investigation.

A certain Elmar Madras, one of the rebels who surrendered to government security forces Thursday, claimed being maltreated by soldiers. "Mga sundalo binugbog kami."

According to Commission on Human Rights (CHR) commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag, some fighters told the CHR team that they were hit by soldiers at the actual time of their arrest.

Mamauag, also in an interview with ANC, said the CHR is continuously monitoring the situation in Zamboanga to make sure that no human rights are violated.

About 200 MNLF fighters are now detained at a prison facility in Zamboanga City.

DOJ to charge Misuari, MNLF leaders for Zambo siege

From ABS-CBN (Sep 27): DOJ to charge Misuari, MNLF leaders for Zambo siege

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is poised to charge Moro National Liberation Front (MNF) founding chaiman Nur Misuari and several of his commanders with rebellion and violations of International Humanitarian Law, as penalized by Republic Act (RA) No. 9851.

Though state security forces have not verified that Misuari has been anywhere near the vicinity of Zamboanga City in the course of the siege which began last Sept 9, De Lima said he may be charged by virtue of command responsibility.

"May mga acts doon (RA 9851) na sa tingin namin ay sakop ang mga nangyari o nagawa during the siege at lalo na, aside from individual responsibility ng mga perpetrator nung acts na yun, contemplated under that particular law ay mayroon ding mga command responsibility and mga leaders," De Lima said.

MNLF fighters identified with Misuari marched into Zamboanga City armed, intending to raise the Independent Bangsamoro standard at City Hall.

They were engaged by the military. The spate of clashes left over a hundred dead.

15 more MNLF men killed in Zambo City clearing operations

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): 15 more MNLF men killed in Zambo City clearing operations

Fifteen more Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members were killed by government forces in clearing operations which started 9:00 p.m. Thursday and ended early Friday morning.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief, said that these MNLF fighters were killed during engagements in the "constriction areas" in barangays Sta. Barbara and Catalina.

No losses were reported on the government side, he added.

"As to now, we are still conducting clearing operations" when asked of developments.

The standoff is now on its 19th day. On Thursday, 45 MNLF fighters were captured by military forces.

Gov't forces pursuing suspected BIFF men who toppled transmission tower in Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): Gov't forces pursuing suspected BIFF men who toppled transmission tower in Cotabato

Government security forces are now pursuing suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who destroyed a transmission tower Kabawan, Cotabato Thursday night.

The incident took place 7:45 p.m. in Sitio Malabuaya, Barangay Kayaga, Kabawan town.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippine tower in the above-mentioned locality was toppled using improvised explosive devices.

This caused a massive blackout all over Maguindanao.

Units conducting pursuit operations are the PNP-Kabacan, 7th Infantry Battalion and the 6th Explosive Ordnance Team, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson Col. Dickson Hermoso said.

Trooper killed in Compostela Valley clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): Trooper killed in Compostela Valley clash

A trooper from the 10th Infantry Division's 72nd Infantry Battalion was killed following a clash with 10 New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Sitio Tanawan, Barangay Malinawon, Mawab town, Compostela Valley Friday morning.

Capt. Raul Villegas, 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the incident took place around 8: 10 a.m.

He added that their troopers were on routine security patrol when they encountered the rebels.

A 20-minute firefight broke out which resulted in the death of one soldier.

The rebels quickly fled after taking an undetermined number of casualties.

72nd Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Alexis Noel L. Bravo said that he sent troops in the area following the request of the residents to protect them from threat and intimidation of NPAs conducting extortion missions in the area.

“We preempted the entry of NPAs in that barangay. If not on the timely arrival of our troops, the community may have been attacked by the NPAs," he added.

Meanwhile, Eastern Mindanao Command commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz III directed unit commanders to be vigilant in their peace outreach programs in the area.

“While we protect our people in the communities from NPAs illegal activities, we must also ensure the safety of our men deployed in the areas of concern," he added.

AFP participates in 'National Peace Consciousness Month and International Day of Peace'

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): AFP participates in 'National Peace Consciousness Month and International Day of Peace'
In celebration of the "National Peace Consciousness Month and International Day of Peace", the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced that it will conduct a simultaneous candle lighting ceremony this Saturday at the EDSA People Power Monument in Quezon City.

The candle lighting activity will take place in EDSA People Power Monument where a giant peace sign made out of candles will be lit to manifest the unity and peace for the country.

The ceremony will be replicated simultaneously in all of AFP’s unified camps nationwide.

The AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista, Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Secretary Teresita Q. Deles, and Philippine Country Director and Coordinator for Asia America Initiative, Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman are expected to participate in the event.

They will be joined by over a thousand active and reserve personnel from the Army, Air Force and Navy, partner agencies and stakeholders, students, and key officials from the Philippine National Police (PNP).

An interfaith prayer followed by a pledge for peace will be conducted by the participants as well as the simultaneous singing of the peace songs; Sana, One More Gift, and One Big Family.

The AFP believes that this activity will help uplift the people’s spirit and inspire them to continue to root for peace amidst continuing conflicts and incidents of violence in the country, particularly in Zamboanga.

The activity which highlights the "National Peace Consciousness Month" serves as a reminder that transformation begins in the hearts of the Filipino people.

It brings the message that the work of nation-building and peace-building is the job and concern of everyone.

'Fog of war' to blame for discrepancies in Zamboanga City stand-off figures

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): 'Fog of war' to blame for discrepancies in Zamboanga City stand-off figures

With the Zamboanga City stand-off now on its 19th day, Lt. Col Harold Cabunoc, 7th Civil Relations Group commander, attributes the discrepancies in remaining Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters and hostages to the so-called "fog of war".

The latter term refers to the confusion in ascertaining figures in the battlefield.

Cabunoc also stressed that this does not mean that the military is manipulating the figures.

He attributes the changing numbers to the fluidity of the situation in the battlefield.

But the Army officer clarified that the military is doing all it can to present the figures accurately to the public.

Cabunoc also stressed that no MNLF fighter though has broken the military cordon.

He also said that the military is doing all it can to end the conflict at the soonest possible time so that Zamboanga City residents can start rebuilding again.

Cabunoc added that they are still verifying reports that MNLF commander Habier Malik was wounded in the ongoing fighting in the constriction areas in Barangays Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina as this is to be confirmed by military sources.

Roxas: 30 Misuari followers still hunted in Zamboanga City

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): Roxas: 30 Misuari followers still hunted in Zamboanga City

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II Friday expressed belief some 30 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction of Nur Misuari are still holed up in Zamboanga City and now the subject of continuing clearing operation there.

”Those still inside (the operation area) are estimated to be more or less 30 (followers of Misuari),” said Roxas in a broadcast interview.

”So, meron pang grupo sa loob at talagang house to house, room to room ang clearing operation ng AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) at PNP (Philippine National Police),” he added.

On the other hand, Roxas said that authorities believed that around five hostages are still being held by the MNLF followers of Misuari.

The DILG chief said that based on the accounts of rescued hostages, they have not seen any more hostages with the MNLF forces while they were still in captivity.

”Well, ayon sa mga nainterview na naligtas na hostage kahapon sabi nila wala na raw silang nakikita pero grupo grupo sila hindi ba. Iba ibang mga grupo ang mga nagtatago sa kanila. Doon sa grupo nila maaari wala na silang nakikita pero sa tala ng pamahalaan maari na meron pang mga tatlo hanggang lima na natitira sa loob,” said Roxas.

So far, Roxas said that government security forces have already rescued a total of 178 hostages since the followers of Misuari, numbering about 300, occupied several barangays in Zamboanga City last Sept. 9.

A total 209 MNLF supporters of Misuari are now detained in connection with the siege.

Bomb explosion rocks Zamboanga Sibugay town

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): Bomb explosion rocks Zamboanga Sibugay town

The authorities are conducting a thorough probe to unmask the people behind the Thursday night bombing of a bridge in the province of Zamboanga Sibugay, the police said Friday.

Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) information officer Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca disclosed the bombing of the bridge took place around 7:45 p.m. Thursday in Barangay Muyo in Buug, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Huesca said no one was wounded when the bomb exploded as a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) was passing on the bridge en route to Ipil, the capital of Zamboanga Sibugay province.

Huesca said the explosion has caused panic among the SUV passengers and “luckily, no one was injured as the result of said explosion.”

He said that there was power failure in almost the entire town of Buug prior to the explosion.

He said the bridge remains passable to all types of vehicles since the bomb explosion did not cause any structural damage.

The police in the town of Buug are conducting follow-up and thorough investigation “in order to determine the identity of the suspect and the motive as well,” Huesca said.

NPA rebels torc cargo truck in Dumarao, Capiz

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): NPA rebels torc cargo truck in Dumarao, Capiz
The police are presently investigating the burning of the cargo truck in Barangay Gibato, Dumarao, Capiz.

Police report reaching here Friday morning said six armed men brandishing M16 armalite rifles who introduced themselves as members of the New People's Army (NPA) rebels were tagged responsible in setting the cargo truck on fire.

In its investigation, SPO3 Tobias Garsin of the Dumarao Municipal Police Station said the truck with 10 work crew on board was heading towards San Rafael, Iloilo for palay procurement in time for the harvest season when flagged down by the armed suspects somewhere in Sitio Cagay, Barangay Rizal, Barotac Viejo,Iloilo.

The armed men commandeered the truck until they reached Brgy. Gibato in Dumarao where they set the vehicle on fire.

Based on testimonies of victims they were ordered by the armed suspects, sporting T-shirts uniform of the Philippine National Police, to disembark after the vehicle got stuck in the mud.

But they were surprised seeing the truck already on fire while they were being dragged towards the nearby bamboo plantation for brief questioning before they were allowed to leave unhurt.

The damaged has yet to be determined by the police authorities.

AFP: MNLF suffers add'l casualties in Zambo standoff

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 27): AFP: MNLF suffers add'l casualties in Zambo standoff

The Moro National Liberation Front rebels have suffered additional casualties in the standoff that entered the 19th day Friday in this city, a military official said.

Armed Forces’ Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said that 15 MNLF rebels were killed when firefight erupted Thursday evening “in the areas of operation.”

The areas of operation include the adjoining barangays of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo.

Zagala said Thursday evening’s firefight erupted when a group of MNLF rebels tried to breach the areas of operation.

Zagala said that another firefight erupted around noontime Friday but he still don’t have a copy of the after encounter report.

Zagala said the clearing operations continue in a bid to clear the area of operation of MNLF rebels.

“We want to be able to remove pockets of resistance within the areas of operation,” he said.

“We are finishing the small pockets of engagement against this MNLF Misuari faction,” he added.

He said so far that 186 MNLF rebels were captured and 52 have surrendered since the start of standoff last September 9.

He said the troops have also confiscated 172 firearms from the rebels.

So far, Zagala said that 23 government forces--18 soldiers and 5 policemen--were killed and 180 others--166 soldiers and 14 policemen--were wounded.

Day 18: In the battle zone, numbers don't add up

From Rappler (Sep 26): Day 18: In the battle zone, numbers don't add up

CAPTURED: MNLF fighters inside the Zamboanga City police station. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

CAPTURED: MNLF fighters inside the Zamboanga City police station. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

Six days ago, the military announced that government troops were dealing with just 40 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters in the combat zone — a far cry from the estimated 400 gunmen who attacked the city on September 9.

But this crisis that President Benigno Aquino III and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin declared as "almost over" continues to drag and the numbers now don't add up.

A total of 45 MNLF fighters were turned over to the police early Thursday morning, September 26. Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala said in an afternoon press briefing that another batch was captured but he couldn't immediately give details.

The previous day, another batch of 38 fighters was captured. This is the batch that includes the nephew of MNLF founder Nur Misuari and a female commander.

READ: Misuari nephew, 37 other MNLF fighters captured

The siege is now on its 18th day and the recent arrests of big batches of MNLF fighters indicate government's confusion over the number of fighters still holed out in the battle zone.

Latest military numbers show a total of 128 MNLF members were captured, 146 surrendered, and 126 were killed. That's already a total of 400 MNLF fighters.

The police numbers are different: 185 captured, 24 surrendered, and 107 killed. That's a total of 316.

The military concedes the landscape is more complex than it appears.

"It's an urban setting. We are going house to house, room to room. There are lots of alleys, there are lots of walls, there are a lot of debris. There's difficulty in moving forward," Zagala said.

"People may say that the size [of operations] is small. But it's not the size. It's the number of structures. It's thethe number of debris. Now is a crucial time for the AFP. Just in a matter of 24 hours, we have so many wounded and so many killed in action," he added.

Three Marines were killed and 6 others were wounded.

Yet on Day 16 of the siege, no less than Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the area of constriction is now small — 100 meters by 100 meters involving 5 structures.

In pain

Residents are getting impatient even as the city is slowly seeing signs of normalcy. The crisis is not over. Commander Habier Malik, who led hundreds of MNLF fighters in the standoff with government troops, is still inside in the combat zone, according to the military.

READ: Habier Malik: Trapped in the city he seized

"Zamboanga City remains in pain as we are on the 18th day of the crisis," said Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco. "We are at a crucial phase of this crisis as our government forces continue with the clearing operations in the affected barangays. The civilian government also tries it very best to keep the city running," she added.

The airport and the seaport have resumed operations. Schools have re-opened although turnout is low. At least one mall has opened.

But heavy firing was heard at the break of dawn Thursday and choppers continued to fly over the combat zone later in the morning. Six hostages were rescued along with the capture of the MNLF fighters.

Military re-assessing

Zagala said they are re-assessing their estimates.

"Right now there are asessments ongoing. Based on this assessment, we'll be able to determine how many MNLF fighters are still there and how many hostages are left. The very key of our mission is rescue," Zagala said.

There's more information coming from the rescued hostages and captured rebels, he said. "We have to validate these information in order for us to get a clearer picture. How many are stil linside? Who are we facing? So we can adjust our forces if necessary," he said.

URBAN WAR: Military says MNLF rebels are hiding in the debris. File photo from the Philippine Air Force

URBAN WAR: Military says MNLF rebels are hiding in the debris. File photo from the Philippine Air Force

On Friday, September 26, government troops gear up for another battle amid speculations that MNLF commander Habier Malik is set for a final battle.