Saturday, September 28, 2013

The poet is a guerrilla

Posted to Bulatlat (Sep 28): The poet is a guerrilla

The guerrilla is like a poet Keen to the rustle of leaves The break of twigs The ripples of the river The smell of fire And the ashes of departure. – Jose Maria Sison, 1968 Sari and Kiri Dalena’s ground-breaking film, The Guerilla is a Poet, takes its inspiration from Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Founding Chairman Jose Maria “Ka Joma” Sison’s well-known poem “The Guerilla is Like a Poet.” As Prof. Sison points out in the film, the poem was the fruit of his imagination, having been written even before he and Bernabe “Ka Dante” Buscayno founded the New People’s Army (NPA) in March 1969.

The film’s depiction of revolution in the Philippine setting and life in the revolution is in the same way described, but in a figurative manner, in Prof. Sison’s prescient poem wherein the guerilla fighter at the forefront of “the people’s war” is likened to the poet writing on the same theme and both, in so doing, creatively giving life to “the people’s epic” of revolution.

The poem itself is a testament to the human element — the “humanity” — in waging a people’s war. Objectively speaking, war, even one with a just cause, can be dehumanizing. Thus the usual portrayal of the guerilla is that of a hardened person inured to his harsh surroundings, incapable of emotions and of the appreciation of the finer things in life such as art and poetry. Prof. Sison’s poem departs from and negates this depiction.

Underlying the entire film showing the life and times of Filipino revolutionaries, particularly Joma, Juliet “Ka Julie” de Lima, and Dante et al, is their being human. The film not only shatters the stereotypic “G &D” (grim-and-determined) image of activists and revolutionaries but also discloses their humanity as the basis for their “iron will,” i.e. their preparedness and capacity to endure hardships and sacrifices.

The film does so on many levels: (1) the revolutionaries are depicted as human with the same needs and concerns and even foibles as ordinary human beings; (2) they have a deep love for humanity, most especially the most exploited and oppressed; (3) they strive to overcome their own human limitations and frailties and commit to fight for radical changes in society; (4) they do not lose their humanity, i.e. their love and concern for others, but rather enrich and fully develop it in the course of struggle. While engaging in revolutionary struggle, they consciously and unconsciously become better human beings just as a poet hones his craft as he continues to engage life and to mirror it in his writing.

It is certainly a measure of the quality of the acting that this message was imparted to the audience in a most natural and convincing manner.

The film is also the biopic of the Philippines’ foremost revolutionary leader, Jose Maria Sison and rightly so. Ka Joma personifies the modern-day Philippine revolution that is the inheritor of the unfinished revolution of Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan. His life story incorporates and reflects all of the major events, the twists and turns as well as the ebbs and flows of the revolutionary movement. And, yes, Prof. Sison, the prize-winning poet, was also a guerilla in his younger years, before his capture in 1977.

The film masterfully combines the dramatization of events, interviews with the key real-life actors on the historical stage — Joma himself, Julie and Dante — and haunting music of the iconic revolutionary songs of the late 1960s and ’70s. The former depicts the history of the revolution and highlights its landmarks: Sison’s development as an activist, a trade union leader and a revolutionary theoretician; Sison’s interactions with Senator Benigno Aquino; the founding of the CPP; Sison’s meeting with Buscayno and the founding of the NPA; the Plaza Miranda bombing and Marcos’ declaration of martial law; workers, students and former soldiers joining the underground resistance; the painstaking work of organizing the peasants in the countryside and expanding and strengthening the NPA; setbacks with the arrest, torture, and killing of CPP cadres and NPA commanders; the Sison couple’s capture (including the account of the Dictator Marcos’ dialogue with Sison before the latter is subjected to interrogation, torture and prolonged solitary confinement).

The film ends with the couple’s exile in the Netherlands where they continue to actively engage in the revolutionary struggle in the Philippines through their writings and interviews, the on-and-off GPH-NDFP peace negotiations and international solidarity work.

The film’s format — acting by seasoned as well as neophyte actors interspersed with narration by the real Joma, Julie and Dante — is so efficacious, one without the other would have been inadequate and less compelling.

Joma Sison is the principal storyteller, weaving his own recollections of historical events, highlighting their significance and giving his insights. In the beginning of the film, Joma is shown humming a tune as the car wends its way through the streets of Utrecht. At some point he sings an unfamiliar song of the pioneering national democratic youth mass organization he founded in 1974, the Kabataang Makabayan. Then he concludes emphatically that without these revolutionary songs, the expansion of the movement would not have been as rapid, for who would memorize long political speeches while everyone can learn to sing a revolutionary song.

The narrations by the real Joma, now 74, show him to be full of banter, cheerful, making light of torture, brimming with optimism. Those who knew and worked with the younger Joma would attest to the fact that this is the same 29-year-old Joma who led the reestablishment of the party that was needed to lead the revolution, with seemingly boundless imagination, enthusiasm, energy, passion and zest for revolution.

Guerrilla is a Poet captures and builds on the essence of the poem’s verse — the blending of the human subjective factor with the objective natural and social environment; thus the guerilla is “well versed on the law of motion, master of myriad images.” This is the key to how the guerilla — small, weak, and initially inferior to the enemy, survives, gains strength, and gradually weakens the enemy by waging a people’s war based on a concrete analysis of concrete conditions, “moving with the green brown multitude, in bush burning with red flowers…”

Mao, in his treatise expounding on how the Chinese people could overcome the militarily superior Japanese aggressors through a protracted people’s war, similarly used poetic language in describing how in his endeavor to win a war “… a military strategist cannot overstep the limitations imposed by the material conditions; within these limitations, however, he can and must strive for victory. The stage of action for a military strategist is built upon objective material conditions, but on that stage, he can direct the performance of many a drama, full of sound and color, power and grandeur.”

The Guerilla is a Poet is truly successful in giving the audience a glimpse of the drama, sound and color, power and grandeur of the launching and early years of the “the people’s epic, the people’s war.”

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo Streetwise | BusinessWorld
Published in Business World September 26, 2013

CPP: Condemn the Aquino regime and AFP for the military occupation and terrorizing of civilian communities in Eastern Visayas

Posted to the CPP Website (Sep 28): Condemn the Aquino regime and AFP for the military occupation and terrorizing of civilian communities in Eastern Visayas

Fr. Santiago Salas (Ka Sanny)
NDFP Eastern Visayas Chapter
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Eastern Visayas condemns the Aquino regime and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the military occupation and terrorizing of civilian communities in the region under Oplan Bayanihan. These violations of international humanitarian law and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) between the GPH and NDFP lay bare the fascist state terrorism behind Oplan Bayanihan’s sugarcoating of “peace and development.” There are already residents of some communities who have trooped to the mass media to express their fear and anger at the 8th Infantry Division’s impunity. There are certainly more cases that have yet to reach human rights advocates and the media.

Residents of Brgy. Robas, Jaro, Leyte exposed last Sept. 22 over the radio that the “peace and development” team of the 19th IB is currently based in the middle of the barrio in violation of international humanitarian law and the CARHRIHL. Moreover, the soldiers harassed and intimidated the residents that the military would get back at the civilians if something happened in their operations. Indeed, after the New People’s Army (NPA) ambushed the soldiers last Sept. 14 at the barrio outskirts, the soldiers indiscriminately strafed the then unoccupied house of a civilian and even damaged nearby streetlights. After an earlier NPA tactical offensive last December 2012, a habal-habal (motorcycle-for-fire) driver was also summarily executed by the 19th IB on the mere suspicion he participated in the NPA tactical offensive.

During the NPA ambush last Sept. 14, the 19th IB elements also tried to turn some civilians who were safely far away from the line of fire into human shields. This can be gleaned from the news report of the account given by 802nd Infantry Brigade chief Col. Rafael Valencia while awarding medals to two soldiers wounded in action: “Seeing that the civilians were endangered and could be caught in a crossfire, Sgt. Palacio and Cpl. Legado exposed themselves to withering enemy fire and raced towards the civilians, and protect[ed] them [italics ours]… ” If true, that wasn’t bravery, that was evil-mindedness because maneuvering towards the civilians who were not in a crossfire would most likely draw the line of fire to them and put them in one. But of course the soldiers also knew the NPA respects international humanitarian law and would not fire if civilians would be hit. It was the civilians who saved the soldiers, not the other way around.

It is just for the residents of Brgy. Robas to demand that the military leave their community. A state of martial law exists in the village. The 19th IB soldiers impose a curfew and curtail the movements of the peasants who find it hard to work their farms. The “peace and development team” also pretend to be there to bring socio-economic projects, but they are in fact combat-ready for offensive missions. Thus their presence for so-called socio-economic projects such as developing a hot spring for tourism as well as organic farming are highly questionable. The civilians could do such projects without the soldiers, while the projects are no substitute to agrarian reform that the peasants really want. The Brgy. Robas residents furthermore complain that they are forced to pay ₱20 membership fees to the 19th IB for “developing” their own village.

The experience of Brgy. Robas is reflected as well in other parts of the region. In Carigara, Leyte, according to the Mt. Amandewin Command-NPA-Leyte, the 19th IB battalion commander Lt. Col. Joel Nacnac personally goes to the homes of civilian activists to accuse them of being NPA sympathizers and warn them they are targets of the military. Just before the Brgy. Robas residents aired their grievances to the public, the peasants in Brgy. Victory, Las Navas, Northern Samar also exposed a similar tale of militarization and fascist terrorism in their village. The Arnulfo Ortiz Command of the NPA in Western Samar has also slammed the military for the same stories of accusing civilians of being NPA supporters, imposing curfews, restricting free movement, ruining livelihoods, and making the people live under duresss. These occur in Western Samar’s hinterland villages of Matuguinao, San Jose de Buan, Paranas, Motiong, Jiabong and Villareal.

Putting civilians at risk is also inherent in the setting up of Barangay Peacekeeping Action Teams (BPATs) by the Philippine National Police (PNP) to support Oplan Bayanihan. The BPATs are ostensibly crimebusting forces at the village level to augment the PNP. But part of their functions is “internal security operations” and thus the BPATs are essentially “counterinsurgency” vigilante forces. This could lead to more human rights violations. According to regional police head Chief Supt. Elmer Soria, almost 94% of barangays in the region have organized BPATs. Soria has promised a stronger partnership between the PNP and AFP in the region.

This oppression of the people occurs while the Aquino regime is being scrutinized for massive corruption in the “pork barrel” scam.Thus the people are inflamed that they are suppressed and suffering so that those in power could wallow in corruption and commit anti-people and anti-national policies with impunity.

Thus the NDFP-Eastern Visayas calls on the people to express their grievances and struggle against the militarization and fascist state terrorism under Oplan Bayanihan. They must assert their rights under international humanitarian law and the CARHRIHL. They must persevere in their democratic struggles not only for basic civil liberties but also for land, work and other basic socio-economic reforms. They must demand the resumption of peace talks between the Aquino government and the NDFP.

The “peace and development” agenda of the Aquino regime and the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan is bogus, fascist, anti-people and anti-national. The struggle for peace is a struggle for justice, democracy and national sovereignty against the corruption, fascism and puppetry of the Aquino regime.#

Photo: Diamond Exercise

From the Manila Standard Today (Sep 29): Photo: Diamond Exercise


Vice President Jejomar C. Binay joins leads soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division, known as the Diamodn Divsion, of the Philippine Army in Camp Evangelista, Cagayan de Oro City on Saturday

Zambo crisis over; Malik flees

From the Manila Standard Today (Sep 29): Zambo crisis over; Malik flees

The military said on Saturday that the standoff between the military and Moro National Liberation Front fighters under Nur Misuari in Zamboanga City is now over, but admitted that Commander Habier Malik may have made good his escape.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin made the announcement 20 days after the conflict started. He added that there were no more firefights on Saturday night.

“Certainly, the defense secretary made the announcement and we’ve always maintained that we’re dealing with the situation that it will be the officials on the ground who will be making the announcement based on their assessment,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview, confirming Gazmin’s declaration.

Valte said the government has been successful in ensuring the safety of the civilians since the standoff began last Sept 9 when loyal followers of Nur Misuari infiltrated the city supposedly for a peace rally.

“Our task from day one is to ensure the safety of the hostages that were taken… as well as to get civilians out of harm’s way and that has already been accomplished,” she said.

The military estimates that at least a hundred had been killed from the gunbattle–126 from MNLF, 23 from the military and police and 12 civilians– between the government troops and MNLF.

The Aquino administration has poured in P3.9 billion for the city’s massive rehabilitation program as thousands of families lost their houses and jobs due to the three-week standoff. Billions worth of losses to trade and commerce were also recorded.

The military, however, admitted, that Malik, Misuari’s ground commander in Zamboanga City, remains unaccounted for.

“Sec. Gazmin said that MNLF Commander Habier Malik is still uncaptured, but they are still verifying if one of the bodies they saw in Sta. Catalina is Malik’s,” government news channel PTV-4 said in its Twitter account.

Over the past 20 days, since the clashes started on September 9, 194 hostages were either rescued or had escaped from their captors.

The armed conflict also displaced nearly 110,000 individuals and some 10,000 structures, homes and buildings were burned.

Valte said the Philippine government has allocated P3.89-billion to help residents of Zamboanga City rebuild their homes that were destroyed by nearly three weeks of fighting.

“We are certain there are funds allotted for shelter assistance for the families whose homes had been totally destroyed or burned down,” she said.

Vice President and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council chairman Jejomar Binay earlier appealed to private home developers to rebuild the houses of the families whose homes were destroyed because of the conflict.

Binay said that the government housing sector is looking into the possibility of channeling the compliance projects of private developers to Zamboanga, where the houses are needed more.

Under the Urban Development Housing Act, private developers are required to develop an area for a socialized housing project equivalent to at least 20 percent of the total subdivision area, or with a cost equivalent to at least 20 percent of the total subdivision project cost of the main subdivision project.

Binay also ordered key shelter agencies to provide assistance assistance packages for Zamboanga residents displaced by the armed conflict.

The Home Development Mutual (Pag-IBIG) Fund, meanwhile, started processing calamity loan applications in its Zamboanga office since September 18.

Meanwhile, netizens have rekindled the issue on the proposed national ID (identification card) system in relation to the bloody attack of the Misuari-led faction of MNLF in Zamboanga City.

The issue re-emerged following a directive by City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, who had urged residents to always bring with them their IDs after she extended the 9-hour curfew in the city.

“The curfew from 8PM-5AM will remain as this is our way of also helping our troops in efficiently carrying out their operations and heightened security in all our roads, entry and exit points. We also request all of our people to bring with them necessary identification cards for counter-checking and validation of all our residents, especially while passing through checkpoints. These same requirements are needed in our seaports and airports,” Salazar said in a statement.

At the same time, the mayor suspended the issuance of residence tax certificate.

Troops shift to clearing operations

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Sep 28): Troops shift to clearing operations

GOVERNMENT forces will now shift to clearing operation to ensure the safe return of the residents, who fled their homes, at the height of the firefight between the troops and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in Zamboanga City.

Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II made the announcement on Saturday after National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the standoff, which entered the 20th day Saturday, is over.

Roxas, Gazmin, and Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff General Emmanuel Bautista visited Saturday morning Martha Drive in the village of Sta. Catalina, one of the sites of fierce gun battle between the troops and MNLF rebels who infiltrated this city.
The standoff started last September 9 when hundreds of MNLF rebels infiltrated this city through the shores of Rio Hondo village and nearby villages.
Roxas said the clearing operations would last from 10 days to two weeks or more since it will be a room-to-room and a house-to-house search.
Roxas said it will really take time since the houses are closely built to each other and the clearing operation area ranges from 30 to 40 hectares.
“Ang iniiwasan natin dito ay yong mga booby traps, IED (improvised explosive device) and of course gusto rin natin makuha kung mayron pang natitirang bangkay, armas, munitions na naiwan dito,” Roxas said.
Gazmin said the soldiers will remain to assist the police force in undertaking the clearing operations in the “areas of concerns.”
The areas of concerns are the adjoining villages of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo.
The clearing operation is the second phase of the government action since the first phase is military operation that was launched against the MNLF rebels.
Roxas said the third phase, which is the reconstruction, will immediately being once the clearing operation is over.
City Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, who chairs the Crisis Management Committee (CMC), said the imposition of curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. continues despite the end of the standoff.

167 MNLF dead, 247 surrendered after 20 days of fighting in Zambo

From GMA News (Sep 28): 167 MNLF dead, 247 surrendered after 20 days of fighting in Zambo

Light moments after end of Zambo City siege

Light moments after end of Zambo City siege. Soldiers take light moments after end of Zamboanga City siege.

After 20 days of fighting, at least 167 followers of Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari have been killed, the Zamboanga City police said Saturday.
Citing figures as of 3 p.m., the city police said 167 MNLF members had beeen killed while 247 were arrested. It also said at least 24 more have surrendered. 
On Saturday, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the crisis was over, and that clearing operations are to begin. Meanwhile, the Zamboanga City police said at least 18 soldiers were killed in action and 167 wounded, while five policemen were killed and 14 wounded. 
It also said 12 civilians died while 72 were wounded. 
Gazmin and interior secretary Manuel Roxas II were to return to Manila Saturday, after spending two weeks in Zamboanga City.

Misuari's journey: From the burning of Jolo to the siege in Zamboanga (Pt. 2 of 3)

From GMA News (Sep 28): Misuari's journey: From the burning of Jolo to the siege in Zamboanga (Pt. 2 of 3)

Part 2 of a 3-part series
 (Editor's note: In this second installment, journalist Criselda Yabes traces the roots of the most recent outbreak of violence in her childhood home. She flew to Zamboanga City early this week with photographer Rick Rocamora to document the conflict.)

On the Google Earth map, the mayor showed me where they – the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari’s men – did it. We call her Beng, a diminutive for Isabelle. Her name is printed in candy pink at the back of her dark blue vest. She comes from the Climaco family, a name revered in this city for her well-loved uncle, who was also a mayor. He was assassinated while on his motorcycle without security escorts years ago.

"Why Zamboanga?" she asked. "They know Al Jazeera will be here, they want publicity at the cost of lives!" she said of Nur Misuari and his rebel group.

But more than this, she blamed the peace negotiator who had failed to consider the consequences of diminishing Misuari’s role in the overall agreement with the national government, another piece of this story that is complicated in itself.

The scenario she was seeing had its precedence in 2001, when Misuari rallied his armed men en masse and held hostages who were eventually released in a negotiation that achieved his goal in calling attention to his name, his legend. It happened in the outskirts of the city, sparse of a neighborhood. It was over after two days.

This time around, they were in the middle of the city and in the first hours of the crisis, Beng had feisty words, much like her uncle. But as it came to a standoff that paralyzed her city of nearly a million people, she was near breaking down.

It was that close.

She had heard of what was happening when her plane landed at the airport in the morning. In the dark hours before dawn, the crossfire between the Navy and the rebels in Mariki, a mangrove area that was an offshoot village of Rio Hondo, was not enough to stop the rebels from forging on.

Whatever boats the Navy had were on its port on the western portion of the city's coast, blocking the Strait of Basilan to make any attack as daunting as possible. Push them back at sea, keep them in their jungle strongholds in Basilan, which is across the city about half an hour away by boat. Prevent them from joining their main rebel force that had already arrived from Sulu a couple of days beforehand.

On land in Basilan, the Army had to fight off rebels from having their own show of force on the island.

There were an estimated 120 rebels from Basilan and about 150 from Sulu, who got on a passenger boat without their weapons; in its early stage some estimates were feared to have been about 500.

An Air Force MD-520, an assault helicopter, accompanied the blockade but could not fire without ‘clearance’ from headquarters.

The rebels swept through the marsh, others through Rio Hondo, to link up in the twin communities of Santa Barbara and Santa Catalina, where they were believed to have stored their weapons in preparation for their plan. It is here where elite units of the army and police were in a battle down to the last dozen rebels left, and to free the few remaining hostages this week.

On the first day of their incursion, they came to about 100 meters of the main police station, with a goal of going past that to reach the hospital on Veterans Avenue, a major artery that delineates the pueblo, the center of the city. The police set them back; if not the crisis would have reached a greater proportion.

Side by side, these two communities of Santa Barbara and Santa Catalina had risen like a ghetto with a mixed population of Christians and Muslims, a maze of alleys packed with houses, both of concrete and ramshackle ones, the kind of neighborhood one would avoid when night falls. By military accounts, these knitted locations were a perfect refuge for drug smuggling and human trafficking, and where the rebels had their cache of weapons and ammunition. It had to start from there, with some of the rebels knowing the intent of the plan, others lured with money into joining a ‘peace rally.’ As a consequence of the fighting, it went up in flames, the rebels throwing improvised molotov bombs while the soldiers' ammunition added to the combustion.

The fire stoked an event of the past: the burning of Jolo on the island of Sulu, almost forty years ago, obscure in the memory of many. By some fortuitous reason, Zamboanga happened because people in Sulu have not forgotten. Nur Misuari was going to make his last stand in Jolo, as if repeating what he had done in 1974 when he was a young revolutionary and the whole of Mindanao was behind him, electrified by his spirit of a warrior to create a new world for the Muslims. He fled when the military burned the city, which had been an exuberant capital of commerce, where the Christian and Muslim families mingled, where women wore mini-skirts and life was a constant buzz of parties.

It was the beginning of Misuari’s failure – and more of his failures followed in this long quest for peace in Mindanao, and all throughout the luster of his legend faded. The Tausug Muslims – the ethnic tribe of which Misuari holds pride – won’t let him do it again, no, not in Jolo, threatening Ma’as, the Old Man now in his 70s, of dire consequences if he were to push through with it. They would not let him near the mosque.

Sulu has never been able to recover from that burning. Families have fled, bandits and warlords have taken over, insurgents have made it their haven. Chief among the rebels is an ustadz named Habier Malik, whom Misuari had ordered to lead the assault in Zamboanga. He is known to have about 500 armed men and could mobilize as many as 3,000 fighters gathered among relatives and followers, feudal alliances that only those who know Mindanao would understand.

It’s a bold move using the template of the 2001 incident, where the rebels had been allowed to go free in exchange for the release of their hostages. Who knows what was going on in the mind of an old man who had gone progressively delusional, but who among a segment of his people retains a charisma, a filial honor of tradition? In Sulu, he could still hold fort if he wants to; as for the rest of Mindanao, the tragic adventure in Zamboanga revealed that beneath the surface of an aspiration for a common Moro land, the reality of ethnic differences divide them. Unlike before, the Maguindanaoans and the Maranaos did not come to the fight of the Tausugs.

Misuari had to stand on his own, recoiling to the jungles of Sulu, last heard in Malik’s territory in Talipao, which might well be his heart of darkness. Where is he to go now? Who will take him? -- YA, GMA News

Read Part 1: In the shadow of Fort Pilar, anger and pain in Rio Hondo

Raised in Zamboanga City, CRISELDA YABES is the author of the novel 'Below the Crying Mountain,' on the rebellion in the south in the 1970s. Published by the University of the Philippines Press, it was nominated for the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize. Her latest book, 'Peace Warriors,' which followed the military in Mindanao, won the National Book Award last year.

In the shadow of Fort Pilar, anger and pain in Rio Hondo (Pt. 1 of 3)

From GMA News (Sep 27): In the shadow of Fort Pilar, anger and pain in Rio Hondo (Pt. 1 of 3)

Part 1 of a 3-part series

(Editor's note: In this evocative piece, journalist Criselda Yabes looks at the social cost of the most recent outbreak of violence in her childhood home. She flew to Zamboanga City early this week with photographer Rick Rocamora to document the ongoing crisis.)

Among the faces of war, I will remember his eyes that held the weight of emotions and his voice that trembled. He was a Muslim no doubt, with the wisps of thin beard that are common of the men in his community. In the vast track field turned into a refugee camp of blue tarpaulin tents, where the stench of squalor rises in the breathless humidity of the day, he blended with the rest in a long queue for breakfast.

He asked me if he should eat the hot dogs in a bun, wrapped in plastic in a mountain heap distributed by volunteers who reassured them it was chicken, not pork. Should I really eat this, he asked me a second time to demand an answer, the tremor in his voice giving way to helplessness.

What was obvious around us was that a life has to begin here. From now on there is no home to go back to—it’s all in ashes. He has to live like the others in this camp waking up to another day: the women bathing in their malongs, the men lighting their first cigarette. The children play with kites or a Spiderman toy. They race cars fashioned out of plastic bottles along a red running track, jumping heights as to who makes it the highest, too much of their innocence defying the gravity of loss.

I’ve seen them rush to the awnings for a nursery class that my high school classmate Gretchen has set up with goverenment social workers. They fight for attention, for candies, and they dance and sing, count the colorful numbers on the board, follow the teacher singing a spelling rhyme, L-O-V-E.

He showed me his yellow card, this Muslim man on the food-line. This is our credit card, he said. This is how we can survive and we don’t have to pay. He spoke of the irony and laughed at that. His name is Musa. Thirty years old. A Muslim, as I’ve said, his mother a Badjau of the seafaring tribe that perched their stilted wooden shacks on the Rio Hondo, where the Muslim rebels had made their first attempt to penetrate the city in the early darkness of September 9.

“Why did they have to burn it? That’s all we had.”

It was the first time I had heard a refugee express his indignation, unlike most others who seemed resigned to the tragedy. He wasn’t looking for an answer because he knew, and then he saw me unable to push back my tears.

“Yes, I’m angry at the soldiers. I’m angry at the rebels. I’m angry at all of them. What will happen to the children? What will we tell them when they grow up and they will be angry, generation after generation?” He spoke to me in a mix of Tagalog and English. He was a teacher who volunteered in a school, teaching Islamic values to children. At first we had spoken in Chabacano, and when he made the shift it was as if we have elevated the dimension of this event to a future of more mistrust and fighting, and also back to a past that led them to where they were now.

I don’t know what will become of him. I don’t know if his anger has already consumed him. His words resonated the outcome of what has taken place in Zamboanga City – this complicated trouble in southern Mindanao that never seems to end, unraveling the loss of dreams and aspirations built up over the years. Now on its third week, with fighting reduced to a limited scale, it could not go back to thinking of what would constitute ‘normal.’

Growing up in this city in the late 1970s, we knew what Rio Hondo stood for, an enclave of a water village on the edge of the coast for the marginalized Muslims, those who had fled from a previous war in Sulu, further down south in a chain of islands. These were the people Zamboanga did not want to touch, many of them outcasts who wound up selling their wares in the narrow grids of downtown, at the pier filled with crime, at the open market where much of the goods were smuggled in.

We were allowed to go only as far as Fort Pilar, because beyond that was Rio Hondo. It’s an easy walk from the famous Lantaka Hotel By The Sea, whose doors have been shut since the outbreak of the fighting, where the police force manning the outpost in a garden restaurant would take respites in their hammocks. It was wrenching to see the water sliding gently onto the breakwater, only to be shattered by the sound of a rolling thunder.

Mortar, said a soldier beside me. Next came the thumping round of a .50 caliber machine gun, and military choppers hovering above us. The acoustics of what the military calls urban warfare – that’s all we know of what’s happening inside the zone, in ground zero.

Outside, in the empty streets, walking became an eerie trance. In the street straight from the City Hall – refurbished to its old likeness of colonial architecture – to the stone structure of Fort Pilar, wild bougainvilleas had once overflowed. And if the rebels had not been repelled by the Navy and had gone forward, it could have been a stride taking the seat of government. For the Catholic majority of this city, the Virgin Mary at the shrine had protected them. This has been the unifying belief—that Zamboanga was impenetrable, this jewel in the southern tip of the peninsula where an imaginary line has divided the Christians from the Muslims of the Sulu archipelago.

But the symbol of a fortress has been broken. The invaders are at their doorstep. For the first time in recent history Zamboanga is vulnerable, this former garrison from where the Spanish fleet was launched against the Muslim pirates centuries ago. The Americans too, had used it for its base.

If you have heard the rabble-rousers of Zamboanga saying they want no part of any Bangsamoro deal, you'll have to understand that it goes back a long way. To see what has happened, it is obvious that the little tolerance the people of this city had managed to accommodate over the years of conflict might prove difficult to rebuild. – YA, GMA News

In part 2: from the burning of Jolo to the fires in Zamboanga

Raised in Zamboanga City, CRISELDA YABES is the author of the novel 'Below the Crying Mountain,' on the rebellion in the south in the 1970s. Published by the University of the Philippines Press, it was nominated for the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize. Her latest book, 'Peace Warriors,' which followed the military in Mindanao, won the National Book Award last year.

AFP: Commander Malik's IDs found in 1 of slain MNLF fighters' bodies

From GMA News (Sep 29): AFP: Commander Malik's IDs found in 1 of slain MNLF fighters' bodies

Roxas, Gazmin at Zambo City ground zero after siege 
Roxas, Gazmin at Zambo City 'ground zero' after siege. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin enter "ground zero" in Zamboanga City and declare end of the nearly three-week siege of the city.

Identification cards belonging to an aide of Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari have been found on one of the slain followers of Misuari in Zamboanga City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Sunday morning.

But AFP public affairs office deputy head Maj. Angelo Guzman said they are still double-checking if the body where the IDs were found is indeed that of MNLF Commander Habier Malik.

But still, Guzman said there were "similarities" between the body and their previous records of Malik, one of the commanders of MNLF forces involved in Zamboanga City clashes for 20 days.

"IDs belonging to Malik found in one killed Nur fighter in Zamboanga (but) is not a guarantee that he is Malik, though they have similarities," Guzman said in a post on his Twitter account.

But AFP PAO head Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said Malik is just one of the five commanders of the MNLF forces that had briefly taken control over parts of the city.

"We have to consider how many forces, there are five commanders, and Malik is just one of them," Zagala said in an interview on dzBB radio.

As for Misuari, Zagala said their information indicates he is still in Sulu, but declined to elaborate.

He also said they are monitoring developments on Misuari.

Misuari's followers had engaged government forces in armed confrontations starting Sept. 9, when they took civilians as hostages.

But government forces managed to retake the MNLF-controlled areas. On Saturday, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the crisis is over, but clearing operations continue to ensure no more MNLF rebel would be left roaming the city.

MILF: Young Moro leaders undergo training on facilitation

From the MILF Website (Sep 28): Young Moro leaders undergo training on facilitation

Around 33 Moro youth leaders from the provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao underwent a three-day capacity building activity entitled “Basic Facilitation Training-Workshop for Young Moro Leaders at Estosan Hotel in Cotabato City on September 25-27, 2013.

The activity was aimed to further enhance the ability of the participants to facilitate whatever activities they will handle in their respective organizations in line with their common goal, to bring change in the communities of the Bangsamoro people.

Select young professionals, student leaders and out of school youth who are active in their organizational undertakings comprised the delegates.

Anwar Upahm, Executive Director of Coordinating and Development Office on Bangsamoro Youth Affairs of the Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government, handled inputs on leadership. 

He discussed the requirements for an effective leader which include knowledge in Islam, good moral character and good communication skills.

Upahm also outlined the Holy Prophet’s leadership characteristics as follows: Knowledgeable, just, sublime moral character, generous, courteous, forgiving, cautious, diplomatic, humble, keep promises and able to supervise subordinates.

Also an active advocate of justice and peace, Upahm urged the young Moro leaders to bring development in their community through sharing their skills and motivating fellow youth to become productive young citizens of the country.

Edgardo B. Ramirez, the main training facilitator, handled the topics on discussion, planning and workshop methods. He also saw to it that the participants were able to share their inputs.

Upahm reminded the delegates that “A leader is also a facilitator, motivator and planner” and pointed out that “Leader should also be consultative as well as participative.”

The activity was hosted by CDO-BYA and ARMM Development Academy.

Malik killed MNLFs who wanted to surrender— 3 surrenderers

From the Daily Zamboanga Times (Sep 28): Malik killed MNLFs who wanted to surrender— 3 surrenderers

Ustadz Habier Malik have killed some of the MNLF rebels who wanted to surrender to government troops.
This was attested by three rebels who surrendered to soldiers during a clearing operation yesterday.
This developed as three more rebels yielded to security forces after being pressured by the continuous pursuit and clearing operations on the 19th day of the standoff yesterday.
According to the three MNLFs, they and other rebels were about to approach military troops and ready to make gesture to surrender when Malik himself opened fire on them killing some of their companions.
Luckily, the three MNLFs escaped death and were immediately fetched by the soldiers to be brought to the city police office for investigation.
Yakan MNLF rebels from Basilan who were captured earlier also attested that two of their companions were shot and killed by Malik after they tried to escape and surrender to the soldiers.
Reports disclosed that not all of Malik’s men wanted to fight as they were deceived by him  to join a so-called peace march.
Meanwhile, two other bodies were recovered by troops at the interior of Sitio Buggok, Sta. Catalina yesterday morning.

Misuari: Photo--Remembering 2009.....

Posted to the Facebook Page of Nur Misuari (Sep 28): Photo: Remembering 2009.....

Photo: remembering 2009.....

Misuari: Photo--Intimation that Philippine Military Used Poison Gas vs. MNLF?

Posted to the Facebook Page of Nur Misuari (Sep 27): Photo: Allegation that Philippine Military Used Poison Gas vs. MNLF?

Did the AFP used poisonous chemical gas against the MNLF?

This photo will tell you....

Why the Conflict in the Southern Philippines Is Far From Over

From Time Magazine (Sep 27): Why the Conflict in the Southern Philippines Is Far From Over

The roots of conflict in the Philippines' restive south run deep
Nine-month-old Sophie will never know her father. Army Scout Ranger 1st Lt. Francis Damian was killed on Tuesday during a firefight in the twisting lanes of Santa Barbara, a swampy neighborhood of nipa-shingled houses and pagadpad trees skirting the mangroves swamps of Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. Nineteen days have passed since around 200 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels marched on the City Hall there and tried to raise the “Bangsamoro Republik” flag to signal independence from the Manila government. Fifteen soldiers and police now are now dead along with at least 126 rebel fighters, while 109,000 civilians have been displaced into squalid camps amid a growing “humanitarian crisis,” according to the U.N.

Rebel numbers have been swelled by reinforcements since the original confrontation on Sept. 9, and although almost 300 MNLF fighters have surrendered or been captured, a significant number remain at large, using Christian hostages as human shields. Zamboanga City is a tropical trading post of around a million people and the principle hub of the national sardine industry. Today, however, gunfire and the stench of rotting corpses characterize the Philippines’ third largest city, situated on the island of Mindanao.

Around 70,000 people are being housed under tarpaulin hastily erected across the bleachers and turf of the city’s main sports stadium. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warns of a real risk of disease outbreaks and an urgent need for food, drinking water, health services, cooking utensils and other necessities. Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, says the situation is deteriorating quickly with children especially hard-hit. In addition, “we are seeing a rise in gender-based violence because of the length of time people are staying there — rape and molestation are expected to increase,” he says.

(PHOTOSPhilippine Troops Clash with Muslim Rebels in Southern City of Zamboanga)

The southern, largely Muslim provinces of the Philippines have been restive since Spanish colonial times and remain a largely lawless backcountry, where separatist insurgencies have claimed around 150,000 lives over decades of fighting. A recent peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — which split from the MNLF in 1978 — prompted consternation among other groups, and led to “jockeying for position to be able to influence the situation when it comes to the implementation phrase,” says Richard C. Jacobson, Philippines director for Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a business risk consultancy.

The core MNLF had already signed a peace deal in 1996, but three distinct factions obfuscate the situation. The mainstream Council of 15 is based in Cotabato City and headed by Vice-Mayor Muslimin Sema, dubbed “The Peacemaker,” while the small and shadowy Islamic Command Council is led by Habib Muhahab Hashim. Then there is Nur Misuari’s faction, which is responsible for the current crisis. Misuari is a former university lecturer who founded the original MNLF in 1971, but has been recently marginalized.

The current discord, says Jacobson, is Misuari’s “childish” attempt to “position himself as a powerbroker, but he’s under some sort of self-illusion there because it’s not going to happen.” Jacobson says Misuari “squandered” any hope of playing a prominent political role after his disastrous time as Governor of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao from 1996 to 2002. “But he’s still a player and can still bring some people together and be a troublemaker.”

Local support for Misuari’s MNFL faction is difficult to gauge. Around a quarter of the population of Zambonga City is Muslim, but the recent violence took place in the Islamic quarter of the city, meaning that around half this community has been displaced by Misuari’s followers. (In addition, 10,000 torched homes means that around half the displaced are now also destitute.) This Muslim community is also made up of the members of several tribes, which is why Misuari had to ferry in ethnic Yakan and Tausus supporters from Basilan and Sulu respectively.

(MOREPhilippine Troops Gain Ground Against Separatist Rebels in Zamboanga)

According to Conde, there is little overt support for the MNLF in Zamboanga, but no enthusiasm for the government either — in fact, he expects “simmering resentment against the government to bubble up in the days ahead.” The authorities, therefore, must walk a tightrope. Order must be restored, and yet to crackdown too hard on the rebels might alienate the local Muslim population, rile the other rebel factions, and provide the insurgents with further leverage to use against the central government in negotiations.

“The best way to remedy the conflict is to arrest Misuari and take him through the legal process,” Joseph Franco, associate research fellow at the Singapore-based Center of Excellence for National Security (CENS), tells TIME. Franco points to the 2001 Cabatangan Crisis — orchestrated by Misuari’s late nephew during which dozens of civilians were similarly used as human shields — as evidence that Misuari is a “repeat offender” who believes “he can pull off a crazy stunt and get away with it.” Misuari was eventually captured, having fled to Sabah in Eastern Malaysia, and brought back for trial only for the charges to be dismissed. Such leniency is unlikely to be forthcoming now. “There are lots of rumors of him being charged with treason for what he is doing now but we haven’t seen anything firm from the administration,” says Jacobson.

The conflict is meanwhile being played out around two miles from where the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P) is based. The JSOTF has been instrumental in killing prominent Islamists (such as Zulkifli bin Hir, a senior leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorism network, as well as Abu Sayyaf), and has been behind the apparent deployment of drones. But analysts are split on whether the American military is actively involved in the current standoff, or merely monitoring the situation. The U.S. Embassy in Manila did not reply to TIME’s requests for clarification.

Without doubt, “if the U.S. got involved in some way and it was in the public domain then that would certainly complicate [future negotiations],” says Conde. Emotions are already inflamed. On Sept. 18, Philippine authorities announced that rebellion charges were being prepared against 70 of the 93 suspected members of the MNLF in custody at the time. A dozen of these detainees have since told HRW about alleged mistreatment during interrogation by the police or military — including beating, suffocation with plastic bags, having alcohol poured down noses and other degrading acts. “We are concerned that if the government tries to end this [standoff] then these abuses could continue,” says Conde.

(MOREPhilippines: Hostage Police Chief Persuades 23 Separatist Insurgents to Surrender)

As if circumstances were not thorny enough, the Zamboanga crisis also heralded a separate — now subdued — incursion by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rebels on the nearby island of Basilan, prompting media speculation of coordinated attacks arranged between these disparate groups. However, such an “unholy alliance” between Misuari’s MNFC faction, the BIFF and Abu Sayyuf is based on “flawed analysis,” says Jacobson. “They all started off — even Abu Sayyaf which is supposed to be linked to Al-Qaeda — as criminal gangs that support themselves with extortion and kidnapping, and find it easy to recruit as the region is so underdeveloped.” Any allegiance is based purely on fleetingly aligned goals rather than long-term strategies, he says. Franco agrees, stressing that “clashes there are driven more by parochial concerns such as cattle rustling and land disputes.”

Solving this powder keg situation will be a headache for President Benigno Aquino III, who flew to Zamboanga City on Sept. 13 to “ensure there was no unnecessary loss of lives.” His ten-day visit was the longest time any Philippine President had stayed in Mindanao, indicative of the pariah status the region has long had for the political elite in Manila. But with elections approaching in 2016, he will be desperate to stem the bloodshed — even if that comes too late for  nine-month-old Sophie and the father she will never know.

PHOTOS: The Embattled History of the Filipino South

Anti-Moro group resurfaces in NCotabato

From the Philippine Star (Sep 28): Anti-Moro group resurfaces in NCotabato

Mike Santiago, claiming to lead a self-styled "new Ilaga," has warned of retaliation for the attacks on farming enclaves in North Cotabato, boasting to have enough armed followers willing to fight Moro forces. For local officials, he is "crackpot," possibly being used to inflame anti-Moro sentiments. JOHN UNSON

The "Ilaga" is gone and Central Mindanao’s contemporary folks do not even have any vivid recollection of its exploits other than a lingering perception that it was a "tool" used in the  1970s by the Marcos regime to quell what was then a fledgling Moro uprising.

The term ilaga literally means rat in the Cebuano and Hiligaynon dialects.

 A handful of armed non-Moro villagers claiming to represent the “new Ilaga,” showed force somewhere in the province Thursday and warned Moro forces of the serious repercussions of their wanton abuses against hapless farming communities.

The group was led by someone who introduced himself as Mike Santiago, who covered half of his face with a camouflage shroud as he faced the camera.

Santiago and his men failed to hog the headlines. Long-time Mindanao journalists, who are well-versed and conversant of the intricacies and ramifications of the Moro issue, just dismissed their show of force as “psyops” in the military parlance.

The original “Ilaga movement” of Christian settlers in what was then Cotabato Empire Province became notoriously popular after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972.

The group was born after the activation of the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) by the revolting, firebrand Cotabato Gov. Datu Udtog Matalam, who got agitated with the death of dozens of young Moro military recruits in the “Jabidah Massacre” on March 18, 1968.

From the MIM came the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and, subsequently, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), where the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had splintered from.

Talks about the resurgence of the Ilaga have been spreading like wildfire in North Cotabato since Wednesday, amid the seemingly never ending spate of attacks by the BIFF since the late 2011.

The latest of these forays, which happened only last September 23, dislocated 2,147 families in Midsayap town in the province, where BIFF bandits held hostage more than 20 innocent folks for more than 10 hours and beheaded a villager, Ricarte Dionio, 31, and executed another, 22-year-old Erwin Vinluan, as they retreated to the swampy border of North Cotabato and Maguindanao .

A former North Cotabato congressional representative, Anthony Dequiña, said the vigilante group had long “passed away” and there is no more chance of any easy "rebirth,” as being insinuated by certain quarters.

“But the intention of the people to protect their families from atrocities is like a flame, being fanned by helplessness and despondency. This is a concern we need to address through cooperation among all sectors and stakeholders, regardless of religions and tribal identities,” said Dequiña, whose patriarch, Nicolas, former mayor of Midsayap, was one of the seven founders of Ilaga.

There have been irreversible socio-economic, historical and political evolutions that changed the security landscape of North Cotabato and surrounding areas over time that a resurgence of the Ilaga, in just a snap of fingers, cannot be possible.

Not only are the pioneers of the Ilaga are now so old, if not dead, but  their present non-Moro elected leaders and community elders have either openly been supporting the Mindanao peace process, or are engaged in livelihood activities, such as farming and other entrepreneurial ventures needing peace and calm in the surroundings.

A former Ilaga member, who asked to be identified only as Alberto, 76, a retired public school teacher, said he is against any move to revive the once dreaded group owing to his having eleven grandchildren out of the wedlock of her three daughters to ethnic Iranon Muslims, whose clans are identified with the MILF.

“Attacking Moro people with shotguns, Carbine and Garand rifles supplied by the Philippine Constabulary then was a great adventure for us. The situation has changed. We have realized that co-existence and respect for each others' religions and cultures are the better means of achieving peace in our communities,” said Alberto, who is of pure Ilonggo descent.

The Ilaga group was founded sometime in September of 1970, or thereabouts, during a gathering in a restaurant in Cotabato City, by the older Dequiña and his political peers, then Mayors Wenceslao Dela Cerna of Alamada,  Pacifico Dela Cerna of Libungan, Bonifacio Tejada of Mlang, Conrado Lemana of Tulunan, Jose Escribano of Tacurong, and Esteban Doruelo of Pigcawayan.

The hometowns of the Ilaga founders belonged to the Cotabato empire, but eventually got grouped together under what is now North Cotabato, after having been split into smaller provinces, to include Maguindanao, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat, through a declaration by President Marcos in 1974. Tacurong, which was to become a component town of Sultan Kudarat, is now a chartered city.

The founders of the Ilaga accordingly had two anti-Moro benefactors, then Capt. Manuel Tronco and Col. Carlos Cajelo, who both belonged to the now defunct PC. Cajelo, also an Ilonggo, was to become governor of North Cotabato and deputy defense minister for civil relations of Mr. Marcos.

It was widely construed that Cajelo was, if not the real brain behind the Ilaga, the “director” of the bloody show the group had put up, him being the provincial PC commander then of the empire province. The atrocities done on Moro people by the Ilaga, however, only escalated the Moro secessionist activities in the area, bolstering anti-government sentiments immensely.

The Ilaga’s rampage and slaughter of Moro people started March 22, 1970, in what is now North Upi town in Maguindanao, through an amulet-wearing commander, “Toothpick,” whose real name was Feliciano Luces, also of Ilonggo descent.

Luces and his men, armed with World War II vintage firearms and machetes, attacked an isolated Moro village, killed and mutilated six Moro villagers.

Call it coincidence, or a twist of fate, the incumbent mayor of North Upi, Ramon Piang, an ethnic Teduray chieftain, and whose family was among thousands that became “internal refugees” during the height of the MNLF uprising in the 1970s, is a key member of the government's peace panel presently negotiating with the MILF.

BIFF blasts power lines; outages hit six towns

From the Manila Standard Today (Sep 28): BIFF blasts power lines; outages hit six towns

Suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rebels blasted a transmission tower of a local electric cooperative in North Cotabato Thursday night, leaving several villages without power.

Police officials in North Cotabato said that the suspects set off an improvised explosive device at the main tower lines of the Cotabato Electric Cooperative between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday.

Army 6th Infantry Division spokesman Col.  Dickson Hermoso said they have deployed units from the PNP-Kabacan, thr 7th Infantry Batallion and the 6th Explosive Ordnance Team to to conduct pursuit operations against the suspects.

This developed even as fighting between soldiers and BIFF rebels erupted anew in the outskirts of Tulunan town, the scene of intense skirmishes last Tuesday.

Reports said the explosion hit Cotelco’s main line tower, the Transco Tower No. 141, located at Sitio Malabuaya, Brgy Kayaga in Kabawan North Cotabato, incurring serious damage and causing power outage at least six municipalities in the province.

Military authorities said they have yet to identify any suspect, but did not discount the possibility that it was the handiwork of the BIFF, which could have planted the device.

Hermoso said that power have been restored in some affected areas in the province and Cotelco personnel are rushing to repair the damage to the transmission tower.

The power outage has affected the municipalities of Marbel, Matalam, Carmen, Aleosan and Pikit and even the town of Datu Montawal in nearby Maguindanao.

Soldiers stationed in Kabacan said that they heard a loud explosion in Brgy. Kayaga, which prompted military officials to send troops to determine the cause of the blast.

Meanwhile, another bomb exploded in Zamboanga Sibugay but failed to topple a bridge.

The bridge is located in Barangay Muyo, Buug, Zamboanga Sibugay, the police said.

Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca, spokesman of the Police Regional Office 9, said bomb experts are still investigating who planted and detonated the improvised explosive device (IED) which was placed under the base of the Muyo Bridge along the national highway.

The explosion happened at around 7:45 p.m..

“The loud explosion caused panic among the residents of the barangay, as similar incidents had been occurring in the nearby city of Zamboanga,” Huesca said.

Buug police Officer-in-Charge Inspector Raul Clavecilla said they are trying to determine what type of IED was used in the bombing, and which group was responsible for the incident.

“We’re still waiting for the result from the Zamboanga Sibugay Crime Laboratory Office and Explosive and Ordnance Division,” he said.

Clavecilla added that before the explosion, Bgy. Poblacion and nearby barangays of Buug municipality have experienced power outage.

He added that a sports utility vehicle was passing by the bridge, apparently bound for Ipil municipality, Zamboanga Sibugay, when the explosion happened, which caused panic among its passengers.

“Luckily, no one was injured from the explosion,” Huesca said.

He added that engineers who later inspected the bridge said that the bridge did not suffer any structural damage, and would remain passable to all types of vehicles.

Malik eludes arrest as soldiers surround rebels

From the Manila Standard Today (Sep 28): Malik eludes arrest as soldiers surround rebels

While several of his men either surrendered or arrested, and most of them killed, Habier Malik, Nur Misuari’s top commander of the Moro National Liberation Front rebels who are fighting government forces in Zamboanga City, continues to elude arrest.

Malik, the military said, was nowhere to be found when they arrested six more rebels after a firefight on Friday, the 19th day of the standoff since  Misuari’s men stormed the city three weeks ago.

Casualties. Soldiers wearing gas masks look at bodies believed to be MNLF rebels next to destroyed houses at the site of heavy fighting in Santa Catalina, Zamboanga City. AFP


Casualties. Soldiers wearing gas masks look at bodies believed to be MNLF rebels next to destroyed houses at the site of heavy fighting in Santa Catalina, Zamboanga City. AFP

The military, however, believed that Malik was still inside the “constriction” area amid reports that the rebel leader had already escaped to Sulu.

The six rebels were arrested during close-quarter battles with government forces in Barangay Sta. Barbara.

The rebels were later brought to the city police office where medical personnel attended to their wounds.

On Thursday, public affairs head Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala reported that 45 MNLF fighters surrendered to the military in Barangay Sta. Catalina.

Zagala said the 45 rebels were fighting under female commander Misba Baladji, 69, who was among those who surrendered to authorities.

Baladji said they were forced to surrender because of injuries and hunger.

The military said Baladji had taken over her dead husband’s position as commander.

Baladji said she was promised P15,000 by a “trusted deputy” of MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari to join a so-called peace march.

The Philippine National Police said many of the MNLF fighters who surrendered Thursday also claimed they had been similarly “deceived.”

“Many of them said they were deceived,” PNP deputy for operations, Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas Jr. said in a radio report.

As the fighting rages, reports said elite forces from the Army and Philippine National Police have recaptured Friday morning the Sumatra area in Barangay Talon-Talon and some parts of the “constricted” areas in Barangay Sta. Catalina, particularly Lustre Street.

Helicopter gunships of the Philippine Air Force continue to unleash rockets and machinegun fires on a mangrove area in Bgy. Talon-Talon, where some MNLF rebels are believed to have taken refuge to resume their fight against government troopers.

Other reports said the MNLF continues to burn more houses, buildings and structures in the affected barangays.

Meanwhile, the military reported that 15 more MNLF fighters were killed by government forces in clearing operations which started 9:00 p.m. Thursday and ended early Friday morning.

Zagala said the 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.

In Manila,  the Justice Department said it was readying charges of rebellion and violation of international humanitarian law against Misuari and his men, in connection with the on-going standoff in Zamboanga City.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima disclosed that a special team of DOJ prosecutors are helping the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in gathering evidence to strengthen the charges of rebellion  and violations of Republic Act 9851 or International Humanitarian Law against the MNLF rebel forces.

“The rebels who escaped arrest along with Nur Misuari and other commanders will be still be charged criminally,” De Lima stressed.

Since the standoff broke out before dawn of September 9, De Lima said the special body had been gathering evidence and conducting a probe into the on-going Zamboanga Siege.

The special body is composed of Assistant State Prosecutor (ASP) Niven Canlapan; ASP Aristotle Reyes; Prosecuting Attorney Cesar Angelo Chavez III; Assistant Regional Prosecutor (ARP) Ivy Damayo-Elvinas; and Assistant City Prosecutor Edwinlino Custodio.

De Lima said the  PNP had already filed  rebellion and criminal charges against 29 followers of Misuari who have been arrested or surrendered.

She added that those who were charged by the PNP were linked by witnesses to the conflict.

On Sunday, the PNP lodged the first batch of cases against Misuari’s followers for occupying communities and holding residents hostage.

At the House of Representatives, opposition lawmaker Rodolfo Albano called for a congressional probe on the “substandard” helmets being used by the government troops who are engaging MNLF rebels in Zamboanga City.

Albano said he would filee a resolution to demand Congress to look into reports that a military officer fighting for his life after helping a rescue operation in one of the areas in the war-torn Zamboanga died after a bullet passed through his helmet.

This developed as House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that the House is able to raise about P3 million financial aid for the victims of the ongoing Zamboanga crisis.

“We have gotten P3 million together and we will also make an effort to fly to Zamboanga and hand it over to (Zamboanga Mayor Isabel) Beng Climaco, and at the same time, we are going to pass a resolution to condole with (the families of) and extol the fallen soldiers, which we will pass Friday,” Belmonte told reporters.

House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizen’s Battle Against Corruption (Cibac)also expressed hope that the standoff between the government and the MNLF will be over soon.

RP-US drill raises concern in China

From the Daily Tribune (Sep 28): RP-US drill raises concern in China

The ongoing joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States near the disputed waters in the South China Sea are of great concern to Beijing, a Chinese official said.

China is urging regional countries not to act recklessly with the support of parties outside the region, referring to the joint drills.

“Peace, stability and prosperity are desired by people in the region and need to be maintained by all relevant parties,” the China Daily quoted Ministry of National Defense spokesman Geng Yansheng as saying during a news conference yesterday.

“Parties outside the region should take more action that favors peace and stability, rather than sowing dissension,” he added.

Last Sept. 18, the US and the Philippines began a three-week military drill near the disputed South China Sea.

The exercises are part of Manila’s effort to get US help in strengthening its maritime forces so that the Philippines will be in a stronger position when bargaining with China on South China Sea territorial issues, Agence France-Presse reported.

While the US has insisted it does not take sides in the dispute, it has been seeking to rebuild its military footprint in the Philippines, a military ally since 1951, as part of President Barack Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia.

The exercises are taking place as the allies move closer to a planned deal that would expand the US military presence in the Philippines.

The pact would allow Washington to bring military hardware on to local bases, and formalize more US troop visits. The Philippines has said it wants the pact signed as soon as possible.

The next round of negotiations is set in Manila starting Oct.1.

Chen Qinghong, a researcher on Philippine studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, however, said Washington should mind the risk of an increased military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

“An increased military presence will cause instability and add more uncertainties to the region,” he noted.

Xu Liping, a researcher on Asia-Pacific studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said neither the Philippines nor others outside the region should underestimate Beijing’s determination to safeguard its sovereignty in the South China Sea.

“Looking at the bigger picture, China exercised restraint in dealing with the issue, but Manila should not misunderstand China’s restraint as weakness,” he added.

Manila and those outside the region should value China’s efforts to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, he stressed.

The exercises were launched at a naval base in San Antonio, a town on the western coast of Luzon island that faces the South China Sea.

The naval base is about 220 kilometers from Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, a group of rocky outcrops that is one of the flashpoint areas in the territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing.

The Philippine government insists it has sovereign rights to the shoal, which fishermen from coastal towns near San Antonio have sailed to for decades, because it is well within its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.

The nearest major Chinese land mass to Scarborough Shoal is Hainan island, about 650 kilometers away.

But China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters and land formations close to the other countries. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, as well as the Philippines, have overlapping claims to parts of the sea.

The rivalries have for decades made the sea, home to vital global shipping lanes, a potential trigger for military conflict.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent years amid accusations by the Philippines and Vietnam of increasing Chinese aggressiveness.

The Philippines says Chinese vessels have occupied Scarborough Shoal since last year, preventing Filipino fishermen from going there. Early this month the Philippines accused China of erecting concrete structures there to begin a permanent presence.

China, Asean must end island rows ‘swiftly,’ says top US envoy

From the Daily Tribune (Sep 29): China, Asean must end island rows ‘swiftly,’ says top US envoy

US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged China and its Asian neighbors to resolve territorial disputes over the South China sea as swiftly as possible.

“Your region is home to the world’s busiest ports and the most critical sea lanes. So stability where you live matters deeply to prosperity where we live,” Kerry told a meeting with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ministers in New York.

“That’s one of the reasons the United States is so committed to maritime security, to the freedom of navigation on the seas, and to resolving the disputes with respect to territory and achieving a code of conduct,” he said.

“This is going to require respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea.”

The top US diplomat urged the members of the Asean to “move as swiftly as possible to reach a binding code of conduct for addressing disputes, without threats, without coercion and without use of force.”

Earlier this month, Beijing warned the United States not to support its neighbors’ claims to disputed islands in the East and South China Seas and to stay out of the rows.

Washington has always refused to take sides, but is keen to see its Asian partners adopt a code of conduct for navigation in some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Sino-Japanese ties have soured dramatically since Tokyo nationalized some of the Senkaku islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea a year ago.

China also claims almost all of the South China Sea including waters close to its neighbors’ coasts, and tensions with the Philippines and Vietnam have intensified in recent years.

Meanwhile in Manila, Malacañang has strongly denied that US President Barack Obama will have a closed-door meeting with President Aquino on Oct. 12 to tell the latter to drop the Philippine claim on Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.

Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras issued the strong denial, saying those who spread the rumors only want to “rock the boat” about the very warm relations between the Philippines and the US.

“They will definitely not ask us to drop Scarborough,” Almendras told the Tribune in a text message. The Philippines will be the US president’s last stop during his Southeast Asian visit beginning Oct. 6.

Obama will travel to Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines from October 6-12 as part of his ongoing commitment to increase US political, economic and security engagement with the Asia Pacific, the official statement of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated.

Obama will first attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Economic Leaders in Bali, Indonesia then the US-Asean Summit and the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Brunei, and meet with Prime Minister Najib in Malaysia.

Almendras said Malacañang does not have time to think about growing speculations on the real intention of the US president for visiting the Philippines.

“Preparations are in full swing. US support will be consistent,” the Cabinet secretary added.

The Department of Public Works and Highways has been tasked to secure the roads where Obama and his team will pass by while the Department of Foreign Affairs is in charge of the protocol for the Oct. 11 and 12 visit of Obama.