Tuesday, October 1, 2013

2nd half of PHIBLEX 2014 starts

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 1): 2nd half of PHIBLEX 2014 starts

The US Embassy in Manila on Tuesday announced that the second half of Amphibious Landing Exercise 2014 (PHIBLEX 14) has begun.

Already, US Marines and sailors from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and III Marine Expeditionary Force have partnered with members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to conduct several field training exercises and humanitarian and civic assistance projects.

Bilateral training during PHIBLEX 14 ensures Philippine and US forces are capable of integrating effectively to conduct humanitarian assistance and regional security missions.

During field training, Philippine and US Marines have enhanced their high-level of interoperability through training, including small boat operations, helocasting, aerial delivery of supplies, medical exchanges between US and Philippine corpsmen, jungle survival, small arms live-fire training and a combined arms live-fire exercise.

Additionally, humanitarian and civic assistance projects kicked off in Legazpi City, Albay, last Sept. 25 with an opening ceremony, and Philippine and US combat engineers have begun renovating a school together.

Furthermore, a bilateral team of military medical and local health professionals are treating Legazpi residents with ailments.


Body with Malik's ID not that of MNLF commander

From GMA News (Sep 30): Body with Malik's ID not that of MNLF commander

The body of a slain rebel carrying the identification cards of Habier Malik was not the body of the still-at-large Moro National Liberation Front commander, said Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima, according to a "24 Oras" report.

The PNP is tasked to determine the identity of the body, which had on it Malik's taxpayer's ID and a regional ID citing MNLF founder Nur Misuari as contact in case of emergency.

Reached for confirmation, PNP spokesperson Theodore Sindac verified the PNP chief's statement, adding that more details will be given at Tuesday's press briefing.

The police will check on the other bodies for the possibility that Malik is one of them, the report said.

Earlier, MNLF spokesperson Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla in a separate "24 Oras" report said Malik has escaped and "is very, very alive."

"He is not injured. He is very safe where he is now. We have just talked this morning at 11 o'clock. Our military officers were able to contact him," Fontanilla said.

Intelligence reports also said Malik has escaped to Sulu.

"If that is true, napakaswerte naman nya. The first thing he will do is to run after Misuari," said defense chief Voltaire Gazmin in a separate interview.

"Kung nakawala si Malik, I'm sure hindi na siya uulit. It will take a long long time before he can launch another offensive like that," Gazmin added.

Earlier, a reliable source in Jun Veneracion's report said the body, which had been shot in the face, was identical to Malik in height and build.

The marines supposedly spotted around 15 MNLF rebels swimming to a mangrove area in the area between barangays Rio Hondo and Kasanyangan.

The rebels were seen protecting another who was believed to be Malik, the source said.

Intelligence operatives said among those killed are some of Malik's close security aides, one of them carrying P24,000 in cash.

No more than 10 MNLF rebels remain in Zamboanga City, venue of clashes between state troops and MNLF for the past three weeks.

The MNLF attacked Zamboanga City on Sept. 9 after declaring an independent state in Mindanao last July.

On Saturday, Gazmin said the crisis is over, but that clearing operations are in progress to ensure that no more MNLF rebels would be left in the city.


5 soldiers hurt in NPA landmine attack in Davao Oriental

From GMA News (Oct 1): 5 soldiers hurt in NPA landmine attack in Davao Oriental

Five soldiers were wounded Tuesday morning in a landmine attack perpetrated by communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels in supposedly "insurgency free" Cateel town in Davao Oriental.

Capt. Raul Villegas of the Army's 10th Infantry Division said the government troops were responding to calls from residents of Barangay Aliwagwag regarding NPA rebels trying to "enter" the province.

"They want to enter Davao Oriental," Villegas said, referring to the insurgents. "The people no longer want the NPA so they reported the presence of the rebels. So immediately, we deployed soldiers to conduct security operations."

A rebel was killed in the ensuing 30-minute firefight, Villegas said, adding the insurgents, numbering more or less 25, came from Compostela valley.

"During the firefight, the rebels exploded a landmine as they withdrew, leaving behind a dead NPA," he said.

The military official said the rebels were planning to penetrate Davao Oriental, which has been declared insurgency free last April.

Villegas said the wounded soldiers were promptly taken to a nearest hospital for treatment while the body of the slain rebel was brought by the military to a funeral parlor.


Gov’t troops battle Moro rebels in two North Cotabato villages

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 1): Gov’t troops battle Moro rebels in two North Cotabato villages
MLANG, North Cotabato—Classes in two villages here were suspended on Tuesday after 200 rebels of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters tried to occupy the communities, the military said.

A military report said government troops were battling the intruders in the villages of Lepaga and Gaunan.

At least 22 howitzer rounds had been fired by the government side into an area about three kilometers outside Lepaga, the report added.


Army hunting down NPA band who executed civilian in Davao City

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 2): Army hunting down NPA band who executed civilian in Davao City

The 69th Infantry Battalion is now hunting the New People's Army (NPA) group who summarily executed a 57-year-old civilian in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Malabog, Paquibato District, Davao City on the belief that the latter is an informant of the military.

Lt. Col. Inocencio I. Pasaporte, 69th Infantry Battalion commander, identified the victim as Leonilo Cabusas Sasil, a resident of Sitio Pag-asa, Barangay Malabog, also of the abovementioned locality.

He added that Sasil was abducted last Sept. 24 and shot dead by the rebels 10 p.m. of Sept. 28.

Pasaporte stated that the victim became the object of the NPAs' ire when the latter questioned rebel organizers why his community was being always mobilized and sent to Davao City to attend mass action/rallies sponsored by the group.

The latter was also accused of being an informant of the military.

“The victim is a Sitio Leader of Sitio Kapihan, Brgy Malabog of Paquibato District, Davao City and troops under my command was constantly coordinating their peace and development activities in the area,“ he added.

"It is a sad to know that another victim of summary execution perpetuated by the members of the NPAs against a helpless and innocent sitio leader who only wanted to served his constituents," Pasaporte stressed.


Malampaya fund freeze to affect AFP modernization

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 2): Malampaya fund freeze to affect AFP modernization

The Supreme Court’s decision to freeze the discretionary portion of the Malampaya gas fund will affect the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said yesterday.

The non-release of the Malampaya gus funds will affect the maintenance of the Navy’s two Hamilton-class cutters, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz, Gazmin said.

“That will have an effect to our modernization because we are getting funds from it for our modernization,” he told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.

He said the money used to maintain, refurbish and equip the two warships, Del Pilar and Alcaraz, are taken from the Malampaya gas funds.

“It will definitely affect the modernization…Not really delay because the ships are already there. What will happen is we won’t be able to maintain (the cutters)… (it’s) more on the maintenance side,” he said of the SC decision.

But Gazmin expressed confidence that the TRO would not last long, saying: “Eventually, the needs of the Armed Forces would be understood.”

Last Sept. 10, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the release of PDAF and Malampaya funds in the wake of the controversy over the alleged misuse and abuse of P10 billion in “pork barrel.”

The SC acted on three petitions filed asking for a stop to the release of PDAF and Malampaya funds.

In 2011, President Aquino ordered the allotment of P8 billion Malampaya funds for the AFP modernization program.]

Part of the funds was used in the acquisition of the two warships.


NPA says gov't trooper killed in Abra town attack

From the Philippine Star (Oct 1): NPA says gov't trooper killed in Abra town attack

New People's Army rebels claim they killed one soldier in an early Sunday morning attack in a Philippine Army detachment in remote Malibcong town in Abra.

Army Captain Regie Go, spokesperson of the Abra-based 41st Infantry Batallion has yet to confirm the NPA's claim.

Ka Danreb Bringgas, spokesperson of the NPA North Abra Procopio Tauro Front said an NPA team under the Agustin Begnalen Command killed a soldier in a three-minute stealth attack on the detachment of the Army’s Bravo Company in Mataragan, in the said town at around 5:35 Sunday morning.

The attack, Bringgas said, was long asked for by villagers in Malibcong to drive away the soldiers from encamping in the area and to exact punishment on said soldiers who have been abusing villagers’ hospitality and have been lacking in discipline.

The detachment in Mataragan, the rebel spokesman further said, has brought fear and anxiety on villagers because of cases of theft of their livestock, indiscriminate firing, drunkenness and various other alleged abuses on the communities near the small military encampment.

The attack is a stern warning,  Bringgas said, against government forces who reportedly bombed locations near villages in barangay Gacab and Bangilo, also in that same town on May 30 and 31,  which traumatized tribal folks, especially two young girls who were almost hit by the bombs.

The Philippine Army acknowledged conducting aerial strikes in the area after a brief firefight with communist rebels in Malibcong but denied bombing villages.


2 cops slain in Samar ambush

From the Philippine Star (Oct 1): 2 cops slain in Samar ambush

Police have launched a manhunt for suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) believed to be behind the ambush of a group of policemen here Saturday night. 

Inspector Alberto Ayad, police chief of Arteche town in Eastern Samar, and two policemen were conducting patrol operations when waylaid by an undetermined number of suspected NPA rebels at around 9 p. m. at the vicinity of Barangay Central Elementary School.

Ayad and PO1 July Juliata were killed in the attack. PO3 Glorioso Nebril, who was critically wounded, was transferred from the Eastern Samar Provincial Hospital in Borongan City to a hospital in Tacloban City.

The suspects fled with the arrival of responding policemen.

Chief Superintendent Elmer Soria, director of the Police Regional Office-8, said the ambush “is a desperate act of the rebels.”


3 cops wounded in new ambush in remote southern Palawan town

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 1): 3 cops wounded in new ambush in remote southern Palawan town

Armed members of the communist-terrorist New People’s Army (NPA) have again staged another ambush at a remote sitio in Barangay Culasian, Rizal in southern Palawan at around 1:30 p.m. Monday, wounding three policemen, including the chief of police of the said town.

The early afternoon ambush was confirmed to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) by Lt. Col. Rodel Martires, the newly-installed commanding officer of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 12 (MBLT 12) stationed in Barangay Abo-Abo, Sofronio EspaƱola, also in southern Palawan.

Martires identified the wounded as Chief Insp. Brermar Herrera, chief of police of Rizal, SPO1 Robert Guerrero and SPO1 Norman Nicholas.

As of this writing, the wounded policemen are now being evacuated from Culasian to be brought to a nearby hospital in Quezon town for emergency medical attention.

From Quezon, the MBLT 12 commander said they will be airlifted to Puerto Princesa for further medical attention.

A hot pursuit operation against the undetermined number of armed rebels was immediately launched by a joint team composed of soldiers from MBLT 12 and police elements of the Palawan Provincial Police Office (PPPO) under Sr. Supt. Atanacio Macalan Jr.

The ambush is the third to be recorded in recent times in Palawan, the second of which was just barely three weeks ago at the border of barangays Binduyan and Langogan, involving two military trucks that just came back from a log run, and which also wounded two Marines.

Earlier, a ranking military official said the ambushes are being conducted by the NPA to retaliate because of the confiscations of their heavy arms cache at Sitio Naonao, San Vicente in northern Palawan.


Soldiers in Zambo still face danger as clearing continues

From the Philippine Star (Oct 1): Soldiers in Zambo still face danger as clearing continues

The worst may be over but the danger remains.

The military  admitted that soldiers conducting clearing operations in Zamboanga City are still facing dangers even if the actual combat operations have been finished.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said there are still Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) stragglers who refuse to surrender.

“Danger is present while undertaking the clearing operations. You don’t know how many they are, what weapons they still have and they are desperate. Desperate men will do the unthinkable,” Zagala said in a press briefing.

“We want to neutralize them through surrender or capture but sometimes, they do not want that,” he added.

Zagala said one soldier, a former MNLF member, was killed by a rebel in a clearing operation in Barangay Sta. Barbara Monday morning.

Cpl. Hakim Jaafar, a member of the 44th battalion Alpha Company, was shot in the head by an MNLF straggler who tried to resist the security forces.

The soldiers came across a house and shouted to determine if someone is using it as a hiding place. They even threw a grenade at it but there was no response.

When they entered the house, an MNLF straggler suddenly fired at the security forces and managed to kill Jaafar. The soldiers fought back and managed to kill the rebel.

Zagala said Jaafar was the first soldier to be killed since they shifted from combat to law enforcement operations.

Security forces have arrested one MNLF straggler and killed nine others since Saturday, when officials declared that the Zamboanga crisis is over.  Zagala, however, could not tell how many Misuari followers are still in the area.

“As we continue clearing, we will be able to get a clearer picture. Aside from stragglers, there are a lot of killed enemies in the battle area that we have to recover,” he said.

When asked whether the MNLF Misuari faction could still regroup, Zagala said: “No more. They are already defeated. They are fleeing. They are evading capture.”

“If they do regroup, thousands of AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) troops are there on the ground and they are no match,” he added.

Zagala said the flags in all military camps had been flown at half mast since Friday in honor of the soldiers who died in Zamboanga.

The crisis has claimed the lives of 192 Misuari followers, 19 soldiers, five policemen and 12 civilians.


Troops recover 26 bodies of slain MNLF rebels involved in Zambo standoff

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 1): Troops recover 26 bodies of slain MNLF rebels involved in Zambo standoff

Government forces conducting clearing operations have recovered a total of 26 cadavers of slain Moro National Liberation Front rebels in the critical areas here.

The critical areas are the adjoining barangays of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara, and Rio Hondo, where fierce fighting ensued after hundreds of MNLF rebels infiltrated this city last Sept. 9.

This was revealed here Tuesday by Police Regional Office-9 information officer Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca, who said that the cadavers were recovered in separate locations in the barangays Sta. Catalina and Sta. Barbara.

Huesca said the cadavers were recovered since Sunday, the first day the government forces shifted to the clearing operations.

The clearing operations started Sunday a day after National Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin has declared the standoff was over.

Huesca said that nine of the 26 cadavers were recovered Sunday while the other 17 on Monday.

He said that the troops have also recovered 165 unexploded ordnance of various types like rifle grenades, hand grenades and 40 millimeter grenades since Sunday.

He said that a total of 130 structures were subjected to clearing operations in the critical areas.

He said clearing operations continues in a bid to ensure the safe return of the owners of the land and houses.


4 soldiers hurt in Misamis clash

From the Philippine Star (Oct 2): 4 soldiers hurt in Misamis clash

Four soldiers were wounded in an encounter with suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas in Salay town in Misamis Oriental on Monday.

Captain Christian Uy, spokesman for the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City, corrected earlier reports that a soldier was killed while six others were wounded in the clash in Barangay Banglay.

Uy said the latest report they received from the encounter site lists only four wounded soldiers. He said a military pursuit operation against the rebels was ongoing as of yesterday. 
“An MG-520 attack helicopter from Butuan City joined the firefight on Monday,” he said.

The first encounter, which occurred at around 9 a.m., lasted 30 minutes. Pursuing troops found bloodstains along the rebels’ escape route, where another firefight took place at around 2 p.m.

“We believe there are wounded rebels, and possibly dead, because of the bloodstains on their trail,” Uy said.

He said the rebels, around 10 of them, could be part of a larger group that attacked a village in Balingasag town, which killed a soldier and four government miltiamen over a week ago.

In another incident, two NPA rebels were killed in a clash with government forces in Malaybalay City on Sunday, the military said yesterday.        


Troops kill MNLF straggler as clearing operations continue in Zambo

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 1): Troops kill MNLF straggler as clearing operations continue in Zambo

ZAMBOANGA CITY -– A straggler of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels involved in the standoff was killed in a clash here as clearing operations continue, a military official disclosed Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Jose Randolph Sino Cruz, head of the military’s Task Force Zamboanga Peninsula-Lanao (Zampelan), said the clash ensued around 2:30 p.m. Monday in Barangay Sta. Barbara, 0.35 kilometers east of City Hall.

Unfortunately, Sino Cruz disclosed that a soldier from the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion was also killed in the clash.

Sino Cruz said the clash ensued when the troops chanced upon the MNLF straggler while conducting clearing operation.

He said the troops have recovered from the slain MNLF straggler an M4 and M-14 rifles.

Meanwhile, he said that the troops have also recovered another M-16 Armalite rifle while conducting clearing operation Tuesday in Layag-Layag Island in Barangay Talon-Talon, five kilometers east of this city.


4 Army soldiers wounded in Misamis Oriental firefight

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 1): 4 Army soldiers wounded in Misamis Oriental firefight

Sporadic fighting between government troopers and communist rebels continue in the hinterlands of Misamis Oriental as of Tuesday, wounding four Army soldiers.

Col. Evan Bermudo, commander of the Army’s 58th IB, said on Tuesday that the government troopers were conducting hot pursuit operations against communist guerrillas who overran an Army base in Sitio Lantad in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental last Sunday when the encounter took place.

Bermudo said the soldiers encountered the rebels in Sitio Minkamansi in Lagonglong Monday morning when waylaid by about 20 fully armed rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA) that resulted in the running gun battle.

He said that the rebels lobbed an anti-personnel land mine to the government troopers in the initial firefight which resulted in the wounding of four soldiers of the Army’s 58th IB.

The wounded soldiers were still in the mountains of Lagonglong since rescue and retrieval became difficult due to bad weather and the absence of suitable landing site for helicopter gunships, Bermudo added.

He said that reinforcement was sent Monday afternoon as the government troopers continued to engage in sporadic fighting with the communist guerrillas in the rebel- infested town of Lagonglong, a neighboring town of Balingasag, both in Misamis Oriental.


MNLF'S 'UNLI' SUPPLY EXPLAINED | Guns, ammo landings on Zambo started January

From InterAksyon (Oct 1): MNLF'S 'UNLI' SUPPLY EXPLAINED | Guns, ammo landings on Zambo started January

Authorities on Tuesday shared a possible explanation for the question that had puzzled everyone during the 20-day siege of Zamboanga city: why did the Moro rebels not seem to run out of ammo?

The answer, as the military pieced together after debriefing arrested followers of Nur Misuari, was this: his faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had started to ship in guns and ammunition undetected into Zamboanga City as early as January this year.

Police gave Zamboanga's lengthy coastline as an excuse for failing to detect such months-long arms landing. But there was one other puzzle they could not yet full account for: if "alert" military teams had foiled an attempt by these well-armed men to march to Sulu's provincial capitol and make a show of force there, days before the Zamboanga siege began Sept. 9, why were they unable to stop the men from landing on the city, 30 hectares of which were laid to waste in an orgy of arson and hostage-taking?

The officials said Tuesday the security forces had, in fact, foiled boatloads of MNLF followers from landing on Sulu and naval forces engaged them at sea.

Meanwhile, the huge cache of weapons and ammo that had puzzled everyone was explained thus by Deputy Chief for Operations Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas Jr. in a news briefing Tuesday at Camp Crame: “Well, [in our] debriefing [of those who surrendered from] MNLF, they prepared for this since January; nagpasok na sila slowly ng baril sa Zamboanga. Tapos nakita naman natin sa haba ng shoreline ng Zamboanga it’s really hard to detect people coming from Basilan and Jolo.”

Authorities had been stunned by the powerful arms and abundant supply of ammunition  the MNLF had in nearly three weeks of intense fighting with government forces. The rebels also used mortars and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).

When the first skirmishes took place in Barangays Rio Hondo and Sta. Catalina, military public affairs head Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala had admitted that the military monitored movements of MNLF forces in Basilan and Sulu three days before they arrived in Zamboanga. However, neither the military nor the police could explain why they were unable to check the MNLF mobilization in the city, which, as it turned out, would be a full-blown siege of Zamboanga.

Departures from Jolo, Sulu, Basilan monitored

“Actually, [we were able to monitor the MNLF men's departures from Jolo, Sulu and Basilan]. In fact, the first encounter took place the day before at sea, when they were intercepted by our  Navy.  There was fighting even before they arrived sa Zamboanga,” Rojas said.

It was learned that a member of the Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG) was killed and two others wounded in that sea encounter.

Earlier, also, according to Rojas, Misuari and his followers tried but failed to take control of Jolo, the main seat of Sulu province, even before they went to Zamboanga.

For Misuari men's failure to take Jolo, Rojas credited two things: the preparedness of the [military and police], and the provincial government "And second, Governor [Abdusakur] Tan [helped a lot in repelling them]. They refused to allow the MNLF's planned march in Jolo itself." He noted that "Jolo ay balwarte ni [is the bastion of] Misuari," but the latter failed to have his men march there "because the people and government of Sulu don’t like that,” Rojas said.

Why Misuari and his men eventually made it to Zamboanga City without being stopped is something that the authorities have yet to really figure out or explain, meantime.

Rojas said the “worst scenario” would have been for the MNLF forces to march on Zamboanga's streets with their firearms and plant their “flag of independence”.

Clearing operations ongoing

Meanwhile, Rojas said massive clearing operations to weed out unexploded ordnance continues, and that  “about 50 percent has been cleared” of MNLF forces in the constriction” areas.

The places that saw intense fighting were Barangays Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Mampang, Rio Hondo, Kasangyanan, Talon-Talon, Mariki, among others.

About 96 percent of life in Zamboanga has returned to normal, per Rojas. “People can go on their lives. Businesses are opening. Classes are opening. The curfew has been shortened from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. to 10 p.m.-4 a.m. So, hopefully we can have 100-percent normalcy in the week or the next weeks,” he said.

Authorities have divided the clearing operations into four sectors, a, b, c and d. “Each sector has a commander. We retained the original number of soldiers and policemen. But this time the police is spearheading the operations. It has to be house-to-house, block-by-block, room-by-room; we employ bomb sniffing dogs to detect improvised explosive devices. We have already recovered a lot of unexploded hand grenades,” he said.

The clearing operations are estimated to take two weeks; “then after two weeks we will assess.”


LMT, IMT craft ceasefire mechanisms for Sarangani

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 2): LMT, IMT craft ceasefire mechanisms for Sarangani

In a bid to strengthen the ongoing implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Sarangani Province, members of the local and international monitoring teams (LMT/IMT) in the area have started crafting mechanisms in support of the deal.

Sarangani Gov. Steve Chiongbian-Solon said the monitoring teams are specifically formulating mechanisms that would define the role of both parties in safeguarding the continuing ceasefire and the peace process, especially on the ground.

The provincial government earlier convened the LMT and IMT to a joint meeting to discuss the crafting of the ceasefire mechanisms for the area.

“Structures are existing but a clearly defined system on the ground has yet to be crafted,” the governor said in a statement.

The LMTs, which are operating in 13 provinces in Mindanao, are the local-based support mechanism to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), which is mainly mandated to protect the ceasefire agreement.

The IMT, which is led by Malaysia, is tasked to monitor the compliance and investigate possible violations of government and MILF forces on the provisions of the ceasefire accord.

In the wake of the ongoing peace negotiations, Solon said the mechanism of coordination or Manual of Instruction (MOI) should be agreed upon and adopted by both local peace panels as implementing guidelines on the security aspect.

The MOI was seen to form part of the government’s partnership with the MILF in the peace agreement in terms of the security aspect, he said.

The governor said they pushed for the crafting of the local ceasefire mechanism to further ensure the area’s security.

Aside from the LMT and the IMT Team Site 4, Solon said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police, CCCH and other local peace advocates are assisting the crafting of the ceasefire mechanism.

Citing a report from the AFP, the governor added that Sarangani has remained generally peaceful as movements of the MILF have been properly coordinated with government troops through the LMT.


Panel head: BIFF won't have the pleasure of seeing peace process collapse

From InterAksyon (Oct 1): Panel head: BIFF won't have the pleasure of seeing peace process collapse

Government of the Philippines Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer takes helm at a briefing in Quezon City. She is flanked by Presidential Adviser on Muslim Concerns Yasmin Busran-Lao and National Commission on Muslim Filipinos head Mehol Sadain. (Robert JA Basilio Jr., InterAksyon.com)

A Philippine government panel engaged in peace talks with one of several Muslim separatist groups said it “wasn’t going to give them the pleasure of seeing the peace process collapse.”

The Government of the Philippines Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer made these remarks over a lunch briefing on Tuesday, citing negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), alleged members of whom have been arrested for organizing an ambush against a government soldier in July. 
“We are negotiating for peace and we are also addressing security challenges on the ground,” Ferrer said, even as violent incidents involving the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)—a splinter group of the MILF—continued to increase from July to September this year. 
In July, a total of 10 violent incidents attributed to the BIFF took place in Maguindanao and North Cotabato, according to data from several sources including the government-led Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and the Government of the Philippines Ad Hoc Joint Action Group. 
The figure excludes an ambush of a Philippine Army sergeant in Sitio Tubak, Pagangan, Aleosan, North Cotabato that led to the arrest of three alleged members of the MILF--this was later protested by the MILF’s CCCH. The BIFF was also perceived to have a hand in the incident. 
In August, violent incidents reportedly instigated by the BIFF rose to 17 and took place in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and the boundaries of both areas. 
By September, violent incidents supposedly perpetrated by the MILF-splinter group surged to 22 and covered not just the three previously-mentioned areas but Basilan as well. That same month also saw the bombing of Transmission Line #141, causing prolonged power shutdowns in parts of Central Mindanao. 
“The best thing that they want to happen in the peace talks is for it to collapse, then they can harvest discontent that can arise from the expectations that were created by the process,” Ferrer said. “And the MILF knows that...we’re not going to give them the pleasure of seeing this process collapse.”
“These acts show that the BIFF and their cohorts are bent on disrupting the peaceful option and have no qualms to use violence against civilians in order to achieve their political objectives,” Ferrer said in a statement distributed during the briefing. 
Need 'to reach convergence' among Bangsamoro groups
To further push the peace process forward, which would help create a Bangsamoro state in predominantly Muslim areas in Mindanao, government peace panel members expressed the need for the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to reach a “convergence.” 
“Convergence should be reached by both sides,” government peace panel member Mehol Sadain said during the same briefing. 
However, for convergence to take place, the MNLF—which entered into a peace agreement with the government in 1996 with Chairman Nur Misuari at its helm—and its several factions should come up with unities even before it starts talking with the MILF, said Sadain, who also heads the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos. 
Young cadres and female members of the MNLF are engaged in peace talks with representatives of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp), Sadain said.  
Meanwhile, not all MNLF commanders, let alone Muslims themselves, have expressed support for Misuari when the faction that he led mounted an attack that killed hundreds in Zamboanga City, Sadain said. 
“The government will apply the full force of the law against those who cause violence and havoc on civilian communities, similar to what the MNLF-Misuari forces did in Zamboanga City,” former agriculture secretary and government negotiator Senen Bacani said. 
For her part, peace panel member Yasmin Busran-Lao expressed optimism that the Bangsamoro will grab the opportunity for peace and “transcend personal, tribal, or organizational interests to bring about good governance for the people.” 
“The peace agreement will allow for a fresh start of governance institutions in the Bangsamoro,” Lao said in a statement. “There will be space for all those who wish to partipate based on fair rules.”

BEYOND TENSION | PH keeps 'positive' ties with China, but asks for respect of territory

From InterAksyon (Oct 1): BEYOND TENSION | PH keeps 'positive' ties with China, but asks for respect of territory

Continuing tensions in the West Philippine Sea notwithstanding, the Philippines maintains a “positive, peaceful and stable relationship” with China but strongly urges it to respect its neighbor's maritime territory, according to the country's top diplomat.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario reiterated, in a speech released Tuesday, the commitment made by President Benigno Aquino III with then Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2011 that the Philippines would not let maritime disputes disrupt the broader framework of friendship and cooperation between the Asian neighbors.

At the 2nd Annual Dinner of the United States-Philippine Society in New York, del Rosario said, “I wish to stress that the Philippines is committed to undertake all that is possible to cultivate constructive relations with China in spite of these issues in the West Philippine Sea.”

After all, del Rosario added, “our disputes in the West Philippine Sea are not the sum total of our relations.”

At the same time, the DFA chief urged China to also treat all nations, including the Philippines, “with respect for equality and sovereignty”.

As China becomes stronger and more powerful, the Philippines is hoping it emerges as a more “responsible state and a positive force in the region”. But, stressed the DFA chief, "China must adhere to and respect the rule of law,” for it to be viewed as a responsible state.

Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing had earlier urged the Philippines to work with them to “remove the existing obstacle” so it could create atmosphere for both diplomatic relations. She was speaking at the 64th celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The two countries have a territorial dispute over the South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety, citing historical bases; and which the Philippines and four others claim in part. Beijing bases its claim over the entire South China Sea on its so-called nine-dash-line ancient map.

Manila calls it West Philippine Sea, and has elevated its complaint of Chinese encroachments to a UN arbitral tribunal.

Tension grew between the two Asian neighbors in April 2012 when Chinese military vessels blocked a Philippine Navy boat from apprehending poachers in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Masinloc, Zambales. The standoff lasted for weeks, drawing international concern. A shuttling of diplomats resulted in an agreement for both sides to pull out ships from the area, but as it turned out, only Manila did.  The Chinese have since been seen as in de facto occupation of a huge part of the area.

Chinese vessels are reportedly now in the process of constructing facilities. Beijing virtually controls the reef, which is located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

 “The core issue of the dispute is China’s claim of indisputable sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea under its nine dash line position. This claim is expansive, excessive, and in gross violation of international law, specifically UNCLOS [United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea],” del Rosario said.

“China's continuous overwhelming naval and maritime presence in the area is also contributing to the rising of regional tensions,” the DFA chief stressed.

Before Manila brought its case before the Arbitral Tribunal, the Philippines had undertaken many efforts to peacefully engage China and settle these disputes, noted del Rosario.

“However, these were unsuccessful. The Philippines had exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China. Our last resort was to utilize the legal track towards the resolution of disputes,” he said.

China declared its intent to boycott the proceedings, as it maintained that the issue West Philippine Sea is an undisputable territorial issue.

The Arbitral Tribunal has started moving and asked the Philippines to submit its Memorial by March 30, 2014.

The Memorial will address issues such as the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and the merits of the case.

The Arbitral Tribunal "has adopted the rules of procedure and decided that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague shall act as the Registry in the proceedings,” del Rosario said.


DAY 24 | PNoy asked to declare Zambo in state of calamity to deal with humanitarian crisis

From InterAksyon (Oct 2): DAY 24 | PNoy asked to declare Zambo in state of calamity to deal with humanitarian crisis

A Philippine flag flutters over burned and bullet-riddled houses in Zamboanga City. (AFP)

The Zamboanga City government has asked President Benigno Aquino III to declare a state of calamity to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the bloody standoff between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front.

“…The City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CDRRMC) … requested the National Disaster Risk and Management Council (NDRRMC) to recommend to his Excellency, President Aquino the declaration of Zamboanga under a state of calamity on the basis of humanitarian crisis,” Climaco said in a statement released late Tuesday.

Although authorities declared the crisis in Zamboanga “over” on Saturday, sporadic fighting, described as “house to house” has continued as security forces work to clear communities retaken from the MNLF of rebel holdouts, possible booby traps and unexploded ordnance. Military and police officials have said this could take two weeks at least.

Even before this, the United Nations had officially declared a humanitarian crisis in the city.

The military has said the clearing operations would take at least two more weeks
Because of this, most of the more than 100,000 persons displaced by the violence since September 9 remain unable to return to their communities, with others having no more homes to return to as the fighting -- which has included artillery barrages and air strike -- and the many fires that broke out have razed more than 10,000 houses.

The NDRRMC said residents of at least 14 barangays in the city and one in Zamboanga Sibugay province fled their homes, although the heaviest fighting had centered in Barangays Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara, Rio Hondo, Mampang, Talon-Talon, Kasangyanan and Mariki, among others.

Climaco-Salazar said they are holding a donors’ forum on Wednesday with the Department of the Social Welfare and Development and other key national agencies “for the purpose of inviting benefactors and patrons to help us in our relief efforts and ultimately to help us implement our post-crisis plan.”

She said they have to begin the transition to the rehabilitation phase even as the clearing operations continue.

Climaco-Salazar said a nighttime curfew will continue to be in effect in the city -- from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in critical areas and 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. elsewhere.

On Monday, work resumed at city hall while businesses outside the conflict began to reopen.

Classes in schools beyond the 5-7 kilometer radius around the critical zone have also resumed.

Climaco-Salazar also said the city is preparing for the celebration of its annual Fiesta Pilar, with the nine-day novena to the Nuestra Senora de Pilar to begin Wednesday.

However, she added that masses scheduled in honor of the city’s patron saint are “still subject for clearance from military authorities.”

The crisis has so far claimed more than 200 lives: 168 rebels, 12 civilians, 19 soldiers and five police personnel.

At least 266 other persons -- 179 military personnel, 15 police, 72 civilians -- were wounded, while 276 rebels have been captured or surrendered.

Authorities said 194 civilians taken hostage by the rebels have all been accounted for.


Rebel leader killed, 5 soldiers wounded in Davao clash

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Oct 1): Rebel leader killed, 5 soldiers wounded in Davao clash

Government troops killed a rebel commander and captured another in a clash with the communist rebel group New People’s Army in the southern Philippines, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Captain Raul Villegas, of the 10th Infantry Division, said five soldiers were also wounded in the fighting that erupted in the village of Aliwagwag in Davao Oriental’s Cateel town.

He said troops also recovered the automatic rifle of the slain NPA leader who was identified only by his alias Ka Ryan, and also the weapon of the captured rebel.

Villegas said the soldiers, who are members of the 67th Infantry Battalion, were patrolling in the village when it ran into a group of rebels and a firefight ensued.

General Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, urged members of the NPA to surrender and avail of the military’s Guns for Peace Program, which offers amnesty and financial assistance to rebels for them to start a new life.

“There is no better way, but the road to peace and what we offer (to rebels) is a chance to live a new life with their family and loved ones. I call on rebels to come down from the mountains and return to the folds of the law and that government is here to really help you start a new life,” Cruz told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

The  NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been fighting for decades now for the establishment of a separate state in the country.


Marines clean veterans’ cemetery during PHIBLEX 14

From DVIDS (Sep 28):  Marines clean veterans’ cemetery during PHIBLEX 14

 Marines clean veterans’ cemetery during PHIBLEX 14

The logo of the Clark Veterans Cemetery displays the long relationship between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America. The Clark Veterans Cemetery is located in Clark, Pampanga, Republic of the Philippines. Service members from combat engagements like the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are interred on the site grounds. U.S. Marines from 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force, who conducted a voluntary cleanup at the cemetery, are in the Philippines conducting Amphibious Landing Exercise 2014. PHIBLEX 14 is an exercise designed to improve Philippine-U.S. interoperability, increase readiness, and enhance the ability for a bilateral force to respond to natural disasters or other regional contingencies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jose D. Lujano/ Released)
PAMPANGA, Philippines - While thick clouds covered the sun and heavy rain fell on the burial site, the atmosphere surrounding the graveyard was filled with honor and respect for the fallen veterans who are laid to rest there.

Twenty Marines with 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force cleaned the Clark Veterans Cemetery Sept. 28, at Clark Air Field, Pampanga, Republic of the Philippines.

“It is important to demonstrate our good faith to the community, our Filipino veterans and other fallen service members,” said Navy Lt. Stephen F. Brown, 3d MEB chaplain. “Often we can get stuck in our operations and training and forget to engage in demonstrating the generous nature that we are capable of giving.”

The cemetery established in 1950 is the final resting place of fallen service members from wars and conflicts dating back to the 1900s.

The gravesites holds the remains of service members from numerous combat engagements, including the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Throughout the wars, there have been lots of unknown graves filled with bodies of fallen service members; however, even though we might not know their names, it is imperative that they are remembered and honored,” said Brown. “That could have been any of us; and as service members, we should give the love that we would like to receive if it was us.”

At the cemetery, all branches of the United States Armed Forces are represented as well as the Armed Forces of the Philippines to include Philippine Scouts and Philippine Constabulary.

“What better time to clean the resting site of both Filipino and American service members than during the (Amphibious Landing Exercise 2014),” said Lance Cpl. Haaheo K. Kahue, a landing support specialist with 3d MEB.

PHIBLEX 14, now in its 30th iteration, demonstrates the U.S. and Republic of the Philippines commitment to mutual security and their longtime partnership.

“I am truly blessed, and appreciate the loyal service each headstone represents,” said Cannon. “The cleanup reminds me to earn my eagle, globe and anchor every day, so one day I can be honored like the fallen heroes we paid a visit to today.”

The event inspired Marines and their hard work did not go unnoticed.

“These resting veterans deserve nothing but the best and the two hours the Marines provided us with help, equals to about 40 hours,” said Carl D. Burke, the senior vice commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2485.

To some, the Marines’ simple sign of gratitude through volunteer efforts can help make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

“It’s rare to get volunteers to help clean the cemetery, and the Marines’ time and effort helped us preserve the cemetery,” said Burke. “With the Marines help we can continue our cemeteries motto, ‘leave no veteran behind,’ and the fallen veterans will continue to have the respected resting place that they deserve.”

The visiting service members left with a sense of appreciation for the ultimate sacrifice made by the fallen veterans.

“I just want to express the honor, respect and gratitude we have for these fallen heroes and pledge that they will never be forgotten,” said Brown. “May their souls rest in peace.”


Troops kill 6 MNLF rebels as fighting erupts anew while on clearing operation in Zambo

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 1): Troops kill 6 MNLF rebels as fighting erupts anew while on clearing operation in Zambo

Six Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels were killed when fighting erupted anew as the government forces are conducting clearing operations in the “areas of concerns” here in this city, a police official disclosed Tuesday.

Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9 information officer Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca said the firefight erupted around 9:50 a.m. Monday in Martha Drive, Barangay Sta. Catalina, 1.76 kilometers east of City Hall.

The “areas of concerns” include the adjoining barangays of Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo aside from Sta. Catalina.

Huesca said the firefight lasted until 12:10 p.m. of the same day that resulted to the death of six MNLF rebels.

Huesca said the troops from the Alpha Company of the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion and police Special Action Force (SAF) were conducting clearing operations when they chanced upon the rebels, thus, the firefight.

Huesca said the slain MNLF rebels were among the hundreds of rebels that infiltrated this city last September 9 through the shores of Barangay Rio Hondo, 0.92 kilometers east of this city, and in nearby barangays.

He said the troops have recovered four M-16 Armalite rifles, an M-14 and M653 rifles and an M-203 grenade launcher.


Army fires artillery to drive away BIFF near North Cotabato town

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 1): Army fires artillery to drive away BIFF near North Cotabato town

Government forces have fired mortar fire toward a band of Moro bandits in the borders of two North Cotabato towns to thwart attempts to disrupt communities, authorities said.

Mayor Joselito Pinol of Mlang, North Cotabato said government forces are taking one step ahead of the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who, according to intelligence reports, have been planning to take over portions of the North Cotabato-Maguindanao highway.

Pinol said military authorities told him that government forces need to use artillery to drive away an undetermined number of BIFF from its location in Sitio Pedtad, Barangay Dungos, Tulunan town, near the border with Mlang, both in North Cotabato.

"There were sightings of BIFF forces in Sitio Pedtad, the Army artillery fire was surgical aimed at pushing the bandits back to the Liguasan marshland in Maguindanao," Pinol said.

Capt. Tony Bulao, speaking for the 602nd Army Brigade based in Carmen, North Cotabato, said the BIFF in Sitio Pedtad were the same group who harassed the banana plantation in Barangay Dungos.

Pinol said about 30 families have moved to safer grounds for fear of a larger armed conflict.

He said the Army action was aimed at preventing the armed men to conduct attacks similar to Midsayap, North Cotabato where they took hostage civilians and used them as human shields against pursuing government forces.

He appealed to Mlang residents to remain calm and report to authorities any sightings of lawless elements in the respective barangays.

"We do not like what happened in Zamboanga to happen here in our place," he said.

The BIFF, a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is operating mainly in the Maguindanao marshland and repeatedly harassed Army positions in the province and civilian communities in the borders of North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

It has been harassing the towns of Midsayap, Tulunan, Mlang, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Libungan, North Cotabato towns situated around the marshland.


Authorities intensify intel operations amid sighting of armed groups in Leyte villages

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 1): Authorities intensify intel operations amid sighting of armed groups in Leyte villages

A maximum utilization of Barangay Intelligence Network System (BINS) has been launched in coordination with the military to intensify intelligence operations after several armed groups were sighted at some outskirt villages of Leyte recently.

S/Supt. Ramil Ramirez, commander of the Regional Public Safety Battalion based in Capoocan, Leyte ordered the intensified intelligence drive.

Col. Rafael Valencia, the 802nd Brigade commander said “there is continuous coordination with the PNP and we have proper coordination in taking actions to address the threatening situation.”

“At this early part of barangay election, we do our best to protect the community,” he said.

Police authorities said that at 11 a.m. last Sept.25, around 10 unidentified persons armed with high-powered firearms were spotted by residents of Ormoc City villages particularly in Sumad river in Quezon Jr. heading towards the hilly mountain of Kangka Yangkob in Mahayahay.

They are believed to be members of New People’s Army (NPA) and suspected to have established a camp in the area.

Another unidentified group of approximately 25 men and women also armed with high-powered guns were sighted at the vicinity of Fattening Compound, one kilometer from Mahayag village, this city heading towards the village hub at 1:00 a.m. the next day.

In Javier, Leyte, nine unidentified persons armed with high-powered guns were seen in Guindapunan and Karaye villages at around 4:00 and 6:00 p.m., respectively in Sept. 29. The residents said the group asked for food and afterwards left to unknown direction.

These information were the result of intensified BINS that the police and military have initiated to pre-empt or negate any violent activity of the enemy.