Tuesday, November 5, 2013

3 rebels yield firearms

From the Visayan Daily Star (Nov 4): 3 rebels yield firearms

Three more members of the Yunit Militia of the New People’s Army have availed of the military’s Guns for Peace Program, by surrendering four homemade firearms to the 11th Infantry Battalion in Brgy. San Agustin, Isabela, Negros Occidental.

Civil Military Operations officer, 1Lt. Von Ryan Gomez, said yesterday that the three former rebels, whose identities are being withheld, are members of the Bukidnon tribe.

He, however, said they were not among the Bukidnon tribe members arrested in December last year, after an encounter in Sitio Mahopaho, Brgy, San Agustin, Isabela.

The encounter led to the death of two soldiers and injuries to four others, military records showed.

Three of the 19 arrested suspects had tested positive for gunpowder nitrates.

Brig. Gen. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, accompanied by Gov. Alfredo Maranon Jr. and other representatives of various provincial governments, as well as Isabela Mayor Enrique Montilla III, revisited Brgy. San Agustin, Isabela on Oct. 31.

Nine YM members in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental, and Guihulngan, Negros Oriental had earlier surrendered 19 firearms, including two anti-tank weapons, and explosives to the 11th IB, military records showed.

Gomez said Brig. Gen. Patrimonio presented cash assistance to three rebel YM members who surrendered four homemade shotguns, while 719 barangay residents, including 100 members of the Bukidnon tribe, availed of medical-related services of the Provincial Health Office.

During the celebration of National Indigenous People’s Month celebration, that is marked every October, the Bukidnon tribe members also received 1,000 family food packs from the Provincial Social Welfare Development Office, 200 pairs of slippers from the Philippine Army, while the Provincial Veterinarian Office gave them 250 heads of Caber chicks, 20 grower chickens and seven Peking ducks.

Gomez said the activity was highlighted with the ceremonial oath of conduct of non-violence, declaration of peace community and the holding of the Philippine flag, which marked the IPs ( Indigenous People) love of country and campaign of internal peace in the community through the spirit of “Bayanihan”.

In his speech, Patrimonio, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines will continue to support and facilitate initiatives of the provincial government in attaining peace, security and development in the community.

Marañon pledged to support the IP community in Isabela, by constructing two school buildings in Sitio Mahopaho and including the Bukidnon tribes in the Negros Occidental Comprehensive Health Program package.

Montilla encouraged the IP community to continue to be united and maintain harmonious relationship with one another, and thanked the Philippine Army for facilitating the IP program.


Indie filmmaker spends 37th birthday in ASG hands

From Tempo (Nov 5): Indie filmmaker spends 37th birthday in ASG hands

Linda Bansil, one of the two “indie” Moro filmmaker sisters kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) on June 22 in Patikul, Sulu, spent her 37th birthday on Sunday still in the hands of the gunmen.

Linda and sister Nadjoua, 39, were trying to document through film the struggle and plight of the unheralded Sulu coffee farmers when several armed men seized them.

Instead, their effort at helping raise awareness on the plight of the Bangsamoro, in general, and the Tausug coffee farmers, in particular, was repaid with their abduction.

Their plight, now on its 137th day today, has been a tremendous cause for suffering of their family, particularly their sickly mother, Fatiha Elouali Bansil, their younger brothers Mohammad and Zacaria, and their relatives.

Mohammad related yesterday that he was able to speak with her sisters some two weeks ago.

He was almost in tears as he spoke about her sisters, because Nadjoua is really sick and that Linda had her 37th birth anniversary in the Sulu jungles with the Moro kidnappers.

“Just how bad is that for a family, for any family, how painful is that, and how revolting can you feel,” the brother said, saying, “if you are poor, no one is going to help you.”

“Over two months ago, Nadjoua developed a toothache, her gums swollen, which have been giving her much pain. She can hardly eat, if there is food, and can not sleep,” the brother said, third in the four siblings.

He said her sister told her about her condition, which is not getting well because there is hardly any medicine at all, no doctor to attend to her.

“Our mother is also sickly now, she does not even want to eat, and hardly able to sleep. She really misses her daughters,” the brother said.

The Bansil family appealed to the government to move and free the two sisters without harm.

Mohammad also asked the colleagues and friends of his late father Ustadhz Abdulbasit Bansil to fulfill their promise to help in getting Nadjoua and Linda safely released.

Nadjoua and Linda, he recalled, only ventured into Sulu after four Tausug residents assured them of their safety while filming the Tausug coffee farmers.

“I hope my sisters’ plight would not become a fodder for political ends,” he said.


No salary dispute, says owner of pig farm attacked by NPA

From the Philippine Star (Nov 5): No salary dispute, says owner of pig farm attacked by NPA

The owner of a pig farm in Libona, Bukidnon which was attacked by the New People’s Army (NPA) last week belied reports that the rebels invaded his property because of salary grievances from his employees.

Mega Farm owner See Hong maintains that he pays and treats his employees well.

“Our rates are quite high, above average,” he said, noting that he gives his employees basic pay plus incentive allowance “to encourage them to work.”

“I believe our employees enjoy working for us,” he added. “We have bunkhouses for those workers who want to stay there.”

Hong also said that he never received any demand from the NPA, but he deplored the attack in which more than 50 hogs were shot dead and 500 others wounded.

“We believe we should not be treated this way,” he said, adding that the damage could reach millions.

Earlier reports said the NPA attacked the piggery because of salary grievances from the employees, but the military said it could have been related to “revolutionary taxes.”

The military launched a pursuit operation against the NPA fighters but the troops were not able to apprehend them.

Mega Farm is one of the major suppliers of hogs in Northern Mindanao. It raises around 10,000 hogs and delivers about 80 heads per day to the slaughterhouse in Cagayan de Oro City. It employs around 150 people and is being managed by Hong’s son, Erwin.

Hong said that the farm is environmentally safe, with regular inspections from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“We use the pig manure and wastes as fertilizer,” he said.

“The colored water that goes to the river comes from rainwater that brings along topsoil. It’s not water from our lagoon, which we use as septic tank to make biogas,” he added.


Smuggled AK-47s intended for Philippines rebels seized

From the Asian Correspondent (Nov 5): Smuggled AK-47s intended for Philippines rebels seized

Two alleged couriers of the New People’s Army (NPA) were nabbed in a 5-minute car chase in Tboli town, South Cotabato Sunday, November 3, according to the military.

In a press release, 1Lt. Abel Porto, spokesman for the 27th Infantry Battalion, said they received intelligence reports that a cache of high powered rifles was to be transported from Tulunan, Cotabato to Tboli in South Cotabato.

Combined military and police forces then set up checkpoints along the national highway where the arms cache were to pass through.

On Sunday, a red Mitsubishi Lancer was flagged down by the police and military in Barangay Central in Surallah. South Cotabato.  But instead of stopping, the driver and his companion drove past the checkpoint prompting the police and soldiers to give chase.

The suspects were finally caught in Barangay Sinolon in Tboli with four AK-47s along with 15 fully loaded magazines.

Seized AK-47s intended for NPA guerillas.Pic by Philippine Army
The two suspects are now detained at the Tboli police station where they are undergoing further investigation.

Lieutenant Colonel Shalimar Imperial, commander officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said the NPAs are now resorting to arms smuggling and recruiting members from nearby province after suffering several setbacks and failing to find new recruits among indigenous tribes in South Cotabato.

There were no immediate statements from the NPA rebels operating in the Far South Mindanao Region.

Reports however said the NPA has stepped up arms procurement following a series of seizure of a large number of AK-47s in recent months.

Most of them have their serial numbers removed making it difficult to trace their origin.

Maj. Gen. Rainer Cruz III, head of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command, said the intelligence community is verifying reports these AK-47 were smuggled in on inbound ore transport ships.

Among the areas being monitored is the eastern part of Mindanao, particularly in the Surigao provinces, where mining activities and ore shipment is prevalent.

The AK-47s are a favorite of insurgents and an iconic weapon of liberation movements during the ’70s.

The political arm of the NPA, the Communist Party of the Philippines, reportedly twice attempted to smuggle Chinese-made AK-47s in the mid-70s in what is now known as the Andrea-Karagatan episodes.

The rebels however abandoned their preference for the sturdy Soviet era-designed assault rifle due to scarcity of ammunition. But recent seizures are pointing to renewed rebel interests in AK-47s.


Soldier shot by riding-in-tandem in Quezon City

From the Sun Star (Nov 5): Soldier shot by riding-in-tandem in Quezon City

A MEMBER of the Armed Forces of the Philippines was killed after being shot by motorcycle-riding suspects in Cubao, Quezon City, Monday evening.

Police Officer 1 Oliver Bocade of the Quezon City Police District Station 7 identified the victim as Sergeant Ernesto Clemente, 47, a member of the Philippine Army.

Investigation showed Clemente was talking to a woman when he was shot by the still unidentified suspects at the corner of Mary Street and New York Avenue in Barangay E. Rodriguez.

Police have yet to identify the motives in the killing.

CPP: Fr. Joe Dizon, revolutionary Catholic priest

Posted to the CPP Website (Nov 5): Fr. Joe Dizon, revolutionary Catholic priest

Communist Party of the Philippines
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) expresses its deep sense of loss over the death of Fr. Joe Dizon. He passed away last night at the age of 65.

The leadership and entire membership of the CPP pay tribute to Fr. Joe Dizon, revolutionary Catholic priest, patriot and humble servant of the working class and the toiling masses.

He was among the pioneer organizers of the Basic Christian Community in the 1960s which put into practice the progressive Catholic social teaching of having preferential option for the poor. Such an advocacy was being advanced by the Christians for National Liberation (CNL) against the traditional leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Like many priests infused by the spirit of serving the people, Fr. Joe helped organize urban poor and workers communities.

By being with the workers and peasants, Fr. Joe knew firsthand their travails and sought to change their situation and improve their wellbeing. He championed their national democratic aspirations and became tempered in their struggles.

Confronted with the people’s enemies, Fr. Joe was militant and courageous. He organized workers defying the threats of the big capitalist compradors. He founded the Workers’ Assistance Center in 1995 based in Dasmariñas, Cavite. The WAC extended help to the workers inside the Cavite Export Processing Zones, who were among the most oppressed and exploited. Fr. Dizon was a trailblazer in building various types of workers associations and unions within the EPZs, where factories are run like Nazi prison camps by big foreign capitalists in cahoots with the military, police and government bureaucrats.

He joined the people in mass demonstrations and immersed himself in workers’ picketlines and peasant communities. Under Martial Law, he was among the people in their struggle to overthrow the US-Marcos dictatorship. He was among the stalwarts in the people’s uprising of 2001 which brought down the Estrada regime. He was a vocal critic of the Arroyo regime and vigorously denounced the Arroyo regime for widespread corruption and cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections.

Fr. Joe was among the convenors of the group Kontra Daya which exposed various forms of electorial fraud through the automated counting system, including the 2010 elections which brought the current Aquino regime to power. Recently, he was among the leaders of the broad movement against the Aquino regime’s pork barrel system.

Fr. Joe was an advocate of human rights and social justice. He firmly opposed US interventionism in the Philippines and actively joined efforts to bring progressive and patriotic thought into the Catholic Church. He was among the convenors of Solidarity Philippines and the Clergy Discernment Group, which sought to encourage priests, nuns and religious workers to advance the cause of social justice.

He will be remembered as among those who carried forward the revolutionary tradition among the Filipino clergy, pioneered by Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora (GomBurZa) who stood up against Spanish colonialism, and carried forward by the likes of Frs. Pops Tentorio and Willhelm Geertman who dedicated and sacrificed their lives serving the masses, and revolutionary martyrs Frs. Frank Navarro, Fr. Zacharias Agatep and Fr. Nilo Valerio who marched the path of the people’s war and dedicated their lives as armed fighters of the people.

With his demise, Fr. Joe Dizon’s name is now etched into the granite stone of the Filipino people’s gallery of heroes and martyrs, where it will inspire future generations to dedicate their lives to the struggle for national and social liberation and the struggle to end oppression and exploitation.


NPA rebels into crimes — Solcom

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 5): NPA rebels into crimes — Solcom

Camp Nakar, Lucena City — The military has warned the public against what it called the bogus operation of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels after a spate of robberies and extortion activities in some parts of Quezon province.

Lt. Gen. Caesar Ronnie F. Ordoyo, Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) chief, yesterday said the townsfolk’s weakening support to and blatant denunciation of revolutionary ideals prompted NPA rebels to resort to massive extortion activities and even holdups.

Ordoyo said rebels are targeting business establishments and some construction companies in charge of building roads and bridges in remote areas in the countryside.

These public works projects were intended to alleviate poverty in isolated areas of the province.

“We have also new information that they are now engaged in armed robbery targeting government personnel carrying large amount of money,” said Ordoyo. “The PNP (Philippine National Police) is now investigating on this report.”

Ordoyo said the public should also be wary of Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) propaganda being spread as a diversionary tactic to the NPA’s criminal activities.

The rebels throw the blame at military troops, making accusations that soldiers are behind attacks and human rights violations, said the Solcom chief.


Zambo sets up reaction force

From the Manila Standard Today (Nov 6): Zambo sets up reaction force

Zamboanga City — The Crisis Management Committee that was formed following the September 9 rebel attacks in this city has established a Quick Reaction Force.

CMC Chairman Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said the measure is intended to prevent a repeat of the siege that was staged by 400 heavily armed rebels belonging to he Moro National Liberation Front faction loyal to its founder Nur Misuari.

“This special unit is here to complement the military’s  Task Force Zamboanga and the City Police and to ensure the safety of the constituents,” Climaco said.

The task force and police have assumed law enforcement and security functions  on Oct 23, after Task Force Suyud ended clearing operations in the barangays of Rio Hondo, Mariki, Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina and Kasanyangan and adjoining shorelines.

Gen. Carmelo Valmoria, commander of Task Force Suyud, confirmed the mobilization of the quick reaction force during the recent CMC where he announced his tour of duty has ended.

Task Force Zamboanga chief Adrelino Colina said authorities have regained control of the situation.

“I want to assure everyone that our forces here in Zamboanga City are more than enough to address any threat,” he said.


Security forces search for Malik’s body in Sulu

From the Manila Times (Nov 5): Security forces search for Malik’s body in Sulu

POLICE and military intelligence operatives have began searching for the body of Ustadz Habier Malik, the trusted lieutenant of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder, Nur Misuari.

Malik is the commander of the MNLF rebels who attacked Zamboanga City for about three weeks last September, leaving more than a hundred people dead and injured.

The search for Malik’s body or burial place started following intelligence information that the MNLF commander died from gunshot wounds sustained during the clashes between government troops and MNLF fighters in Zamboanga City.

A police intelligence officer privy to the “search operations” for the burial place of the “slain” MNLF commander said that operatives are concentrating their efforts in an area somewhere in the municipality of Luuk in Sulu.

“We have received some information that he [Malik] was wounded in Zamboanga City and that he died from that wound and was buried somewhere in Luuk, Sulu,” the Manila-based police intelligence officer said.

The police intelligence officer said one of the information they received gave them an exact location of the place where Malik was buried by his followers shortly after he allegedly died.

“Our informants knew where he [Malik] was buried, but as of now, it’s pretty hard to get to that place,” the police intelligence officer said, but declined to elaborate further.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Monday that there is a possibility that the MNLF commander was dead, although he admitted that they have no strong proof to back-up their claim.

Misuari, Malik and several MNLF members are facing rebellion charges before the Justice department in connection with the siege of Zamboanga City that started on September 9.


Group seeks review of case vs soldiers for death of 3 Lumads

From MindaNews (Nov 5): Group seeks review of case vs soldiers for death of 3 Lumads

A group of human rights lawyers on Tuesday said it will seek a review of the decision of the prosecutor’s office of Digos City dismissing the case against 15 soldiers implicated in the death of three Lumads during a supposed encounter in a mining site late last year.

The soldiers, all coming from the 27th Infantry Battalion, were tagged in the death of Juvy Capion and her sons Jordan, 13, and John Mark, 6, on Oct. 18, 2013 in Sitio Alyong, Barangay Kiblawis in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur during an operation against Juvy’s husband, Daguel Capion.

Daguel Capion, leader of a tribal armed group opposing the mining venture of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) is facing, among others, murder charges for the killing of three workers of a construction company hired by SMI for a road project in March 2011.

Atty. Emeliano Deleverio of the Union of People’s Lawyer in Mindanao (UPLM) said in a statement they firmly believe there is “probable cause to indict respondents for the death and injury of the victims” and will file this week a petition for review at the Department of Justice.

UPLM, the counsel for the Capion family in the case against the soldiers cited the following facts as enough bases to prosecute the respondents:

• Respondents admit that they were in the place of the crime at the time it happened;
• Respondents were armed with M-16 rifles;
• Among the shells recovered from the crime scene were those from an M-16 rifle;
• Three of the respondents admitted having fired their guns;
• Their shots were aimed at the men who hid behind the hut;
• The victims were inside the hut where the shots were directed;
• Respondents admitted that they moved the victims out of the hut— a very unusual thing to do when one seeks to administer first aid as it could be done without moving them and risk further injury;
• Respondents failed to refute the witnesses’ allegation that they cleaned the house; and
• Witnesses positively pointed to respondents as the persons present in the crime scene immediately after its commission.

“These facts put respondents directly in the crime scene and strongly indicate that they have caused the death and injury of the victims,” the statement said.

It noted that the investigating prosecutor used the term “conviction” and quoted from the rules of evidence on the requirements to convict on circumstantial evidence.

It said the prosecutor “assumed the function of a trial judge calibrating evidence which is proper only in a trial” by looking for “proof that will convict respondents for murder.”

“Further, the prosecutor’s findings directly contradicts those of another agency of government— the Commission on Human Rights — which recommended the filing of murder cases against the soldiers involved in the killings,” UPLM said.

“These facts add further to the weight that there is indeed probable cause, thus, the case should proceed before a regular court,” it added.

After the incident, the Armed Forces of the Philippines announced that at least nine soldiers, including a junior officer, have been relieved of their posts and recommended for court martial.

Lt. Col. Alexis Noel Bravo, 27th IB commander, eventually resigned from his post and was transferred to another assignment also in Mindanao.


Habier Malik’s death not yet confirmed, say police, military leaders

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 4): Habier Malik’s death not yet confirmed, say police, military leaders

Senior Supt. Edgar Danao, chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group here expressed his belief in reports about Malik’s death.

“If he were still alive, matagal na yang nagpalabas ng video footage of him to taunt the troops, but so far wala. Umabot na ng isang buwan walang Malik na nagpapa-media (If he were still alive, he would have come out with a video already to taunt the troops but so far, nothing.  A month has passed but there has not been any Malik communicating through media),” Danao said.

Prof. Octavio Dinampo, former kidnapping victim and a peace advocate, admitted receiving reports that Malik could be dead.

Dinampo said that on the second week of the Zamboanga standoff, Malik was “already down with diabetes.”

“The blood sugar count went even higher to more than 600 when they reached Sulu on Sept 29. He fasted before Eidl Adha, but was reported to be in critical condition two or three weeks ago,” Dinampo, citing reports from sources on the ground, said.

Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Regional Police, however, said “there was no official report that Malik is dead or alive.”

Huesca said Senior Insp. William Malinao, head of the team tasked to clear the conflict villages, has not reported that Malik was among the bodies being processed for identification.

Huesca said DNA tests would be needed to identify the bodies.

“So far, no one has come forward to secure the 166 cadavers,” he said.

Col. Johnson Jemar Aseron, commander of the 32nd Infantry Battalion, whose unit was the first to respond and last to leave the conflict area, said they also have not monitored any report of Malik being dead or alive.

Almost 200 bodies have been recovered from Barangays Santa Catalina, Rio Hondo, Santa Barbara and Talon-Talon – the villages that became  battlegrounds between government troops and MNLF forces.

Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar earlier said the “capture of Malik is essential in the resolution of the psyche, confidence and courage of every Zamboangueño.”


AFP spokesman gets service star medal

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 5): AFP spokesman gets service star medal

AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala. From the official Twitter account of the Armed forces of the Philippines @TeamAFP
The unlikely heartthrob in the Zamboanga siege received the third-highest military award on Monday.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, the Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office chief, received the Distinguished Service Star medal from President Aquino.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista ordered Zagala to go to Zamboanga City in September to handle the public and media communication aspect of the military operations against Moro rebels threatening the city.

Little did Bautista know that his strategy would turn Zagala, a Special Forces airborne officer, into a celebrity.

Two weeks of media exposure resulted in the creation of a Facebook fan page by Zamboanga residents, the manufacture of T-shirts with Zagala’s face on them and photo opportunities for starstruck city residents.

‘An excellent job’

Zagala also had gushing fans on Twitter, who congratulated him for his award yesterday.

“LTC Zagala did an excellent job bridging the @TeamAFP and the civilian community during the crisis. As to why he deserves the fans’ club, he has the charm and the looks too. That’s how an Army wife will say it,” tweeted @PinkOliveDrab, also a military wife.

Zagala is the son of the late Army Chief Maj. Gen. Rafael Zagala. He and his wife, Nenita, have two sons.

A graduate of the Army’s Officers’ Candidate School, Zagala was astonished by the public’s response to him while he was just doing, he said, the task assigned to him by his commander.

On his award, Zagala said: “I was more on the crisis and strategic communications of the military to show the bigger audience that the threat was contained within the city.

“I tried to give timely information without compromising the troops’ security and our mission. Maybe that’s why I was given the award,” he said.

Forgotten soldiers?

Ironically, none of yesterday’s awardees were from Zamboanga City  or from Basilan province.

The first responders in the Zamboanga siege were actually soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion, who were on a “retraining program” in Zamboanga, and the 7th Scout Ranger Company from Basilan.

Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said he learned of the award ceremony only on Sunday.

Col. Johnson Jemar Aseron of the 32nd Infantry Battalion and Capt. Arvin Llenaresas of the 7th Scout Ranger Company said they were not informed either.

“It’s OK if we were not recognized. If we were recognized, we would want it on Dec. 21, during AFP Day,” Aseron said.

“We respect the judgment of our superiors. In the Army, whoever is recognized, is considered an honor for all of us,” he added.

Llenaresas said he received no prior advice, “not even a radio message.” But he said he did not mind.

“What’s important is we did our best to secure Zamboanga and gave the place back to its people,” he said.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said she would look into why the troops who responded first to the crisis and were the last to leave the city were not recognized during the awards ceremony.

“I will raise this matter with General Bautista,” she said.


Bomb defused at waiting shed in Maguindanao town

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 5): Bomb defused at waiting shed in Maguindanao town
SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao, Philippines—Government troops defused a powerful improvised explosive device planted at a waiting shed in Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao on Tuesday morning.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said soldiers of the 46th Infantry Battalion found the suspicious package left unattended at a waiting shed beside a highway in Barangay Iganagampong, Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, at about 6 a.m.

The place is often used by civilian commuters, motorists and even soldiers as resting place or temporary shelter during a downpour.

The soldiers on board a light military truck were about to take a rest after a long travel when one of them noticed the package.  Upon a thorough check, they found out it contained an IED fashioned from an 81 mm mortar with a mobile phone as the trigger mechanism.

Hermoso said an Army bomb disposal team managed to defuse the explosive and prevented what could have been a bloody Tuesday morning.

The area is a known bailiwick of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which the Army blamed for the series of bombings against civilians, government infrastructure and soldiers in Maguindanao.

Composed of about 1,000 armed followers, the BIFF was formed in 2008 after they broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been negotiating a peace settlement for more than 10 years now.


US spies on PH all the time–Biazon

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 5): US spies on PH all the time–Biazon

Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon: A normal thing. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

What’s there to probe?

The chair of the House committee on national defense and security, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, has thumbed down calls to investigate the allegations of spying by the United States on the Philippines.

“I don’t think there is any need for a probe. What for? We are an open book anyway. All our secrets, including those concerning national security, are openly discussed in Congress, the media and coffee shops,” Biazon said.

He said he could not think of anything that the US government could use against the Philippines by eavesdropping on the country’s most powerful individuals.

He said the US may pick up information regarding other countries but not against the Philippines.

Biazon, a retired general and former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the lawmakers calling for a House investigation should not be worried about US National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelation that the Philippines was among the Asian countries used by the US as listening posts.

“The US has been doing its spying activities for a long time. That is the purpose of its embassies and other listening posts in the world. That is what our embassies do in other countries, to get information. So I don’t think there is any harm in that,” he said.


Nolcom soldiers help raise funds for Zambo, Bohol

From the Philippine Star (Nov 5): Nolcom soldiers help raise funds for Zambo, Bohol

Soldiers in Northern Luzon are making furniture to help raise funds for the rehabilitation of Zamboanga City and the quake-damaged province of Bohol.

The pieces of furniture are made out of trees felled by Typhoon Santi, according to Maj. Emmanuel Garcia, chief of the Armed Forces 1st Civil Relations Group.

“The pieces of furniture such as sala sets, dining tables, cabinets and television racks will be handcrafted by soldiers inside the Camp Sevillano Aquino in Tarlac,” Garcia said.

Parts of Zamboanga City were ruined in the three-week siege launched by members of the Moro National Liberation Front in September.

In Bohol, several buildings, including centuries-old churches, were damaged in the magnitude 7.2 quake last Oct. 15.

The Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) itself suffered damage when Typhoon Santi devastated Central Luzon last month. At least P46 million worth of properties in Camp Sevillano Aquino in Tarlac and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, two of the major camps of the military, were destroyed in the calamity. 

Hundreds of trees such as mahogany, acacia, falcatta and gemelina were uprooted by the storm.

The Nolcom soldiers viewed the disaster as an opportunity to help others in need.

“The fund-raising activity will show solidarity among us who have been equally devastated by natural and man-made disasters,” Nolcom chief Maj. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said.

The command aims to finish 1,000 sets of furniture by the second week of December in time for the “Bagsak Presyo Sale, Help for Zambo and Bohol” bazaar on Dec. 16.

“The proceeds will be divided equally to officials of Zamboanga City and Bohol as soon as the sets of furniture are sold,” Garcia said.


PAF submits plan for transfer of 7 units from Clark

From the Philippine Star (Nov 5): PAF submits plan for transfer of 7 units from Clark

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga, Philippines -- The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has submitted to the Department of National Defense (DND) a detailed plan on the transfer of seven of its major units from this freeport to other areas.

PAF spokesperson Lt. Col. Miguel Okol told The STAR that it is up to higher authorities to approve the plan and release the funds for the transfer.

“We are giving way to progress and development of Clark, but without compromising  national security,” Okol said adding the approval of the transfer plan rests with the DND and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).

He said the transfer would start as soon as the plan is approved and funds are released.

He said the timetable for the transfer would depend on the approval date of the plan and on the release of funds.

Over 300 hectares of this freeport was allocated for the PAF after the US Air Force left its base here in 1991.

The allocation is based on an agreement between the DND and the BCDA, which owns the lands within the former US military base.

The state firm Clark Development Corp. (CDC), the implementing arm of the BCDA, earlier admitted it is running out of lands for lease to investors, which prompted some sectors to call for the removal of the PAF units here.

The PAF area, dubbed Air Force City, is under the 600th Air Base Wing but it also hosts the 1st Air Division, the 410th Maintenance Wing, the 420th Supply Wing, the 710th Special Operations Wing, the Air Force Logistics Command and the Air Force Reserve Command.

“These major units will be moved to other places, such as in Subic with the consent of the BCDA and Basa which is already ours. But some others will be moved to Fernando Air Base in Lipa and even our headquarters in Villamor,” Okol said.

Okol could not yet say the cost of the transfer but he assured families of the PAF personnel here that no movement would be done until all the infrastructure in their destinations are ready.

Hundreds of houses built by Americans within the PAF area here serve as homes for dependents of PAF personnel.

Earlier, BCDA president Arnel Casanova said the transfer of the PAF would free up more land for lease to investors.

Casanova said the BCDA has invested P33.8 billion in Central Luzon to create opportunities for investment and employment in the region.

Of the P33.8 billion, P30.68 billion was used for the construction of the 94-kilometer Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) that connects the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and the Clark Freeport.


Palace urged to replace Westmincom chief with peace advocate

From the Philippine Star (Nov 5): Palace urged to replace Westmincom chief with peace advocate

Outgoing Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo (right) receives a token from the commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz, during the former’s “farewell tour” at Camp Sioncgo in Maguindanao last week. (John Unson)

Local leaders and peace activists urged Malacañang on Tuesday to replace the outgoing chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) with an officer who has a record of peace-building in communities covered by the 1997 ceasefire accord between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo, who is to retire from the military service on Nov. 9, is popular in Maguindanao and neighboring Central Mindanao provinces for his community projects supporting the GPH-MILF talks.

Ardo was commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, which covers Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and parts of the second district of Lanao del Sur, prior to his assumption as Westmincom chief last year.

“We are hoping Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and his principal, President Aquino, will replace Gen. Ardo with someone willing to continue what he has started,” said Bobby Benito, director of the Bangsamoro Center for Just Peace in Cotabato City.

There has been a fragile peace in Central Mindanao since 2011 owing to the religious enforcement by the 6th ID and the MILF of all preliminary security agreements aimed at preventing undue hostilities while the talks are underway.

The Maguindanao provincial peace and order council, chaired by Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, said in an email that it also wants a peace advocate at the helm of the Westmincom to ensure the continuity of the fragile peace in the province.

“We want someone there who has propensity to address security problems in the province the diplomatic way in keeping with the tenets of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF,” Mangudadatu said.

Mangudadatu, who has jurisdiction over 36 towns where the MILF has dozens of enclaves, said the zero encounter between the rebel group and units of the 6th ID since 2011 hastens the education and livelihood thrusts of the provincial government.

“Without conflicts, children can freely go to school and their parents can work in their farms quietly. We want this to continue to happen while we all look forward to the fruitful end of the GPH-MILF peace negotiations,” Mangudadatu said.

A former spokesman of 6th ID, retired Gen. Prudencio Asto, now a “peace education” teacher in Baguio City, said designating a new Westmincom commander who is also a peace advocate will preserve the gains of the GPH-MILF 1997 ceasefire agreement.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, which has various peace-building projects in Mindanao, said the Westmincom must be entrusted to an officer who has inclination to first exhaust all peaceful means of resolving domestic security issues before deciding on using force to address threats.

Ardo, who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1981, had told members of the 6th ID in Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat town during his visit last week that the Southern Moro uprising cannot be resolved with guns alone.

Ardo said the nagging Moro issue is best resolved through "convergence" of diplomatic efforts by local sectors, leaders of Moro fronts, the political communities and local government units in Moro-dominated areas.

Aveen Acuna-Gulo, project manager of the Indigenous People’s Development Program (IPDev), said the incoming Westmincom commander must have a “big heart” for indigenous non-Moro communities.

“Gen. Ardo helped in the rebuilding of the Teduray community in Mt. Firis in the second district of Maguindanao that was badly affected by armed conflicts in years past,” said Gulo, whose office has foreign-assisted community projects in remote IP tribal enclaves.

Gulo said the new Westmincom commander must have a deep appreciation of the importance of preserving the unique cultural identities of Mindanao’s indigenous non-Moro and Moro sectors.


Gov't confident peace talks with MILF to be completed soon

From the Philippine Star (Nov 5): Gov't confident peace talks with MILF to be completed soon

The government chief negotiator said the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels would only need little time to complete the formal talks over annexes of power- and wealth-sharing to close the negotiation stage.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, government chief negotiator, in an informal briefing Tuesday said  they are targeting to complete the negotiation this year.

Ferrer said both panels will resume the formal talks this month in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to complete the negotiation for the remaining issues on the annexes of power and wealth sharing.

“We are there in the tail end of all these details and the so-called devils in the details have been tamed… We’re down to some elements. We have been able to settle many of the details that have taken a long time. And we’re down to some elements that are of course very important and have been the toughest after more than a year, but we’re almost there. That’s the goal  - to finish it this year,” Ferrer said.

She said that based on the recent negotiation with the MILF panel, the rebel group should tone down their demands and to compromise with the government.

“Palagay ko naman kunting panahon na lang ay mabubuo na ang dalawang annexes para masabi natin nagsara na yong negotiation stage at saka papasok na tayo sa full implementation phase,” Ferrer said.

She said once the negotiation for power-sharing annex is  completed the panel will focus on the normalization, which calls for the decommissioning of the MILF combatants and conversion of the camps into development communities.
Ferrer said what the government panel wants in the normalization  stage is for the MILF to present the base number, combatant strength and its weapons for the government to introduce an appropriate and good program in the decommissioning process.

The government chief negotiator said they understand that  normalization entails funds to provide an alternative social economic livelihood for those who will be leaving the combat forces and joining communities.

“Ang dating kampo...magiging civilian na yong character nya at hindi na siya mag exist,” Ferrer said.

She said the two panels have agreed  that the process in the normalization will be gradual and  will be done in phases.


Eastern Mindanao Command vows more joint operations with PNP against NPAs

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 6): Eastern Mindanao Command vows more joint operations with PNP against NPAs

The Eastern Mindanao Command on Wednesday vowed to conduct more joint operations with the Philippine National Police (PNP) following the arrest of two New People's Army (NPA) rebels and capture of four AK-47 automatic rifles in Barangay Centrala in Surallah town, South Cotabato on Sunday.

“This is just the beginning, our collaboration will further be expanded to include local government units and other agencies," said Eastern Mindanao Command chief, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz III.

Cruz also lauded the PNP for their sterling work in supporting the Eastern Mindanao Command.

He added that only through strong cooperation with local authorities will the rebel threat be ended.

Also seized from the two rebels were a red Mitsubishi Lancer (PGF-172) and 15 AK-47 magazines filled with ammunition, belated reports from Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson Capt. Alberto Caber said.

Caber identified the captured NPA fighters as Ariel Ariano of Barangay San Isidro, Koronadal City and Alexander Puertogalera from Tulunan, North Cotabato.

The two were brought to the T’boli Municipal Police Station for the filing of charges.

27th Infantry Battalion commanding officer Lt. Col. Shalimar Imperial said the remaining NPA members in T’boli, Lake Sebu and in the nearby towns are desperate on their failed recruitment in the area.

“We really appreciate our renewed scheme for joint AFP-PNP law enforcement operations, with information sharing, our operations become more effective," he said.


Philippines, US disagree in troop deployment talks

From the Sun Star (Nov 6): Philippines, US disagree in troop deployment talks

The Philippine defense chief said Tuesday that disagreements between the United States and Filipino negotiators are prolonging talks on an accord allowing an increase in American military presence in the country.

Negotiations began in August on a defense agreement that would allow larger numbers of U.S. troops to have temporary access to Philippine military camps and bring in aircraft, ships and other equipment. U.S. troops have already been allowed to train Filipino anti-terrorism forces in the southern Philippines since 2002.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said one key issue involves a U.S. failure to clearly accept Philippine control over and access to temporary American facilities to be set up in local camps.

"They can't say yes or no but what will happen if we won't have access? Those bases will look like their bases," Gazmin said in a telephone interview.

"You can say there is a kind of an impasse, a disagreement," he said, but added he was optimistic that the differences could be overcome.

U.S. Embassy officials did not immediately comment.

Philippine negotiators have been told to ensure that any agreement would comply with the Philippine Constitution and laws and that the U.S. would not have exclusive use of any facility established within selected Philippine military camps, Philippine officials have said.

There were also differences on how to word certain provisions of the agreement, Gazmin said.

The next negotiating session has not been scheduled. The differences mean an agreement may be reached next year at the earliest.

The Philippines' desire to bolster its defense while engaged in territorial disputes in the South China Sea has dovetailed with Washington's intention to pivot away from years of heavy military engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq to Asia.

Hundreds of American troops have been stationed in the southern Philippines for counter-terrorism training since 2002.

The presence of foreign troops is a sensitive issue in the Philippines, a former American colony. The Philippine Senate voted in 1991 to close down major U.S. bases. A pact ratified in 1999 allowed temporary visits such as joint exercises.

Soldiers accused of looting during Zamboanga crisis face court martial

From GMA News (Nov 5): Soldiers accused of looting during Zamboanga crisis face court martial

Five soldiers accused of looting a councilor's house at the height of the Zamboanga City crisis last September will be held to account for their alleged actions, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Tuesday.
"Nasa court martial na... Court martial proceedings are ongoing," AFP spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said.
Zagala refused to name the five soldiers to protect their rights. Their names will only be released if they are convicted, he added.
Zagala said the court martial is part of the due process given to suspects.
"At the same time, this is our way of  finding out any...wrongdoing by any of our personnel. We do not tolerate that, and this is a mechanism we can use in order to instill discipline and prevent further acts," he said.
The looting allegedly happened as state troops were busy fighting rogue elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) holed up in areas of the city from September 9 to 28.

DSWD completes P20.86-M community projects in Sultan Kudarat

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): DSWD completes P20.86-M community projects in Sultan Kudarat

The Department of Social Welfare and Development in Region-12 (DSWD-12) on Monday announced it has completed a total of P20.86 million social infrastructure projects in Sultan Kudarat province.

Bai Zorahayda Taha, DSWD-12 regional director, said that a total of 15 community projects in the towns of Bagumbayan and Isulan have been completed with at least 30 percent of the total project cost provided by the beneficiary-community as counterpart.

Taha said these various projects are under DSWD's Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services or Kalahi-CIDSS, are now benefiting at least 10,110 households.

“Most of these projects are situated in hard to reach far-flung rural communities, answering the most pressing needs of the villagers that they have been longing for a long time,” Taha said in a statement.

She said in Isulan, new school buildings were completed in the villages of Kenram, Mapantig and Kolambog.

In Barangays Lotilla, Bual and Kudanding residents are now benefiting from the potable water system project, also constructed through Kalahi-CIDSS.

Projects are not only for in-school children as the DSWD also constructed an Aleternative Learning Center in Barangay Laguilayan.

Farmers in Barangay Dansuli were elated by the completion of a 500-meter river embankment flood protection project in the area.

With abundant water, farm to market roads and community solar driers for grains in place, residents of Barangay Impao can now better market their produce with the completion of a market building.

In Bagumbayan town, perennial problems of dilapidated, overcrowded and makeshift learning facilities will be things of the past with the completion of new school buildings in South Sepaka, Daluga and Monteverde.

Hard-to-reach villages of Sumilil and Kanulay, also in Bagumbayan, were energized with the completion of Solar Battery Charging Station and Solar Home System, respectively, while Sto. Nino villagers have now access to potable water.

“These are the fruits of our collaborative efforts in fighting against poverty, empowering communities and improving local governance,” Taha said.


N. Cotabato town killings alarm officials, seek more Army and police personnel

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): N. Cotabato town killings alarm officials, seek more Army and police personnel

MLANG, North Cotabato -- Officials here have expressed alarm over the series of killings that hounded this highly agricultural town in North Cotabato.

Mayor Joselito Pinol, who chairs the municipal peace and order council, convened the MPOC Monday to discuss and find solution to the increasing crimes against life with a village chieftain as the latest victim.

Two of Pinol's security personnel have been separately liquidated last week while village chair Eduardo Panes of Barangay Libo-o, Mlang, North Cotabato was shot dead on November 2.

"The situation is very alarming, we need to stop this," Pinol who claimed he has received threats to his life and that of his escorts.

"A plot to liquidate me and my men was discovered and someone influential offered P1.5 million to erase us all," he added. He did not name the supposed brains to liquidate him and people close to him.

During the MPOC meeting Monday, a non-working holiday, four resolutions have been passed.

Pinol said the MPCO passed a resolution creating Mlang Task Group to be composed of Army, police and police multipliers to focus on prevention of violence and crimes against life in Mlang.

Another resolution was asking Army 602nd Brigade Commander Brig. Gen. Ademar Tomaro and 6th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz to allow the local government utilize the Army Special Forces to help the police in maintaining law and order in Mlang.

The MPOC also passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to take steps to put a stop to crimes, like assigning the Army in helping police conduct mobile checkpoints.

Pinol said the MPOC also passed a resolution urging Senior Supt. Danilo Peralta, North Cotabato police director to deploy augmentation personnel to help the local police in putting a stop to the rash of killings, high profile crimes, including carnapping which is rampant in Mlang.

"We specifically request the police provincial office to assign a police special forces in Mlang," Pinol told reporters.

Pinol said at first he downplayed the threat against him and his camp but with the successive killings of his two escorts and the murder of Chairperson Panes, he was convinced the plot was real.

On Monday, North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza offered P100,000 reward money to anyone who can provide the police with information leading to the arrest of the suspects in Panes murder.


Army foils bombing attempt in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): Army foils bombing attempt in Maguindanao

Elements of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade prevented another attempt by suspected renegade Moro rebels to inflict injuries on soldiers and civilians when Army personnel defused a powerful improvised explosive device Tuesday morning in Maguindanao.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division said, soldiers of the 46th Infantry Battalion found the suspicious package left unattended at a waiting shed beside a highway in Barangay Iganagampong, Datu Unsay, Maguindanao at about 6 a.m.

The place is often used by civilian commuters, motorists and even soldiers as resting place or temporary shelter when heavy downpour occurs.

The soldiers on board light military truck were to take a rest after a long travel when one of them noticed a suspicious package. Upon thorough check, they found out it was an IED fashioned from 81 mm mortar with mobile phone as trigger mechanism.

Hermoso said Army bomb disposal team managed to defuse the explosive and prevented what could have been a bloody Tuesday morning where civilians or soldiers as victims.

The area is a known bailiwick of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) which the Army blamed for the series of bombings against civilians, government infrastructure and soldiers in Maguindanao.

Composed of about 1,000 armed followers, the BIFF was formed in 2008 after they broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The BIFF is opposed to the GPH-MILF peace process.


Gun raps filed vs 2 NPA rebels captured in South Cotabato town

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): Gun raps filed vs 2 NPA rebels captured in South Cotabato town

Police authorities filed charges on Tuesday for illegal possession of firearms and violation of the election gun ban against two alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who were arrested in a checkpoint in T’boli town in South Cotabato last Sunday afternoon.

Supt. Romulo Estocapio, acting public information officer of the Police Regional Office 12, identified the suspects as Alexander Puertogalera, 46, of Tulunan town in North Cotabato and Ariel Arellano, 40, of Poblacion in Norala, South Cotabato.

He said the charges were filed before the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Koronadal City.

Estocapio said the suspects were nabbed at around 3:30 p.m. aboard a red Mitsubishi Lancer sedan with license plate PGF 172 in Barangay Sinolon in T’boli town.

A search on the suspects’ vehicle yielded four AK47 rifles bearing serial numbers 11046, 05292, 09483 and 02020; 15 magazines; 433 live bullets of caliber 7.62 or M14 rifle; and, various subversive documents, he said.

Estocapio said Puertogalera is an alleged secretary of the NPA’s regional white area committee while Arellano is one of its active members.

“They were part of the NPA unit that harassed our detachment in Sinolon last March,” he said.

Supt. Jemuel Siason, T’boli police chief, said in a briefing that they have long been monitoring the movements of Puertogalera due to his alleged involvement in previous attacks in the area.

“He is a known member of the NPA and has led some of the group’s recruitment activities,” he said.

Siason said that prior to the capture of the two suspects last Sunday, they had received intelligence reports that a rebel unit will be delivering some high-powered firearms to local NPA members.

He said they immediately set up some roadblocks along the highway leading to T’boli town in coordination with the 4th maneuver company of the Region 12 police’s public safety battalion, bravo company of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency in Region 12.

Siason said they initially flagged down the suspects’ vehicle in Barangay Centrala in Surallah town but it did not stop.

The operative gave chase and finally caught up with the suspects, who are currently in the custody of the T’boli police station, in another checkpoint in Barangay Sinolon.

South Cotabato Governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes commended local authorities for the arrest of the two NPA rebels and the recovery of the firearms.

“Rest assured that the provincial government will always be supportive of whatever endeavors our law enforcers pursue against these lawless elements,” she said.


The heroes of Zamboanga: Lessons

From Rappler (Nov 4): The heroes of Zamboanga: Lessons

HEROES OF ZAMBOANGA: President Benigno Aquino III leads awarding ceremonies for 12 officers and 6 enlisted personnel

HEROES OF ZAMBOANGA: President Benigno Aquino III leads awarding ceremonies for 12 officers and 6 enlisted personnel

The Zamboanga City siege was the kind of military operation that turns soldiers into heroes. On Monday, November 4, the President honored 12 officers and 6 enlisted personnel, the first batches of awardees who fought hundreds of followers of Moro National Liberation Front founder Nur Misuari.

But along with the honor, high-ranking generals and enlisted personnel bring with them lessons they learned from the urban warfare the Armed Forces is not used to.

"It's the first time we got a military operation in an urban terrain. The situation wherein even our capabilities were tested. Have you seen Black Hawk Down? It was like that," said Lieutenant General Rey Ardo, outgoing chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom). He was referring to the American film on the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia.

Westmincom supervises the volatile area of Mindanao, where threat groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and roque elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) operate.

"We have to look into our joint operations. We have to look into the capability of fighting in urban terrain, more on equipage, more on personnel training," said Ardo.

Ardo received the Distinguished Service Star, the second highest award a soldier can receive in his career.

It's the same award received by deputy chief of staff for operations Brigadier General Rodelio Santos and AFP public affairs office chief Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.

The award recognizes their "eminently meritorious and valuable service rendered during the Zamboanga Crisis."

WOUNDED PERSONNEL MEDAL: Marine Pfc Eduardo A. Jose. Photo from the Armed Forces of the Philippines

WOUNDED PERSONNEL MEDAL: Marine Pfc Eduardo A. Jose. Photo from the Armed Forces of the Philippines

Night-fighting capabilities

For Marine Pfc Eduardo Jose, the Zamboanga City crisis highlights the need for the government to arm the soldiers with high-tech equipment.

A rebel's bullet hit his left arm and pierced through his chest and reached his lungs. It happened on the second day the military launched its calibrated response, September 14. He received the Wounded Personnel Medal.

Night-fighting equipment could have helped, he said. Because the rebels were also wearing uniforms, Jose said it was difficult to distinguish them from fellow soldiers when it got dark.

Jose is afraid he will not be able to recover his strength. "The fracture was bad. My lungs were hit. It may be difficult."

He momentarily forgot his worries when he received the award from the President no less. "High morale," he said.

DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT STAR: Lieutenant Colonel Oriel Pangcog, battalion commander of the JSOG Task Force Arrow

DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT STAR: Lieutenant Colonel Oriel Pangcog, battalion commander of the JSOG Task Force Arrow

Highest honor
But the officer who received the highest honor for combat was given to Lieutenant Colonel Oriel Pangcog, battalion commander of Joint Special Operations Task Force Group Arrow.

He led 250 Scout Rangers, who were among those who engaged Misuari's trusted commander Habier Malik and his men in a close-quarter combat. He received the Distinguished Conduct Star award.

The first days of the assault were the most difficult, he said. "At that time, we didn't know what was inside the battle zone. We had to adjust. Eventually, we were able to get the hang of it."

The standoff dragged for 3 weeks because they had to make sure the hostages were not caught in the line of fire. "If it happened in the mountains, we could launch canons or use airplanes and mortars. We could have ended it immediately. But we were very deliberate as we combed the houses. It got more difficult as we approached the shanties," Pangcog said.

"The President said our paramount concern is the lives of the hostages. We could have ended it immediately – launch an assault and destory everything. But all the hostages would die," he said.

The Scout Rangers were among the AFP's elite troops. But Pangcog admitted they were all scared, too. "Takot din. Lahat takot. Ang mga sundalo ko nakita ko takot, kaya sabi ko, relax lang. (We were scared, too. My soldiers were scared, so I told them to relax.)

"I tried not to think about it. We just took it day by day. We tried to accomplish our objective every day," he added.

Death of comrades is always the most difficult. The Rangers lost 3 colleagues. Another 40 were hospitalized because of various injuries.

He recalled a day when "20 plus" soldiers were hurt because the rebels were waiting for them at the end of the alley.

While he was satisfied with the performance of his team, he acknowledged that more training would help.

"For the rangers, we need more training for urban areas like Zamboanga City. At the same time, I appeal to the rebels not to involve the civilians," Pangcog told reporters.

"We can benefit from more training, force protection equipment, and clearing operations," he added.

There's no dearth of stories on heroism in the operations that involved over nearly 3,000 soldiers. AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista said they are screening possible recipients of the medal of valor, the highest combat recognition a soldier can receive.

Theirs will be the best stories soldiers will bring home from the crisis.

AK-47s smuggled for NPA

From InterAksyon (Nov 5): AK-47s smuggled for NPA

SMUGGLED. These AK-47s are supposedly meant for the New People's Army. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Army

SMUGGLED. These AK-47s are supposedly meant for the New People's Army. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Army

Two alleged rebel couriers tried to smuggle 4 AK-47s for the New People's Army (NPA), triggering a 5-minute car chase in Tboli town, South Cotabato on Sunday, November 3, the military said.

In a press statement, 1Lt Abel Porto, spokesman of the Army's 27th infantry battalion, said they set up checkpoints following intelligence reports that a cache of powerful firearms for the NPA guerrillas was to be transported from Tulunan, Cotabato to Tboli in South Cotabato.

On Sunday, police and soldiers flagged down a red Mitsubishi Lancer in Barangay Central in Surallah, South Cotabato. Instead of stopping, the driver and his companion drove past the checkpoint prompting the police and soldiers to give chase.

The suspects were finally caught in Barangay Sinolon in Tboli.

Found in the possession of Ariel Ariano, the driver who is from Barangay San Isidro, Koronadal City, and Alexander Puertogalera from Tulunan, North Cotabato were 4 AK-47s and 15 fully loaded magazines.

The two are now detained at the Tboli police station where they are undergoing further investigation.

Lt Col Shalimar Imperial, commander officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said the rebels have stepped up their procurement of firearms. Government seizure of AK-47s in previous raids prove this. Most of them have defaced serial number making it difficult to trace their origin.

Maj. Gen. Rainer Cruz III, commanding general of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command, said the intelligence community is verifying reports these AK-47 were brought via transport ships.

Among the areas being monitored is the eastern part of Mindanao, particularly in the Surigao provinces, where there are a lot of mining activities and ore shipment.

Cruz said the firearms came from China.


POST-SIEGE | EU helps Zambo residents avoid dangers of unexploded mines

From InterAksyon (Nov 5): POST-SIEGE | EU helps Zambo residents avoid dangers of unexploded mines

As part of its commitment to support the peace process in Mindanao and following the three-week siege by followers of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari, the European Union is funding a program to teach evacuees of Zamboanga how to avoid risks presented by unexploded ordnance (UXO) and mines.

According to the Delegation of the EU in the Philippines, 18 local volunteers, including local NGO staff and students from the Western Mindanao State University, were trained by FSD Swiss (a humanitarian Mine Action NGO) on what UXO look like; where they might be found; the risks they pose; safe behaviors to adopt; unsafe behaviors to avoid; and who to call for assistance.

Training sessions for aid agencies and volunteers involved in relief efforts were also held. Risk education posters and billboards, based on the course and appropriate to the local situation, are used in the presentations and are prominently displayed in evacuation centers and around the city.

During the Train-the-Trainer course, students learned how to design and deliver safety messages and materials, and the communication skills and strategies they needed to ensure timely and effective delivery of these messages.

Staff from the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, provided assistance in conducting the training, and in making initial contact with camp managers in the evacuation centers.

The Zamboanga Police Bomb Disposal team also gave trainers an update on clearance operations in UXO-affected neighborhoods and the types of UXO residents returning to their homes might encounter.

Close liaison between the trainers and the Zamboanga City Police Department ensures that, if returnees encounter UXO, they know who to call and that they can expect something to be done about the hazard.

The trainers now have a Facebook page, MRE Zamboanga, (MRE is for "Mines and UXO Risk Education) on which they post pictures of their activities in the camps: https://www.facebook.com/#!/mre.zamboanga

In September 2013, weeks of intense fighting between Philippine security forces and a faction of the MNLF left parts of Zamboanga City littered with UXO. While a clear-up operation by the Philippine Bomb Disposal teams has removed most of the UXO, hazardous items will continue to be uncovered as residents and repair teams return to the area, and rubble and debris is removed.

Earlier, in October 2013, the European Union provided P17 million to fund emergency supplies and assist in the management and provision of services at evacuation sites around Zamboanga.

The Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. FSD is currently active in eight countries worldwide.

In partnership with the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL), FSD is conducting a humanitarian mine action project in Mindanao. Under this project, FSD carries out surveys in villages affected by UXO and, wherever possible, facilitates UXO clearance. FSD also provides mines and UXO risk education (MRE) for conflict-affected communities. This project is implemented in 26 municipalities in Maguindanao, Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur and benefits from a P32-million grant from the European Union.

The project is funded by the European Union under its Instrument for Stability (IFS) program, and is implemented under a signed agreement between the government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).