Tuesday, February 4, 2014

BIFF chieftain slips thru military cordon

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 5): BIFF chieftain slips thru military cordon

Supposedly bedridden and on the run as claimed by the military, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) founding leader Ameril Umbra Kato, along with his other commanders, escaped a military dragnet during the five-day government operation in Maguin-danao province that military claimed ended the BIFF threat.

Col. Dickson Her-moso, spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), said that Kato was at the BIFF camp in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha town when the military launched “Operation Darkhorse” last Monday.

“He (Kato) was there but we did not catch up with him. We recovered some of his things like improvised stretcher, medicines,” Hermoso said.

“He was moved out earlier at the height of the fighting…but Reyna Regente is a huge area,” Hermoso added.

Claiming that Kato is still bedridden, Hermoso said that his right hand man, Kagi Karialan, was commanding the BIFF.

Hermoso emphasized the need to account for Kato, who is wanted for leading widespread attacks in Central Mindanao since breaking away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“He violated the law, he should face the charges,” said Hermoso.

The military official, however, admitted that neutralizing Kato will not stop the BIFF from committing attacks.

“Leaders are just part of the institution, we treat the institution, the BIFF, differently, it’s a separate entity. It does not mean when you neutralized the leaders, it’s over…there will be replacements, like now when Kato is not capable of commanding, the next in command takes over,” said Hermoso.

The military launched “Operation Darkhorse” to serve warrants of arrest against BIFF fugitives like Kato and 19 others. It declared the five-day campaign as a success without a single BIFF personality arrested.

The government also claimed to have killed 52 BIFF rebels and wounded 52 others while not presenting a single body.

On the other hand, one soldier was killed while 13 others were wounded during the operation, marked by heavy artillery fire and close air support.

The military claimed to have over ran four BIFF encampments in the towns of Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Rajah Buayan and Datu Piang.

Another improvised explosive device (IED), meanwhile, went off against a military convoy in Maguindanao town where government security forces are still conducting clearing operations.

At the height of the military’s “Operation Darkhorse” last week, at least two IED attacks erupted in Datu Piang and Datu Saudi Ampatuan where two crewmembers of TV5 were among those wounded.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, in a text message, said that an IED exploded at around 2:05 p.m. along Barangay Tuka, Mamasapano town shortly after the troops of 46th Infantry Battalion (IB) and 12th Mechanized Company passed by moving toward Rajah Buayan area.

Zagala said that tailing the military convoy were members of the media and local government officials.

He said that no casualty was reported.

The military immediately sent elements of the Explosive and Ordnance Disposal (EOD) from the 1st Mechanized Brigade to clear the area of IEDs.

“They were with LGU and media who were advised to keep a safe distance while troops were clearing the route,” said Zagala.

“We condemn the continued use of IED which put even civilians in great danger. This is why we advise our people to be very vigilant and put utmost priority to their safety and civilians as we continue in our ongoing clearing operations in the area following the termination of the law enforcement operations in Maguindanao,” he added.

Zagala assured that the military is exerting all efforts in order to finally clear the area of these IEDS, believed to have been the handiwork of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) whose members were the subject of “Operation Darkhorse.”

Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also brushed aside Hermoso’s warning about the BIFF’s intention to launch an urban warfare after the military failed to contain them in Maguindanao.

“In all instances, it is a government responsibility to ensure the safety of the people, both in the rural and urban areas. There is no need to wait for the statement from a certain military spokesman,” Coloma said.

He said he can assure that the elements of the National Police and of the Armed Forces are always prepared to perform their duties.

Coloma added they have no frustration over the the five-day intensive bombings in Maguindanao but still some of the BIFF forces were able to escape from the attacks.
Coloma noted that despite the escape, the military was not negligent in doing intelligence work and was “proactive in their movements”.

“That is the continuing instruction of the President to them as their Commander-in-Chief, and this is implemented by the Chief of Staff and the major service commanders, and supervised by the Department of National Defense,” Coloma said.

On the status of Kato, Coloma said there is continued “intelligence operations and other necessary military operations that are aimed at neutralizing all enemies of the state, all criminals, and all outlaws because the government cannot tolerate threats to national and local security and threats to the lives and safety of our people.”

Coloma pointed out the military strategy in fighting the rebels, saying “the overarching strategy of the government is to establish the peace process.”

Coloma said the expenses of the military in the recent operation in Maguindanao was a peace process that would have “peace dividends.”


Philippine roadside bombing nearly hit military, media convoy

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 4): Philippine roadside bombing nearly hit military, media convoy

A roadside bomb exploded on Tuesday as a convoy of military vehicles and media vehicles passed on a village in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao, security officials and journalists said.

They said the blast occurred near Raja Buayan town where two armoured vehicles were escorting a truckload of soldiers pursuing the separatist rebel group called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) blamed for the spate of terrorism in central Mindanao.

There were no reports of casualties or injuries in the blast and no individual or group claimed responsibility for the attack.  But the 6th Infantry Division quickly blamed the BIFF and their sympathizers for the bombing.

Filipino journalists, who were tailing the military convoy, witnessed the powerful explosion and said they saw a black smoke billowing from the roadside just several blocks away from one of the two armoured personnel carriers escorting the troops.

“It was really powerful and from where we were, we can see a thick black smoke covered the whole highway and we are just lucky that we were behind - about 100 meters - from the military convoy,” said Mark Navales, regional chief of the Mindanao Examiner newspaper, who was with other television journalists covering the fighting in Maguindanao.

Previous attack

Just recently, a roadside bombing wounded 12 people, including a pair of television journalists, tailing a military convoy in Maguindanao’s Datu Odin Sinsuat town. Among the wounded were six soldiers and four other civilians hit by shrapnel from the blast along the town’s highway.

The journalists, Jeff Caparas and his cameraman Adrian Bulatao, both from ABC 5 television, were in a separate vehicle when the bomb explosion occurred. The bomb was reportedly planted in a parked tricycle in the village of Lower Salbu and exploded as the convoy passed.

The television network reported on its website that Bulatao was in shock, but conscious, although in pain, while Caparas is also wounded, but was on his feet.

The military also blamed the bombing to the BIFF under Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato which has been fighting security forces since January 27, a day after Filipino peace negotiators signed an accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on how the country’s rebel group would lay down their weapons.

The 6th Infantry Division now said it had killed over 50 rebels and captured several enemy encampments, but Abu Misry Mama, a rebel spokesman, strongly denied the military’s claim and branded them as propaganda, although he admitted that 7 members of his group were wounded in the clashes that already displaced thousands of families in the province.

The military has recently ended its campaign against the BIFF and declared victory over the rebel group.

The BIFF broke away with the MILF in 2011 after accusing its chieftain Murad Ebrahim for abandoning their struggle for independence and betraying the MILF when he agreed to a secret meeting called by President Benigno Aquino in Japan in August 2011, saying Ebrahim corrupted the rights of the Bangsamoro people, adding the MILF chieftain should have consulted his leaders before meeting with the Filipino leader.

Kato and another senior rebel leader, Abdulla Macapaar, were both accused by Philippine authorities as behind the series of deadly attacks in Mindanao in 2008 after peace negotiators failed to sign a Muslim homeland deal because the Supreme Court declared the accord unconstitutional. 

Kato suffered a stroke in 2011, but his condition remains unknown, although there were reports that a new commander – Sheik Mohidin Animbang – has taken over the command of the BIFF, whose members were mostly former fighters of the MILF and rival group Moro National Liberation Front.

Filipino journalists tailing a military convoy watch from afar a black smoke from a roadside bomb that exploded Tuesday, February 4, 2014 in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo - Mark Navales)


While sustaining peace and dev’t, AFP steps up clearing, combat ops

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 4): While sustaining peace and dev’t, AFP steps up clearing, combat ops

While the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is sustaining the gains of its Peace and Development Program (PDOP), it is stepping up clearing  and combat operations,  10th Infantry Division official said.

In an interview,  Maj. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, commanding general of the 10th Infantry Division (Inf. Div.) said the series of atrocities perpetrated by rebel groups were in reaction to the operations carried out by military troops on field.

“We are pouring in more troops, and more active kami ngayon sa combat clearing operations to be followed by immersion of PDOP,” he said of the peace and development initiative  that the AFP runs under Oplan Bayanihan.

He explained that the armed encounters with rebel groups happened as a result of the “aggressive” implementation of PDOP which, he said, is complemented with combat operation.

Just recently, military forces of the 67th Infantry Brigade operating in the east coast areas of Davao Oriental clashed with rebel forces reportedly under Front Committee 15 in Manay (Davao Oriental).

Bernardo said his command had already intercepted the planned entry of  the rebel group. As a result,  the military confiscated  five high-powered long firearms, three  sets of improvised explosive device (IED),  one  rifle grenade,  and   one hand grenade.

One soldier died but four members of the rebel group suffered the same fate during the encounter.

In  a separate interview,  701st Inf. Brigade commander,  Col. Benjamin Madrigal explained that the rebels came all the way from Compostela Valley traversing the mountainous boundary of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley along the Municipality of Maragusan.

Madrigal also  identified a certain area in Brgy. Pagsabangan in New Bataan, Compostela Valley as entry point of rebel groups  going to Davao Oriental.

AFP last year identified Davao Oriental as “insurgency free” but its forces are still guarding the periphery to prevent re-entry of rebel forces.

Ang binabantayan talaga namin ay ang mga (What we are closely watching are the ) mobility corners nila coming from Comval,” Bernardo said.

Meanwhile, Bernardo highly counted on the support of residents in local government units (LGUs) down to the barangay level to achieve impact in implementing PDOP.

“We are into the process of eliminating fear, by eliminating the presence of the armed groups.  After that we will come in for peace and development,  so we can push through what is envisioned: to develop  the communities,” Bernardo said.


Bomb found in Manila-bound bus in Surigao

From the Philippine Star (Feb 5): Bomb found in Manila-bound bus in Surigao             

Thanks to an alert passenger, an improvised explosive placed in a carton box was found in a Manila-bound bus at the Lipata wharf in Surigao City on Monday morning.

Experts who promptly defused the bomb said it could have killed scores of people.

The PP Bus Line unit had made a stopover in the wharf after arriving from Davao City when a female passenger saw a man place the box at the rear luggage compartment and then hastily left.

Passengers, who were taking their meals, panicked when they noticed heavy smoke coming from the luggage compartment. Bus driver Ruel Orquesta Panuncio took out the box and placed it within safe distance from the people until ordnance experts arrived.

Police were checking if the bomb was planted in connection with the road accident involving one of PP Bus Line’s units in Cabadbaran City last November which is still under negotiation, or an extortion attempt by lawless groups on the bus company.

The bus was to make stopovers in Southern Leyte and Samar before proceeding to Metro Manila.


US intel: Sense of destiny drives China aggression

From the Sun Star (Feb 5): US intel: Sense of destiny drives China aggression

The chief of U.S. intelligence said Tuesday China's aggressive pursuit of territorial claims in the seas of East Asia is driven by a sense of historical destiny and is causing great concern among countries in the region.

Director of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said China has pursued a very impressive military modernization that is designed to address what it sees as America's own military strengths.

Clapper was responding to a question on China's recent actions in the East and South China Seas posed at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats.

The exchanges reflected deepening concern in Washington over China's assertive behavior and military modernization that challenges decades of American pre-eminence in the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. could potentially be drawn into a conflict should one break out between China and U.S. treaty allies such as Japan and the Philippines.

Clapper said China has been greatly concerned by the U.S. "pivot" to Asia — the Obama administration's attempt to boost America's military, diplomatic and economic presence there — viewing it as an attempt at containment.

"They've been quite aggressive about asserting what they believe is their manifest destiny, if you will, in that part of the world," Clapper told lawmakers. He added that disputes over islands and energy resources, particularly in the South China Sea, create potential flash points for conflict.

Beijing denies any aggressive intent. It says its claims have a historical basis, including over most of the resource-rich South China Sea, where it has disputes with nations including Vietnam and the Philippines.

Top ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, described China's November declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea — over uninhabited islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China — as a "troubling power and land grab" and an affront to international law.

Meanwhile, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia urged China not to declare a similar zone in airspace over the South China Sea. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel also said that China's territorial claims must be based on international law, rather than sweeping declarations of jurisdiction.

"No one can justifiably, in compliance with international law, simply assert the right to exercise control over great swaths of the sea," Russel told reporters.

"The region and the world wants to see that China's intentions as it grows are to participate in and contribute to the international system as a country that respects international norms, respects the rights of others, and accepts that rules not coercion must, at the end of the day, guide behavior," he said.

Clapper told lawmakers that China's military modernization effort extends to all of its armed forces, in space and in cyberspace. He predicted that over time China will try to project its power globally.

Chinese state media reported Tuesday a three-ship Chinese naval squadron has just concluded exercises in the Indian Ocean, showing off the growing reach of its seagoing forces.

Ruppersberger raised whether China could threaten U.S. satellite systems, which have widespread military and civilian applications. Clapper responded that there were countries pursuing very aggressive and impressive "counter-space" capabilities, and the U.S. is taking "appropriate actions" to deal with those potential threats.

Clapper did not elaborate on China's military capabilities in space, which first grabbed international attention in 2007 when it shot down one of its own disabled satellites, causing a large amount of space debris.


Hefty rewards sought for capture of BIFF leaders

From ABS-CBN (Feb 5): Hefty rewards sought for capture of BIFF leaders

The Army's 6th Infantry Division on Tuesday asked the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to offer hefty rewards for the capture of leaders of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the Army’s 6th ID, said even the closest relatives of BIFF leaders would surely help in their arrest if they carry bounties on their heads.

“But we can only recommend because the final say on putting up bounties for the capture of wanted people comes from the DILG, the PNP and MalacaƱang,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso said policemen and soldiers, as a rule, are not entitled to any reward if they arrest any person with a bounty.

“Appropriate bounties could be a carrot that we can dangle to entice the friends, relatives, and the barangay folks in areas where these wanted BIFF leaders hide to provide the police with information that would lead to their arrest,” Hermoso said.

The military terminated its operations against the BIFF on Sunday, saying the offensives have reduced significantly the capability of the rebels to launch atrocities in central Mindanao.

However, there are no indications that its leader, Ameril Umbra Kato, was killed or captured.

Thousands of villagers were evacuated during the weeklong military offensives against the rebels.

Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman gave assurance her department will continue to provide relief assistance to the evacuees.

Some 4,698 families or 23,490 people in North Cotabato are still staying in 24 evacuation centers, while 5,726 families or 28,630 persons opted to stay at their friends‘ or relatives’ houses in safe areas to avoid the conflict between government troops and the BIFF.

DSWD social workers are providing psychosocial services to distressed families in the evacuation centers to help them cope with the trauma they are presently experiencing.

To ensure the daily food needs of the evacuees, the DSWD has prepositioned P1 million in standby funds, 717 family food packs and other food and non-food items amounting to P5 million for augmentation to the relief resources of conflict-affected local government units.

DSWD also continues to repack relief goods in Marbel, South Cotabato.

On the other hand, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sent 100 tents for the displaced families while the United Nations World Food Program (UN-WFP) has provided food and other non-food items.

Meanwhile, authorities remain on alert against the BIFF.

The military said the BIFF remains a threat even after the rebels managed to split into smaller groups.

Suspected BIFF rebels triggered off a roadside bomb targeting a military convoy in Mamasapano town yesterday.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the explosion occurred at Barangay Tuka shortly after members of the Army’s 46th Infantry Battalion and the 12 Mechanized Company passed by the area.

No one was hurt in the explosion, which was witnessed by a 10-vehicle convoy bound for Rajah Buayan town.

The convoy, which consisted of two Simba fighting vehicles, three KM 450 military trucks, two vehicles owned by the local government and vehicles of ABS-CBN, GMA 7 and TV5, was about several meters away when the bomb went off.

On the other hand, three suspected BIFF gunmen were wounded in a brief encounter on Monday with security guards of a banana farm in Tulunan town in the province.

The bandits reportedly retreated and dragged their wounded comrades after sensing that they could not break through the perimeters of the Del Monte Fresh Produce banana plantation due to the heavy presence of the guards firing back.

Intelligence sources identified the wounded BIFF bandits as Mokamad Batua, Edris Sajid and a certain Muarif, who belong to a group based at the swampy border of North Cotabato’s M‘lang and Tulunan towns.

Senior Inspector Ronnie Cordero, chief of the Tulunan police, said the bandits pounded with anti-tank rockets and shoulder-fired 40mm grenades the surroundings of the plantation’s packing plant in Barangay Dungos as they fled in haste.

“No one from among the security guards were wounded or killed in the ensuing encounter,” Cordero said.

Authorities are not discounting the possibility the attacks were meant to get back at government forces that raided BIFF lairs last week.

“This explosion means that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will still need to continue its clearing operation to remove threats not only to soldiers (but to) the community itself,” Zagala said.

The PNP called on the media to exercise utmost caution during coverage in conflict areas.

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac issued the statement after the incident in Mamasapano.

“The media will always be entitled to degree or leeway or access to whatever activities the government has in the light of transparency issues,” Sindac explained. “The media will, however, have to abide by our security procedure (during police operations).”

Two television journalists who were accompanying the military in the coverage last Wednesday were wounded in a blast in Datu Saudi town.

They were among 10 people, including six soldiers, hurt in a bomb blast during the offensive against the BIFF.

The BIFF led by Kato and more than a dozen of his lieutenants, among them Karialan and Tambako, both Islamic preachers, are wanted for various criminal charges, including multiple murder, arson and robbery for attacking villages in central Mindanao for the past two years.

Kato began as chief of the 105th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but was booted out in late 2010 for insubordination and irreconcilable differences with the MILF’s central leadership.

The recalcitrant Kato, who studied Islamic theology in a religious school in Saudi Arabia as a government scholar in the early 1970s, launched the BIFF in early 2011.
The BIFF gained notoriety for banditry and its brutal enforcement of a Taliban-style Sharia justice system in areas where it operates.

Sources from the BIFF revealed Karialan is now acting as tactical leader of the group, with imprimatur from Kato, who suffered a stroke and became incapacitated in late 2011.

Combined combatants of the Army’s 601st and 1st Mechanized Brigades took over the BIFF’s largest enclave in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town last Friday, after a five-day operation.

Hermoso said Karialan and his subordinate-commanders escaped even before soldiers could reach their camp in Barangay Ganta.

“There is a need to raise rewards for the capture of these people. Certainly, with rewards being dangled, even the closest of their relatives will not hesitate to turn them in,” Hermoso said.


MNLF, BIFF form alliance – report

From GMA News (Feb 4): MNLF, BIFF form alliance – report

After the military began its operation in Maguindanao against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) declared they have joined forces with the latter in North and South Cotabato.

MNLF Islamic Command Council chairman Habib Mujahab Hashim confirmed the alliance, according to a report from GMA's “24 Oras” program on Tuesday.

“The closure of the tripartite talks is a signal that they are closing the talks with the MNLF, notwithstanding the fact that several provisions of the agreement had not been signed yet. They closed it so there is no more, there is no point of talking to the other side now,” Hashim said.

Hashim was referring to the finalization of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last January 25.

Under the agreement, the MILF will head the new government replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

'Desperate move'

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which had one of its convoys in Mamasapano, Maguindanao nearly hit by an explosive on Tuesday, labeled the act as a “desperate move” from BIFF sympathizers.

“Wala na nga silang military capability at the same time gusto nilang bumawi. But overall, this is a very desperate move,” Col. Edgar Gonzales said.

The AFP earlier declared the Maguindanao area under control after their widespread operation against the BIFF following the finalization of the framework agreement.

The BIFF is also suspected to have planted the improvised explosive device (IED).

Nobody was hurt during the explosion but last Saturday an IED exploded in the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan. Twelve 12 people—two journalists, four civilians and six soldiers—were hurt.


Army: BIFF are criminals, not rebels, no links with JI

From GMA News (Feb 5): Army: BIFF are criminals, not rebels, no links with JI

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is considered by the military as criminal group and not rebels.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division, said Wednesday they continue to clear areas in Maguindanao where the BIFF had conducted attacks.

"We treat them (BIFF)... a mere criminal group," he said in an interview on dzBB radio.

He also said the BIFF's ranks are growing thinner though there may be armed groups "sympathizing" with it.

The BIFF is a splinter group of the MILF, which signed last Jan. 25 an annex paving the way for a comprehensive peace agreement.

The "normalization" annex dealt with decommissioning the armed wing of the MILF and outlines steps to disarm private armies in the proposed Bangsamoro area.

BIFF members had been linked to recent attacks in Maguindanao, including one involving an improvised explosive device that injured a television news team last Feb. 1.

Last weekend, the military claimed to have captured key facilities of the BIFF.

Sympathy groups

But as of Wednesday, Hermoso said: "(Sa Maguindanao), may mga other armed group na nagsi-sympathize sa kanila."

In the meantime, he said the military will continue normal law enforcement operations. But he stressed Maguindanao as a whole remains "generally peaceful."

"Patuloy po yung pagki-clearing natin sa mga kalsada (We continue to conduct clearing operations in the streets)," he said (https://twitter.com/dzbb/status/430817529049526272).

A separate report by dzBB's Tuesday Niu quoted Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs head Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala as saying the BIFF may be in hiding as of now.

Zagala was quoted in the report as saying the BIFF's members may be mingling with civilians to evade detection.

However, he downplayed speculations the BIFF has formed alliances, at this time, with the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, some of whose members are believed to be operating in the southern Philippines.


Roadside bomb explodes near military-media convoy in Maguindanao

From GMA News (Feb 4): Roadside bomb explodes near military-media convoy in Maguindanao

A roadside bomb, believed to be planted by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), exploded and nearly hit a military and media convoy in Maguindanao on Tuesday.

No one was hurt in the incident, the first BIFF attack since Sunday when the military declared victory over the armed group following a week-long operation.

Armed Forces public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the soldiers were on board two Simba armored fighting vehicles and three trucks, which were tailed by a group of mediamen, including GMA News.

The convoy was on its way to Rajah Buayan town to conduct clearing operations and to assess the security situation there.

Asked if the attack was part of the BIFF’s anticipated retaliatory attacks, Zagala said: “It can be.”

“That’s why it’s very important that the presence of our troops and the clearing operations to continue,” he said.

Days of military operations have resulted in the military seizing several training camps of the BIFF, the splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) opposed to the peace talks with the government.

Ameril Umbra Kato, the aging BIFF leader, however, has escaped.

Zagala said more attacks could be forthcoming.


BIFF links to foreign terrorists only ‘speculation’ – military

From GMA News (Feb 4): BIFF links to foreign terrorists only ‘speculation’ – military

The military has dismissed the alleged links of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to local and international terrorist groups, saying it is purely “speculation.”

“Wala naman, haka-haka lang 'yan,” said Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the 6th Infantry Division, when asked to confirm on the reported links between the BIFF and the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf.

He was reacting to reports that two alleged foreign bomb-making experts, identified as Mauwiah and Maarwan, were among those who escaped when the military took over several BIFF training camps following a week-long operation in Central Mindanao.

A report on GMA News TV's “State of the Nation” Monday night said Mauwiah and Maarwan have been identified as founders of Khalifa Islamiyah, the group implicated in bombing attacks in Maguindanao and Cotabato City last year.

The report, citing sources, also said among those recovered from one of the seized camps was a black flag that was supposedly used by a mujahideen in Syria and Yemen.

But Hermoso said that flag, as well as the other flags recovered from the camps, does not prove that the BIFF, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that is against the peace talks, has links with international terrorist organizations.

“May mga bandera dun pero wala namang significance 'yun,” he said.

Aside from flags, government troops also recovered bomb-making components, instructional materials, and other foreign documents in the seized enemy camps.

With the military operations, which started late last month, the government has “degraded” the capabilities of the BIFF to launch attacks, Hermoso said.

“Na-degrade namin [sila] dahil maraming na-neutralize sa kanila,” he said. “Ngayon nag-lie low 'yung karamihan.”


MILF: President Aquino urges BTC to fast track drafting of BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 4): President Aquino urges BTC to fast track drafting of BBL

President Benigno C. Aquino III has urged the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to draw up soonest the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) draft so it can be ratified and implemented in time for the 2016 elections, the Mindanao Examiner said in its report on February 2.
President Aquino, who met with members of the BTC headed by Chairman Mohagher Iqbal at the Presidential Palace, stressed the need for the BTC to be transparent and to reach out to all sectors concerned, including those initially resisting the new political entity.

In an interview, Presidential adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles told reporters that Aquino urged the BTC to fast-track the completion of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to ensure its passage and ratification with enough time to complete the transition tasks in time for the elections.

She said Aquino assured the commission of the national government’s full technical and political support, guidance and advice, as well as budget, and told them he would give as much of his own time as necessary.

The meeting between the BTC and President Aquino was described by Sec. Deles as “warm and relaxed,” where the members updated the President on the work they have been doing and the concerns they are facing.

BTC was created in December 2012 by President Aquino by virtue of Executive Order 120 mandated to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro region in 2016.

The 15- member commission were appointed by the President on March 15, 2013, eight of whom were recommended by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and seven were recommended by the government.

Last January 25, GPH and MILF peace panels signed the annex on Normalization and the addendum on Bangsamoro waters and joint cooperation that would pave the way for the signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB)..

Secretary Deles said the Bangsamoro Basic Law draft will be certified as an urgent bill by Aquino and indorse it congress for enactment into law and subjected to a plebiscite in the areas envisioned to be the new political entity’s core territory.


NPA Justifies Raid on Sola Farm as Punitive Operation

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Feb 5): NPA Justifies Raid on Sola Farm as Punitive Operation

The Armando Sumayang Jr. Southwest Negros Island Command, through its spokesperson, Andrea Guerrero, owned up to the recent raid on the Sola Family’s Sta. Isabel hacienda in Kamansi Village, saying it was punishment due to a series of atrocities committed against farmfolks who are merely trying to earn a decent livelihood.

In enumerating what it considered atrocities against the farmers, Guerrero bared that they were also responsible for the Sparrow operation against paramilitaryman Ricky Camacho in Canlamay Village which resulted in his death. The NPAs also cited reasons why he was gunned down.

The guerilla spokesperson further condemned in strong terms two military commanders for tolerating, instead of ordering their men to commit abuses, even declaring their goodness and absolving them of wrongdoings.

Earlier, the Sola family doubted the role of the NPA in their raid on their hacienda saying other parties may have done it.

Seized during the raid, the NPA-Southwest Command spokesperson said, on January 22 this year were five high-powered shotguns, a .38 caliber revolver, one grenade, one monocular vision devise for night purposes and a telescope. A tractor was set on fire, two security guardhouses were torched and several sheeps were slaughtered and fed to the workers and farmers in the hacienda.

The NPA explained that the depredations against workers and farmers may be linked to their efforts to call for the placement of part of the hacienda under the government’s agrarian reform program. Targeted primarily was the patriarch of the Sola family Pablito "Gene" Sola and John Paul Sola, a son.

About 98 hectares of the Sola property is to be placed under the CARP program.

The depredations committed against farmers and which took place starting in 2009 yet, included destruction of farmers’ dwellings, shootings in the air, barring through threats local DAR-Municipal Agrarian Reform Officers (MARO) from conducting surveys which happened October 23, 2013 and next day, cutting off immature corn plants and December 4 allowing by force of arms, sheeps to graze on young corn plants.

The following day, the same armed group led by John Paul Sola fired in the air for about 30 minutes, uprooted peanut plants, cassava rootcrops, banana plants and allowing sheeps to feed on plants planted by the farmers’ cooperative recognized by the Kabankalan City government.

Workers in the hacienda are paid only P100 a day, instead of the minimum wage aside from being harmed physically for imagined transgressions.

With the relationships between the farmers and workers and the Sola family exacerbating, with the former deeply oppressed, bullied and deprived of wherewithals for living, the NPAs in Southwest Negros intervened and when it did the military has, as always again, intervened.

Military commanders to include Col. Jon Aying CO of the 303rd Brigade and Lt. Col. Ariel Reyes of the 47th IB are even justifying these interventions including the Sparrow operations against a Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) member operating in Canlamay, Pinggot and Magballo Village who is a known holdupper backed by another army officer.

The NPAs, Guerrero said, will not hesitate to eliminate bad elements in defense of the people’s interests, she said.


400 RPSB men up for deployment in WV

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 4): 400 RPSB men up for deployment in WV

About 400 troopers of the 6th Regional Public Safety Battalion are up for distribution to various provincial police offices in Western Visayas, including Negros Occidental.

Senior Supt. Iver Apellido, 6th RPSB director, yesterday said that there is a proposal to download 100 police troopers to the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office.
Earlier, the Police Regional Office 6 downloaded 100 police troopers to the Bacolod and Iloilo City Police Offices, from the 6th RPSB.

The downloading of 400 troopers from 6th RPSB will start, as soon as the 475 neophyte police officers, who recently graduated from the 45-day PNP Special Counter-Insurgency Training, will be assigned to them, Apellido said.

He also revealed a proposal to transfer a company-sized unit of 6th RPSB from Negros Occidental to Panay island, which is now being studied by the Police Regional Office.

Of the four 6th RPSB companies, three are presently deployed in Sagay and Silay cities, as well as in Murcia, Negros Occidental.

The other 6th RPSB company unit is presently deployed in Iloilo.

The 6th RPSB is the regional maneuver force of the Police Regional Office 6 in Western Visayas.


VIDEO | Another media convoy escapes roadside blast in Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Feb 4): VIDEO | Another media convoy escapes roadside blast in Maguindanao

Three days after a reporter and cameraman of TV5 were hurt in a roadside blast in Maguindanao, another explosive device went off Tuesday afternoon on a road in the province's Barangay Tuka, Mamasapano town, less than a hundred meters from a military convoy with media personnel.

ABS-CBN's Ron Gagalac, who was inside one of the vehicles, reported on dzMM radio at 2:25 p.m. that he and other journalists and crewmen from TV5 and GMA-7 witnessed the blast past 2 p.m. while the convoy was on its way to Raja Buayan town.

Gagalac said it was possible that the explosion was a retaliatory attack by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Last Sunday, the military announced that it had ended its "Operation Darkhorse" against the BIFF after reducing the group's capability to launch atrocities. The operation led to the capture of four BIFF camps and an explosive factory in Maguindanao. On Monday, it was reported that the military was bracing for BIFF's possible retaliatory attacks.

Maj. Dante Gania, head of the Public Affairs Office of the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, on Tuesday said no one was hurt when the explosive  went off at 2:05 p.m. in Barangay Tuka just seconds after the convoy passed the area.

“'Yong bomba po ay sumabog ilang segundo lamang paglampas ng convoy ng 46th Infantry Battalion at 12th Mechanized Company. Kasama po sa convoy ang ilang  miyembro ng media pero wala namang nasaktan sa kanila pati sa ating mga sundalo,” said Gania.

Gania said a team from the Explosive Ordnance Division of the 1st Mechanized Brigade went to the area to investigate the incident and gather fragments from the site to determine the type of device that was used in the explosion.

[Video: http://www.interaksyon.com/article/80073/video--another-media-convoy-escapes-roadside-blast-in-maguindanao]


Jailed NDFP consultant freed after court junks rebellion case vs him

From InterAksyon (Feb 4): Jailed NDFP consultant freed after court junks rebellion case vs him

A consultant of the negotiating panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) jailed by the military walked out a free man Tuesday after a court dismissed a rebellion case filed by the military and police.

 “As of 4:48pm today, February 4, NDFP peace consultant Ramon Patriarca was released from prison, after rebellion charges against him were dismissed before the Regional Trial Court in Danao City, Cebu,” according to an advisory by Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan.

Patriarca’s release brings down to 12 the number of jailed NDFP consultants.

A report of the NDFP-- negotiating arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA)--released last year by chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni showed a total of 430 political prisoners still languishing in government detention facilities across the country.

 “Patriarca's release should strengthen the call for the immediate release of all political prisoners who are incarcerated because of fabricated charges against them,” Palabay said.

Utrecht-based CPP founder Jose Maria Sison recently served notice they had shut the door to peace with the Aquino government and opted to wait for the next administration for the possibility of opening again peace negotiations.

The CPP-NPD-NDF had been waging over four decades a protracted Maoist-guerrilla war for a bloody overthrow of the government.

According to Jalandoni, the continuous detention of their consultants and the 430 political prisoners is a violation of the GRP-NDFP Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

He named 12 consultants still under detention as Alan Jazmines, Leopoldo Caloza, Emeterio Antalan, Eduardo Serrano, Tirso Alcantara, Edgardo Friginal, Jaime Soledad, Eduardo Sarmiento, Alfredo Mapano, Pedro Codaste, Renante Gamara and Loida Tuzo Magpatoc.

Jalandoni noted that Magpatoc, arrested on July 28, was holding proper documents during the time of her arrest. “She is a holder of NDFP Document of Identification No. ND978254 using the assumed name Puri Feleo,” he said. Her detention at the Camp Bagong Diwa (female dorm) in Taguig City, Jalandoni said, is “a gross violation” of the (Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

“We likewise demand the release of all the 430 political prisoners in compliance with the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). A government that does not respect agreements and contracts it has entered into does not deserve trust and respect,” Jalandoni said.