Thursday, February 27, 2014

Peace In Mindanao: The Challenge Of Disarming Rebels – Analysis

Posted to the Eurasaia Review (Feb 27): Peace In Mindanao: The Challenge Of Disarming Rebels – Analysis (by Joseph Franco/RSIS)

A military offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) reduced the threat of “spoilers” to rekindle violence. However, failing to reintegrate BIFF communities can lead to the emergence of a new generation of violent militants, posing a threat to the wider region.

ACCOLADES FOLLOWED the 25 January 2014 signing of the Normalisation Annex between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This was, afterall, the last remaining hurdle before the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement.

The Annex detailed the phased decommissioning of MILF combatants, the redeployment of Philippine security forces, and the overall reduction of illicit firearms in Mindanao, Southern Phiilippines. Optimistic projections forecast the legislation of a Bangsamoro Basic Law by the end of 2014 and the subsequent creation of an autonomous Bangsamoro region by 2016.

Operation Darkhorse: a qualified success

The far-reaching consequences of the impending peace deal attracted the attention of spoilers such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which broke away from the MILF in 2011. The BIFF purported itself as the new vanguard of the Muslim secessionist movement and pledged to continue using armed violence.

Operation Darkhorse was launched in 27 January 2014 by the Philippine Army in support of a police operation to arrest the leadership of the BIFF. Mechanised infantry units were able to take four BIFF camps, including their headquarters and primary IED or bomb-making facility. From a military perspective, Darkhorse accomplished its goal of severely damaging the BIFF’s capability to wage a guerrilla campaign.

There are however, important details that may have been overlooked by some observers. Prior to the symbolic raising of the Philippine flag at the BIFF’s main encampment, several media personalities invited to cover the event were wounded in an IED attack. While there had been prior IED incidents attributed to the BIFF, the 1 February 2014 explosion was the first time an attack was filmed and subsequently broadcast to a wider audience.

Child combatants as potential militants

But aside from the BIFF’s use of IEDs, the group’s casualty statistics underscore a troubling trend. Of the 52 rebels killed, three were confirmed child combatants.

Anecdotes from soldiers reveal how unarmed minors in BIFF uniform accompany their older male relatives into skirmishes. Once the older BIFF combatant is killed or injured, the minor picks up the weapon and presses on the fight.

Involvement by children is a recurring feature of internal conflict in the Philippines, a manifestation of what can be described as a ‘vocational transference’ of extremist behaviour. As in other internal conflicts, it is human and not physical geography that matters more. The BIFF’s ‘camps’ are typical rural communities. In fact, camps of various threat groups are not demarcated by barbed wire or fencing but have diffuse boundaries – agricultural communities with hastily-built fighting positions.

Regardless of political affiliation, the homes of members of pro-government militias, secessionist movements like the MILF and the BIFF, Islamist-inspired groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, and private armed groups would often have a common feature—fortifications built from simple and often fragile resources such as compacted earth or coconut lumber. Even without an organised armed conflict, the pervasive lack of governance in Central Mindanao makes it susceptible to violence, which in turn incentivises the ownership of illicit firearms and prompts the organisation of self-defence groups.

The BIFF even has greater propensity to attract children to its campaign, considering its limited number of personnel compared to groups such as the MILF. Prior to Darkhorse, foreign and Philippine media have independently confirmed the disproportionate number of child combatants swelling the ranks of the BIFF. Contrary to the experience of child soldiers in Africa and Latin America, there is a distinct lack of coercion for the recruitment of young combatants in Mindanao.

Prior to the peace process, succeeding generations in MILF communities would join the secessionist movement. Membership in armed groups is an ubiquitous event, an attractive vocation for young men with limited socioeconomic prospects. Children are raised in an environment where firearms are plentiful and are passed on from older male relatives as heirlooms.

Consequences of failed normalisation

The greatest risk is for this generation of BIFF child combatants to grow older and more radical. The dismantling of BIFF communities could only serve to diffuse latent resentment for the Philippine government and the prospective Bangsamoro – a conflict ready to ignite once infused with ideological motive. The Normalisation Annex intends to prevent this, by guaranteeing the “pursuit of sustainable livelihood”, “political participation”, and a “peaceful deliberative society”.

The critical step is to diminish the amount of illicit weapons in Mindanao and disincentivise the use of violence. Even with the disbandment of organised armed groups, the resulting glut of weapons would find its way into the illicit small arms trade. This dynamic would be accelerated if promised improvements to livelihoods do not materialise. Alongside economic well-being, political arrangements and institutional arrangements must be in place to create meaningful autonomy to the Bangsamoro.

Failure to pursue normalisation poses consequences not only to the Philippine peace process but to the wider Southeast Asian region. Rifles from the military and handguns from the Philippine National Police had found use in sectarian conflict in Poso, Indonesia. The 2001 Jemaah Islamiyah plot to bomb foreign missions in Singapore was also facilitated by the conflict in Mindanao – as a place to procure explosives like ammonium nitrate and firearms.

Moreover, the existence of latent extremists, child combatants grown up, could create enclaves untouchable to authorities. This is not without precedent in Central Mindanao, which for years played host to a Jemaah Islamiyah training camp, until its destruction in 2005. These areas are contiguous to the locations of BIFF communities.

It is not too far-fetched to see a future where violent ideologues could either buy or recruit the services of former child combatants who fail to reintegrate into mainstream society. The apparent proficiency of the BIFF in using IEDs compared to other Philippine threat groups constitute an attractive skill set for other violent extremists seeking to enhance their capability to launch attacks.

In short, the infusion of a violent extremist ideology to previously un-ideological but nonetheless experienced combatants can create a potent mix that can destabilise the Southeast Asian region.

Joseph Franco is an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

RSIS Commentaries are intended to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy relevant background and analysis of contemporary developments. The views of the author/s are their own and do not represent the official position of the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU, which produces the Commentaries.

MILF: Mindanao Peace Weavers calls for forbearance

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 28): Mindanao Peace Weavers calls for forbearance

The Mindanao Peace Weavers (MPW) issued a statement last February 25 on the arrest of MILF-BIAF 118th Base Commander Ustadz Wahid Tundok by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Philippine Marines at the latter’s checkpoint at Matampay Bridge, Cotabato City last (missing text?)
In the said statement, the group expressed its deep concern and anxiety at Sunday’s arrest of Commander Tundok, based on an alleged standing warrant of arrest for arson and multiple murder charges. This potential flashpoint, following just a week after the shooting to death of MILF Commander Yusoph Kusain, and again the arrest made on Commander Tundok, reflects an apparent gap between top-level pronouncements of both the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and their troops and ceasefire coordinating mechanisms on the ground, the statement said further. 

The civil society group said in its statement that it feels that the proverbial reason of “just following orders” made by officers and men of the CIDG executing the warrant, should be further informed and tempered by the direction and temperament of forbearance that is being made manifested at the highest level of the peace process. We take note of President Aquino’s December 9 statement at a Malacanang Press Corps briefing, stating:

“This is not going to be simple because here we would have to demonstrate our full trust in each other.”

“We feel that this sentiment should be translated into action by all forces, and permeate all actions by either side, particularly now that the Bangsamoro peace process nears its final stretch. We appeal to both sides to temper their actions and responses with utmost restraint, and allow the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to stand and make its case before the country without distraction or provocation”, the group said in its issued statement.

It went further saying, “Let the BBL be judged for its own merits, with the world as its witness.  We encourage both sides to engage more fully not only the letter, but more particularly the spirit of peace negotiations and peace-building, which millions of us in Mindanao continue to yearn and work for”.

Finally, the group said, “The MPW appeals for the release of Commander Tundok, as this will improve confidence-building even as the government and the MILF peace panels are talking transitional justice in the peace talks. This paramount effort requires our collective forbearance, our common acceptance and ultimate singular belief that the process we are engaged and invested in will work, given its one true chance. To this end we again reiterate that the guns in Mindanao have held sway for too long, let our generation now instead listen to a just peace”.

MILF: Daguma committee on information trains peace advocates

From the MILF Website (Feb 28): Daguma committee on information trains peace advocates

The Daguma Committee on Information in cooperation with Mindanaoan Humanitarian and Development Initiative, Inc. (MinHuDI)  conducted a 3-day Training of Trainers with the theme “Empowering Bangsamoro: Nurturing Leaders of Society to become More Effective” held at Datu Talipasan-Impao Elementary School, Barangay Dansuli, Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on February 21-23, 2014.

The activity was attended by 35 participants from different line agencies of the six municipalities of Daguma Province and facilitated by the MinHuDI’s Executive Director, Mr. Norodin Dimaokom.

The topics discussed were on leadership and MILF Policies by Executive Director Moidjoddin Talusob of Kalilintad Development Foundation, Inc.(KDFI). The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its four Annexes were discussed by Prof.  Esmael Abdula.  Abdula is currently the Chairman of the Campaign and Mass Mobilization, Sub Committee on Information, Committee on Information and a member of the Steering Committee of Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI).  Leadership in Islam in the Present Situation was delivered by the Chairman of Daguma Provincial Shariah.  Dimaokom lectured the participants on public speaking. 

On the last day of the activity, the participants designed plans for the conduct of peace advocacies in the contiguous areas of the Bangsamoro core territory. They identified the Municipalities of Lambayong and Esperanza of Sultna Kudarat Province as target areas.   

The members of the community headed by Mr. Ibrahim Abdul and his wife Mrs. Bainot Abdul, Principal of Datu Talipasan-Impao Elementary School expressed their gratitude for the conduct of the training. They assured the organizers of their cooperation for incoming activities that maybe held in the province. The participants also expressed their high commitment and full support to the Committee on Information and the people of Daguma.

Suspected NPA mass grave found in Davao City

From ABS-CBN (Feb 28): Suspected NPA mass grave found in Davao City

Troops belonging to the Philippine Army's 69th Infantry Battalion and police have discovered a mass grave believed to have been used by the communist New People's Army (NPA) in Barangay Malabog, Paquibato District in Davao City on Thursday.

Soldiers and police, upon reaching Sitio Malamboon, had to ride an all-terrain vehicle and walk for 5 minutes before a former NPA rebel could point where the alleged mass grave is located.

Authorities dug up skeletons of 4 people wrapped in tarp, malong, and duyan.

The former rebel identified the remains as that of persons named only as "Ka Lolong," "Ka Pogi," "Ka Allan" and his wife, who were all members of the NPA's Guerilla Front 56 and residents of Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

The victims were killed in 2012, the informant said.

The former rebel said he was disheartened about the killings.

Residents in the area surmise that the 4 were executed because they were suspected of betraying the communist movement.

The skeletons were blessed before being taken by authorities for further investigation.
The grave was filled and a white flag was placed on it.

"Ikinustodiya muna sa PNP Crime Laboratory ang mga buto," said 1st Lt. Ryan Velez, CMO officer of the 69th IB.

Government forces are coordinating with the local government unit of Talaingod in Davao del Norte to trace the whereabouts of the victims' families.

PA packs lethal punch with heavy 155mm field guns

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): PA packs lethal punch with heavy 155mm field guns

As the Philippine military slowly shifts to an external defense setting, it is important to note that the Philippine Army is equipped with a powerful battlefield weapon in the guise of the heavy 155mm field guns.

As of this posting, the Philippine Army is known to operate 10 units of these heavy guns.

Army officers said these field pieces have a maximum range of 14,600 meters.

These guns have a "kill zone" of 50 meters and "casualty zone" of 100 meters.

The 'kill zone'refers to a spot, once hit directly by a 155mm shell, will mean the obliteration or death of living thing in that spot while the 'casualty spot' refers to the place, once hit, will mean the wounding or incapacitating of all living things in that particular area.

Having these weapons at hand ensures that the PA has the capability to provide massive fire support to its troops in the field if needed.

The 155mm field gun is the heaviest and most powerful weapon of the PA.

All artillery weapons are placed under the supervision and control of the Army Artillery Regiment.

The PA, as of this writing, boast of operating 273 artillery pieces.

This number does not include artillery pieces owned by the Philippine Marine Corps.

Around 10 of these weapons are the heavy 155mm howitzers with the remaining guns consisting of various models of the 105mm howitzer, an artillery piece capable of being towed or tracked into combat.

These weapons are constantly being maintained and modernized to provide Army units with a relatively heavy punch.

Earlier, the Department of National Defense announced that it is acquiring 12 units of towed 155mm howitzers forP438,620,000.

This includes 240 rounds of 155mm HE (high explosive) and integrated logistic support.

PAF to get 3 brand-new medium lift aircraft from EADS/CASA-Airbus Military

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): PAF to get 3 brand-new medium lift aircraft from EADS/CASA-Airbus Military

The Philippine Air Force (PAF)'s lift capability will be getting a much needed boost with the delivery of three C-295 medium lift aircraft from EADS/CASA-Airbus Military.

This after the Spanish aerospace manufacturer won the contract for the P5.3 billion medium aircraft fixed wing project by the Department of National Defense (DND).

The PAF's medium lift capability is presently being fulfilled by its three F-27 "Friendship" aircraft.

EADS/CASA-Airbus Military's bid for the program only amounted to P5.29 billion.

The first plane will be delivered in August 2015, while the second will be in March 2016 and the last one in September 2016, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin stated.

"These aircraft will help in troop and limited equipment movement," he added.

The C-295 is described as "a capable and versatile transport and surveillance aircraft.”

EADS/CASA stated that the C-295 can carry up to nine tons of cargo or 71 people.

It also has a maximum cruising speed of 260 knots and operate in short and rough airfields.

32 MNLF pioneers back peace process

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 27): 32 MNLF pioneers back peace process

The Malaysian-backed peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gained momentum with the current overtures of surviving pioneer combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in favor of the proposed establishment of a new Bangsamoro autonomous political entity in Mindanao.

At least 32 surviving members of the MNLF’s “Top 90” maiden batch have regrouped to adopt a resolution casting their support to the GPH-MILF deals, particularly the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB), and its four annexes that would comprise a final accord, as well as the drafting of the new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Resolution No. 01-2014, which was signed in Marawi City on February 3, but distributed only yesterday to concerned entities, also conveys the group’s choice of Datu Hadji Abul Khayr Alonto, a fellow lead figure in the “Top 90” batch, as MNLF chairman.

In the resolution, the 32 signatories had affirmed the legitimacy of Nur Misuari and Alonto as chairman and vice chairman of the MNLF, respectively.

“By virtue of law of succession and noble covenant of the original MNLF Central Committee, we have obliged… Brother Abul (Alonto) to assume the MNLF chairmanship,” said the signatories, who enumerated some misgivings that prompted them to replace Misuari.

Alonto, the first speaker of the maiden autonomous region created by the government in 1978, also signed the resolution in conformity with and acceptance of his selection.

The resolution cited the “unfortunate blunders” of Misuari that “hauled down the MNLF into an abyss of leadership crisis, and its lamentable fragmentation as well as the exodus of able and dedicated Mujahideen (freedom fighters), either into the Philippine government bureaucracy, or to private lives of seemingly but definitely unwanted complacency.”

Ibaloi clan joins group to fight for land ownership in Baguio

From the Philippine Star (Feb 28): Ibaloi clan joins group to fight for land ownership in Baguio

A native Ibaloi clan in Baguio has joined the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) in their ancestral land dispute with private realty developer Sta Lucia Realty and Development Inc. along Kilometer 3, Asin Road here.

Belying earlier allegations that the CPLA, a militia group that had since severed ties with the New Peoples Army in 1986, has “occupied” the 54-hectare ancestral land being disputed by the native Ibaloi clan “Tunged”, Rosita Liwan speaking in their behalf said it was even the CPLA headed by Melchor Balance alias “Ka Kawar” that brokered dialogues with the huge realty firm to agree on a joint relocation survey of the disputed land.

The CPLA had  been “maligned” publicly for its alleged “land-grabbing” activities elsewhere in Baguio City and Benguet province.

But Balance, chairman of the group, instead blamed “pseudo-CPLA” groups like those that had since agreed with a “closure agreement” with government that are still “using the name of the group for their personal interests.”

Liwan said it was their clan’s decision to close ranks with Balance’s group in their bid to strengten their claim of the disputed 54-hectare land that had been appropriated  by the realty developer as part of the subdivision development.

“We have proofs that it is the clan’s property  as shown by tax declarations since 1959,”  she said, adding they are holding  boundary proofs with other Ibaloi land claimants which had since sold theirs to Sta Lucia.

There are about 10 Ibaloi families under the Tunged clan fighting it out with Sta Lucia, which agreed  that a “status quo” on the property pending a determination of the metes and bounds of each claim.

The CPLA  involved with land-grabbing issues in Baguio maybe linked, Tingguian (Abra) “Ka Kawar” said, to those still claiming they are CPLA’s but in fact have turned their backs on the  “uniform, identity and aspiration” for Cordillera regional autonomy.

“Haan dan a CPLA a ta nag closure agreement dan garud (They are no more CPLA because they already entered a closure agreement with the government)."

Two years ago, the CPLA group led by Arsenio Humiding entered into a closure agreement with the government via the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP).  They had since transformed as a socio-economic group, its leaders had claimed.

The present CPLA now, Balance said, is alive and still aspiring for  regional autonomy and had since embarked on a citizen’s initiative-fueled “autonomy caravan” consulting Cordillerans in the grassroots if they still yearn for self-government.

The response in the provinces where they went so far is tremendous, said CPLA consultant Benedict Ballug, convenor of the “Autonomy Movement in the Administrative Cordillera” (AMIN-TACO), meaning, “all of us”.

The same autonomy movement dreams to craft a “tribal version” of the third Organict Act that will establish the Cordillera Autonomous Region by the end of this year.   “This time around, with its beginnings in the grassroots unlike in the past, Cordillerans will say yes to it,” Ballug said.

MILF: What happens to MILF after peace deal?

Guest article posted to the MILF Website (Feb 27): What happens to MILF after peace deal?

How is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) preparing for a post-war environment?

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Mohagher Iqbal said Friday, January 24, that once a peace deal is signed the MILF will cease to exist as an armed group and start positioning itself as a "social movement."

"Time and again we have been discussing that. Of course, things will change. There will be a lot of transformation. The MILF will eventually become a social movement. It will engage, for instance, in the establishment of schools, hospitals, clinics. It will no longer use the force of arms to achieve its objective...[as it gets] more and more democratic," Iqbal said.

The government and the MILF panels met here (Kuala Lumpur) to finalize pending issues, specifically on how the group will "decommission" their firearms and forces. 

Regional government

To prepare for the creation of the envisioned Bangsamoro government, MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim had earlier revealed the MILF is also working towards building a political party in time for the 2016 elections. 

Murad said they are taking this step "to maintain the status of the MILF as an Islamic organization." The political party, he said, "will be the arm of the MILF for the political process.” 

MILF officers have, in fact, been undergoing a series of workshops on building a political party. 

But will Mindanao see an MILF-led government in 2016? It's not a guarantee. 

Under the power-sharing agreement signed in December 2013, there is no provision stopping other political groups from running for positions in the Bangsamoro government, where elected members will choose a chief minister from among themselves. 

Although the current peace process includes only the MILF, both sides have maintained that the new Bangsamoro government will be inclusive. 

"The marching orders from the President have always been the same – that we come up with an agreement that is fair to all and a recognition that we should arrive at a just and lasting peace in Mindanao," said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who joined the talks here as an observer.


The talks' most difficult phase was the issue of "normalization," or what happens to the MILF troops and their weapons.

When the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari signed a peace agreement with the Ramos administration in 1996, the MNLF troops were not required to surrender their arms. 

Instead, the government offered the "Balik-Baril" (return your arms) program where MNLF members voluntarily surrendered their arms in exchange for cash.

But the program was plagued by allegations of corruption. Soon enough, MNLF rebels launched attacks against government forces, like the bloody siege on Zamboanga City in September 2013. The MILF, which broke away from the MNLF in the 1970s, vowed to avoid this mistake. The Aquino administration shared the same commitment.

This is why a special section on "normalization" was included in the initial Framework Agreement signed in October 2012, said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles. 

"From the signing of the Framework Agreement, it was already decided that there was a need for a sole section on normalization. In fact, the term normalization was used to convey the notion that post-agreement – in terms of what happens to communities, the fighters – is not something that automatically happens. You have to have a scheme for that to be done," Deles said.

What to do with guns

The peace panels refrain from using the word "disarmament" to refer to how the MILF will lay down their weapons since the group – technically – will not surrender their arms to the government. 

Both sides considered various options. In the case of the Irish Republican Army, firearms were kept in a warehouse. In the case of Aceh, the firearms of rebel troops were destroyed – something ruled out by the MILF.

A 3rd group will be assigned to first conduct an inventory of MILF and their armed troops. 

As the MILF decommissions its arms in phases, the government, in exchange, will reduce the size of armed troops assigned in Mindanao – and help disband private armed groups in the area. 

"We will not surrender our firearms. We will not give them to the government. There will be a 3rd party. In exchange for that, there will be redeployment of government troops, disbandment of private armies," Iqbal said. 

"There has to be a police (force) for the Bangsamoro [as well as] socio-economic programs all around... transitional justice has to be implemented. These are parallel mechanisms that have to be implemented," he explained. (Rappler)

MILF: Iqbal delivered a message during the Social Call with the Members of the Congress

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 27): Iqbal delivered a message during the Social Call with the Members of the Congress

Message of Mohagher Iqbal, Chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commision, During the Social Call to Members of Congress on February 26, 2014

It is a great honor and a personal privilege for the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to make this social call to the Honorable members of the House of Representatives.  

As Chair of the Commission, I would like to thank the House leadership led by the Honorable Speaker Feliciano Belmonte for the kind invitation and the warm welcome your Honors have extended to us. 

I am gratified that we are meeting today in a casual and less formal setting.  I sigh in relief that we are not in Congress because we are summoned by any of its committees to appear under pain of contempt. 

 Instead, we are being welcomed as your partners as we journey together towards achieving the long sought peace and prosperity in Mindanao.    

The BTC is the product of the partnership between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  It is the same olive branch of peace and partnership that BTC is extending to Congress today.

Please allow me to imagine our partnership from the lens of the BTC.

Our partnership is founded on our common aspiration that sustainable peace and development will reign in Mindanao and the whole country.  In legislating the soon-to-be-signed Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), Congress will most likely be besieged by many interest groups and individuals who will raise a myriad of issues ranging from the constitutionality and legality of the agreement, to political considerations and practicality and viability in implementing the agreement.

These may be valid concerns.  Yet, we should not to lose sight that there is one supreme consideration that stands above the rest and that is addressing the root causes of the long-drawn Moro rebellion.  

What is the use of a measure that passes all constitutional and legal tests but fails to address the root causes of the Mindanao conflict and worse, becomes a source of new and more virulent fissures? What is the use of measures that may be politically expedient but will only further entrench the very system that fuels the armed conflict? What is the use of sleek, practical and viable measures when they cannot be implemented in an environment of instability and insecurity?  

The root causes of the Moro rebellion were aptly articulated among others by someone who is not a Moro but a Christian leader whose family are settlers not indigenous to Mindanao.  I am referring to the newly installed cardinal of the Catholic Church, his Eminence Orlando B. Quevedo.  

The good Cardinal summarizes the roots causes of the Moro rebellion into three: First, Injustice to the Moro identity. Second, injustice to the Moro political sovereignty.  Third, injustice to Moro integral development.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the annexes and the CAB recognize the long history of injustice to the Moro people and have laid down the principles, modalities and infrastructure for redressing their grievances.  I urge Congress to exercise its plenary legislative powers to translate the peace agreement into a law that is faithful to the spirit and intent of the peace pact.  

As Chair of the Commission, I respectfully submit that the FAB and its annexes assert that justice for all is the basis for sustainable peace and prosperity in the Bangsamoro.  On the other hand, law, in the words of Martin Luther King, “exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress”. 

As the attainment of social justice is the ultimate aim of law, Congress is urged to pass a Basic Law that is no less than a “legislated peace agreement”---a Basic Law that is faithful in letter and spirit to the CAB.

I apologize for touching on a serious subject on this light and casual occasion.  It is precisely your generosity in welcoming us as friends and partners that I can speak out from the heart.  

 Amidst the different discourses on the role of the Congress in legislating the peace agreement, I feel that I have to speak out and urge the Honorable members of Congress to be the “enablers” that will make the agreement of the parties for sustainable peace and development in Mindanao come to fruition.

Let us be partners, the BTC and Congress with the whole of the Philippine government in addressing the historical grievances of the Moro people. Some quarters are saying that the MILF is taking a big risk and a leap of faith in partnering with the executive branch and now with Congress.  Let me say that there is no risk taken or leap of faith made greater than the cry of our suffering people for justice and self-determination. 

Let us continue not only to open but to widen even more the lines of communications we have started to put in place today.  Your BTC will continue to engage Congress and its committees so that we can build mutual understanding of the peace agreement, the context by which it has been forged and the real intention of the parties. 

Thank you and good day.

MILF: Maguindanao to conduct provincial level consultations on BBL

From the MILF Website (Feb 27): Maguindanao to conduct provincial level consultations on BBL

The provincial government of Maguindanao will hold provincial level consultations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) this coming March 10, 2014 in Buluan, the seat of the Provincial Government of Maguindanao.

The incoming consultation was personally announced by Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu of Maguindanao during a meeting with the staff of the Mindanao Civil Society Organizations Platform for Peace (MCSOPP) in Buluan.

The MCSOPP is a coalition of different civil society organizations, peace networks, development NGOs and other organizations which are in the frontline of advocacy work in support of the GPH-MILF Peace Talks and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in drafting the BBL.

The governor is optimistic for the realization of the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 

“I am very happy and looking forward to the realization of the peace process.” said Mangudadatu.

“I hope that the commitment of both parties will be realized soonest possible time.” he added.

He further said that the local government units of Maguindanao are very supportive and expecting a resounding YES Vote for its inclusion in the Bangsamoro territory during the 2015 plebiscite. 

“We are both silently and openly campaigning for the peace agreement.” said Mangudadatu.

Maguindanao province has been the center of conflict since 1968 when the Moro struggle for self-determination started. Numerous lives were lost and properties damaged. 

“We are the victims of war here in Maguindanao and we do not want it to happen again.” Mangudadatu pointed out. 

Engr. Abdulrahman Asim, OIC-Provincial Engineer of Maguindanao sees the importance of reaching out to the remote communities despite the conduct of series of consultations that the provincial government and other groups had undertaken. 

“There must be more consultations in the grassroots for the people to properly understand the importance of the peace process and its effects to them.” said Asim. 

Abdulbasit “Bobby” Benito, the lead coordinator of the MCSOPP in North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Cotabato City expressed his gratefulness to the provincial government of Maguindanao for supporting the consultation. 

“As area coordinator of MCSOPP, I really appreciate the initiative of the governor for sponsoring this provincial-wide consultations.” said Benito.

Benito considered it as a big factor in the advocacy work of MCSOPP in helping people understand the BBL.  

At present, the MCSOPP and other organizations are still conducting series of public engagements in the proposed Bangsamoro region. The draft of the BBL is expected to be submitted to President Bengino Aquino III for certification as urgent bill by March 2014. Once the draft BBL is certified by the president, it will be forwarded to congress for enactment. The people in the proposed Bangsamoro new political entity will ratify the BBL in a plebiscite.

CPP/NPA: True face of the 41st IB: Violence and human rights violations

Propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Feb 24): True face of the 41st IB: Violence and human rights violations
Diego Wadagan
NPA Abra Provincial Operations Command (Agustin Begnalen Command)
After the firefight between the NPA and the 41st IB, AFP in Barangay Lenneng, Licuan-Baay, Abra, on February 16, the 41st IB committed a series of human rights violations against inncoent vicilians while conducting combat operations.

February 19, 2014 –The Bravo Coy, 41st IB led by 1st Lt. De Los Santos arrived in Brgy. Lenneng and conducted warrantless illegal searches of houses and conducted warrantless interrogations. A particular incident involved the Barangay Captain whose entire house was searched, and even his computer illegally searched claiming that the NPA surely left data when they used the unit. The soldiers even confiscated certain properties of the Barangay Captain, which they eventually returned. Similar acts were committed by the soldiers at Sitio Killeng, of the same Barangay.

February 22, 2014 – At about 1PM, soldiers detained Freddie Ligiw at Sitio Patong, a miner and resident of Brgy Sucao.maysa nga minero. He was illegally detained and interogated, and was forced to guide the soldiers towards Mt. Inuman. He was then held captive near their swidden farm, while others illegally searched Freddie Ligiw’s nipa hut. The soldiers confiscated a shotgun commonly used by locals for hunting. He was released at 8pm.

These incidents unmasked the never-changing true character of the AFP’s counter-insurgency or “internal security” operations. Illegal searches, interrogation, detention, and intimidation are acts concommitant with AFP operations, that terrorize the populace and are clear violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws, which are condoned by the reactionary civilian government officials.

The people should fight for their rights. These human rights violators should be held liable in civilian courts of the reactionary as well as revolutionary and indigenous courts; international courts could even be tapped as venues. These human rights violations only serve to strengthen the people’s unity, commitment and perseverance against the reactionary government of the ruling classes. Ultimately, the people’s revolutionary unity will be decisive in fighting for the truth and establishing the People’s Revolutionary Government!

Punish the fascist AFP for human rights violations!

Dismantle and evict all detachments and camps of the AFP!

Advance the recognition of the rights of the people through the national democratic revolution!

163 police officers in Pampanga finish SCOUT, SWAT training

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): 163 police officers in Pampanga finish SCOUT, SWAT training
One hundred sixty-three police officers in the province who underwent a 40-day rigorous training on Counter Insurgency Operations Unit Training (SCOUT) and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) graduated Wednesday in a simple ceremony held at the Bren Z. Guiao Sports Complex here.

Senior Supt. Oscar Albayalde, acting provincial director of Pampanga, said that out of the total graduates, 124 of them completed the rigid SCOUT course while 39 others finished the SWAT training.

Albayalde said the trainings aimed to give the police officers more competence, skills and the confidence to fight criminals and insurgents.

"The SCOUT and SWAT are one of the toughest and the most difficult trainings that one could experience, because those trainings teach every basic detail in Internal Security Operations (ISO)," Albayalde said.

He said the training also sharpens one's mind, strengthens camaraderie, and builds harmonious relationships with fellow police officers and the community as a whole.

He said the police officers were also trained on how to become physically fit and mentally awake despite time over pressure imposition.

"The standard set forth for them is aimed to come up with highly disciplined, effective and efficient PNP members," he said.

During the ceremony, both classes of SCOUT and SWAT displayed their newly-acquired skills such as the immediate action drill (IAD), VIP security protection, raid, tactical explosive entry and other building entry techniques.

Governor Lilia Pineda, who served as guest of honor, lauded the members of both classes for their efforts in finishing their trainings.

"These new graduates will surely be of great help in making the province of Pampanga safe as well as insurgence and criminality free," Pineda said.

NPAs ambush North Cotabato mayor's convoy, 3 cops hurt

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): NPAs ambush North Cotabato mayor's convoy, 3 cops hurt

A town mayor in North Cotabato narrowly survived an ambush by suspected New People's Army (NPA) in President Roxas, North Cotabato but three of his escorts were hurt, the Army here said.

Police Officers Castillo, Illagas and Avena, escorts of President Roxas Mayor Jaime Mahingpit was slightly wounded when a land mine exploded as the mayor’s vehicle was passing by a dirt road, according to Army Colonel Nilo Vinluan, 57th Infantry Battalion Commander.

Vinluan said the land mining act by the New People's Army was probably due to Mahingpit’s refusal to provide the NPA with P1 million protection money.

“The mayor was unhurt but three his police escorts were hurt,” he said.

According to Vinluan, Mahingpit and the Army personnel deployed in President Roxas received reports about the presence of armed men and occurrence of gunfire in Barangay Datu Inda.

This prompted Mahingpit and his escorts to proceed to the village at about 3 p.m. when a land mine exploded followed by gun bursts from suspected NPAs.

“The mayor was immediately evacuated safely by our troops,” Vinluan said.

Vinluan said the NPA was asking the mayor P1 million before the local government can continue with the construction of a road in the barangay.

Army pursuit operation is still on-going.

Westmincom brushes aside sabotage as cause of Mindanao power outage

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): Westmincom brushes aside sabotage as cause of Mindanao power outage

The Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) has brushed aside speculations that sabotage was the cause of Thursday’s power outage that hit Mindanao.

Westmincom information officer Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela disclosed they have coordinated with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and “we were informed that it was a technical problem on power generation.”

Mindanao was plunged into darkness around 3:53 a.m. Thursday due to transmission lines “disturbance” causing speculations that sabotage was the cause of the power outage.

“It is not a security breach, hence, we should not be alarmed nor believed in speculations of sabotage,” Muyuela said.

NGCP spokesperson Atty. Cynthia Alabanza said that power has been restored in several areas as of 9:30 a.m. but they have yet to determine the cause of the power outage and “is working to restore the power transmission service to all power customers in Mindanao.”

The transmission service is restored in the following areas: Davao City; General Santos City; Zamboanga City; Pagadian City; Cagayan de Oro City; and, parts of Misamis Oriental.

Albanza said they are monitoring the situation in Mindanao while efforts continue to restore electricity in affected cities and provinces.

PCG cannot readily deploy ships to Panatag shoal without orders from higher ups

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): PCG cannot readily deploy ships to Panatag shoal without orders from higher ups

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Thursday said it cannot just deploy ships to the disputed West Philippine Sea since the problem there has diplomatic implications that need to be addressed by proper Philippine authorities.

We cannot have an outright deployment of PCG ships to West Philippine Sea because the issue here is with diplomatic implications. Let the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) handle it,” said PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo.

Balilo said this in reaction to a statement made by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin who suggested that the involvement of the PCG in the disputed waters is needed so as to maintain a “white-on-white response” which will not heighten the tension.

"White-on-white" refers to the deployment of civilian law enforcement vessels to shadow or survey activities of similar craft done to prevent tensions from escalating as it usually happens when a Navy ship is deployed.

Balilo said the PCG will abide by the orders of any duly constituted authority should there be a need to deploy their ships to Panatag Shoal.

“We receive orders from Malacanang thru the DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) secretary if there will deployment of ships to Panatag Shoal or not. If there are orders, we have two or three ships which are always ready for deployment,” he added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) fired water cannons on Filipino fishermen in a bid to drive them away from the shoal which is claimed by the Chinese.

The AFP sees no need for a military response to the CCG’s water cannon attack.

"The incident is alarming, however, we do not (believe that this) merits a military response," said Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, the AFP public information office chief.

"It is a concern that merits further discussion on how to deal with such situations, that's why it’s very important that there is a code of conduct that must be agreed upon by all claimants to avoid incidents such as this," Zagala added.

PCG presence needed should Chinese persist in water cannon attacks - DND chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): PCG presence needed should Chinese persist in water cannon attacks - DND chief

Should the Chinese law enforcement ships persist on firing their water cannons against Filipino fishermen peacefully going about their business off Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the Philippine response should be calibrated to avoid increasing tensions in the area and should involve the presence of the Philippine Coast Guard.

"In case Chinese Coast Guard vessel(s) will still persist (with) water cannon (attacks) response should be calibrated where we will have the PCG to maintain white-on- white response (as) not to heighten the tensions," Gazmin stressed.

Last Jan. 27 Chinese Coast Guard vessels fired their water cannons in a bid to drive Filipino fishing craft from the disputed waters.

"White-on-white" refers to the deployment of civilian law enforcement vessels to shadow or survey activities of similar craft.

This is done to prevent tensions from escalating as it usually happens when a Navy ship is deployed.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier announced that there is no need to respond militarily to the CCG's water cannon attack against Filipino fishermen.

"The incident is alarming, however, we do not (believe that this) merits a military response," AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

He added that the Philippines does not want to escalate the already volatile situation in the area.

"It is a concern that merits further discussion on how to deal in such situations, that's why its very important that there is a code of conduct that must be agreed upon by all claimants to avoid such incidents such as this," Zagala pointed out.

President Aquino to consolidate gains in Mindanao peace process during two-day Malaysia visit

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): President Aquino to consolidate gains in Mindanao peace process during two-day Malaysia visit

The major thrust of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s two-day state visit here is to consolidate peace and development in Mindanao with recent gains in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya said.

“I think the focus of the visit would be consolidating peace and supporting the development of Mindanao. Malaysia has been the facilitator of the Mindanao peace process since 2001. In our view, they invested in that process as we are in the Philippine government,” Malaya told reporters in an interview at the Philippine Embassy here on Wednesday.

“They stayed the course and what is important, now that there is a successful conclusion of the peace process, is to transform the support and the goodwill from facilitation of the peace process into concrete economic support measure, so that in the words of the Prime Minister—‘the former freedom fighters can be transformed into productive farmers,’” Malaya said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdul Najib Razak is also looking forward to exchanging views with the President on how Malaysia can help in the economic support infrastructure for the Bangsamoro region, he added.

Malaya said in a recent interview that after the signing of the last annex in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, 13 Malaysian companies visited Cotabato to look for possible investment opportunities in the Mindanao region.

These Malaysian companies were the first international business groups that have shown interest in putting up their businesses in Mindanao. Malaya said those companies are interested in investing in oil palm plantation, rubber manufacturing, halal foods, infrastructure development, light manufacturing and many others.

The Philippine government and the MILF signed last month the Annex on Normalization that will lead to the decommissioning of the MILF armed wing and private armies in the proposed Bangsamoro area.

The Annex on Normalization was the last of the four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was signed by both sides on October 15, 2012.

PH mulls sending ships to Panatag

From Rappler (Feb 27): PH mulls sending ships to Panatag

The Philippines will send coast guard ships to Panatag Shoal (Scarborough), located off the coast of Zambales province, if China "persists" in harassing local fishermen in the area, according to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

"In case CCG (Chinese Coast Guard) Vessel will still persist [in using] water cannon [against our fishermen], response should be calibrated. We will have the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) so as to maintain white to white response and not to heighten the tension," Gazmin told government station PTV-4 on Thursday, February 27.
White to white means coast guard to coast guard operations as opposed to gray to gray meaning navy to navy. The PCG, a civilian unit, is under the Department of Transportation and Communications.
Sending navy ships to disputed waters could provoke China.

This is the lesson of the 2012 months-long standoff between Manila and Beijing in Panatag. The Philippines was said to have committed a mistake when it sent a warship – then the newly acquired BRP Gregorio Del Pilar – to deal with Chinese fishing boats. (READ: PH's 1st mistake in Scarborough).
Panatag, which is within the country's 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone, is now practically occupied by the Chinese Coast Guard.
Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista earlier said the Chinese coast guard attempted to drive away local fishermen from the shoal by using water cannon against them.
While the military said the incident "does not merit military response," it recently beefed up coverage of the shoal by transferring commands from the Tarlac-based Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) to the Palawan-based Western Command (Wescom). The Wescom has more external defense assets. (READ: PH military beefs up coverage of Scarborough)
China offer
The incident came after China's reported offer for Manila to withdraw a case it filed against Beijing in connection with the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Rappler reported that China, through a Filipino intermediary, offered to withdraw ships from Panatag and put in more investments in the country. In exchange they want Manila not to pursue the arbitration case it filed against China with the United Nations body International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).(READ: China offers PH 'carrot' to quit case)
The Department of Foreign Affairs said it summoned the Chinese embassy's chargĂ© d’affaires “to strongly protest the efforts of China to prohibit Filipino fishermen from undertaking fishing activities in the Philippines’ Bajo de Masinloc."

MILF commander Wahid Tundok released to a politician, says Army

From InterAksyon (Feb 27): MILF commander Wahid Tundok released to a politician, says Army

Wahid Tundok, commander of the 118th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was released not to the MILF but to a politician, ranking military officials said on Thursday.

Major General Romeo Gapuz, commander of the Philippine  Army’s 6th Infantry Division, however, declined to identify the politician who is now in custody of Tubdok.

Ngayon ang [Today is] formal turnover,” Gapuz said in a phone interview, without explaining why the politician took custody of the rebel commander.

Tundok was arrested early this week at a checkpoint manned by the Philippine Marines in Cotabato City. He has pending arrest warrant for multiple murder and arson before a local court.

The MILF leadership through vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar immediately worked for the immediate release of Tundok, saying MILF leaders, commanders, and members are immune from arrest by virtue of the ongoing ceasefire and peace talks.

Despite the crimes involving Tudok, Gapuz said the MILF had no other choice but to give primacy to the peace process and release the MILF commander.

“I think everybody must have to move on and support what the government is doing, to keep the peace process. Yeah, we have to move on and accept everything, past is past,” Gapuz said when asked if the MILF had already forgiven Tundok and his men for leading several attacks in the past, killing scores of government troops.

Meanwhile, 6th ID spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso explained that the turnover of Tundok to the unnamed politician was just the first phase of a formal turnover ceremony.

Na-move na (formal turnover) naman sa [It was moved again on] Saturday.... bale parang [it's like a] thanksgiving. Kakatapos lang naming mag-meeting. Sa Sabado magkakaroon ng parang kanduli, thanksgiving [We just finished our meeting. O Saturday, there will be a kanduli or thanksgiving],” Hermoso said.

He said the activity would be part of a “confidence building” for the forthcoming signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

During the thanksgiving, government and military officials will be gathering together with top leader and commanders of the MILF “to celebrate” peace, according to Hermoso. 

Earlier, the government and MILF peace panels signed the Annex on Normalization, the last of four annexes that paves the way for the decommissioning and disarmament of the MILF.

According to Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, the AFP expects MILF's surrender of more than 7,500 firearms. 

The MILF membership ranges from 11,000 to 12,000, half of whom are combatants.

Army sergeant finds, returns P350,000 in checks

From InterAksyon (Feb 27): Army sergeant finds, returns P350,000 in checks

Kiko Loresco of Manila Water receives the check from Sgt. Braga. PHILIPPINE ARMY PHOTO

Army Sergeant Raffy M. Braga did not think twice to inform his superiors about what he found while driving Wednesday afternoon along McKinley Hill near Emperador Stadium in Taguig City: two lost checks amounting to P350,000 payable to Manila Water Company.

Braga, currently assigned at the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations (OG7) of the Philippine Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, was sent on an errand and was on his way back to camp when he noticed two pieces of paper with a check attached to it that flew across his vehicle.

He alighted to verify it and found two Landbank of the Philippines checks, one amounted to P182,702.73, and the other P165, 506.06.

Braga immediately informed his senior officer about what he found and the office immediately telephoned Landbank to identify the owner of the checks.

Shortly after that Mr. Kiko Loresco of Manila Water arrived at the Army office to claim the lost checks.

Loresco thanked Braga for his honesty.

Braga, 38, is from Valencia, Bukidnon. He has been in the service for 17 years now. He is married and has two sons.

Mindanao hit by massive power outage

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 27): Mindanao hit by massive power outage

Power has been cut off early Thursday in the most part of Mindanao and authorities are investigating the cause of widespread outage that affect key areas in the southern region.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) could not explain the sudden blackout which began shortly before 4 a.m. It said electricity was restored in some areas – Davao City, General Santos City, Zamboanga City, Pagadian City, Cagayan de Oro City and parts of Misamis Oriental province - five hours later, but a large part of Mindanao is still without power.

The NGCP is a private corporation solely responsible for the operation and maintenance of the country’s power transmission network.

“The NGCP continues to monitor the situation in Mindanao. The NGCP is still determining the cause and is working to restore the power transmission service to all power customers in Mindanao,” it said.

The military said it has no reports of bombing of NGCP pylons in Mindanao.

“We have no reports about any bombings or attacks on steel pylons operated by the NGCP. We also do not know the cause of the blackout,” Capt. Alberto Caber, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

In Western Mindanao, Capt. Maria Rowena Myuela, a regional military spokesperson, said they also have no reports of any attacks on NGCP towers.

“We also have no reports about it, but we were told by the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative that the power outage was caused by an abnormal supply of electricity,” she said in a separate interview.

Earlier in February, suspected rebels bombed, but failed to topple a power pylon of the NGCP in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao province. The 6th Infantry Division blamed the attack on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who are waging a separatist war in the restive region of Mindanao.

Last September, rebels also blasted a steel pylon in the same town cutting electricity supply in several provinces.