Saturday, November 15, 2014

NPA rebels raid village chief’s house, cart away Php1.5M in cash, 4 guns

From the Philippine News Agency-Legazpi Bureau (Bicol) (Nov 12): NPA rebels raid village chief’s house, cart away Php1.5M in cash, 4 guns

New People’s Army (NPA) rebels took Php1.5 million in cash and four firearms in a raid on the residence of the lady village chief of Barangay Mabiton, Claveria, Masbate, on Tuesday afternoon.

A police report identified the victim as barangay captain Karren Bellesteros, 27, single, businesswoman and daughter of an incumbent municipal councilor of the town.

The report said that at about 1 p.m., Bellesteros and her household members were busy watching a television show when about 30 armed rebels arrived and surrounded their residence.

Some rebels barged in, ransacked the house and found the cash inside the village chief’s room.

The communist dissidents took the money and four firearms, two shotguns and two .45-caliber pistols -- all registered in the name the local government unit of Claveria, and casually left.

Bellesteros co-villagers were surprised with what they witnessed and just closed their windows out of fear.

The rebels did not harm the lady village head and her companions.

MILF: Editorial - MILF-MNLF Final Communiqué

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Nov 16): MILF-MNLF Final Communiqué

The Final Communiqué of the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) signed by leaders of the MNLF, MILF, and officials of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Makati City on November 13 is historic in many ways. It did not only outline the convergence points of the two Fronts in terms of programs and plan of actions but more importantly it impressed upon all and sundry including the international community that unity can be done and pursued in many forms.
It also demonstrated the maturity of the leaders of both Fronts to rise above personal and pure organizational considerations in favor of the common interests. Further, it also showcased the OIC’s continuing recognition and commitment to help the Bangsamoro people in the pursuit of their inherent and collective to self-determination.

One outstanding feature of the Communiqué is the creation of the Executive Bureau of the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum, which will hold office in Cotabato City. It is composed of three representatives each from the MNLF and MILF and one representative from the OIC. The Bureau has the power to decide on matters when the BCF is not in session, but is required to report all its actions to the BCF in plenary.

MNLF Chair Nur Misuari and MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim were not physically present during the meeting, but both have given their blessings to their respective delegations. However, many of the big names in the MNLF were present including Atty. Bong Parcasio, the spokesperson of the MNLF delegation, Moslemin Sema, Hatimil Hassan, Habib Mujahab Hashim, Commander Narra, Abebakrin Lukman, and Abdul Sahrin. The MILF was represented by Mohagher Iqbal, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, Abdulla Camlian, all three are members of the MILF Peace Panel talking to the government, Sheikh Ibrahim Ali, Hussein Munoz, Jun Mantawil, all members of the MILF central leadership, Atty. Nazir Ynawat, Muhajirin Ali, and Masbod Gaima, the last two names composing, alongside Mantawil, the MILF Secretariat to the BCF.

Of course, there were hard moments during the discussion of the content of the Final Communiqué but since it was not a negotiation but rather a problem-solving exercise among brothers under the guidance of the OIC, everything was settled in the spirit of brotherhood, unity, and accommodation. There were no losers, everybody was a winner. Both delegations came out of the meeting heads high and the OIC achieved what it came for, which is to let the two Fronts come out with an accepted formula for cooperation. 

Now, it is up to the leaders of the two Fronts to further strengthen and enrich their working relationships. They can do many things for the sake of all.é

MILF: UNPFA sponsors Seminar-Workshops on Good Governance for Moro Religious Leaders

Posted to the MILF Website (Nov 15): UNPFA sponsors Seminar-Workshops on Good Governance for Moro Religious Leaders


The United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) in partnership with the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI), Noorusalam (Women Organization), Mindanao Organization for Social and Economic program (MOSEP), the Commission on Population (PopCom) Philippines and the  Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) organized and sponsored the first of its kind Seminar-Workshop on Good Governance for Moro Religious Leaders (MRL) where Islamic Scholars from different Islamic Institutions in Mindanao came together with one common purpose and objective.
The Three –day Seminar Workshop was held at the high-rise Marco Polo Hotel, Davao City on November 11- 13, 2014 with the theme “Consensus –Building Workshop of Bangsamoro MRL’s on Islamic Perspective in Good Governance, Taxation, Human Rights, Gender and Reproductive Health”. The program was attended by 50 men and women Islamic Scholars (Ulama and Aleema). Notable Islamic Scholars from Darul Ifta – (House of Islamic opinion) and Mufti were among the participants. 

The program main organizers were Mr. Edwin Mateo P. Quijano, Regional Director, PopCom. Ms. Maria Fe G. Esmundo, Ms. Florence M.Tayzon and Ms. Rolagenia G. Reyes from UNFPA and their local counterparts from the Bangsamoro non-government organizations.

Sheikh Jaafar Ali served as Master of Ceremonies and moderator with Islamic Invocation led by Ustadz Carlito Mohammad Sagapan from Davao Oriental, while Sheikh Abdulsalam D. Alabat, BLMI Community Extension Officer, Ustadza Anisa Taha, Chairperson for Central Mindanao- Noorusalam and Eng. Aida Silongan of BDA introduced the participants who came from various sectors and affiliations.

Sheikh Mahmod S. Ahmad, BLMI Executive Director said in his opening message that the three-day activity is focused on discussing key issues and complex personal views from the participants He, however cited some religious injunctions that when different views on such affairs occurred, every Muslim should revisit the contexts of Noble Qur’an and Hadiths as fundamental sources of knowledge for Muslim. 

He further said that the consensus views on the issues discussed will served as BLMI guidelines in crafting a template for its standard modules in its capacity building program for Bangsamoro potential leaders and Managers Insha Allah (If Allah will’s).

On day 1 session, UNFPA Country Representative, Mr Klaus Beck said that UNFPA has actively involved in the peace process in Mindanao with regards to population related aspects to link them with Islamic accepted norms as the Bangsamoro takes their new journey towards peace and progress and UNFPA will continue its technical support to the Bangsamoro.

Eng. Quijano said in his message that he expects the participants to come up with collective views related to Reproductive Health and Family planning issues in the Bangsamoro. 

Sheikh Abdul Salam Alabat presented the program overview and its objectives. BDA Executive Director Dr. Mohammad S. Yacob, one of the resource speakers stressed the key issues to be put into consensus point as broad issues to be discussed. He also presented the Bangsamoro Development Plan (BDP) which the agency prepared. He said that people in the Bangsamoro has high expectations from the upcoming Bangsamoro Government that any viable and favorable transformation that maybe undertaken by the new region shall not happen overnight.

Commissioner Raissa Jajurie of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) talked on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).  She discussed the salient points of the BBL in layman’s term to be easily comprehended by the participants.

Uz. Abdulmuin M. Lantong of the Cotabato City State Polytechnic College (CCSPC) lectured on Politics and Governance. He accentuated the principles and governance in practice that suits with the current situation based on Islamic perspective.

In second day session, Dr. Danda N. Juanday, President of the Bangsamoro Medical Society lectured on Reproductive Health and Family planning issues by emphasizing its fundamental aspects in Medical Science point of view. He shed light on health issues that normally confront the Bangsamoro society.

Dr. Abdulmanan Gayak of the Lujnatul Auliya, shared Islamic points of view on Reproductive Health.

On issues of Human Rights, Sheikh Alabat, who himself a Shari’ah expert talked on Human Rights on Islamic perspective by stressing its vertical and horizontal mode of relationship between man and Allah.

In the culminating session, Ustadza Jihan L. Batiting, a BDA Official who graduated from the prestigious Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, lectured on Gender and Development. She explicitly stressed the issue of gender equality and family development based on Islamic perspective.

Commissioner Esmael Ebrahim of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) lectured on Islamic Finance, Taxation and Zakat. He emphasized the nature of Islamic finance, zakat and taxation by providing comparisons between Philippines’ system and Islamic Finance among others.

The participants engaged in five workshops during the three-day sessions tackling the topics involved to be able to come up with consensus on common stance on the issues presented and discussed by the Islamic scholars and speakers.

The organizers and participants expressed satisfaction on the outcome of the three-day activity and  looked forward for another engagement that can help the BLMI to come up with a standard modules as reference for its capacity empowerment activities for Moro leaders and managers. 

The program was funded by UNFPA through Commission on Population, Philippines (PopCom) & Bangsamoro NGO’s.

MILF: Myanmar’s Karen National Union’s delegation visits Mindanao

Posted to the MILF Website (Nov 15): Myanmar’s Karen National Union’s delegation visits Mindanao

A delegation from the Karen National Union (KNU) and Karen Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from Myanmar travelled to Central Mindanao on November 10, 2014 to familiarize themselves on the success of the GPH-MILF Peace Process that led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on October 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) signed on March 27, 2014. They visited Cotabato City, Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
Their coming to Mindanao was organized in collaboration with Mary Ann M. Arnado, founder of the Bantay Ceasefire, a grassroots monitor of Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC).

The exposure visits aims to assist the KNU and Karen civil society groups in deepening their knowledge and understanding on the peace process and keep abreast on the   ceasefire monitoring systems and strategies, thus allowing them to draw lessons that could be particularly useful in their aspiration for right to self-determination in their country.

The foreign delegates were interested in learning the experiences of Bantay Ceasefire (BC)  volunteers of Maguindanao and North Cotabato in particular as this could help them in formulating ceasefire mechanisms that could be implemented back home.

Fr. Roberto “Bert” Layson, OMI head of the Oblate Missionary Foundation-Inter Religious Dialogue (OMF-IRD) and founding member of Bantay Ceasefire admitted that being a Bantay Ceasefire volunteer is really a tough job.

“Bantay Ceasefire work is not an easy job. We have to take the risks in the name of peace.” said Layson.

“We are the instruments and bridge of unity and reconciliation rather than conflict and division.” he explained.

Kawkasa Saw Aung Win Shwe, Minister of Foreign Affairs of KNU appreciated the dedication and commitment of the BC volunteers in their very risky field monitoring works.

“Bantay Ceasefire volunteers are well-organized, have strong belief in peace and very active in monitoring the GPH-MILF ceasefire violations.” he said.

“I really appreciate the learnings from the actual experiences of BC volunteers. Hopefully, these learnings and experiences that we acquire here can be our tools in monitoring ceasefire when we have our ceasefire mechanisms in Myanmar.” he added.

Hadji Noor Ahmad or known as “Bapa Joe”, a senior member of Bantay Ceasefire said that choosing Bantay Ceasefire as a model of peace building work is something all members can be proud of.

“It’s a great opportunity for all members to have been chosen by this delegation as example of peace builders”. The Bantay Ceasefire volunteers mostly civilians and residents of communities became the instrument of peace.” said Ahmad.

“The contribution of the Bantay Ceasefire in the GPH-MILF peace agreement in resolving the decades-old conflict in Mindanao towards the attainment of genuine peace cannot be denied.” he added.

He further stressed that during the signing of both the FAB and CAB in Malacañang, no less than the MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim Al Hadj mentioned and acclaimed the efforts and contribution of MPC as program owner of the Bantay Ceasefire in their peace advocacy works.

Bantay Ceasefire had played a significant role in the prevalence of genuine peace and reconciliation in the conflict affected areas of Bangsamoro for more than a decade. It has been one of the effective partners of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the GPH-MILF in their conflict monitoring work and interventions.’s-karen-national-union’s-delegation-visits-mindanao

Rare glimpses into the lives of Abu Sayyaf captors

From Al-Arabiya News (Oct 20): Rare glimpses into the lives of Abu Sayyaf captors

      Baker Atyani

Another two hostages have returned to the light of freedom after a six-month ordeal that put their lives on pause by militants in the island of Sulu, south of the Philippines.
No one is happier today than Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen, the German couple released last Saturday, and who knows better what an overwhelming happiness this is – when life seems to be caught between dream and reality – than one who has experienced his own freedom being snatched away.

I have been following the developments and the threats extended by the couple’s kidnappers as if I was reliving the same moments. But more interesting was when I read that the spokesman for the kidnappers was a man named Abu Rami.

Abu Rami is in his mid-twenties. He left his education after his first year in university and joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Sulu Island. He later joined a subgroup that comes under the incumbent leader of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) named Radolan Sahiron. But Abu Rami did not stay for long and soon joined a community linked with Abu Sayyaf led by Kasman Sawadjan, who was a known thief and led till his death the second-largest community linked with ASG in Sulu Island.

Abu Rami is the only person in the community of around 200 who speaks English, the others do not know except the Island's local language, Tausug. Even his broken English does not hamper his yelling and threats. Abu Rami is also known by the name Ams, a short form of his alias Ammar. Among my kidnappers, he was the first person to speak to me and was also the translator between me and their leader Sawadjan. It was Abu Rami's idea that I should be filmed with a knife held to my neck exactly how Stefan appeared in one of his pictures. I strongly resisted and pushed the knife away with my hand which left a deep cut on my finger and damaged the tendon.

Abu Rami didn’t even feel ashamed to send text messages from my mobile phone to all of my contacts, including my seven-year-old son, threatening to behead me in case the ransom was not paid. This was the same pattern seen in the German hostages' case. Whenever Abu Rami expected the ransom to come he would call me "brother" and when he felt there was no ransom he termed me as "Khawarij" (a person astray from Islam). When I asked him if he knew what the word meant, he stuttered ignorantly with no answer.

‘Are Americans Shiites?’

How deeply drenched they are in their ignorance; knowing nothing but the rules of the jungle in which they live. They know little, if nothing, about their religion. Even their knowledge of their religion is a mixture of their faith and traditions. They are also blind of the purpose for which they carry their arms.

I found Abu Rami, who is the most civilized among them, asking me once if the Americans were Shiites?! He later asked if London was situated in the United States. I had no option but to answer, "Until the day I was kidnapped, London was somewhere else. I have no idea what happened after that."

I believe the most accurate way to define these people is to say they are human settlements spread all over Sulu and the Basilan islands, in the south of the Philippines. These communities have adopted kidnapping as a profession. Every community comprises of different families and is led by the strongest of these families in terms of arms and money. The one leading the community provides the other families with ammunition and food on daily basis. In return, the members of these families obey every command and serve the largest family. Every community leader is obliged to give the biggest community, which is led by ASG leader Radolan Sahiron, 20 percent of any income generated through kidnappings, robberies or even charity, in order for the act to carry the name of Abu Sayyaf.

What is worst still is that these communities are protected and supplied with all kinds of resources to maintain their livelihood by influential elements in the Philippines. And why shouldn't this be the case? Kidnapping is a boom business fetching big incomes. There are people who plan and trap the targets and victims bringing them to these communities in the jungle and the moment a target is found, many raise their heads, from politicians to members of the police and civil society, offering to work as mediators to secure the release of the hostages.

And for this business to continue, these communities are linked with militant groups that are internationally underlined as terror outfits such as al-Qaeda. Though, most experts on militant groups maintain that Abu Sayyaf and its auxiliaries are interlinked locally with currently no sponsorship from outside. Even majority of the members of Jamaa Islamia (JI) in Southeast Asia, who took refuge in the south of Philippines before and after the Bali bombings, left Sulu while a few of them were actually hunted by some of the communities and groups belonging to Abu Sayyaf, just to get the death money placed on them.

It is, however, worth mentioning here that the recent support shown by some of the communities to ISIS, including demanding Germany to withdraw from the international alliance against ISIS as a condition to release the German couple, could be explained in the context that these communities are very much influenced by the ISIS’ practices and are looking to seek some sort of patronage from the group. The possibility of the ISIS adopting these communities at a later stage should not be ruled out.

 One would be surprised to know that the location of these kidnappers and communities is not a secret; asking any local in that island can easily lead to their whereabouts. Moreover, all their communications and negotiations over their hostages take place via their cellphones while their pictures are floating all over social media.

My heartiest congratulations go out to Stefan and Henrike on getting their freedom back but there are still other hostages in the shackles of these communities who await every one of us to work for their release and pressurize the Filipino government and its institutions to apply serious efforts for hostages. The authorities would have to deal with all those who are harboring and protecting these kidnappers with an iron hand. The representatives of the Muslims of Philippines also have to rise up to their responsibilities and expose these communities who have adopted kidnapping as their sole means of living, all in the name of religion.

[Baker Atyani is Al Arabiya News Channel’s bureau chief in South and East Asia. He is a veteran journalist, covering conflict zones in Asia for the past 16 years and is an expert on militant groups in Asia. He has produced numerous documentaries, articles, and investigative stories and was the last journalist to interview Osama Bin Laden before 9/11. He has been honored by MCF with "Exceptional Courage in Journalism" award.]

After 2-yr absence, rebels back in Aurora

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 16): After 2-yr absence, rebels back in Aurora

Aurora province’s insurgency-free status, which the military had declared more than two years ago, was put to test after a clash erupted between government soldiers and communist rebels on Thursday.

The first clash between Army soldiers and the New People’s Army rebels that broke out since the government declared Aurora free from the influence of communist rebels happened in Barangay Galintuja in Maria Aurora town, a report from the military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) based in Tarlac City said.

The Army unit under the 56th Infantry Battalion acted on information provided by residents, Nolcom said.

The group of 10 NPA rebels seen in Maria Aurora was trying to cross over to Rizal province, said Capt. Mark Anthony Ruelos, public information officer of the military’s 7th Infantry Division based in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province.

The military and the NPA did not report any casualty from the 30-minute gunfight, which began at 6:30 a.m.

Lt. Gen. Felicito Virgilio Trinidad Jr., Nolcom commander, said Nolcom forces have been monitoring the activities of the rebels.

“As expected, as the Christmas season approaches, the NPA remnants are out to launch various illegal activities in order to extort from the people who are preparing for the holiday festivities,” Trinidad said in a statement.

JI bomb expert returns to Malaysia: Police

From the New Straits Times (Nov 15): JI bomb expert returns to Malaysia: Police

KUALA LUMPUR: The police will continue to monitor the activities of Taufik Abdul Halim, the Malaysian national who was a bomb expert for the militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), who returned to the country on Wednesday after serving a jail term of more than 12 years in Indonesia.

Principal Assistant Director of the Counter Terrorism Division, Bukit Aman Police, Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said police would constantly get in touch with him and monitor his activities from time to time to ensure that he was no longer a threat to national security and the public.

Upon his arrival at the KL International Airport at 11.30pm, Taufik, 39, was taken by police for an interview and given advice, and he was also reminded not to be involved again with militant activities, said Ayob Khan.

"The discussion was a rather lengthy session," he told BERNAMA at the Federal Police Headquarters in Bukit Aman.

Asked why no follow-up action was taken against Taufik, he said although Taufik was detained following the case on the explosion at the Atrium Plaza shopping complex in Jakarta on Aug 1, 2001, the Malaysian police had no evidence to detain him because he was not involved in any violent activities in Malaysia.

"So far, what we do is to advise him to be no longer involved in matters that went against the law," said Ayob Khan.

The local media had earlier reported that between 300 and 350 JI detainees had been released in stages from Indonesian prisons including Taufik, who lost his right foot due to the bombing incident in Jakarta.

Explaining further, Ayob Khan said that in view of Taufik's expertise in making bombs and his ideology, there was still a possibility that the JI members would try to contact him again.

"We fear that there might be matters that they would discuss among themselves. There is also a possibility that he would train members of the public who are keen to be involved in violence. He is not only a bomb expert but had in fact been involved in two church bombing cases in Indonesia," he said.

Asked whether the release of hundreds of detainees related to the so-called IS militant group's activities, he said there was no difference between the JI or the Al-Qaeda because they shared the same ideology, that is to be involved in terrorism activities.

"If they are released, there will be a high risk, they will possibly be involved in the activities of the IS militant group," said Ayob Khan, adding that the Malaysian police always worked closely with the regional and global police in the context of tackling anti-terrorism.

He said that from 2001 until now, the police had detained 294 individuals, whether locals or foreign nationals believed to be involved in militant groups.

Taufik, who is now reported to be in his original village in Kluang, Johor, had previously undergone training with the Al-Qaeda group in Afghanistan in October 1995 until February 1996.

He was also linked to the bombing incidents on two churches in east Jakarta city.

In fact, he was a member of the Malaysian militant group, Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM), and had been involved in violent activities in Ambon, Moluccas in 2000.

Taufik was a former student of architecture at the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and was involved in terrorism after he was believed to have been influenced by his brother-in-law, Zulkifli Abdul Khir, the most wanted individual in Southeast Asia who was being tracked down until today.

Zulkifli or Marwan is now believed to be in southern Philippine together with the Abu Sayyaf group.

Taufik was also previously detained by the Malaysian police in October 1996 until November 1996 under the Internal Security Act (ISA). - Bernama

1 of 5 slain soldiers beheaded

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 16): 1 of 5 slain soldiers beheaded

One of five soldiers killed in a clash between government troops and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Jolo, Sulu, on Friday was beheaded, a top military official said on Saturday.

Col. Allan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu who made the report, refused to identify the beheaded soldier.

At least 28 have been wounded since fighting started on Friday night in Talipao town, according to Arrojado.

He said 10 Abu Sayyaf members were killed while 30 others were wounded.

Among those killed were Abu Sayyaf group sub-leader Hairullah Asbang, whose body was recovered in the village of Bawisan; and Beting Jakka, brother-in-law of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron.

Maj. Maria Victoria Mandin, executive officer of the Don Basilio Navarro Hospital of the Western Mindanao Command, told reporters that 26 of the wounded soldiers were in stable condition, while two others were brought to the Ciudad Medical Center for treatment of major injuries.

She said majority of the wounded personnel suffered shrapnel wounds “either from mortars or high caliber ammunition.”

3 Abu groups merged

Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said three big Abu Sayyaf groups merged as the military troops were conducting law enforcement operations in the areas of Bud Bungao, Talipao town in Sulu.

The groups were led by Sahiron, Hatib Sawadjaan and Juli Ekit.

Muyuela said the soldiers had a hard time penetrating and recovering the wounded personnel because the terrain was “thickly vegetated and not easily passable by vehicles.”

Stable condition

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said the wounded soldiers were evacuated to the hospital Friday night and were now in stable condition. The military declined to name the casualties until their nearest kin had been notified by the First Scout Ranger Regiment.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. expressed his condolences to the families of the soldier casualties.

“Please allow me to express my heartfelt condolences to those who lost their loved ones while fighting for the country. I thank them for their selfless service,” Catapang said.

Catapang promptly ordered his senior staff officers to send medical teams, mission-essential equipment and additional supplies for the troops.

“I want to personally pin the Gold Cross Medals on all deserving warrior-leaders who displayed conspicuous courage in this particular firefight. Their bravery must be emulated by all soldiers,” he said.

Malacañang meanwhile said the soldiers who were killed in the encounter on Friday made the “ultimate sacrifice” to keep the country safe from terrorists.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace condoled with the families of the six soldiers who belonged to the Army’s Scout Rangers.

Ultimate sacrifice

“We thank them for making the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We salute them for the courage and valor of our soldiers because without them, we would not be able to sleep peacefully at night,” Valte said in Filipino.

Valte assured the families of the slain soldiers that the government would not abandon them in their time of grief.

In a detailed feature article, the AFP Public Affairs Office described the encounter through the eyes of 1st Lt. Michael Asistores, 30.

Asistores, who was among the wounded soldiers, was hit by shrapnel.

High on marijuana

Asistores said that the Abu Sayyaf bandits appeared to have been high on marijuana while fighting the soldiers.

Citing Asistores’ account, the Rangers began “trading fire with the bandits using assault rifles and machine guns” at around 2 p.m.

“Unknown to them, all surrounding hills… were occupied by at least 300 bandits led by five notorious leaders, namely, Radulan Sahiron aka Commander Putol, Hairullah Asbang, Jurim Hussein, Hatib Sawadjaan and Juli Ekit,” the AFP said.

Asistores was the combat leader of the 1st Scout Ranger Company in the “first major encounter of the military against the elusive bandit group after the release of the German kidnap victims three weeks ago,” the AFP said.

Asistores praised the five soldiers for their during the firefight.

“They showed us the true spirit of the Scout Rangers. They died fighting for the country with their combat boots on,” said Asistores.

He also said that he and his men who were now recuperating in the military hospital in Zamboanga, were all willing to come back to Sulu and rejoin their unit.

“I will gladly go back and be with my men in the frontlines. We must crush the Abu Sayyaf and end its kidnapping business,” he said.

Arrojado also said that more troops were deployed in the peripheries of the encounter area to block the Abu Sayyaf’s escape routes.

Troops uncover NPA bombing plans

From the Philippine Star (Nov 13): Troops uncover NPA bombing plans

The military uncovered a plot by the New People’s Army (NPA) to perpetrate more roadside bombings following an attack on Wednesday in Magpet, North Cotabato that injured two soldiers.

The soldiers, both from the Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion (IB), are now confined at a hospital.

The injured 57th IB combatants and their companions were patrolling at a secluded area in Barangay Bagumbayan when the NPAs set off an improvised explosive device hanged on a tree along a farm path.

Lt. Col. Nilo Vinluan, commanding officer of the 57th IB, said the improvised explosive device, set off from a distance using a mobile phone, was packed with jagged fragments of cast iron and metal shavings.

Army intelligence officials said the NPAs in North Cotabato are experimenting on new techniques in IED fabrication and are out to test their homemade explosives on both military and civilian targets.

“That’s nothing new. These terrorists are known for harming civilians, including women and children to suit their vested interests,” Vinluan said.

The 57th IB is engaged in humanitarian projects benefiting villagers in 17 barangays in Magpet.

The NPA is opposed to the presence of soldiers in the barangays where soldiers are conducting continuing outreach missions for the local communities.

Sources from the police and Army’s intelligence communities said NPA ordnance experts are planning to test “overhead” roadside bombs to be planted on trees or roadside hills to trigger a shower of metal fragments when detonated using battery-operated blasting mechanisms attached to mobile phones.

Navy to deploy gunboats for papal visit

From the Philippine Star (Nov 15): Navy to deploy gunboats for papal visit

At least five Navy vessels stationed here will be deployed to Tacloban City to augment security for the papal visit next year.

Capt. Giovani Bacordo, deputy commander of Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NWFM), said BRP Bagong Silang, BRP Leopoldo Regis and three patrol boats would be refurbished while its crew would undergo training before being sent to Tacloban.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang earlier said the 7th and 8th Philippine contingent to Golan Heights would help secure Pope Francis during his visit.

Bacordo said the five gunboats have completed their mission here, including a naval blockade that intercepted smuggled rice worth P24 million.

He said the patrol boats would be replaced by new ships to support the NFWM in its campaign against illegal activities, including hunting down Abu Sayyaf bandits.

Large-Scale South China Sea Reclamation Projects Raise Questions Under International Law

Posted to the Establishment Post (Nov 15): Large-Scale South China Sea Reclamation Projects Raise Questions Under International Law

The international media has reported that China is undertaking large-scale South China Sea reclamation works on several of the seven reefs it occupies in the Spratly Islands. The 2002 Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea states that the parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate the disputes in the area. Although reclamation works and the construction of installations and structures on occupied features would seem to be inconsistent with this provision, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have all undertaken such activities on the features they occupy and control in the Spratly Islands.

What is new is the scale of the reclamation works currently being undertaken by China. It has been reported that China is expanding Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef) so that it will be two square kilometres in size. This would be a very significant change, as that reef would then be as large as the combined size of the thirteen largest islands in the Spratly Islands.

Reefs occupied by China

China occupies and controls seven reefs in the Spratly Islands, the legal status of which are at issue in the case between the Philippines and China that is currently before an international arbitral tribunal established under the dispute settlement provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). Although China has decided not to participate in that case, the matter is proceeding without China’s participation as provided in Unclos.

In the arbitration case, the Philippines admits that three of the seven reefs meet the definition of an island, that is, they are naturally formed areas of land surrounded by and above water at high tide. If so, they are capable of a claim to sovereignty and to maritime zones of their own. However, the islands on the three reefs occupied by China are very small and contain little vegetation. Therefore, the Philippines maintains that they should be classified as “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own”. If so, they would be entitled to a 12 nautical mile (nm) territorial sea, but not to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf of their own.

With regard to the remaining four reefs occupied by China, the Philippines maintains that they are not islands under Unclos as they are submerged at high tide. Therefore, they are not subject to a claim of sovereignty and are not entitled to any maritime zones of their own.

Issues of international law on the status of the reefs

If the scale of China’s recent reclamation works is correct, this raises interesting issues of international law.

Firstly, will the reclamation works strengthen China’s sovereignty claim to the Spratly Islands under international law? The answer is no. Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over the islands/features occupied by China. Once there is a dispute over sovereignty, the State that occupies and controls the islands/features cannot strengthen its sovereignty claim by undertaking reclamation or building installations and structures.

Secondly, can China use reclamation to convert submerged reefs into islands capable of supporting human habitation or economic life of their own that are entitled to maritime zones of their own? Again, the answer is no. This is because an “island” is defined as a “naturally formed” area of land surrounded by and above water at high tide. If a feature is above water at high tide because of reclamation works, it is an “artificial island”. Under Unclos, an artificial island is not entitled to any maritime zones of its own, not even a 12 nm territorial sea. Therefore, the reclamation works on features that are submerged at high tide will not change their legal status.

Thirdly, can China use reclamation to convert a “rock which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of its own” into an island that would be entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf of its own? There is no clear answer to this question. However, since an island is defined as a “naturally formed area of land” surrounded by and above water at high tide, it seems reasonable to conclude that it should not be permissible to use artificial means to change a rock into an island entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf of its own.

Other issues of international law

Questions also arise on whether Unclos and international law impose any other restraints on China in conducting reclamation works on the features it occupies and controls.

One issue is whether China’s large-scale South China Sea reclamation works are consistent with its obligation under Unclos to protect and preserve the marine environment. If a State is planning activities in an area under its jurisdiction and control that may have significant harmful effects on the marine environment of other States, it has a ‘duty to cooperate’ with those States. It must consult the States that might be affected in advance and in good faith.

It may also have to undertake an environmental impact assessment and share the results with the potentially affected States. In this case, the Philippines is a potentially affected State because three of the features on which China is undertaking reclamation works are either just inside or just outside its 200 nm EEZ. Vietnam is also a potentially affected State because it occupies reefs very close to those occupied by China.

In addition, given that the geographic features in question are in the middle of an area that is the subject of highly contentious sovereignty and maritime disputes, China is under an obligation under international law to exercise restraint and not take unilateral actions that would permanently change the status quo regarding the features in question. This is especially so in this case because the status of the very features on which China is doing major South China Sea reclamation works are the subject of an ongoing case before an international arbitral tribunal.

[This article was written by Robert Beckman is Director of the Centre for International Law and an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore (NUS). He is also an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). This article was originally published on the RSIS site and reproduced here with their kind permission.] 

US using power to protect allies from bullying, intimidation

From Ang Malaya (Nov 15): US using power to protect allies from bullying, intimidation

“Generations of Americans have served and died here so that the people of the Asia Pacific might live free. So no one should ever question our resolve or our commitments to our allies,” United States President Barack Obama said while in Australia for G20 summit.

He said that security in Asia does not rely “on spheres of influence, or coercion or intimidation where big nations bully the small” but on alliances.

“Day in, day out, steadily, deliberately, we will continue to deepen our engagement using every element of our power — diplomacy, military, economic, development and the power of our values.”

Obama specified China, saying that it should “adhere to the same rules as other nations, whether in trade or on the seas.”

President Obama believes that “disputes over territory – remote islands and rocky shoals – that threaten to spiral into confrontation.”

“We’ll support ASEAN’s effort to reach a code of conduct with China that reinforces international law in the South China Sea,” US President said.

“By the end this decade, a majority of our navy and air force fleets will be based out of the Pacific, because the United States is and always will be a Pacific power.”

DOH: Pinoy peacekeeper negative for Ebola

From the Sun Star (Nov 15): DOH: Pinoy peacekeeper negative for Ebola

The Department of Health (DOH) said Saturday that the quarantined Filipino peacekeeper who had fever and chills after returning to the Philippines from Liberia has tested negative for the Ebola virus.

DOH acting Secretary Janette Loreto-Garin in a press briefing Saturday said the peacekeeper, whose identity is yet to be determined, tested negative for Ebola but tested positive for malaria.

Garin said the peacekeeper will stay at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City for one week.

The peacekeeper is one of the 133 Filipino peacekeepers who are staying at Caballo Island for a 21-day quarantine.

On Friday, Garin said they were looking at the possibility of the fever being related to the patient's history of malaria, saying: "Ang pasyenteng ito ay dati nang nagkaroon ng malaria. May posibilidad na bumalik yung kanyang malaria o kaya naman ay hindi ito nagamot nang maayos."

Garin said the patient will return to Caballo Island after being cured of malaria.

8ID troops recover war materiel during an encounter with NPA

Posted to the Samar News (Nov 8): 8ID troops recover war materiel during an encounter with NPA

November 8, 2014

Army operating troops in Samar Island recovered several war materiel after a brief encounter with a small group of NPA rebels in a remote area at Brgy Sto Niño, Motiong, Samar last November 6, 2014.

In a report from Lt Col Antonio Dulnuan Jr, Commanding Officer of the 87th Infantry (Hinirang) Battalion, his troops were conducting Peace and Security Operations in the outskirts of said barangay when they chanced upon a team of NPA rebels passing also in the area.

A brief exchange of firefight followed forcing the enemy to withdraw from their position leaving behind several war materiels at the encounter site. Among the items recovered were one bandoleer, five long magazines for M16 rifle, two short magazines for M16 rifle, eighty rounds live ammunitions for M16, two back packs with personal belongings, one hand grenade and high value subversive documents.

The rebels were unable to inflict casualties against government forces while casualties on the rebel side remained undetermined.

MGen. Jet B. Velarmino, 8ID commander, expressed his appreciation to the operating troops of the 87IB for their dedication and commitment in safeguarding the communities against the rebels.

Further, he reiterated the government’s call for non-violence, for the rebels to return to the mainstream society, and for them to take advantage of the government’s reconciliation programs.

3 hurt in another BIFF anti-tank rocket attack

From the Philippine Star (Nov 15): 3 hurt in another BIFF anti-tank rocket attack

Three more civilians were hurt as marauding members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked before midnight Friday another village in Pikit town in the province.

Hundreds of families in remote villages have been dislocated as a result of the BIFF incursions on farming enclaves in Pikit, which began before dawn Wednesday.

The wounded villagers, spouses Raul and Rosalinda Sahid, both 50 years old, and their five-year-old grandson, Clark Joseph Pineda, were fleeing from their village when a B-40 anti-tank rocket fired by a bandit from a distance landed near them.

The three injured are now confined at a hospital.

Two evacuees, Rayhana Acmad and Kantoh Saguidasan, were killed by bandits in an attack on another barangay in the same town before dawn Wednesday.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the BIFF pulled off more attacks late Thursday to forestall a military operation aimed at clearing riverside enclaves at the border of Pikit and Datu Piang town in Maguindanao from bandits.

"They have recklessly been firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at Moro villages," Hermoso said.

Inspector Sindato Karim, chief of the Pikit municipal police, said some 500 displaced families are now housed in makeshift relief sites in Barangay Kabasalan and Bulol, about seven kilometers northeast of the barangays the BIFF attacked.

Local officials said the marauding BIFF bandits are led by radical two clerics, Karialan and Tambako, both henchman of jihadist Ameril Ombra Kato.

Kato, who studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s, started as chief of the 105th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but was booted out in early 2010 for insubordination and other offenses.

In early 2011, Kato organized the BIFF, now comprised of guerillas the MILF had dropped from its roster for misbehavior.

Units of the Army's 7th Infantry Battalion, which has jurisdiction over Pikit and nearby towns, pounded with 105 Howitzer Cannons the advancing BIFF gunmen to prevent them from getting through the center of the barangays they have been attacking since Wednesday.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, chair of the provincial peace and order council, said relief workers have been dispatched to attend to the needs of evacuees.

Hermoso said they have been receiving persistent feedback from barangay folks that an undetermined number of BIFF bandits were killed in military counter-offensives.

"Our response to these attacks is calibrated, just enough to prevent the bandits from getting close to populated areas," Hermoso said.

(UPDATE) 3 civilians injured in Cotabato fighting

From the Philippine Star (Nov 15): (UPDATE) 3 civilians injured in Cotabato fighting

Three civilians has been injured in fighting between government security forces and breakaway members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front in North Cotabato, an official said today.

Sindatun Karim, town police commander of Pikit, said that armed men belonging to Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) simultaneously attacked two Patrol Base of 7th Infantry Battalion in the villages of Selik and Dasawaw around 10:20 p.m. local time yesteron Friday.

"There were no casualties on the government side but a couple and their grandchild were hit by stray bullets," Karim said.

Colonel Audie Edralin, commander of 7th IB, condemned the attacks, adding thousands of civilians have been affected by the rebels' offensives in the region.

"We deploy more troops along the national highway to prevent any attempt by the rebels to take control of the highway," he said.

Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesman, claimed responsibility for their attacks.

He said there was a standing order from their Chief of Staff, Commander Carialan, to stage more attacks against military in Mindanao.

Dawn Friday, two civilians, one of them a child, were killed and three others wounded when a mortar shell fell and exploded in their boat as they were fleeing a battle between soldiers and BIFF in the village of Kabasalan, also in Pikit.

The BIFF, which broke away from the MILF, has been carrying out attacks in the southern Philippines to force the government to negotiate with the group, which is fighting for an independent Bangsamoro homeland.

Police: Abu Sayyaf behind Nov. 9 twin blasts in Zambo

From MindaNews (Nov 15): Police: Abu Sayyaf behind Nov. 9 twin blasts in Zambo

The local police blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the recent twin bomb explosions that injured a K9 handler and a bomb-sniffing dog in this city.

The incident that took place 15 minutes apart in the evening of November 9 at De Luxe Massage and Karaoke Bar along Tomas Claudio Street downtown injured PO2 Franklin Ined, a member of the

Senior Supt. Angelito Casimiro, city police director said the incidents were the handiwork of four followers of Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf leader Puruji Indama.

Casimiro said two of the four are twins and all are from Barangay Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. One of them was identified as a certain Yaser.

The police official described Yaser as more or less 22 years old, 5’6” in height, around 55 kilograms, small built, with brown complexion and shoulder-length curly hair.

He said one of the twin brothers is more or less 20 years old, 5’4” in height, around 54 kilograms, small built, with brown complexion and short straight hair. The other twin is more or less 20 years old, 5’6” in height, around 60 kilograms, with brown complexion and short curly hair.

He said the fourth suspect is described as more or less 20 years old, 5’5” in height, small built, with white complexion and short straight hair.

Casimiro said the suspects had stayed in a bunkhouse unit of Gafur Pingli in Barangay Taluksangay, this city, prior to the twin bomb explosions.

“This information is under validation by the intelligence section of ZCPO,” he added.

Casimiro further disclosed that one of the four suspects was recognized through the facial composite sketch by a department store sales lady as the one who bought from them the plastic container that was used to conceal the second bomb.

He said the official receipt attached to the plastic bag that was used to wrap the plastic container that contained the second bomb revealed where the plastic container was bought.

He said the sales lady informed them that the suspect bought the plastic containers last November 8 and 9.

Ined is recuperating at the hospital while “Diego” is under rehabilitation.

Hundreds of families displaced, 2 civilians killed, 6 others hurt in Pikit clashes

From MindaNews (Nov 15): Hundreds of families displaced, 2 civilians killed, 6 others hurt in Pikit clashes

Two civilians were killed and three others were wounded in an artillery bombardment early Friday in Barangay Kabasalan here forcing at least 1,000 families to flee their homes.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development in Pikit identified the fatalities as Raihana Akmad,8, and Mamasatanto, 48.

The wounded individuals were identified as Laila Ayob, 13, Kamaruddin Akmad, 12, and Mustapha Akmad, 40.

The evacuees meanwhile fled to different evacuation sites in North Cotabato.

The evacuees called for a stop to indiscriminate firing and the use of artillery saying they were also being hit.

Pinky Labas, a health worker in Kabasalan echoed the plea, saying the shelling had affected the civilians.

At the school in Balibet in Barangay Bulol, MindaNews saw the arrival of evacuees from morning to afternoon on Friday. Some 500 families came and more were expected to arrive in the afternoon.

Sammy Makainas, DSWD-Pikit field officer said that when they went to Kabasalan the residents told them they were also planning to evacuate to Balibet if the situation got worse.

DSWD personnel in Pikit said the residents were apprehensive the conflict would escalate and they might be hit by artillery fire.

MindaNews also witnessed the arrival of armed men at the evacuation site in Bulol. They introduced themselves as members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front National Guard, and said they just wanted to check on the situation of their relatives.

According to the 6th Infantry Division, Army troops and Maguindanao police launched a joint operation against the BIFF along the Pulangi River in Shariff Saydona town, Maguindanao. The area lies near the town’s boundary with Pikit.

The BIFF admitted they lost one of their fighters during the operation. But the group claimed that it was the military’s howitzer that hit Kabasalan.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6ID information chief said it was also possible that “miscalculated” mortar fire from the BIFF hit the community. He said they were investigating the incident and the reported casualties.

Three more civilians were wounded when the BIFF attacked on Friday night a detachment of the military and Civilian Volunteers Organization in Barangay Silik.

The military identified the victims as Rosalyn Sahid, 50; Raul Sahid, 54; and Joseph Pineda, 5.

The rebels also attacked a detachment in Barangay Paidu Pulangi, near Pikit’s border with Shariff Saydona town in Maguindanao.

The BIFF admitted launching the attacks.

Asked if he knew that civilians were hit, BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama said civilians should live far from military camps since they would attack anytime.

Casualties mount in AFP-Sayyaf clash

From the Manila Standard Today (Nov 16): Casualties mount in AFP-Sayyaf clash

At least 15 people were killed in heavy fighting between  the Armed Forces  and al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu over the weekend, the military said.

Close to 100 ground troops with helicopter support engaged some 300 Abu Sayyaf insurgents in Talipao town on Sulu, said Colonel Allan Arrojado, the Army commander in Sulu.

AGAINST ALL ODDS. In this file
photo, government soldiers take
cover during heavy fighting with
Muslim rebels who have laid
siege of Zamboanga City on
Sept. 12, 2003.  AFP
Six soldiers and nine Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed, said Captain Rowena Muyuela, a military spokeswoman in the region.  The military had 26 wounded  while the ASG had three.

“This is a major encounter. We are tracking the Abu Sayyaf’s whereabouts and pursuing them,” Arrojado said, without providing further details.

On Friday, Scout Rangers led by 1st LT. Michael Asistores backed by attack helicopters engaged the ASG in a  five-hour gunfight. The bandits were led by  sub-commanders Radullah Sahiron, Hatib Sawadjaan, Juilie Ekit, and Hairula Asbang.

One of the dead bandits was identified as Beting Jakka, brother in law of Sahiron. The military said Jakka’s death was confirmed by his wife Suraya. Another casualty was named as Allih, whom the military said was a student of the Mindanao State University.

On Nov. 3 in Basilan, local officials led by ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman declared an all-out war on the Abu Sayyaf after the bandits ambushed government troops, killing six soldiers.

Hataman’s declaration was suppored by the mayors of Basilan who wanted to end the violence caused by ASG atrocities.

Malacanang condoled with the families of the six soldiers who died in the Sulu skirmish.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte lauded the soldiers for making the “ultimate sacrifice” and for showing courage and valor. Valte also reassured the families the government will not abandon them.

AFP chief of staff Pio Catapang Jr. also condoled with the families of the fallen soldiers who died “fighting for the country.”

Catapang said he wanted to recognize the bravery of the soldiers and “personally pin the “Gold Cross “ medals on the deserving warriors ” who displayed conspicuous courage in this particular firefight.

Their bravery must be emulated by all soldiers.”

Set up in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, the Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in the Philippines’ history including bombings and mass kidnappings of Christians and foreigners.

The military has intensified pursuit operations against the group after it ransomed off two German hostages in October.

The group claimed it received $5.7 million for the pair. Catapang vowed to investigate.

Labelled as terrorists by the United States and Philippine governments, the Abu Sayyaf recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a series of videos posted on YouTube.

The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding at least 13 other hostages, including five foreigners, according the Philippine military.

Abu Sayyaf ‘high on drugs’ during firefight

From the Manila Times (Nov 15): Abu Sayyaf ‘high on drugs’ during firefight

Government troopers who clashed with members of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the hinterlands of Talipao, Sulu believe that the bandits were high on drugs during the fierce firefight that started on Friday afternoon and lasted well into the night.

The encounter resulted in the death of five soldiers and 10 bandits and injury to 41 others. Among those slain were Abu Sayyaf commanders Hairullah Asbang and Julie Ekit.

Col. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, said Asbang was the brother-in-law of senior Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron.

“Among those who died were notorious leaders Hairullah Asbang and Juli Ekit. We accounted 10 dead and 15 Abu Sayyaf members wounded.

We are confident that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) can gradually decimate the Abu Sayyaf ranks,” he said.

Arrojado added that many of the wounded soldiers belong to the 1st Scout Ranger Regiment who were assigned to block the rebels’ escape routes.

One of the wounded military officers was 1st Lt. Michael Asistores, a member of the Philippine Military Class of 2007 and leader of the 1st Scout Ranger Company who expressed belief that the ASG members could be high on drugs during the firefights.

“The young-looking bandits were very daring and unmindful of our fires. They kept running towards our position despite being hit repeatedly. They were very ferocious and daring,” he said.

Aristores added that they also recovered marijuana cigarettes in the Abu Sayyaf lairs.
“The Abu Sayyaf borrowed their courage from the marijuana leaves that they smoked before the firefight. My men recovered some of the left-over of smoked marijuana in the encounter site. That solved the puzzle about their bravery in combat. They are drug-crazed fighters,” he said.

Aristores said at about noontime on November 14, his troops came close to the Abu Sayyaf positions in their forest lair at the foot of Mount Tunggul and Mount Bunga.

“It was my recon elements led by [platoon leader] Lt. Dante Espiritu who spotted the bandits in a makeshift hut. He radioed me that they will initiate contact as one of the bandits unknowingly approached their hiding positions in order to relieve himself,” the officer narrated.

But Espiritu’s group was forced to engage the bandits earlier than planned after they were spotted.

He said the Scout Rangers started trading fires with the bandits using assault rifles and machineguns.

Unknown to them, all surrounding hills nearby were occupied by at least 300 rebels led by notorious Abu Sayyaf leaders Radulan Sahiron, Jurim Hussein, Hatib Sawadjaan and the group of Asbang and Ekit.

Asistores said Espiritu called for reinforcement minutes into the firefight.

“I could hear Esprite’s [Espiritu’s] voice over the radio amidst the heavy volume of fire from various directions as they were surrounded by the enemies,” Asistores said.
He said he assembled a platoon to help the embattled soldiers.

“The bandits wanted to annihilate the platoon of Espiritu by attempting to surround them, so I positioned my platoon about 50 meters behind the bandits to join the fight,” he continued.

After about two hours of clashes, Asistores said he was hit by shrapnel, but continued fighting along with the other soldiers.

Asistores and his men are now recuperating in a military hospital at the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City. They said they are willing to go back to Sulu and rejoin their unit to fight the Abu Sayyaf.

“I will gladly go back and be with my men in the frontlines. We must crush the Abu Sayyaf and end its kidnapping atrocities,” Asistores said.

AFP Chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr., who condoled with the families of soldiers killed in the fighting, ordered the military on Saturday to immediately send medical teams, mission-essential equipment and additional supplies for the troops.

PNP, Army go after BIFF fugitives

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 15): PNP, Army go after BIFF fugitives

The police and military in North Cotabato and Maguindanao have intensified their enforcement operations against rogue Moro elements wanted for murder, kidnapping and other crimes.

Many of these criminals, according to Col. Dickson Hermoso of the Sixth Infantry Division Public Affairs Unit, are members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who had launched massive attacks and harassments against civilians in Midsayap, North Cotabato two years ago.

These elements, Hermoso said, are facing charges of multiple murder, kidnapping, robbery, carnapping, and drug trafficking.

“We’re running after at least a hundred BIFF rebels who have been wanted for the crimes they committed against the people,” said the military official.

On Friday, the military’s 601st Brigade, together with some operatives of the Philippine National Police (PNP), launched pursuit operations against the criminals believed hiding in towns of Shariff Saydona and Sultan sa Barongis, both in Maguindanao province.

They were armed with warrants of arrests.

Authorities, however, were met with mortars coming from the BIFF, according to Hermoso. The Army, positioned near the marsh, also launched mortar attacks against the enemies, he said.

As a result of the shelling, a group of civilians onboard a motorized banca was hit by a mortar. Two civilians, including an eight-year-old girl, died on the spot while another wounded. Three others survived by jumping into a nearby river.

Killed were Rayhana Akmad, 8, and Kinto Akmad, while wounded was identified as Leila Akmad, 15, all residents of Barangay Lagpan, Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

The victims were on their way to Barangay Kabasalan in Pikit, North Cotabato to seek shelter after their village was bombarded with mortar shelling.

At least 407 families from Datu Piang town have sought refuge in their relatives’ homes and the government’s multi-purpose buildings in Barangays Bulol, Kabasalan, and Macabual in Pikit, North Cotabato.

Ex-rebel now into hog breeding as livelihood

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 15): Ex-rebel now into hog breeding as livelihood

Aside from having been hired as a forest guard under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), a former member of the Cordillera Forum for Peace and Development (CFPD) is now also into hog breeding to support his family’s needs.

CFPD is formerly the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA).

Wilson Balansi is the last to receive remuneration under the memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed in 2011 by the government and the CPLA-Cordillera Bodong Administration, a closure agreement “towards the CPLA’s final disposition of arms and forces and its transformation into a potent socioeconomic unarmed force.”

Balansi, said he will use the money to buy four hogs to start his hog-raising project – which he forsees would give his children a good future.

Balansi belongs to the last batch of former rebels in Abra to receive a financial remuneration this year. Other CFPD members received earlier received payment.

MNLF, MILF agree to establish BCF Bureau

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 15): MNLF, MILF agree to establish BCF Bureau

Under the sustained auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) has continued to move towards unifying the two Moro Fronts.

This developed as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed on Thursday to establish a BCF Bureau in Cotabato City, with a sub-office in Zamboanga City.

Abdul Sahrin, a senior leader of the MNLF, relayed this yesterday to the Manila Bulletin.

He said the two groups agreed to establish the BCF Bureau at the conclusion of the November 12-13 second peace meeting in Manila hosted by the OIC.

The BCF Bureau will further promote unity talks and facilitate the discussion of other issues and concerns that may arise in relation with the convergence of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) of 1996 and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement (CAB).

The Bureau will also be a vehicle whereby the BCF could pursue genuine and lasting peace and economic progress for the Bangsamoro people.

“The MNLF and the MILF signed a Joint Communique which outlines their agreement to continue efforts for the convergence of the two peace tracks or peace agreements,” Sahrin said.

He said Randolph Parcasio, spokesman of the Jeddah Formula that assembles various MNLF factions, and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF signed the Joint Communique.

Palace vows aids to families of soldiers killed in Sulu

From InterAksyon (Nov 15): Palace vows aids to families of soldiers killed in Sulu

Malacanang extended on Saturday its condolences to the families of soldiers killed in a series of encounters in Sulu against the Abu Sayyaf Group.

"Nakikiramay tayo sa kanilang mga pamilya, at nagpapasalamat po tayo sa kanilang pagbibigay ng talagang the ultimate sacrifice para po sa ating bansa," Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview Saturday.

"Saludo po tayo sa katapangan at kagitingan ng ating mga sundalo dahil kung wala ho sila, hindi po tayo makakatulog nang mahimbing sa gabi," she told dzRB Radyo Ng Bayan.

The Palace official also made an assurance that the government will provide assistance to the families of the slain soldiers.

The military said on Friday that soldiers patrolling an area in Sulu encountered a large group of Abu Sayyaf bandits commanded by a high ranking leader.

The soldiers engaged the Abu Sayyaf for around five hours resulting to several casualties from both sides. The military reported that less than 10 Abu Sayyaf members were killed in the the series of encounters with around 30 injured.

The Armed forces said it already sent reinforcements to prevent them from escaping.

President Aquino ordered military operations against the Abu Sayyaf after the released of two German hostages recently.

Running tally, so far: AFP - 11 dead, 27 wounded; ASG - 9 killed, 3 wounded

From InterAksyon (Nov 15): Running tally, so far: AFP - 11 dead, 27 wounded; ASG - 9 killed, 3 wounded

The casualty scorecard from the recent armed encounters between the military and the al Qaeda-linked militant Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have climbed, so far, to a total of 20 dead and 30 wounded after local officials in Basilan declared all-out war against the ASG with military and police support.

On the scorecard, based on official reports from the military since November 2, a total of 11 soldiers have been killed, so far, with 27 others wounded in clashes with ASG, which, in turn, suffered nine killed and three wounded.

After the deadly ambush in Basilan that killed six soldiers, including their company commander 2nd Lt. Jun Corpuz, who was a member of "Siklab Diwa" Class of 2014 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), and the wounding of another soldier, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman declared the all-out assault operation.

The soldiers of Foxtrot Company of the 64th Infantry Battalion were waylaid by more than 20 Abu Sayyaf fighters suspected to be led by Radzmi Jannatul.

Hataman's declaration was supported by mayors in Basilan.

But, even prior to Hataman and the mayors' declaration of all-out war against the ASG, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. had ordered ground troops in Sulu to "produce results" following the release of two German hostages by the ASG amid allegations of a P250-million ransom payoff.

But, local leaders in Sulu, unlike their counterparts in Basilan, did not go as far as declaring a similar "all-out" effort against the ASG which Catapang even had to issue an apology to them because of not coordinating to the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) about the release of the German captives.

But on Friday, troops belonging to the 1st Scout Ranger Company led by 1st Lt. Michael Asistores engaged suspected elements of the ASG in what was described as a "heavy" firefight lasting almost five hours in Talipao, Sulu.

Air support was provided using an MD-520 MG attack helicopter against the estimated 300-man enemy force by three sub-commanders identified as Radullan Sahiron, Hatib Sawadjaan and Julie Ekit.

That clash left five soldiers dead and 26 others wounded, according to Capt. Ma. Rowena Muyuela, public affairs chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom). The ASG, in turn, suffered nine killed and three wounded.

Muyuela, however, decline to divulge the identities of the casualties, as not all of their families have been duly informed.

"However, we've already identified one of the bandits killed, as alias Benhur. We also have the aliases of the wounded bandits, namely, Abun, Sali and Almujahid," Muyuela said.

Muyuela said additional fresh troops were inserted in the combat area to reinforce the pursuit operations against the enemy that splintered into several groups.

Earlier, Joint Task Force Sulu commander Col. Allan Arrojado said that elite forces made contact with the group of Sahiron at around 1:50 p.m.

The military is claiming that the ASG is down to a combined force of 400 remnants from a peak of up to 1,200 in the early 2000s.

Yet, the ASG continues to wreck havoc in Basilan and Sulu, including Zamboanga City, where a police operative from the Explosive and Ordnance Division (EOD) was wounded in an explosion recently.

The police said the perpetrators were followers of Basilan-based ASG sub-leader Furuji Indama.

General Catapang is expected to provide updates on the much publicized thorough investigation that he has promised the families of the slain soldiers and victims of ASG kidnappings.

At present, there are still at least 10 hostages, including three foreigners, remaining in the hands of the ASG in Sulu.

Police source: ASG abducts Frenchman in Sabah

From InterAksyon (Nov 15): Police source: ASG abducts Frenchman in Sabah

The Abu Sayyaf Group is believed to have kidnapped a Frenchman in Sabah, Malaysia and possibly taken the hostage to one of the isles in the Tawi-Tawi islands group, a police intelligence officer said on Saturday.

The Camp Crame-based officer, who has provided reliable information in the past, shared the information on condition that he not be identified. He did not say when the Frenchman, who was on vacation, was seized, and also declined to disclose the hostage's identity.

The source claimed that the kidnappers were apparently emboldened by the reported P250-million ransom paid in exchange for the release of Germans Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen, who were freed in Sulu in October.

At the moment, he said, the victim is being treated as a "guest" but, once the Abu Sayyaf makes contact with French authorities, "that's the time they will issue their demands."

He said Malaysian authorities know of the abduction "and we are in constant touch with them," but have decided not to go public with the information.

The source said the Abu Sayyaf band that seized the Frenchman is "the same group behind the abduction of the two European bird watchers" in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi in February 2012.

The bird watchers -- Leo Vinciguerra of Switzerland and Dutchman Ewold Horns -- are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf with at least eight other hostages in Sulu.

On Friday, clashes broke out in Talipao, Sulu that left five Army Scout Rangers and nine Abu Sayyaf fighters dead.

At least 26 other soldiers and three gunmen were wounded in the fighting.

The Abu Sayyaf and other lawless groups are known to cross the maritime border between the southern Philippines and Malaysia to find victims to kidnap for ransom.

Among the more infamous of these incidents was the kidnapping of more than a dozen tourists from Sabah's Sipadan Island in 2001, many of whom were freed after ransom payoffs in the millions of pesos.

The Abu Sayyaf was also responsible for the abduction of 20 persons from the high-end Dos Palmas resort in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, among them Americans Guillermo Sobero and the missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham, and businessman Reghis Romero II.

Sobero was murdered while Martin Burnham died during a military rescue operation.

Abu Sayyaf leader's brother-in-law, sub-commander among those slain in Sulu clash - military

From InterAksyon (Nov 15): Abu Sayyaf leader's brother-in-law, sub-commander among those slain in Sulu clash - military

(UPDATE - 10:42 a.m.) A brother-in-law of Abu Sayyaf leader Radullon Sahiron and a sub-commander of the extremist group were allegedly among those killed in a clash with Army Scout Rangers in Talipao, Sulu on Friday, the military said.

Joint Task Group Sulu commander Colonel Allan Arrojado identified Sahiron’s in-law as Beting Jakka and the sub-commander as Hairullah Asbang, who the military officer said was killed in a military air strike. The third reported Abu Sayyaf fatality was Hamer Absara.

However, the military acknowledged the identities of the slain extremists were based on reports from intelligence operatives and that none of the remains of the nine Abu Sayyaf fighters reportedly slain in the clash have been recovered.

The fighting also claimed the lives of five soldiers, while leaving 26 other troops and three Abu Sayyaf fighters wounded.

"As per official record that we have here, there were five soldiers killed and 26 others wounded. On the (Abu Sayyaf) side, they suffered nine killed and three wounded," Captain Ma. Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, told in a phone interview.

She did not, however, identify the military casualties as their families have not yet been informed.

She named the three wounded Abu Sayyaf fighters only as Abun, Sali and Almujahid.
Major Edilberto Aramponi, JTG Sulu civil-military operations officer, said the five-hour battle between 150 Scout Rangers against twice the number of Abu Sayyaf gunmen happened in two stages, breaking out in Barangay Bud Bunga at 1:50 p.m. and again at 4:30 p.m.

The military had to call in strikes by attack helicopters to support the ground troops.

"There were other units present in the operation like the 35th Infantry Battalion and the Marines but it was the Scout Rangers who bore the brunt of the contact," Aramponi said.

He added that all the military fatalities were Rangers.

Muyuela said more fresh troops had been inserted in the combat area to conduct pursuit operations against the gunmen, who had splintered into several groups.

She said that the clash actually involved three Abu Sayyaf bands, that led by Sahiron and those of Hatib Sawadjaan and Julie Ekit.

Junior officer holds line in Sulu clash despite wound, appalling odds

From InterAksyon (Nov 16): Junior officer holds line in Sulu clash despite wound, appalling odds

Despite being wounded the third time in his seven-year military career, 1st Lt. Michael "Mike" Asistores, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 2007, did not flinch even one bit and continued fighting during the desperate clash with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in Talipao, Sulu Friday.

His third battle wound took place two hours in desperate fight with the bandits.

Asistores was first wounded in an encounter with New People's Army rebels in Lingig, Surigao Del Sur in 2008.

He got his second combat wound in a three-hour encounter with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Al-Barka, Basilan in 2011.

Asistores, 30, said that they started engaging the ASG brigands around 2 p.m. As of this posting, the soldier is a combat leader of the 1st Scout Ranger Company.

He said that at about noontime on Friday, his soldiers crawled stealthily and came as close as 20 meters from the enemy positions in their forest lair at the foot of Mount Tunggul and Bud Bunga, which is located at the boundary of Talipao and Patikul.

"It was my recon elements, led by Lt. Dante "Esprite" Espiritu, who spotted the bandits in a makeshift hut. He radioed to me that they will initiate contact as one of the bandits unknowingly approached their hiding positions in order to relieve himself," Asistores recounted.

He also said that Espiritu could not wait for him and his group to link up as the bandits would surely detect them infiltrating.

At this point, Espiritu and his men opened fire, not knowing that around 300 ASG brigands were all holding positions in the terrain above them.

The bandits were led by ASG leader Radulan Sahiron a.k.a "Commander Putol", Hairullah Asbang, Jurim Hussein, Hatib Sawadjaan and Juli Ekit.

Minutes later, Espiritu was forced to call for reinforcements as two of his men were downed by ASG fire.

"I could hear Esprite's voice over the radio amidst the heavy volumes of fire from various directions. They were almost surrounded by the enemy," Asistores said.

At this time, he added that he and his men were only about a hundred meters in their designated rally point.

Having experienced the "pintakasi" (attack from all directions) tactics used by the ASG in Basilan, Asistores promptly assembled a platoon to help his heavily engaged comrades.

While approaching the encounter site about 20 minutes later, Asistores and his men spotted the bandits who attempted to outflank the position of Espiritu. They were about 100 meters apart.

"The bandits wanted to annihilate the platoon of 'Esprite' by attempting to surround them, so I positioned my platoon about 50 meters behind of the bandits to join the fight," he said.

Asistores said that he was surprised upon seeing the bandits assaulting his position despite being raked with gun fire.

"The young-looking bandits were very daring and unmindful of our fires. They kept running towards our position despite being hit repeatedly. They were very ferocious and daring," he said.

Finding himself being slowly overwhelmed by the enemy, Asistores called for more support from his battalion commander, Lt Col Eugene Boquio.

He also dispatched soldiers to collect the casualties from Espiritu's.

Seeing the dead and wounded soldiers around him, Asistores pressed the fight by rallying the remaining soldiers to hold their line to provide support as the casualties are being evacuated.

After two hours of exchanging gunfire with the bandits, Asistores was hit by a shrapnel but he maintained his composure to inspire his men.

"One of my team leaders, Sgt. Kitong, came to my side and helped me control our remaining troops. He was very concerned when he saw that I was already bloodied," said Asistores.

He also said that he was lucky to have brave NCO (non commissioned officer) leaders in his company.

"I credit my NCOs for keeping the integrity of my unit. Aside from Sgt Kitong, my platoon sergeant, SSgt Tumala, was among those who exhibited conspicuous courage by running from one team's position to another to provide leadership amidst the volley of fires," he said.

Kitong was among the 28 soldiers who were wounded during the 5-hour long firefight.

He sustained a gunshot wound on his abdomen when he was trying to carry one of the critically-wounded team member.

Kitong was first wounded as a private of the 10th Scout Ranger Company when he figured in a six-hour firefight against the Abu Sayyaf in Balatanay, Basilan in October 2001.

He was awarded his first Gold Cross Medal, the third highest combat medal for grabbing an M60 machinegun from the Abu Sayyaf in that encounter.

Meanwhile, Asistores said that the ASG "borrowed" their courage from the marijuana leaves that they smoked before the firefight. His men recovered some of the left-over of smoked marijuana in the encounter site.

"That solved the puzzle about their bravery in combat. They are drug-crazed fighters," he said.

Asistores said that he considers all five men who paid the ultimate sacrifice as his personal heroes.

"They have shown us that the true spirit of the Scout Rangers. Walang iwanan. (No one is left behind)They died fighting for the country with their combat boots on their feet," Asistores said.

He also said that he and his men who are now recuperating in the military hospital in Zamboanga, are all willing to come back to Sulu and rejoin their beloved unit.

"I will gladly go back and be with my men in the frontlines. We must crush the Abu Sayyaf and end its kidnapping business," Aristores said.

Col. Allan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, is confident that the military can gradually decimate the Abu Sayyaf ranks.

He also said that the Abu Sayyaf has nowhere to hide if the civilians will cooperate with the military in identifying them and pinpointing their jungle hideouts.

Latest information released by the military placed the death toll at 15, with five from the government side and 10 for the ASG with 28 soldiers and at least 30 from the bandits wounded.