Saturday, January 3, 2015

BIFF denies hand in M’lang town holiday bombing

From the pro-CPP Davao Today (Jan 3): BIFF denies hand in M’lang town holiday bombing

The breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters denied Thursday it was responsible for the bomb explosion in the public market in M’lang town on New Year’s Eve.

The explosion claimed the lives of two persons, and injured 36 others.

“We had no hand in the M’lang bombing. We only learned it when we heard it on radio reports,” said Abu Misry Mama, speaking for the outlawed BIFF, in a phone interview with DavaoToday on Thursday.

The police pointed at the BIFF for the deadly attack, suspecting that it was to retaliate for the arrest of suspected BIFF member Abdulazis Glang in M’lang town last December 30.

“The arrested suspect is a key BIFF leader whose arrest was considered a big blow to the separatist group,” said Chief Supt. Lester Camba, chief of the regional police told reporters.

But Mama said the BIFF “don’t attack civilians”, and blamed at the government military for crafting the improvised explosive device and exploded it at the crowded public market to pin the blame on the BIFF.

“It’s the handiwork of the military,” he said.

Maj. Joan Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, on Thursday said that “we don’t have any information yet as to who is really behind the bombing incident.”

Petinglay quoted the M’lang Municipal administrator as saying that the bombing already claimed two victims. One of them was identified as Zenaida Suelo, 49, a resident of Barangay Malayan in M’lang. She was pronounced dead on Friday at the Cotabato Provincial Hospital.

Two of the injured victims, Candida Pante and Marilyn Salo, were in critical condition and were confined at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City and the Cotabato Provincial Hospital, Petinglay said.

Local officials condemned the incident as senseless and have extended assistance to all the victims.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza, posted a message in her Facebook page that said “we have witnessed once again acts of barbarism aimed at disrupting our peace and order initiatives.”

“I am asking the officials of M’lang LGU [local government unit] to strengthen their resolve in protecting our people from further barbarism. This act has no place in a civilized society. I reiterate our firm stand against any form of violence on our people,” she added.

Mayor Joselito Piñol has maintained that the December 31 bombing was the handiwork of the BIFF and said investigation showed that the suspects were believed to be its new recruits.

“The five new BIFF recruits are also believed to be members of the extortion group Al Khobar which earlier sent extortion letters to M’lang businessmen,” said Piñol.

He added “the bombers are also believed to be products of a bomb-making school handled by Indonesian bomb makers who used to operate under the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).”

Mindanao’s guerrilla warfare

From the pro-CPP Davao Today (Jan 3): Mindanao’s guerrilla warfare

On the eve of the anniversary of the New People’s Army (NPA) March last year, then Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista claimed that the guerrillas would become irrelevant following the arrest of its alleged leaders Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria.

The forecast remains to be seen as NPA tactical offensives against foreign-owned businesses and battling it out with increasing AFP deployment continue to make headlines, especially in Mindanao.

In separate areas, and in the beginning and ending of last year, the NPAs raided two packing plants of the Japanese-owned Sumitomo Fruits in Barobo, Valencia, Bukidnon, and in New Corella town, Davao del Norte. In January, the NPA burned P11-million worth of equipment, while in December, the NPAs disarmed company guards and captured as Prisoners of War two soldiers belonging to the 60th Infantry Battalion.

Both incidents were considered “punitive actions” by the NPA for the “company’s expansion and disruption of livelihood for local residents”, as well as the firm’s “exploitative” treatment of its farm and plant workers.

The NPA on April 7 and 10 also attacked two mining foreign firms in Compostela Valley– the American-owned St. Augustine Gold and Copper Limited  in Pantukan town and the Malaysian-owned Apex Mining Corporation in Maco town.

For allegedly failing to rehabilitate Typhoon Pablo victims and for rapidly expanding its “destructive” largescale mining operations, the firms’ multi-million worth of equipment including trucks, mixers, loaders pick-up vehicles, and portable drills were destroyed by the NPAs.

Armed mayors targeted

The NPAs raided the house of Carmen mayor Monching Calo and confiscated five of his firearms. The mayor was not present during the raid.

They also raided the house of Mayor Jimmy Joyce of Jose Abad Santos town in Davao Occidental and seized several firearms.

The NPAs were also responsible last July for the killing of Impasug-ong, Bukidnon Mayor Mario Okinlay to whom they accused as being a “land grabber” and ruled as a “local tyrant” against indigenous Higanon farmers.

Mayor John Roby Otero of Sta. Josefa, Agusan del Sur was also the subject of an NPA raid last August.

Attacks, ambushes

The NPAs attacked Matanao Municipal police headquarters, killing 10 police and military troops and confiscating several firearms.

Three days after the killing of the local mayor, six government troops were killed and six others were wounded in an ambush of soldiers of the 84th Infantry Battalion in Baracatan, Toril Davao City.

In a statement, Isabel Fermiza, spokesperson of the Mt. Apo Subregional Command of the NPA, said the NPA’s offensives “disproved hallucinations of AFP’s 10th Infantry Division commanding-general Maj. Gen. Ariel Bernardo” that the NPA forces are “thinning out, losing ground, and limited to merely seven towns in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley provinces.”

She said the ambush also “refuted the AFP claim” that Toril and the nearby town of Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur is “NPA free” because of the AFP’s Peace and Development Outreach Program (PDOP) and that the “claims of accomplishment are merely to justify the huge and heavily purloined AFP budget and the funds funneled from mining and capitalists that finance the ongoing massive military operations in Southern Mindanao.”

Several firefights also broke-out involving NPA and AFP units which have both set-up their own checkpoints and have standby forces in the Agusan del Sur towns of Prosperidad and Bayugan and Agusan del Norte towns of Kitcharao and Alegria.     

Prisoners of War

Aside from launching offensive attacks, the NPAs have also taken a number of prisoners-of-war (POWs) in the region.

On April 4, the NPA Comval-North Davao South Agusan Sub-regional Command has captured Sgt. Jeric Curay of the Army’s 72nd Infantry Battalion in a checkpoint in New Bataan, Compostela Valley. Curay was released 19 days later amid repeated requests from the soldier’s wife, religious groups and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

One month after, the same NPA command captured Corporal Rogelio Rosales of the 60th Infantry Battalion Bravo Company while arranging transportation for illegal logs in Barangay Florida, Kapalong town.  He was released 16 days later.

Four Manila-based aerial surveyors were also held by the New People’s Army for conducting drone surveillance in guerrilla base Maco, Compostela Valley seemingly for mining purposes in May last year.

The surveyors and one driver were released to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte but were warned by the NPA to refrain from conducting intelligence surveillance in guerrilla base areas.

On August 22, two military soldiers – Pfc. Marnel Tagalugon Cinches and Pfc. Jerrel Hapay Yorong of the 8th Infantry Battalion were also held captive by the NPAs in Bukidnon. After four months, the two soldiers were released during the 46th anniversary celebration of the CPP.

The latest captive of the NPA is the jail warden of Compostela Valley provincial jail who heads the Compostela Valley Provincial Rehabilitation Center in Tagum City. The NPA arrested Warden Jose Mervin Coquilla for his alleged involvement with illegal drugs trade, corruption, and negligence. 


The NPAs also made headlines when it made several apologies and promised appropriate indemnification after some of its attacks hurt civilians.

In March, it apologized for blasting its command detonated explosive against a convoy of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the Red Cross in Bansalan, Davao del Sur. Five emergency responders were hurt and were later given indemnification by the NPA.

While grieving for losing 14 of its combatants following its simultaneous attacks against three private armies and warlords in Agusan del Sur last July, the NDF expressed regret over the lone civilian casualty of the incident.

The NPAs apologized when they ambushed an ambulance carrying soldiers and paramilitary troops last November 30, killing four civilians and wounding two others in Rosario, Agusan del Sur. They were targetting a village chairman notorious for protecting illegal logging and using paramilitary forces for landgrabbing.

False arrests? 

On March 11, nine men were arrested in Matanao, Davao del Sur after their alleged participation of the NPA raid in the Davao del Sur Police Station.

Saying that the nine were ordinary farmers, not NPA combatants, wives of the arrested farmers– Renante Urot, Joey Alberca, Rufoboy Gama, Laudemer Gama, Noel Morangit, Roger Natonton, Julio Sales, John Rey Pabillo and Christopher Sales—called for their immediate release.

Another civilian, a 16-year old minor was presented to media as a “child soldier, informer and collector” for the New People’s Army by the military.

The Philippine Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion Commanding Officer Nilo Vinluan declared in news reports that Balong wandered off from the NPA area and “surrendered” to a police station in Barangay Mateo, Kidapawan City.

A farmer and his son were also  mistaken as NPA rebels and were killed by soldiers belonging to the 66th IB last October 12 in Tubod, Manurigao, New Bataan.
Rolando Dagansan, 43, and his son Juda, 15 were on their way home to Taytayan, Barangay Andap, New Bataan from their farm located in Sitio Cabetian, Manurigao when they encountered the troops.

In Paquibato District, Davao City a village chief condemns the military’s alleged use of surrenderee certificates that would portray civilians as NPA surrenderees.

Celso Bughao, the village chief of Barangay Lumiad, Paquibato District, Davao City appeared before the regular session of the City Council on March 25  saying that the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army was responsible in distributing the documents.

Gaining ground

On September 25, a month after he assumed his post as the commander of the 10th Infantry Division, Major General Eduardo M. Año announced that he would concentrate his division to crushing the communist movement in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley.

Año who succeeded Major General Ariel Bernardo last July 25, said that he will continue with the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan campaign in the communities of his area of responsibility.

But during their 46th founding anniversary in December, NDF Mindanao spokesman Ka Oris said that NPA is “expanding and gaining strength.”

He said the NPA in Mindanao has “maintained 46 guerrilla fronts amidst 55 Infantry (Philippine Army) battalions waging anti-guerrilla warfare” against them.

“Not one front was destroyed while the NPA launched 300 tactical offensive which inflicted one battalion of casualties of regular and paramilitary troops of the AFP this year,” he said.

The CPP has recently celebrated its 46th founding anniversary in Mindanao by hosting a peace consultation with various sectors attended by tens of thousands somewhere in Surigao del Sur.


As NPA claims to have sustained its guerrilla warfare,  the Philippine government declared a month-long ceasefire. For its part, the CPP declared 10 separate days of ceasefire.

NDF’s Ka Oris said that the government’s declaration of ceasefire was “ineffective” saying that the military has not left their operations in civilian communities.

Ka Simon Santiago, Political Director of the NPA Southern Mindanao Region command issued a similar statement condemning the AFP’s ceasefire violations.

Santiago said the continued operation of “Special Operations Team or peace and development teams violates and makes a mockery” of the government’s own ceasefire.

Their military’s occupation of civilian areas, according to Santiago, “is highly provocative and increases the risk of armed engagements with the Red fighters amid civilian-populated areas.”

The military justified their presence saying that their peace and development program “are community works promoting Bayanihan spirit through various activities in the community in order to facilitate development in the barangays and per SOMO guidelines Bayanihan Team Activities and other civic action program are not included in the prohibition.”

Government peace panel also scored the NPA for killing soldiers and continuing its operations during the duration of the ceasefire.

UBJP political party will not be a ‘trapo’—MILF

From the pro-CPP Davao Today (Jan 3): UBJP political party will not be a ‘trapo’—MILF

A spokesperson of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), the newly-formed political party of Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said that UBJP will not be a traditional political party.

In a phone interview Friday, Sammy Al-Mansour, secretary general of United Bangsamoro Justice Party, told DavaoToday that MILF’s political party “adheres to its distinct brand of ideology uniquely for the Bangsamoro people.”

“Our party has its own ideology and platforms for the Bangsamoro people and it has the support from the grassroots members,” said Al-Mansour, adding that “UBJP will engage in various activities as a social movement.”

He enumerated five UBJP political platforms that makes it distinct from other political parties: it has to be ran and managed by the Bangsamoro for the Bangsamoro people; it has to be pro-people and inclusive; it has its own standards of discipline; it should have human resources above all forms of assets; and  it has to be service-oriented.

Al-Monsour said the party platform is “principled politics for the Bangsamoro people and it will be guided by its Constitution and by-laws.”

“If this will be materialized, the people will be able to differentiate the UBJP from other political parties in the country,” he quipped.

“All members will have to undergo a continuous political training to make them capable in dealing with the party’s affairs and governance so that they will prepare themselves as future leaders of the Bangsamoro,” stressed Al-Mansour.

The United Bangsamoro Justice Party held its first general assembly last December 23-25, 2014 at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, a known territory of the MILF.

According to Al-Mansour, the said gathering is conducted as compliance to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) order but aside from compliance to the order, he claimed, that it also seeks to gather volunteers for the party.

An article posted at MILF’s website said the assembly had enlisted more than 100,000 volunteers and supporters coming from various areas in Mindanao.

In his speech, UBJP Vice President for Southern Mindanao Mohagher Iqbal, explained that “now, we have multi-sector companions whom we do not know who are our friends and who are our foes. Politics in the Philippine is divisive and we are humanizing it.”

“Our party has ideology which is unity for the Bangsamoro and for everybody. Our political party is service oriented, not self-interest,” Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator, said.

Al-Mansour said the “MILF struggle has shifted from armed to parliamentary struggle.”

The UBJP’s gathering was attended by public officials, representatives from sectoral groups, academe and civic leaders.

Ambush may put NPA in bad light

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Jan 2): Ambush may put NPA in bad light

THE death of two soldiers and a paramilitary by Maoist guerrillas in an ambush in Mabini, Compostela Valley on Monday, December 29, amid the month-long ceasefire declared by the government may put the New People’s Army (NPA) in a bad light, a military official said Friday.

Captain Patrick Martinez, acting spokesman of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID), said the NPA gained nothing by killing government troopers as the temporary cessation of hostilities is still in effect.

“Wala silang nakamit dun (They did not attain anything) by killing those soldiers, in fact, nagkaroon pa sila ng pangit na imahe sa ating mga kababayan (they just painted a bad image of themselves in the eyes of the people),” Martinez said.

Slain were First Lieutenant Ronald Bautista, Private First Class Albert Amor and Renel Baluca, a member of the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu).

In a news report, Lieutenant Vergel Lacambra, 10th Infantry Division spokesman, said the soldiers, on board a motorcycle, were waylaid by at least eight armed insurgents.

The ambush occurred 11 days after the government declared a ceasefire from December 18, 2014 to January 19, 2015.

NPA ceasefire

For their part, the NPA had declared its parallel ceasefire only on December 24-26, December 31-January 1, and on January 15-19, 2015 in time for the visit of Pope Francis to the country.

Bautista, who hailed from Nabanga, Bohol, was a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class of 2011. Both his parents are farmers.

Before he joined the PMA, Martinez said Bautista helped her mother sell rice cakes. His parents were excited when he told them he would be joining the family reunion in Bohol.

Bautista’s father was in the rice field when the news of what happened to his son reached him.

“Nadurog ‘yung damdamin niya. Imbes ang buhay siyang inuwi, eh nasa kabaong na siyang inuwi (His father felt crushed. Instead of seeing his son alive, he was brought home in a coffin),” Martinez added.

The three were on their New Year break when the rebels fired at them. They came from a hinterland village in Anitapan, Compostela Valley where their platoon was deployed for community outreach activities during the Yuletide season, Martinez added.

The killed soldiers were part of the military’s community organizing for peace and development (COPD) assigned in said province.

“Kalunos-lunos ang sinapit ng ating mga sundalo (What happened to our soldiers was deplorable). They were on their way to their [respective places]. Naka-sibilyan, walang kalaban-laban, eh pinagpapatay ng NPA, sa kabila ng kanilang pag-declare ng sincerity sa pagbukas nila sa usaping peace talk (They were on civilian mode and unarmed, but they were killed by the NPA, despite the latter’s declaration of sincerity in renewal of peace talks),” Martinez said.

He said the soldiers are similar to the NPAs who also come from ordinary families.
What sets them apart from each other, he added, is that the soldiers opted to be part of the solution, while the NPA preferred killing.

Martinez said the message of Major General Oscar Lactao, 4ID commander, to the NPAs is for them to realize that the guerrillas are just being used by their leaders to kill fellow Filipinos.

“Ginagamit lang sila na pumatay ng katulad nilang ordinaryong tao, pwede nilang kababayan o kamag-anak (They were just being utilized to kill simple folk, it could be their neighbor or even relatives),” he added.

Gov’t prosecutors to fight new bid to dismiss kidnap raps vs 2 military officers

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 3): Gov’t prosecutors to fight new bid to dismiss kidnap raps vs 2 military officers
The government panel prosecuting former Major General Jovito Palparan and other military officers for the 2006 disappearance of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño are ready to fight yet another move to dismiss the case, again from two of the accused who surrendered three years ago.

Assistant Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, head of the prosecution team, has said the panel would oppose a motion that accused Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio filed just before the holiday break to quash the charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention against them.

The two accused, who surrendered in December 2011 and pleaded not guilty to the crime, asked the Malolos Regional Trial Court in December to dismiss the charges, questioning the jurisdiction of a civilian court over them.

“They filed a motion to quash on the grounds that they cannot be covered by a civilian court because they are soldiers, and that they should instead face court martial,” said Navera when reached by phone.

“But if they are arguing that the court has no jurisdiction, then they are implying that what happened was part of their job. Kidnapping is not part of the performance of their duties as soldiers,” he said, asserting that the Department of Justice has jurisdiction over all criminal cases.

The motion was among several that the accused had separately filed to have the case dismissed, and the prosecution panel has already lost count. The Bulacan court had many times ruled against such pleas.

“We don’t know anymore how to count them,” Navera said.

He said Anotado and Osorio earlier filed the same motion on different grounds, but lost. Palparan, who was arrested in August after nearly three years in hiding, also lost in earlier moves to have the charges against him dismissed.

The first motion even reached the Court of Appeals, said Navera, but the appellate court also upheld the lower court’s ruling.

“The period to file such a motion has already lapsed. A motion to quash can only be filed before the accused are arraigned,” said the prosecutor.

Osorio and Anotado were arraigned in 2012, while Palparan was arraigned last year.

Move to delete provisions in BBL could derail decommissioning process

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 3): Move to delete provisions in BBL could derail decommissioning process

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MIF) official yesterday warned that unless the government stops moves to delete 11 provisions from the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Moro front will not be too keen on turning over the first batch of high-powered firearms to start the decommissioning process of their combatants.

Robert Maulana Marohombsar Alonto, a member of the MILF peace panel and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that crafted the BBL, exposed the alleged move in his social media (Facebook) posting   to caution other well-meaning members of the Senate and the House about it.

Alonto named the proponent only as “an important member of Congress who happens to sit in the Lower House Ad Hoc Committee” tackling the BBL.

He said the unnamed lawmaker was reported in the media as saying that “about 11 provisions in the BBL now being reviewed by Congress have to be stricken out for being ‘unconstitutional.’”

Alonto said the move was giving credence to their apprehension that Malacañang “harmonized the BBL drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) with the Constitution.”

“In public hearings conducted by Congress, we invariably expressed the apprehension that the BBL might come out of the process will no longer reflect the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed by the MILF and the GPH after 17 years of political negotiations and four decades of armed conflict,” he said.

He said the move would “totally ignore – either out of sheer intransigence or stupidity – the history of the Bangsamoro question and the political negotiations that produced the FAB and its spawn, the BBL.”

Officials of the government and MILF peace panels had earlier announced that the Moro front was set to stage this month a symbolic turnover the first batch of high-powered firearms to the government to start the decommissioning process of the group’s combatants.

But Alonto hinted that unless the deletion move was reconsidered, “there will also be no decommissioning – symbolic or otherwise.”

He charged that the unnamed proponent and other Congress members opposed to the BBL tend to “make matters worse by reneging on (government) political commitments in the FAB and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”

Alonto did not mention the 11 provisions deemed by the proponent as “unconstitutional.”

An independent decommissioning body, led by the Turkish Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), will convene this month to roll out the decommissioning of weapons of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants.

The independent body, which will be composed of foreign experts from Brunei and Norway and four locals, has already fine-tuned the process of a gradual phase manner of decommissioning. However, the process does not necessarily follow a certain framework of an international body on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).

Lawyer Al Jukifli, a member of the GPH peace panel, said a symbolic turn-over will happen anytime to start the decommissioning process. He said the decommissioning process will apply to the peculiarities of the local situation.

Moro disarmament body set to convene

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 4): Moro disarmament body set to convene

THE Independent Decommissioning Body that will oversee the phased demilitarization of weapons of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will convene this month to start the process of normalization ahead of the congressional approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The IDB, which was formed in talks between the government and MILF in Kuala Lumpur last October, will include Ambassador Haydar Berk from Turkey, Jan Erik Wilhemsen from Norway, Maj. Muhammad Aiman Syazwi Haji Abdul Rahim from Brunei and four locals.

Lawyer Al Jukifli, a member of the GPH peace panel, said a ceremonial turn-over of 75 weapons will be held at the MILF camp in Barangay Simuay in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, as announced by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal last year.

But Julkifli stressed that the decommissioning process should not be considered a surrender of firearms because it will have to apply to the peculiarities of particular localities.

The MILF had earlier announced that the ceremonial turnover was only meant to be a “a sign of good faith” and the next decommissioning of 30 percent of MILF firearms will take place by April 2015 or as soon as the Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed into law.

BIFF raid 2 outposts

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 4): BIFF raid 2 outposts

A GOVERNMENT trooper was killed while three others were wounded after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters launched simultaneous attacks on two military detachments in Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao before dawn Saturday.

Army Capt Joan Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Division, said the BIFF rebels attacked outposts of the 33rd Infantry Battalion at General Salipada Pendatun town in Maguindanao and President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat around 1 a.m.

Petinglay said government troops had to fight the rebels for an hour, resulting in the casualties in Maguindanao, before they withdrew from the area. The identities of the four were withheld pending notifications of their next-of-kin.

She added that the casualties were immediately evacuated by responding troops from the 62nd  Division Reconnaissance Company and brought to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Petinglay surmised the attack may have been meant to derail the ongoing peace process between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government.

The incident manifest that the terrorist group who called themselves BIFF will continually be a potent spoiler to peace in Central Mindanao,” said 6th ID commander Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan.

Pangilinan said the 6th ID, in coordination with the PNP, “will continue to proactively work together in order to preempt plans of the rebel group which may cause disorder  to the peaceful and developing communities of the region.”

Pangilinan also called on the communities “to be vigilant  ad to help look after the whereabouts of the terror group in order to limit their movements and actions.”

The attacks came barely a week after the BIFF was blamed for the twin blast in Mlang, North Cotabato that left 6 people dead.

The first incident killed two people when an improvised explosive device went off inside a billiard hall near a carnival last Nov. 23 while the second bomb incident took place at the busy public market in Mlang town killing four people and injuring 36 others.

North Cotabato officials have offered a bounty of P200,000 for information leading to the arrest of the suspects in the New Year’s Eve bombing that killed four people and injured 33 others in the M’lang public market.

Mayor Joselito Piñol said the town is offering a reward of P100,000 for witnesses to help the authorities identify suspects even as the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front denied involvement in the bombing.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza also offered an additional P100,000 to the cash reward with the pledge that all information will be treated as confidential to protect the identity of the informant.

Palace: DND ready to address COA questions on emergency funds

From GMA News (Jan 3): Palace: DND ready to address COA questions on emergency funds

The Department of National Defense will be ready to address observations raised by the Commission on Audit regarding its P352.5 million in emergency funds.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the DND is ready to give its "appropriate response" to the audit observation raised by the COA.

"Handa silang sumagot at handa sila magbigay ng appropriate response sa audit observation na ni-raise ng COA. Confident tayo the DND will be able to address the observations raised by COA," she said on government-run dzRB radio.

A report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer said the COA report indicated the military may have misused a big part of P352.5 million in emergency funding.

The report said COA findings indicated the military may have spent money meant to help victims of natural disasters for its fuel consumption and repairs of its offices.

Citing the COA findings, the report said P843.5 million in Quick Response Fund (QRF) of the DND remained unliquidated since 2012.

But it also quoted the DND as saying the emergency fund was “utilized for the purpose it was released to DND.”

DND strongly denies misuse of emergency funds

From Ang Malaya (Jan 3): DND strongly denies misuse of emergency funds

Department of National Defense answers Commission on Audit’s findings that big part of its 2013 P352.5 million Quick Reaction Funds were not properly used. COA said that DND used the fund for “acquisition of equipment, petroleum, oil and lubricants, training, construction/repairs and improvement which were not all consistent with the purposes of QRF.”

“This DND QRF varies from the other National Government Agency QRFs which, for example, in the case of the DSWD QRF are used for relief goods and social services; and, likewise, the DPWH QRF which is used to clear and repair roads and bridges to make them passable at the soonest instance,” DND spokesperson Peter Paul Galvez said.

“The provision of fuel for all aircraft, ships, trucks and other equipment that were placed on stand-by and which were employed for this purpose” is critical to the mobilization so that the DND-AFP can respond, he added. “In fact, during ‘Yolanda’ in November 2013, fuel allocated as war reserves were utilized as we are committed not to stop until the job is done; and this same fuel needs to be replenished.”

Galvez adds that it is important to enhance capacities and capabilities of first responders in disasters.

DND clarifies QRF issue

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3): DND clarifies QRF issue

The Department of National Defense (DND) on Saturday strongly denied reports claiming that it has misused its "Quick Reaction Funds" (QRF).

"We reiterate that the DND released and used its QRF in its mission to include capacitating stakeholders for disaster preparedness/mitigation and operations during the disaster itself. This is so that losses and damages may be limited and that conditions may be quickly normalized," DND spokesperson Dr.Peter Paul Galvez said.

As defined under the Government Appropriations Act, the QRF is a built-in budgetary allocation that represents pre-disaster or standby funds for agencies in order to immediately assist areas stricken by catastrophes and crises.

Galvez said that the QRF allocated for the DND, as mandated, is used for mobilization and preparedness activities.

The Commission on Audit earlier claimed that a huge percentage of the DND QRF, amounting to Php 352.5 million, was misused in paying for the military's fuel consumption and repairs of its offices rather that utilizing the money to help the victims of natural and man-made disasters.

"This DND QRF varies from the other National Government Agency QRFs which, for example, in the case of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) QRF are used for relief goods and social services; and, likewise, the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) QRF which is used to clear and repair roads and bridges to make them passable at the soonest instance," he said.

"Hence, critical to the mobilization so that the DND-AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) can respond is the provision of fuel for all aircraft, ships, trucks and other equipment that were placed on stand-by and which were employed for this purpose," he said.

The DND spokesperson also said that the transport to and from the calamity-affected areas was a primordial element of any emergency response activity.

He also said that it was critical that relief goods, rescuers/responders, ancillary workers that deliver social services, repair materials, tents and communication equipment and so forth need to be transported to disaster-affected areas immediately “to overcome human sufferings.”

"In fact, during 'Yolanda' in November 2013, fuel allocated as war reserves were utilized as we are committed not to stop until the job is done; and this same fuel needs to be replenished," Galvez pointed out.

Moreover, pre-disaster activities involve the organization, training, and maintenance of response units (including the AFP) for actual disaster response operations hence; funds were programmed and released for these purposes.

Galvez also said that it was essential that capacities and capabilities were enhanced, particularly for the AFP, who are among the first responders in disaster response operations, and the Office of Civil Defense, who administers the comprehensive national civil defense and disaster risk and reduction management program.

Decommissioning body to inventory MILF weapons this month

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3): Decommissioning body to inventory MILF weapons this month

An independent decommissioning body led by the Turkish Ambassador to the intergovernmental military alliance North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will convene this month to roll out the decommissioning of weapons of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants.

The independent body, which is a mix membership of foreign experts from Brunei and Norway and four locals, has already fine-tuned the process of a gradual phase manner of decommissioning. However, the process does not necessarily follow a certain framework of an international body on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).

Lawyer Al Jukifli, a member of the GPH peace panel, said a symbolic turn-over will happen anytime to start the decommissioning process. He said the decommissioning process will apply to the peculiarities of the local situation.

Decommissioning of weapons of the MILF combatants is part of the normalization process to bring conflict affected areas into a state of normalcy in terms of human security and economic stability while the legislative mill for the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law continues.

Julkifli said the first task of the independent body will be to conduct an inventory and validation in order to determine the types and number of weapons of the MILF. He disclosed that the surrender of weapons would by phase and percentages. The inventory will also start this month.

Meantime, Julkifli said other normalization process or other confidence building measures are underway such as the infusion of livelihood and turning the six previously identified MILF camps into productive civilian communities.

Julkifli disclosed that task forces have been formed towards this development with the Department of Agriculture (DA) conducting surveys for the livelihood and production programs and projects.

On the other hand, the legal process for the amnesty of MILF members and supporters is also rolling out. A group will be conducting a study towards this step. Julkifli said the Transitional Justice is also working on a development study.

Jukifli likewise disclosed that a study for the disbandment of armed groups and loose firearms.

“So all these activities will be rolled out as parallel efforts while the legislative process continues,” Julkifli said.

Army hunt down BIFF in Sultan Kudarat-Maguindanao borders after harassment

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3): Army hunt down BIFF in Sultan Kudarat-Maguindanao borders after harassment

Government forces are hunting down a band of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who attacked an Army base in the borders of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces at 1 a.m. Saturday.

The attack left one soldier killed, three others wounded, according to Capt. Joanne Petinglay, speaking for the 6th Infantry “Kampilan” Division based in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

Petinglay said members of the BIFF surrounded the detachments of the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion in Barangay Kulasi in Gen. S.K. Pendatun town in Maguindanao and in Barangay Katiku in Sultan Kudarat’s President Quirino then opened fire with assault rifles.

The bandits, which Petinglay described as “potent spoilers of peace,” also fired rifle grenades at surprised soldiers who immediately traded shots with the attackers for about 30 minutes.

Although outnumbered, the soldiers returned fire, preventing the bandits from crossing through the perimeter fences until they suffered casualties and retreated.

The identities of the slain soldier and the wounded were not made public until their next of kin are duly informed.

Village officials told the Army that blood stain were visible in the site where the BIFF launched attacks, an indication they too suffered injured fighters.

Petinglay could not say whether the attackers also suffered death as no body was recovered from the crime site.

Elements of the 33rd IB backed by armoured personnel carrier are still pursuing the bandits who fled toward the Liguasan marshland.

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) helped the Army in tracking down the bandits.

The BIFF, composed of about 1,000 armed men, broke away from the mainstream revolutionary group – the MILF and vowed to continue fighting for independence.

Civilians who fled their homes have started to return to their villages after the Army cleared the adjoining villages from explosives that might have been left by fleeing bandits.

6 killed in fresh fighting in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jan 3): 6 killed in fresh fighting in Southern Philippines

BIFF rebels in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo -  Mark Navales)

Five rebels and a soldier were killed in fierce fighting that erupted before dawn Saturday in the restive province of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat in southern Philippines, officials told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Officials said some 200 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters led by Ustadz Karialan simultaneously assaulted at least three army posts in the towns of President Quirino in Sultan Kudarat; and General SK Pendatun and Sultan sa Barongis in Maguindanao, which is part of the restive Muslim autonomous region.

Col. Melquiadez Feliciano, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, identified the slain soldier as Corporal Daniel Valenzuela. And the wounded were Privates First Class Gerry Gorgonio, Bryan Baylon and Joel Abellar, all members of the 33rd Infantry Battalion.

The fighting, which lasted over 3 hours, forced villagers to flee their homes and sough safe refuge in nearby areas.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the 6th Infantry Division, said more troops were deployed in the areas following the rebel attacks.

She said Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander ng 6th Infantry Division, assured the safety of civilians and that security forces were pursuing the attackers. “We assure the public that the government forces will always be on top of the situation and will not allow the BIFF to continue their terror acts,” Petinglay quoted the commander as saying.

The BIFF, which broke away with the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is fighting for an independent Muslim state in the troubled region. The MILF signed a peace agreement with Manila last year ending decades of bloody war in Mindanao.