Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bomb blast hits NGCP tower in Maguindanao

From Rappler (Jan 14): Bomb blast hits NGCP tower in Maguindanao

The bomb, which is planted on the post of Tower 26 in the town of Pagalungan, detonates at around 9:10 in the evening

Several areas in North Cotabato and Maguindanao including Cotabato City were swallowed in darkness on Tuesday evening, January 13, after an improvised explosive device toppled a power transmission tower in Pagalungan town.

The bomb, which was planted on the post of Tower 26 in the town of Pagalungan, was detonated at around 9:10 in the evening, said 6th Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Joan Petinglay.

"As of the moment most areas in Maguindnanao and North Cotabato is experiencing black out," Petinglay said.

Power distributer Cotabato Light posted on its Facebook page that the power outage was caused by a problem on the supply line.

State security forces were immediately deployed to secure the blast site and to facilitate the investigation to identify the perpetrators behind the incident.

Meanwhile it is still unknown if the power supply will be repaired and restored immediately.

Pending investigation, the military has not yet identified any possible angles but it has in the past consistently blamed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters for the IED attacks in the province.

Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the BIFF, denied the accusations claiming that they do not have gains in attacking civilians and non-military installations.

Presently leading an armed insurgency for the creation of an Islamic State in Mindanao, the BIFF broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front after serious disagreements on the conduct of the peace negotiations with the government.


Update: Army blames BIFF in bombing of NGCP steel tower

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): Update: Army blames BIFF in bombing of NGCP steel tower

Suspected Moro bandits on Tuesday night bombed one of the steel towers of National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) sending Maguindanao, part of North Cotabato and Cotabato City without power for more than two hours.

Capt. Joanne Petinglay, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said the toppled tower was in Barangay Gilakit, Pikit and was bombed at about 9 p.m., cutting power transmission from Bukidnon to Simuay in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

Power was restored at about 12 midnight after the NGCP sourced out power from the Tacurong sub-station.

No one has claimed responsibility but local police and military authorities saw the "signatures" of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The IED series attached to three of the four feet of steel tower simultaneously went off, creating shockwaves among residents nearby.

It was detonated using mobile phone, Lt. Col. Audie Edralin, chief of the Army's 7th Infantry Battalion said.NGCP personnel are now trying to repair the toppled transmission tower.

Petinglay said the bombing of NGCP tower was part of the retaliatory attacks by BIFF after its camp fell to government hands last week.

Following the incident, the Army deployed plainclothes near transmission towers of NGCP cutting through conflict affected communities in Maguindanao.


Toppled tower in Maguindanao causes blackouts

From MindaNews (Jan 14): Toppled tower in Maguindanao causes blackouts

A steel tower of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) in a remote village here was toppled allegedly by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) Tuesday night, causing blackouts in parts of the province and neighboring North Cotabato.

Capt. Jo-Ann Penglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said members of their ordnance team went to the blast site before dawn today and found out that the suspects attached 81mm mortar rounds in three of the foundations of Tower 26 in Barangay Galakit around 9 p.m.

A cellphone was used to trigger the bombs, Penglay added.

She said that there have been threats to topple NGCP’s power lines and a few have been prevented, but not this one.

According to Army soldiers and members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) belonging to the 7th Infantry Battalion and stationed not far from the tower, the explosion was so loud. Then light disappeared immediately with the blackout that followed.


ARMM pours P600M for infra, livelihood projects in Basilan’s former battleground

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 13): ARMM pours P600M for infra, livelihood projects in Basilan’s former battleground
AL-BARKA, Basilan, Philippines — The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is pouring P600 million to this town where more than 250 government soldiers have died in attacks by and encounters with Abu Sayyaf bandits.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman said Al-Barka, the most dreaded town in Basilan, has become the recipient of a P600-million investment that would include road projects, ports, water systems and livelihood grants.

A huge chunk of the budget will go to road concreting projects amounting to P400 million.

“We will ensure that all roads are connected, including exit roads from Al-Barka to Tipo-Tipo and from Al-Barka to Lamitan and all the main highways leading to Cambug village where top leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are maintaining their areas,” Hataman said.

The rest of the funds will be spent on the construction of ports, water systems and livelihood programs.

Hadja Suada Asnawi, wife of Dan Asnawi, the commander of 114th Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces of the MILF in Basilan, said that, to develop, Basilan should have “working structures for health, water and education.”

“Our children have to travel down Lamitan for education. Our people have to go far to fetch water in Tipo-Tipo, and we don’t have health facilities,” she said.

Hadija Hassan, a resident of Ginanta village, called for efforts to open job opportunities in the province and livelihood projects.

“Once everyone is with steady earning, they will never join the Abu Sayyaf Group. But how can we find work here? Who will invest here if bandits keep harassing the people?” Hassan asked.

Hataman said it was the first time that Al-Barka got a huge funding.

Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, deputy commander of the Western Mindanao Command and head of the military’s coordination committee on the cessation of hostilities, said government has suffered big setbacks in Al-Barka.

Since 1997 to end of 2012, there were more than 256 soldiers killed and 560 wounded,” he said, referring to casualties suffered by the government in fighting the Abu Sayyaf.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said the construction of highways linking Al-Barka to other towns would be the “concrete path to peace and better lives for the people.”

Guerrero, a former brigade commander based in Basilan, admitted “we have seen that the violent path is not a solution, military solution is not a solution, so we must exploit the opportunity of a peaceful option.”

In January 2013, Galvez, a former 104th Brigade commander, initiated talks with Asnawi that paved the way to strengthening ties between the Basilan-based military and the MILF.

Asnawi failed to join the consultation held last January 11, but he sent his deputy commander Hud Limaya and his wife Suada.

Asnawi’s wife said since the 2013 meeting, life in Al-Barka has become peaceful.
“The construction of the highway and the good relationship between the military and the MILF really helped a lot,” she said.

Hataman said P3 million was allocated for the construction of a town hall in Barangay (village) Magkawa.

The location of the soon-to-rise town hall is strategic as it is “closer to the people and just along the main highway,” according to Al-Barka mayor Darussalam Lajid.


Officials settle another clan war in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Star (Jan 13): Officials settle another clan war in Maguindanao

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu (center) explain to Sharia expert Ustadz Kalifa Nando (seated, 2nd from left) the details of the peace covenant between the feuding Abao and Abdul clans. John Unson

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - Representatives of two feuding Moro groups on Monday signed a covenant resolving amicably a bloody clan war that has claimed the lives of dozens from both sides.

The reconciliation of the Abdul and Abao clans, whose members are residing in Maguindanao’s adjoining Buluan, Datu Paglas, Gen. S.K. Pendatun, Pandag, Mangudadatu, Paglat and Sultan sa Barongis towns, was brokered by local officials led by Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.

Mangudadatu is chair of the Maguindanao Task Force on Reconciliation and Unification.

The clan war involving the Abao and Abdul clans, led by Moro guerilla commanders Mundas Abao and Manubakan Abdul, respectively, was the 48th family feud the task force had settled in the past three years.

The two commanders both belong to the 108th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Mangudadatu and a representative from the MILF, foreign-trained Sharia expert Ustadz Kalifah Nando, signed as witnesses to the peace accord between the two families, whose leaders agreed to reconcile through the joint intercession of the provincial government, the MILF, and the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion.

Nando, who is an Islamic theologian, belong to the MILF’s Sharia Tribunal, which is now actively helping local government units address domestic peace and security issues through diplomatic interventions.

The hostilities between the Abdul and Abao clans escalated just two months ago with a spate of fatal ambush attacks on members of both sides, triggering internecine gunfights that caused dislocation of people in peasant enclaves where they reside.

“We also ought to thank for this reconciliation feat the joint ceasefire committee of the MILF and the government,” Mangudadatu told reporters.

The government-MILF ceasefire committee is comprised of representatives from the rebel group, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces.

Municipal mayors who helped settle the clan war contributed P50,000 each as assistance to the immediate families of the fatalities in the conflict.

Mangudadatu augmented with a P190,000 "peace grant" the amount the mayors raised as a settlement package to hasten the restoration of amity between the Abaos and the Abduls, related to each other by blood.

The reconciliation rite was held at the municipal gymnasium of Gen. S.K. Pendatun, in the presence of Assemblyman Kadafy Mangudadatu of the 24-seat Regional Assembly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Army Lt. Col. Markton Abo of the 33rd IB.


Japan Cabinet OKs record military budget with eye on China

From the Philippine Star (Jan 14): Japan Cabinet OKs record military budget with eye on China

Japan's Cabinet has approved the country' largest defense budget, with plans to buy surveillance aircraft and F-35 fighter jets to improve defenses of disputed islands amid China's assertiveness in the region.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet on Wednesday approved a nearly 5 trillion yen ($42 billion) budget for the year beginning in April, a 2 percent rise. The budget must still be approved by parliament.

The military outlays were included in a record 96.3 trillion yen ($814 billion) total budget for the coming fiscal year.

The increase mainly covers new equipment, including P-1 surveillance aircraft, F-35 fighter jets and amphibious vehicles for a new unit to boost island defenses.

Chinese patrol boats often visit waters near the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan.


MILF seeks Papal Maguindanao visit

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 14): MILF seeks Papal Maguindanao visit

The rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has entered into a peace arrangement with the government, invited Pope Francis to make a swing to this city during his five-day visit to the Philippines to help “fast track the attainment of peace in Mindanao,” an MILF leader said on Tuesday.

Al Hadj Murad Ebrahim said a papal visit into the heartland of the Bangsamoro could help bring about peace in Mindanao, which has been rocked by religious, armed and social conflicts for decades.

“In fact, the MILF is sending the chairman of the Muslim House of Opinion, the highest Muslim leader in the Philippines … in case he declines our sincere offer owing to his very right schedule,” Ebrahim said.

Pope Francis, who was scheduled to arrive on Thursday, has embarked on an Asian pilgrimage that will take him to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. He will visit Tacloban City, which was hit by a powerful typhoon that killed thousands of people last year.

The government expected millions of people to welcome the Pope and attend a mass and other public events he will attend in the capital. President Aquino has declared  a three-day holiday starting on Thursday.

Western Mindanao State University Professor Ali Yacub welcomed Murad Ebrahim’s invitation to the Pope as “a true gesture of brotherhood and said he hope Pope Francis would accept.

He said that some people were skeptical and others were horrified at the invitation because the Pope will be taking a risk if he goes to Mindanao, but “God will protect him because he is sincere.”

“Do you think the Pope is scared of  the Muslims? St. Francis of Assisi mixed with Muslim mystics (the Sufis), so it is no wonder that St. Francis’ prayers were as mystical as those of the Muslim Sufis,” he said.

In Baguio City, Napoleon Nazareno, President of Smart Communications, said millions of Filipinos can share with friends their Papal Visit experience on-line on free through social networking application Twitter.

He said Smart has entered into partnership with Twitter to offer the free application for free from January 15 to 19 and follow the Pope’s witter account or send prayers and wishes using #DearPopeFrancis hashtag and get real-time updates on the visit.

“With this collaboration, Smart and Twitter aim to allow more Filipinos to get involved and immerse in this historic experience with Pope Francis, who our Catholic nation hold very dear to our heart,” Nazareno told a press conference.

The Pope is the second most followed world leader on Twitter with more than 17 million followers across nine accounts in different languages. His Tweets are among the most popular and consistently re-tweeted several thousand times.


AFP Medical Center head reinstated

From GMA News (Jan 14): AFP Medical Center head reinstated

The head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center (AFPMC) has been reinstatement, months after being relieved from his post over an alleged anomalous procurement of medical supplies worth P80 million.
In the a statement released Wednesday morning, the AFP said Brig. Gen. Normando T. Sta. Ana Jr. was reinstated as the AFPMC commander effective last Monday.
Military chief Gen. General Gregorio Catapang Jr. ordered his Sta. Ana's relief last October 14 to give way to a “thorough and impartial” investigation on the alleged anomaly.
Based on news reports, a certain Renato Villafuerte filed a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman as regards the procurement of P80 million worth medicine and other medical supplies for the AFP Medical Center without public bidding.
However, after an investigation was made, the military found Villafuerte "to be a fictitious person."
It added that complaints against Sta. Ana was "dismissed for lack of evidence to support the allegations, and nobody testified to substantiate the complaints."

CPP’s Sison lukewarm to possible appointment of Bautista as government chief negotiator

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 14): CPP’s Sison lukewarm to possible appointment of Bautista as government chief negotiator

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison is cool on the possible appointment of retired Gen. Emmanuel Bautista as government chief negotiator in talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Sison, who is the chief political consultant of the NDFP panel negotiating peace with the government, noted Bautista’s military background as former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and “self-proclaimed” brains of the internal peace and security plan (IPSP) “Bayanihan.”

He, however, maintained that the reported appointment of Bautista, if true, is a prerogative of President Aquino.

“It’s Aquino’s prerogative to pick any civilian as chairman of the GRP (Government of Republic of the Philippines) negotiating panel. Technically, General Bautista is a civilian because he is already retired,” said Sison in a statement released in the CPP Web site.

“But it is also true that many are saying that it (appointment of Bautista) is an insult to the NDFP and the entire revolutionary movement if Aquino appoints him as panel chairman on the point that he is the self-proclaimed brains of oplan ‘Bayanihan,’” he added.

Earlier reports said that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has recommended the appointment of Bautista as panel chief for the negotiations with the CPP-NDFP.

Currently, Bautista is the executive director of the Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice and Peace, tasked to lead policy discussions on key issues such as territorial disputes and peace talks. He was appointed to the post, with the rank of undersecretary, months after retiring from the military service last July.

“It’s okay if he is a retired military officer if he is like former General Fidel Ramos who is good in peace negotiations,” said Sison.

“Pero umaabot din sa NDFP ang mga ulat na garapal na militar ang mentalidad niya (Bautista) at wala siyang gusto kundi ipataw daw niya ang pagsurender ng NPA (New People’s Army) dahil sa natatalo na raw ito at kung hindi payag ang NPA tuloy pa rin ang balasik ng kanyang Oplan Bayanihan,” Sison added.

The self-exiled CPP chairman, however, stressed that the IPSP “Bayanihan” is a failure.

“Palpak naman itong Oplan Bayanihan, lalong lumakas ang NPA,” claimed Sison.

Sison expressed belief that if the Aquino administration is really serious in talking peace with the CPP-NDFP, the President can appoint other personality more fitted as chief negotiator.

“Sa tingin ko, kung seryoso si Aquino sa peace negotiations, makakapili siya ng mas angkop at mas magaling na chairman ng kanyang panel. Baka naman hindi interesado si Aquino sa pag-usad ng peace negotiations,” Sison said.

Sison has expressed optimism that the long-stalled peace negotiations between the GRP and the CPP-NDFP would resume within the first few months of 2015.


Commander in 2013 Sabah assault dies of heart attack

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 14): Commander in 2013 Sabah assault dies of heart attack

Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, who led more than 200 fighters of Royal Sultanate Force (RSF) in a daring assault of Lahad Datu in Sabah in 2013, died yesterday of heart attack at his residence in Tawi-Tawi.

Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesman of the Sulu Sultanate, said that Sultan Esmael Kiram II confirmed the death of his younger brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram.

Idjirani said that Agbimuddin died at around 9 a.m. at his residence in Simunul, Tawi Tawi of natural cause.

“He died peacefully after suffering heart attack. It was an instant death,” Idjirani said.

“The sultanate expresses heartfelt gratitude for the condolences we are receiving in this moment of grief for the untimely death of Crown Prince Agbimuddin,” he added.

According to Idjirani, Agbimuddin would be succeeded by his younger brother Datu Phungkal Kiram as raja muda or crown prince.

In February 2013, Agbimuddin led more than 200 fighters of the RSF in a daring assault of Lahad Datu, in an attempt to reclaim Sabah from Malaysia.

The assault has the blessing of his elder brother, the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, as the sultanate asserted ownership of Sabah. Jamalul died of ailment in October 2013 and was succeeded by Sultan Esmael Kiram II, now the incumbent head of the sultanate.

Dozens of RSF members and Malaysian authorities were killed during the fighting that dragged on for several weeks with Tausug fighters throwing support to the sultanate’s supporters.

There were reports then stating that Agbimuddin was killed during the fighting but such information turned out to be false.

Other reports said that Agbimuddin managed to sneak out of Sabah, evading pursuing Malaysian troops at the height of the conflict.


Crushing communist force in E. Mindanao crucial to defeating NPA nationwide - AFP general

From InterAksyon (Jan 13): Crushing communist force in E. Mindanao crucial to defeating NPA nationwide - AFP general

Crushing the communist rebels' armed strength and political influence in Eastern Mindanao would be crucial to the collapse of the New People's Army (NPA) nationwide, according to a high-ranking military official.

"The key to defeating the insurgency rests on Eastern Mindanao units. We defeat it here, we defeat it nationwide," Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) chief Lieutenant General Aurelio Baladad declared before officers and men of the area command during their annual "New Year's call".

He admitted, however, that defeating the NPA, which marks its 46th founding anniversary, remains an uphill battle. The NPA is the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

"Although the CPP-NPA remains as a continuing challenge as we force them to abandon the armed struggle, as long as we sustain and are focused on the implementation of our campaign, we will be victorious. These are the challenges brought on by the New Year," Baladad told the officers and men of the area command during their annual "New Year's call".

The Maoist-inspired communist rebellion in the Philippines is the longest in Asia.

The command covers the Caraga and Davao regions with three infantry divisions - 1st, 4th and 10th. These regions in Mindanao host many various Indigenous Peoples (IPs) battling the foreign and local mining and logging activities within their amcestral domains, who are deemed easy prey to recruitment by the CPP-NPA.

One of the tasks of the AFP is to secure and protect mining investments in the country.

Using its the latest data, the military claimed it had reduced the number of Red fighters to more or less 3,000 from less than 5,000 more than a decade ago. The NPA peaked to at least 25,000 in the 1980s.

At present, the military said the center of gravity of the NPA is in Eastern Mindanao.

Last year, the military arrested top CPP-NPA leasders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon along with five other ranking leaders in Cebu.

The military said the arrest of the Tiamzons dealt a big blow to the rebel movement,  but CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, known by his nickname Joma, has scoffed at this claim.

"Despite the many challenges that hampered our drive, we were able to degrade [the CPP-NPA and National Democratic Front] armed capability through significant number of recovered, captured and surrendered firearms, significant number of surrenderees, captured high-value NPA personalities and numerous major engagements," Baladad said.

The general credited "noteworthy innovations initiated by our different units, especially in dealing with the IPs which is being highly praised by the higher headquarters," for his command's operational gains.

Baladad, however, did not give details of what he called innovations his units implemented to degrade  the capability of the CPP-NPA, except generally attributing this to the AFP's counter-insurgency program. Called Internal Peace and Security Plan or IPSP Bayanihan,  it replaced the OPLAN Bantay Laya, which human rights groups had criticized.

"By our campaign plan’s timeline, we should have cleared Camiguin and Dinagat Island last 2014 and I would like to congratulate 4ID specifically 401st Brigade for successfully spearheading the clearing of Dinagat Island province. While by our 2015 timeline, we should have substantially accomplished much of our goals in normalizing three provinces in 10ID AOR, four in 4ID, and sustain  our focus until those provinces are finally cleared at the end of the year. It is winning time for Panagdait Mindanao and we should be confident for that," Baladad urged his men.