Monday, January 26, 2015

Divinagracia out, Batayola in as 1st Cavalry Squadron commander

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 26): Divinagracia out, Batayola in as 1st Cavalry Squadron commander

LABANGAN, Zamboanga del Sur – Lt. Col. Charlemagne Batayola Jr. has assumed Thursday as the new commander of the 1st Cavalry Squadron, Mechanized Infantry Division, Philippine Army, which is based here, vice Lt. Col. Antonio John Divinagracia who has been transferred to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Commissary Exchange Service (AFPCES), General Headquarters, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

In a change of command ceremony held at Camp Jacobe E. Zobel here, MGen. Mayoralgo Dela Cruz, Mechanized Infantry Division commander and the event’s guest of honor and speaker, said the transfer of military officials to their new assignments “is one of the programs and reforms implemented by the higher command” to provide quality of service to the stakeholders. “These measures are continuing steps to realize our vision of becoming a world class army that is a source of national pride,” he added.

Apart from our intent to institute changes, Dela Cruz said, “this activity demonstrates flexibility and versatility of our senior officers in the 1st Cavalry Squadron in carrying out their tasks effectively in the different working environments and more importantly, this also endeavors to rationalize the job placement of our officers as we hope to attain efficiency among them.”

Dela Cruz also commended Divinagracia for his efforts that contributed to the accomplishment of the army’s mission in the region.

“Your efforts are definitely not in vain for you have contributed much to the accomplishment of our mission in this part of region.  Indeed, you have delivered your duty exceptionally well,” Dela Cruz stressed.

With the incoming commander’s enthusiasm and adherence to the army’s mandate, Dela Cruz believed he would continue to propel the unit to significant achievements through his personal and professional undertakings.

“I want you to focus on your role as new commander in this unit.  Build up your knowledge and experience while establishing stronger networks to our key stakeholders,” he urged adding “take pride in the uniform you wear as you perform your patriotic duty as protector of the people and the state like what you did during the Zamboanga crisis in September 2013.”

“Let us preserve our gains and continue working with the different agencies of government as we fulfill our mission for the people of Western Mindanao. We should not rest in our laurels. Instead, we let our accomplishments challenge us to do more and continually pursue excellence in all our undertakings,” Dela Cruz concluded.

US drone found by fishermen spooks Cagayan folk

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 27): US drone found by fishermen spooks Cagayan folk

POLICEMEN in Santa Ana town in Cagayan province secure the wreckage of an aerial target drone said to be owned by the United States military.   PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA ANA POLICE

POLICEMEN in Santa Ana town in Cagayan province secure the wreckage of an aerial target drone said to be owned by the United States military. PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA ANA POLICE
Officials and residents in the coastal town of Santa Ana in Cagayan province, have raised concern over their security and privacy following the recovery of the wreckage of an unmanned aerial drone there last week.

Village officials were wary that their community has become a target of surveillance and monitoring operations by foreign countries due to the influx of Chinese visitors frequenting casino complexes there.

“It is not a pleasant feeling thinking that somebody could be watching our every move,” said a town official, who asked not to be named for security reasons.

An aerial target drone, believed to be owned by the United States military, was found by fishermen about a kilometer from the coastline of Sition Nangaramoan in Barangay (village) San Vicente on Jan. 21.

A report from the Santa Ana police said the orange-colored drone is a BQM-74F Aerial Target, with serial number BQ56026, and is 3.5 meters long.

Sought for comment on Sunday, US Embassy spokesperson Kurt Hoyer said the drone found in Santa Ana “appears to be the same type used [by the US military in the] exercises off of Guam last September.”

He cited the statement earlier issued by the US Embassy in Manila which clarified speculations that the drones being fished out of Philippine waters were for combat or espionage.

“The aerial target does not carry weapons and is not used for surveillance. The BQM-74E Aerial Target is used by surface ships and aircraft during exercises to help train our sailors in a realistic environment that provides the best possible training,” the US Embassy said in that statement, referring to a drone found earlier this month in Quezon province.

It said all aerial operations in the exercise “were conducted in international airspace or with appropriate coordination and approval in Guam airspace.”

Asked if the US government would retrieve the drone here, Hoyer, in a text message, said: “We usually do get them from the [Armed Forces of the Philippines].”

He, however, declined to answer questions on whether the wreckage contained data that may interest other groups.

The discovery sparked fear among Santa Ana residents, following initial reports that the drone was the wreckage of a supposed “spy plane.”

Senior Insp. Darwin Urani, Santa Ana police chief, said policemen retrieved the drone from fishermen.

“They wanted to keep it but we had to explain to them that since it is a high-tech electronic device, mishandling [it] could harm anyone. Besides, it is presumably owned by the US government, so we have to return it,” he said.

Army exhumes NPA purging victims in Leyte

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 26): Army exhumes NPA purging victims in Leyte

MACARTHUR, Leyte – Army from the Ormoc City-based 802nd Brigade led by its commander, Col. Dinoh Dolina, unearthed Friday the remains of two allegedly liquidation victims of the New People’s Army (NPA). Discovered by local residents in  shallow graves in barangays Lanawan and San Vicente, this town, the killings were believed to be three decades ago.

These barangayas are located in the hinterlands of MacArthur and reported to be once the hotbed of the rebels in the 80’s.

The family of the victims identified the remains to be that of Necostrates “Tasting” Novio from Brgy. San Antonio, this town and Lolieto “Rudy” Custodio from Brgy. Mag-aso, La Paz, Leyte.

According to Nicostrates’ 59-year-old son Reynaldo, his father who was to serve as a cook was abducted on his way to Manarog, a nearby barangay then celebrating a fiesta.

Reynaldo believed that the skeleton and clothes unearthed in a farm in Lanawan belongs to his father, the same polo and pants worn when he [his father] left in August 1984.

While the remains of Lolieto which were exhumed in a steep mountain of Brgy. San Vicente, was more intact with arms and feet still tied up and the skull with blindfold cloth.

Lolieto’s son Bartolome, 43, recalled that he was first year high school that time when the rebels abducted his father at their coconut farm in Brgy. Mag-aso where they tied him with his three other relatives.

“Maybe, I am now at least a high school graduate as what my father dreamt for me,” the sad Bartolome shared to reporters.

The families of the victims alleged that members of the NPA abducted them because they were suspected to be working in connivance with the government forces as intelligence operatives.

Meanwhile, Col. Dolina said that proper identification of the remains will undergo a thorough investigation, afterwhich, it will be turned over to the claimant families for proper burial.

“This time around, since the families have seen and identified their missing parents, they can now put a stop to their search and perhaps, move-on after giving a decent burial,” Dolina said.

Present also during the exhumation were members of the Philippine National Police-Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO), LGU and barangay officials, Human Rights and Religious sector, members of the media, the family and relatives of the victims.

Col. Dolina has been encouraging more witnesses to surface for possible location of burial sites of NPA purging victims.

He recalled that in August 2006, the military unearthed 67 remains of NPA massacre victims in a mass grave in Inopacan, Leyte. They believed that the NPA executed 300 individuals in Leyte in the 80’s who were either members of the NPA suspected of working for the military or ordinary farmers who were not in any way supportive of the NPA.

Dolina is urging the dwindling member of NPAs to return to the folds of law and work as one towards peace and development. He noted that the rebel forces in Leyte continued to weaken after super typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

The officer hopes that they continue to lie low and avail of the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program to start a new and peaceful life with their families.

“We want to win the peace. I am sad when an NPA dies during encounter. I am sad when we recover firearms during encounter. But when we get arms when one surrenders, I am happy. They see how serious our soldiers are in performing the mandate in helping our fellowmen,” Dolina said.

Rebels tell villagers to flee homes in southern Philippine town

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 26): Rebels tell villagers to flee homes in southern Philippine town

DAVAO CITY – Villagers have fled their homes in San Luis town in the southern Filipino province of Agusan del Sur after communist rebels allegedly told to evacuate because of an impending military offensive, officials said Monday.

Officials said nearly 900 people, mostly tribesmen, were forced to flee their homes and sought refuge at the Urios elementary school in Balit village. New People’s Army rebels told them that government troops were heading to their village.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said there was no military operation in the area, but troops were there to facilitate social services for civilians.

He said Gen. Aurelio Baladad, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command, accused the NPA – which is fighting for a separate state - of intimidating and harassing villagers.

“The NPAs displayed their blatant disregard of (sic) human rights when they forced the massive evacuation of the community. They displaced the indigenous people from their place of abode and prevented them to practice their way of life that blatantly erodes their dignity as a people” Balagtey quoted Baladad as saying.

“They don’t want the government's presence in these communities so that they will blame the government for neglecting its responsibilities and thus lay the basis for more recruits. They want the marginalized communities to be constantly in quagmire so that they will have constant issues to manipulate the poor and hammer down issues against the govt. If they truly are for the welfare of the IP communities, why stop the delivery of basic services and development in these areas,” Baladad said.

Local government and military officials have urged the villagers to return home.

Most violent encounters between gov’t forces and rebels

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 27): Most violent encounters between gov’t forces and rebels
Photo from Nikko Dizon's Twitter account

Photo from Nikko Dizon’s Twitter account

Several encounters between government forces and insurgents have resulted in heavy casualties on both sides as well as killings of civilians. Here are some of the bloodiest battles recorded in the past four decades:

Oct. 10, 1977—34 officers and men including Brig. Gen. Teodulfo Bautista were gunned down by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in what came to be known as the Patikul massacre. An MNLF commander, Usman Sali, lured Bautista into a meeting in a marketplace in Patikul with a promise to talk about a ceasefire. According to accounts, Bautista was being greeted by a smiling Sali when a voice was heard shouting, “Dapa (Drop to the ground)!” As Sali did so, about 150 MNLF troops showed up and opened fire at the visitors.

Feb. 12, 1981—119 officers and men of the Philippine Army’s 31st Infantry Battalion just deployed to Pata island off Jolo were shot and hacked to death by villagers. The casualties sustained by the Philippine Army were the most recorded in a single encounter. The Navy and Air Force retaliated by shelling the island for almost two months. An estimated several hundreds to 3,000 civilians were reportedly killed.

Aug. 21, 2000—16 soldiers were killed when at least 30 New People’s Army rebels fired at a truck carrying 28 soldiers in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental province. One died later in a hospital in Bacolod City and seven others were wounded.

Nov. 17, 2001—18 soldiers died when communist guerrillas ambushed Army soldiers in Compostela Valley.

Feb. 7, 2005—13 Marines were killed when followers of MNLF leader Nur Misuari attacked Army posts in Panamao, Sulu province. Gun battles between the Moro guerrillas and government troops continued for more than two days, leaving as many as 40 soldiers and 30 guerrillas dead.

July 10, 2007—14 Marines were killed, 10 of them beheaded, in Al-Barka, Basilan province, after being ambushed by some 400 Abu Sayyaf bandits and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas while searching for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi.

Aug. 9, 2007—26 soldiers were killed in clashes with Moro guerrillas in Sulu. The fatalities included 10 soldiers killed during an ambush in Maimbung while 15 more soldiers were killed in a separate gun battle hours later. The military said the attackers included Abu Sayyaf bandits and rogue elements within the MNLF.

Aug. 18, 2007—15 Marines died while attempting to take over a major encampment of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. After almost nine hours of close combat, the Abu Sayyaf camp in Silangkum, Unkaya Pukan, was taken by government forces.

Aug. 18, 2008—At least 41 people, including Army Lt. Col. Angel Benitez, two soldiers and a policeman, were killed in the worst flare-up of violence two weeks after a peace deal with the MILF was aborted. The MILF slipped before dawn into Kauswagan, Kolambugan, Maigo and Bacolod in Lanao del Norte and Maasim in Sarangani, attacking police stations and town centers. No rebel casualties are reported.

Aug. 12, 2009—23 soldiers, including two junior officers, were killed in a gun battle in Zamboanga province, the military’s worst loss ever in a single engagement with the Abu Sayyaf.

Oct. 18, 2011—19 soldiers and six rebels were killed when MILF forces clashed with military troops in Al-Barka, Basilan, despite an existing ceasefire. Both groups blamed each other for the attack. MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said a Malaysian-led international monitoring team would investigate the incident and the findings would be discussed upon the resumption of peace talks.

September 2013—20 soldiers and five policemen died while 194 were wounded on the government side in three weeks of fighting following an attack by armed MNLF rebels in the city of Zamboanga. More than 200 MNLF members were killed while 294 others were captured. Twelve civilians were killed, including four hostages, while 79 residents were wounded.–Inquirer Research

CamNorte is NPA-free, says military

From InterAksyon (Jan 26): CamNorte is NPA-free, says military


The Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP) has claimed another victory in its decades’ long fight against communist insurgency in Bicol by neutralizing the New People’s Army (NPA) in the province of Camarines Norte.

The province is now “peaceful and ready for further development,” a recent statement of the AFP said as it forged a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the provincial government formalizing its declaration as a “Conflict Manageable and Ready for Development (CMRD)” area.

The document was signed by Major Gen. Yerson Depayso, commanding general of the 9th Infantry (Spear) Division of the Philippine Army (PA), in behalf of the AFP, and Gov. Edgardo Tallado, in behalf of the provincial government.

The signing of the MOU, according to Depayso, signaled the "shifting of effort" from clearing barangays of “insurgent affectation” supported by socio-economic development to a “reverse role.”

The signing ceremony emphasized more socio-economic and development projects that the civil government will implement with the support and protection of the military, the PA commander said in a statement reaching here over the weekend.

Basis for announcement

At the ceremony held in the provincial capital of Daet, Major Gen. Ricardo Visaya, the AFP’s Southern Luzon Command chief, said the declaration of peace in the province was based on the decreased violent activities of the NPA, the reduction of its potential support system in the barangays, and its failed recovery efforts.

This achievement, according to Visaya, would not be possible without the cooperation of the leaders of the province, along with the local government units, which have partnered with the AFP in fighting insurgency.

The 45-year- old insurgency being waged by the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF), he said, has been preventing the progress and economic development of the province and all other affected localities in Bicol and in the country.

At least, the AFP has once again provided a space in Bicol where the people can feel safe and grow as progressive communities, this time in Camarines Norte, he said.

AFP presence in Bicol

For the past 16 years, the AFP has been maintaining the Philippine Army (PA)’s 9th Infantry (Spear) Division (ID) based in Pili, Camarines Sur, manning the internal security of the region from the activities of the NPA.

This PA ID is in command of three infantry brigades composed of eight infantry battalions and seven support units, including an engineering battalion, distributed in all the six provinces of the region.

In over 40 years, Visaya said, Camarines Norte’s opportunity to advance to progress -- with its vast mineral deposits, agricultural lands, rich fishing grounds, exotic tourist destinations, rich natural resources, and hard-working people -- has been stalled by unstable peace situation due to the presence of the NPAs and the culture of violence it has developed among local communities.

They prevent the implementation of government infrastructure projects, harass mining companies, extort money in the form of “revolutionary taxes” from businessmen, contractors, and even from farmers, and execute those who refuse to remit including innocent civilians and civilian government officials.

Visaya recalled that former Camarines Norte governor Roy Padilla Sr. was assassinated by the NPAs for his disapproval of their anti-people activities.

The late governor was appointed officer-in-charge of the province by Pres. Corazon Aquino in 1987, in a brief period when her administration was a revolutionary government, following the historic EDSA Revolt.

He ran for governor and won posthumously as he was killed on the eve of the January 18, 1988 elections.

NPA strength in CamNorte

Now, the strength of the rebels in the province has been reduced from about 200 guerrilla fighters to only about 30, with limited firearms, according to Visaya.

In a separate statement, Tallado said that with the declaration of peace in his province, his administration can now intensify the implementation of its programs and projects geared toward bringing the government closer to the people.

He also attributed the success of the government in restoring peace in the province to the implementation of various countryside development projects of the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Pamana), a priority program under the peace agenda of the Aquino administration geared at ending internal armed conflicts.

Tallado said about P350 million has been poured into the province under this program from 2011 to 2013 which were all satisfactorily implemented and now serving communities very well toward Pamana’s aim of attaining economic progress for the areas covered.

The projects communicate effectively among communities the initiatives of government in building the culture of peace and development in the countryside to make them resilient against the anti-government whims of the insurgency being carried out by the NPA, he added.

After Catanduanes

Camarines Norte is the second Bicol province declared by the AFP as a CMRD area, given that the local insurgency problem had already been contained.

The first was the island of Catanduanes which was placed under the same declaration last December owing to the dwindling local insurgency level observed during the recent years from the constant decrease of NPA manpower, firearms, affected barangays, and activities.

The local CPP-NPA-NDF politico-military organizations have been so reduced to a minimum that they can no longer pose a serious threat to peace and order in the province, the military said.

The restored peace in these two provinces reduced to four the remaining Bicol areas being troubled by insurgency problems: Albay, Camarines Sur, Masbate, and Sorsogon.

While current troop levels are maintained in Catanduanes and Camarines Norte to go on performing the lead role in protecting the government’s anti-insurgency gains in these areas, Depayso said: “We can give more focus now on these remaining four provinces in our internal security operations to finally end communist insurgency in the Bicol region soon.”

DEAD FOR 2ND TIME? | Was terrorist Marwan killed in Maguindanao? Gazmin says still verifying

From InterAksyon (Jan 26): DEAD FOR 2ND TIME? | Was terrorist Marwan killed in Maguindanao? Gazmin says still verifying

Could South East Asia’s most wanted terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir be among the casualties in the "misencounter" between an elite police force and Moro rebels in what was supposed to be a police operation to arrest two terrorists?

If Marwan is alive, it would be the second time he is reported "dead," having been declared as neutralized in 2002, only to resurface years later.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Monday they are verifying a report that Abdhir, more famously known as Marwan, was killed in the day-long firefights between the police Special Action Force (SAF) and up to 300 armed men of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Up to 53 combatants including a civilian, were killed in that encounter in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

“The one in Maguindanao is a [police] operation of high-value terrorist targets. Ngayon nagampanan nila [they accomplished], according to reports . . they were able to neutralize one of them, Marwan, although [the other one], Bassit Usman, got away. So the government will do all its might in order to prevent the terrorists from moving around our area,” Gazmin told Camp Aguinaldo reporters.

He conceded they have no confirmation of Marwan's death, “but that was the report we got last night. We will validate that and I am going to Cotabato City today so that I can get more accurate information to be able to disseminate to you,” Gazmin added.

Reports said earlier it was possible that Jemaah Islamiyah-trained bomber Bassit Usman was also killed.

In 2002, the military reported that Marwan was killed in a firefight somewhere in southern Mindanao. But years later the terrorist turned to be alive.

In early 2014, the military reported Usman was wounded in relentless raids mounted by the military in Maguindanao on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The raids led to the capture of one of Usman's wives and an aide.

Sunday incident casualties

Figures vary on the body count from the PNP-SAF arrest operation that became a "misencounter" on the eve of congressional hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that principally involves the MILF.

The SAF company had gone to Mamasapano to arrest Zulkifli and Usman.
According to the AFP, at least 39 members of SAF were killed in the deadly clash, of whom 38 were killed during the firefight or captured alive and executed; 10 wounded survivors managed to leave the killing zone and were rescued by reinforcements, though one died later in the hospital.

One civilian and three from the MILF side were also killed, said a military intelligence officer.

Police didn't coordinate with Army

According to Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, the SAF did not work with them about their arrest even though the target site was in the 6th ID's area of operation.

This might explain why military reinforcements arrived only at the scene of the firefight at around 4 p.m. Sunday, some 12 hours after the firefight began.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal complained about the SAF's failure to coordinate with the MILF through the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) and Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).

He said he was “100 percent, 1,000 percent" certain there was no coordination with the ceasefire [committee]. "There was no coordination with AHJAG.  The police arrived at 3 o’clock from Manila and landed at Zamboanga. So [they were really hiding their] operation,” he added, speaking partly in Filipino.

Iqbal said it was the SAF who first fired their guns, and the MILF members simply retaliated. The MILF and the government were scheduled to start soon the first phase of the process of decommissioning their arms, as part of the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The Maguindanao encounter happened a day before the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of laws was set to hear issues raised about the supposed constitutional infirmities of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

MILF, BIFF ties complicating law enforcement – military

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 26): MILF, BIFF ties complicating law enforcement – military

... MILF, BIFF deny that they coordinated in attacking SAF on Sunday

As the number of police commandos killed in Maguindanao continues to rise in the aftermath of the fighting in Mamapasano town in Maguindanao on Sunday, people are now starting to ask what went wrong and how difficult it is to enforce the laws in the area.

Aside from the lack of coordination, several military sources said the dynamics between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s 105th Base Command and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) — a thin line between the affiliation and loyalty of the rebels most especially in the boundaries of Maguindanao and North Cotabato — have posed a challenge to the ceasefire and law enforcement in the area.

Military officials call them “dual citizens,” or rebels who are members of the MILF but who have ties to the BIFF.

The BIFF, after serious disagreements on the conduct of the peace negotiations, broke away from the MILF led by former 105th Base Commander Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato who reportedly has the respect and loyalty of many of the sub-commanders and members of the unit.

After the split, Kato’s former deputy commander and confidant Zakariah Goma assumed his position as the 105th base commander.

But Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the MILF, denied allegations that the 105th Base Command operated together with the BIFF during the clash in Maguindanao on Sunday.

Jaafar said they “see no political and military gain in cooperating with the BIFF.”

“The 105th Base Command will not cooperate with the BIFF because in the first place, the BIFF does not like us. Second, we also do not agree with the activities of the BIFF. And third, the 105th Base Command and the entire MILF would not do anything that would violate any provisions of the peace process,” Jaafar said.

He said the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the armed wing of the MILF, and its central committee have been very strict disciplining fighters and would not think twice about implementing disciplinary actions on those violating the policies of the organization.

“This information about a cooperation of the MILF with the BIFF is only speculation. There is no evidence. And all of our combatants are disciplined,” Jaafar said.

Jaafar divulged that in 2008, the entire 105th Base Command was suspended due to a violation of the MILF’s policy, which he refused to divulge explaining that these were tactical and internal issues.

“But what is clear is that the MILF implements discipline and would not think twice about enforcing disciplinary actions,” Jaafar said.

Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesperson, also denied any tactical cooperation between the BIFF and the MILF during the clash, and that everything happened by chance on Sunday.

“One of the companies of the SAF passed through one of our brigades forcing our members to defend their positions,” Mama said.

Mama, however, admitted that on the ground and in the communities, the labels MILF and BIFF “are just letters.”

“In the communities, we are friends and relatives. When we passed by each other we embrace and wish everyone Salam. There are no other identities in the ground except that we are all family,” Mama said.

Mama cited the example of 105th Base deputy commander Haon, a distant relative with whom he has been regularly communicating.

“For me, he is my nephew. He is the son of my second cousin. And culturally, we treasure and cherish our families no matter how distant it is,” Mama said.

According to Mama, these dynamics are not political and it is only understandable for them to defend their own kin.

“I do not see it as a betrayal of their original organization. It is about protecting the welfare of your family. If someone in your family is being hurt, it is only normal for you to come and defend him regardless of your beliefs,” Mama said.

But he clarified that the recent clash was in no way a joint operation between the MILF and the BIFF.

Still, Mama said no matter what would happen politically, the value of watching each other’s backs in times of trouble would remain.

Palace okayed SAF raid

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 27): Palace okayed SAF raid

No official condemnation of killings—Malacañang                          
Malacanang reportedly sanctioned the operation of the Special Action Force in Maguindanao which resulted in the death of 49 members of the elite unit at the hands of Moro Islamic Liberation Front members.

It also reportedly resulted in the death of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, although authorities have yet to confirm the report since his body has not been found.

A highly-placed source said the operation was part of a grand plan to neutralize Marwan and was hatched by the  Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission headed by Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa.

Tragedy down south. US military personnel help their Philippine
counterparts prepare to load an injured police commando from one
stretcher to another and onto a waiting US military helicopter in
Mamasapano town in Mindanao on Jan. 26 following clashes with
Muslim rebels. Thirty police commandos were feared killed
following the clashes. AFP

“The project originally was formulated by the office of the PNP intelligence branch sometime in 2011 and the grand plan was submitted to the PAOCC office for funding,” the source said.

Police Director Noel delos Reyes was reportedly pulled out from the PNP Directorate for Intelligence and was appointed regional director of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to head the operation.

Communications Secretary Herminio ‘Sonny’ Coloma tacitly admitted that the Palace knew of the operations and said the SAF forces were out to arrest Marwan.

“They (SAF) conducted a law enforcement operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao to arrest a high-value suspected terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan who was allegedly a member of the Markaziyah, Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command. The PNP-SAF performed this mission with courage and professionalism,” Coloma said.

“Based on latest reports, there is a high likelihood that the primary target, Marwan, has been neutralized,” he added.

Coloma, however, did not directly comment on the killing of the PAF forces, saying that a fact-finding mission is still being conducted on the ground.

“We are still waiting for the full report to get to the bottom of what really happened so we cannot make yet a conclusion (on whether to condemn the killing),” he said.

“Why are we pushing for condemnation? The report has not yet been completed,” he said.

But when pressed if he was saying that the SAF elements killed were being viewed as “collateral damage,” Coloma said: “We have no such conclusion. We should be more circumspect in making conclusions.”

Coloma also did not give a categorical response to questions such as why was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front harboring Marwan - if it is confirmed that the terrorist was neutralized inside their stronghold - and why the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters - supposedly a breakaway group - appear to be still working with the MILF.

President Benigno Aquino III has dispatched Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Defense chief Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang, and PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina to lead the fact-finding mission.

But the source said the PNP SAF unit should have properly coordinated with military authorities in Maguindanao considering that it was a top-level operations sanctioned by higher authorities.

Maguindanao is under the jurisdiction of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

Marwan, who carries a bounty of $5 million the United States had offered for his capture, was reportedly killed during the encounter, but the SAF suffered the bigger damage, with seven officers killed and several others wounded in the day-long clashes at the outskirts of Pidsandawan, Masasapano, Sunday.

Another terrorist, Abdul Basit Usman, who carries a $1 million reward, allegedly escaped during the firefight.

The source said that among those killed were Police Senior Inspectors Pabalinas and Erana, but authorities have refused to confirm this, saying that the SAF has not released a list of those involved in the operation.

A source from the military said they are now in pursuit of eight more SAF members who were reportedly captured by a combined MILF-Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters forces.

Troops from the 6th Infantry Division the military said, are scouring the Masasapano area in a search of the captured SAF members.

But PNP Officer-in-Charge Deputy Director Leonardo Espina denied that eight SAF members were seized, saying that only one SAF member was missing.

“Pursuit operations are underway against lawless elements who figured in an encounter with our troops in Maguindanao today (Sunday) even as we mourn the loss of some police commandos of the PNP-SAF who offered the supreme sacrifice for peace,” said Espina.

“I have instructed police commanders in the area to make available all support systems to contain the situation and mitigate the effects on civilian communities in the area,” added Espina.

Espina said more than 100 SAF personnel had been tasked to neutralize Marwan and Usman.

The SAF contingent was culled from three units – from the 55th, 45th and 84th Seaborne company, all under the 5th Special Action Battalion.

A post encounter report said that the SAF members were about to swoop down to the outskirts of Pinsandawan after they were informed on the presence of Marwanat around 10 p.m. Saturday but were immediately met by a volley of gunfire, which started the clashes.

Confident that they had neutralized Arwan, the SAF members were about to leave the area when they were ambushed by another group and were forced to scamper to different directions but later ended up in the rebel camps, triggering another firefight.

The clashes lasted until Sunday late evening, and by then, the SAF had suffered 47 casualties.

The SAF contingent were reportedly pinned down by a barrage of gunfire from the 108 base command and 105 based command of the MILF under commanders Resbak and Visaya.

Espina, meanwhile, declined to confirm that the SAF had killed Marwan, although Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had said that the SAF personnel had indeed neutralized the Malaysian terrorist.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, meanwhile, branded the “special operation” by the SAF as a violation of the ceasefire agreement.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said that while he is not aware which said fired first that triggered the clashes, he said that the PNP failed to coordinate with the MILF with regards to the operation.

“I can categorically pronounce now that there was no coordination made and I think this is a violation of the provision of the ceasefire agreement or the AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) agreement,” Jaafar said.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal agreed with Jaafar’s statement, even a he said that the MILF leadership has already instructed its commanders to help defuse the tension in Mamasapano.

“The MILF is exerting all efforts to put a stop to these (clashes),” said Iqbal over a radio interview.

“In fact, the International Monitoring Team and the ceasefire committees of the government and the MILF and the highest military leadership of the MILF directed the ground commanders to do everything possible to prevent this from worsening, to contain the problem,” he added.

Iqbal said that the clash was the first this year between the MILF and government forces – a rare one since the MILF and the government of the Philippines (GPH) signed peace agreement in 2012.

In a separate statement, government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer, deplored the death of the policemen but did not offer any condemnation.

“Our aim is to normalize the situation as soon as possible in order to prevent the displacement of civilians and give full swing to the humanitarian effort. This incident and other recent acts of violence by other armed groups manifest the diverse security challenges that confound the peace process,” Ferrer said.

“But our resolve to see through the process of legislating the Bangsamoro Basic Law and implementing the different normalization programs, including the security components, is only further strengthened. With better cooperation we will be able to prevent these kinds of incidents,” she added.

Coloma said the government will continue to push for the immediate passage of the proposed BBL.

Once passed, the BBL would implement the peace agreement between the government and the MILF - abolishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and creating a new Bangsamoro political entity.

Where were the military troops?

From the Philippine Star (Jan 27): Where were the military troops?

Army troops stationed in the area were aware of the encounter between guerrillas of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Special Action Force (SAF) troops in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Sunday, but failed to send reinforcements because their hands were tied by the government’s ceasefire agreement.

Sources said the police commandos, running low on ammunition, waited for military reinforcements that never came.

“When the heavy skirmishes started, our men fighting a lopsided battle requested for reinforcement from their Army counterparts but after hours of holding their ground nobody came,” a SAF officer said.

Several army units have forward bases at Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang, two towns near the encounter site in Mamasapano.

Capt. Jo-Anne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesman based in Awang, Maguindanao, said Army troops did not get involved in the fighting in the absence of prior coordination from SAF about operations against Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

An official, who asked not be named, said no prior coordination was made on the SAF’s anti-terror operation, but that troops on the ground knew where the SAF commandos were headed.

“Yes, we did not coordinate as we don’t want any leak,” he said. “But was it correct to just let your brother-in-arms die in the hands of the enemy?”

A middle-grade Army officer said Army troops were ready to reinforce the police commandos, but that their hands were tied by the government’s ceasefire agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF).

If Army troops had joined the fighting, it could have resulted in more casualties on the government side, he added.

The Army officer said police commandos could have mistook the Army troops as the enemy and vice versa.

Army troops could not also just enter the area as the prevailing situation on the ground was then very fluid and could have resulted in a “mis-encounter,” he added.

Fighting stopped after the MILF panel initiated moves for a ceasefire to allow police reinforcements to collect and extricate the bodies of their fallen comrades with the help of US forces.

The official said US soldiers were seen on the ground helping retrieve the bodies of slain police commandos. The bodies were loaded onto US helicopters.

The MILF and BIFF used the ceasefire to retreat to their areas of control in barangay Pidsandawan, Mamasapano and barangays Linantangan and Lusay in Shariff Saydona.

MILF, BIFF trap SAF troops

An MILF brigade joined the BIFF in firing mortars and rockets against two companies of outnumbered SAF troops caught in a pinch in Mamasapano town, according to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

As of press time, MNLF field commanders reported heavy movement of MILF and BIFF guerrillas in the area, MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza told The STAR in a telephone interview.

“The situation is very fluid, anything can happen,” he said.

Cerveza said the MNLF field commander near the scene reported heavy fighting from 5 a.m. Sunday until noon.

The police commandos were pinned down with constant firing from some 300 BIFF snipers hidden among coconut trees and in tall grass, he added.

MILF: 64 cops were killed

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 27): MILF: 64 cops were killed

Gov’t: Peace process continues

FALLEN COP  Policemen carry the body bag of a comrade, one of 64 members of the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police who died in a clash with Moro fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, while on a mission to arrest a Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert. Eight Moro fighters were reported killed.  JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

FALLEN COP Policemen carry the body bag of a comrade, one of 64 members of the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police who died in a clash with Moro fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, while on a mission to arrest a Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert. Eight Moro fighters were reported killed. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reported on Monday that 64 bodies were recovered from the site of a clash between its fighters and police commandos on Sunday.

A report by MILF investigators, which was submitted to the MILF Central Committee, said the 64 bodies belonged to the US-trained police commandos who entered this town early on Sunday to serve warrants of arrest on Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) commander Basit Usman and Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” a bomb expert linked to the Indonesia-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Marwan is on the US list of most wanted terrorists, with $5 million offered for his arrest. Usman has a $2-million price on his head. He is a local terrorist, not a Malaysian as earlier reported.

Marwan was reportedly killed during the clash, but Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the military was still investigating to see if the report was valid.

The MILF report said 36 of the slain policemen belonged to one police unit and 28 belonged to another unit. The units were not identified in the report.

The report also said eight members of the MILF and the BIFF were killed, while more than a dozen were wounded in the clash.

Abdulaziz Antao, an MILF investigator, told the Inquirer that the bodies of the 64 policemen and the bodies of the Moro guerrillas were recovered by volunteer residents.

Disclosure of the slain policemen’s names has to be coordinated with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group of the government and the MILF, Antao said.

Bodies returned

He said the bodies of the slain members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) were loaded in a truck and transported to the headquarters of the Philippine Army’s 6th Division in Awang town, Maguindanao province, at noon on Monday.

Residents of Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak town watched as a 10-vehicle police convoy, including the truck carrying the bodies of the slain policemen, passed by.

“We can’t allow this kind of incident to just pass without anyone being held responsible,” a police officer who refused to be identified told the Inquirer.

The government reported fewer casualties in the clash, as security forces were still trying to extract bodies from the clash site, the PNP said.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas called the clash a “misencounter” between SAF members and MILF and BIFF rebels.

Roxas said 43 SAF commandos running after Marwan and Usman were killed in the clash with MILF and BIFF guerrillas.

It was the “single largest loss of life” in the history of the country’s security forces, he said.

PNP in mourning

Flags were lowered to half-staff at all PNP camps on Monday in mourning for the slain policemen.

“We can call these SAF operatives fallen heroes. They did their job. They conducted a dangerous operation. They penetrated an unsafe territory and they ran after these terrorists who were linked to several bombings not only here but internationally as well,” Roxas told a press briefing.

Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, PNP officer in charge, said among the policemen killed were seven officers and 36 noncommissioned officers.

Eleven were wounded and a commando from the 55th Special Action Company remained missing, Espina said.

Espina said he would head a board of inquiry that would investigate the clash.

He said he was informed that there were 392 commandos in SAF units in Kidapawan, Cotabato, General Santos City and Zamboanga City, among other places.

“I want to know how many were killed, how many were wounded, how many are still missing,” Espina said.

He said the “special operations” against Marwan and Usman, “who posed a serious threat to the country,” began at 10 p.m. on Saturday.

“However, when the Special Action Force people were withdrawing, they were ambushed by members of the BIFF and had a misencounter, allegedly, which has to be verified and validated, with [the] MILF,” he said.

Roxas and Espina stressed that the SAF mission was a “law-enforcement operation” against the two terrorists.

The clash was the first since the government and the MILF signed a peace agreement last year.

Congress is discussing a bill that would establish an autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao, as provided for in the peace deal.

Roxas acknowledged that the incident would have an impact on the peace process.

“Naturally, there will be some impact. Although we are hopeful and confident that this would not derail the peace talks. As we have said, and as has been explained, this is not directed against the MILF, but this is directed against a very, very specific high-profile terrorist, [a] bomber who was in the area,” Roxas said.

The MILF said on Sunday that the PNP did not coordinate the SAF operation with them and that the policemen attacked the MILF position, leading to the firefight.

The fighting lasted for 11 hours, but it was unclear whether the policemen received military combat support.

There was coordination

Gazmin belied reports of lack of coordination, saying the SAF did coordinate with the military in the area at the tactical level.

But because of the presence of high-value targets, he said, the SAF members went ahead with the operation and encountered the BIFF.

Hearing about the firefight, the Army immediately sent reinforcements and extricated the policemen from the scene of the encounter.

Espina said the board of inquiry would investigate to see if there was military support for the huge operation and to find out why the SAF failed to inform the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

Also to be investigated was the possibility that the SAF operation was inspired by the reward for the capture of Marwan.

“It could very well be,” Roxas said when asked if the attraction of the bounty played a part in the SAF mission.

“I do not discount it. That’s why we are forming a board of inquiry,” he said.

In Malacañang, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Aquino had been on top of the situation since the clash was reported on Sunday.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines enforced a ceasefire starting 5 p.m. on Sunday to allow the recovery of bodies in cooperation with the MILF, the international monitoring team and the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

Despite the bloody incident, Coloma said there was no change in the government’s stand on the Bangsamoro peace initiative.

“The view of the government has not changed. The peace process is important in Mindanao, passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law is important, and we will continue to pursue the peace process,” he said.

Coloma said there was no need for an emergency meeting with the peace panel and the MILF since there was a regular consultation with Malacañang.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the government, said the incident posed a big problem, but maintained that the MILF was committed to the peace process.

He said the police commandos swooped down on Mamasapano at 3 a.m. on Sunday to arrest Marwan and Usman but without coordinating the operation with the MILF, as required under the peace agreement.

While he recognized that the incident was a setback, Iqbal said he hoped peace timetables would not be impacted.

“We are committed [to the peace process]. For the MILF, the ceasefire still holds,” he said.

MILF: Maguindanao encounter unfortunate; SAF-PNP never coordinated with the Ceasefire Committee, ADJAG- MILF

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 26): Maguindanao encounter unfortunate; SAF-PNP never coordinated with the Ceasefire Committee, ADJAG- MILF

A police operation by elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (SAF-PNP) purposely to serve a warrant of arrest on Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as “Marwan” resulting to the death of at least 30 members including five (5) officers, and the captured of another eight is unfortunate, said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The fierce and bloody firefight in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao started at around 2:30 AM on Sunday and lasted for several hours. The MILF suffered five (5) dead, according to reports from the field.

The “dusk to dawn” gun battle in the said village between SAF-PNP Troops and MILF rebels  allegedly joined by another rebel group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that also have a camp in the area.

This however has to be validated first before making a formal statement pending an official report from the International Monitoring Team (IMT), the MILF said.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Chief Negotiator said the clash was triggered by lack of coordination on the SAF operation.

“There was no coordination,(nasagasaan din nila ang tropa namin) and they also enggaged our troops nearby aside from the BIFF, that how started the bloody war today”, Iqbal said over the phone.

“Marwan”, whose presence had been confirmed in the Tukanalipao is among the list of most wanted terrorists by the United States and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has offered a $5-million reward for any information that will lead to his capture.

Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan confirmed that loud explosions and gunfire were heard from the scene of the gunfight and advised his barangay chairmen to see to it that local folks are safe.

“Two of my constituents were wounded and we are still working to evacuate those who are believed to be trapped civilians”, Ampatuan said.

BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama said the firefight started when police attempted to raid the suspected hideout of Basit Usman that was actually the house of a certain Ustadz Manan, a sub-commander of MILF 105th base command under Zacaria Goma.

 The Army 1st Mechanized Brigade under Col. Gener Del Rosario deployed tanks along the highway but could not engage for fear of hitting civilians or police.

“We have no communication with the SAF in the area inside. At first, there was no coordination with us”, Del Rosario said.

The Army 6th Infantry Division and the Maguindanao provincial police also said there was no coordination with them on the SAF operation.

Bodies of slain police officers were retrieved by responding government soldiers after the joint International Monitoring Team (IMT) and joint MILF- Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities came to calm the situation down.

2 senators withdraw as authors of Bangsamoro law

From Rappler (Jan 26): 2 senators withdraw as authors of Bangsamoro law

Senators Alan Cayetano and JV Ejercito condemn the Maguindanao clash that killed dozens of elite cops. Their withdrawal means the proposal for an autonomous Muslim region doesn't have the majority vote anymore.

Two senators on Monday, January 26, withdrew their authorship of the proposed Bangsamo Basic Law a day after the deadly clash between special police forces and Muslim rebels, who were supposedly talking peace with the government.

The move by senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Joseph Victor Ejercito came after Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr issued a strong statement against the ongoing peace process and suspended scheduled hearings in Mindanao.
The withdrawal of authorship by the two senators means the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) – which seeks to create an autonomous region initially headed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – is no longer guaranteed a majority vote in the Senate.
When the proposed BBL was submitted to the Senate, a total of 13 senators signed up as co-authors. This constitutes a majority vote out of 24 senators, ensuring the passage of the law.
But after clashes where the MILF said it was acting on self defense and killed at least 49 members of the elite Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF), Cayetano and Ejercito decided to withdraw their co-authorship.
In a statement, Cayetano said he was "disgusted" with what is happening. He questioned what the purpose of the proposed law was if violence in the South would persist.
"What is the BBL for if they don't have control of the area, and they will say that if 50 policemen died, it's because they did not coordinate?" Cayetano said.
"So I’m withdrawing my co-authorship of the BBL and I seriously doubt if this peace agreement will survive," he added.
Ejercito, meanwhile, condemned "in the highest possible terms" what he said was a massacre of troops.
"I signed as a co-author with the desire of giving the BBL a chance to be the instrument of peace in Mindanao. What happened to the PNP-SAF troopers is not a misencounter but a MASSACRE! I am withdrawing my signature as a co-author of the Bangsamoro Basic Law as a result of this carnage. My heart bleeds for our policemen who were mercilessly killed," Ejercito said.
Other senators, including Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, believe that discussions on the proposed law should continue despite the incident. (READ: Maguindanao clash casts doubt on peace process)
Marcos' counterpart at the House of Representatives, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, also gave assurances that the House will continue to push for the passage of the law.
In a separate press briefing, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the Bangsamoro bill proposes long-term solutions to the Mindanao conflict and should not be derailed by a single incident.
The proposed law serves as the legal basis from the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF signed in March 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. It needs to be passed in Congress and in a plebiscite before the envisioned Bangsamoro government can be established.

Maguindanao clash casts doubt on peace process

From Rappler (Jan 26): Maguindanao clash casts doubt on peace process

Congress suspends meetings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, lawmakers call for a probe and 2 senators withdraw their authorship of the proposed law

BODY BAGS. Members of the Special Action Force carry bodies of their comrades killed in Maguindanao on Sunday, January 25. Photo by Althea Ballentes/EPA

BODY BAGS. Members of the Special Action Force carry bodies of their comrades killed in Maguindanao on Sunday, January 25. Photo by Althea Ballentes/EPA

The deadly clash between special police forces and Muslim rebels on Sunday, January 25, in Maguindanao prompted lawmakers and public officials to cast doubts on the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), triggering discussions on whether Congress should continue deliberating the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

But others maintained Congress should not give up on the process. They argued that long-term solutions towards lasting peace should not be derailed by a single incident.

A day after the clash that killed at least 43 Special Action Force (SAF) troops, Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, head of the main Senate committee tackling the bill, cancelled all scheduled consultations in Mindanao. Hearings in Manila set for the coming weeks are pushing through.

The House ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro suspended their afternoon session on Monday, January 26. The House committee is holding executive meetings on the proposed law until the first week of February.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman called for calm and cautioned stakeholders against knee-jerk reactions.

"Our direct communication with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) played a key role. Personally, I'm appealing to everyone to not ride on the issue and make ongoing peace talks turn sour, " Hataman said.

The government described the incident as a "misencounter." The MILF said SAF failed to coordinate their operations before entering an MILF area to arrest wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as "Marwan," and Basit Usma. (READ: Dead or alive? Top terrorist was cops' target)

Varied reactions

Lawmakers are tasked to pass the proposed law that aims to install a new autonomous region in Mindanao with greater powers than the current one in place.

What are they saying about the clash in relation to the peace process?

Marcos said he is awaiting feedback from the government and the MILF before deciding on how to proceed with hearings.

His counterpart in the House, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez is more categorical. He said the House will continue to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law despite the incident.

"This is the product of 17 years of negotiations, and this cannot be stopped by this occurrence. We continue to have an executive session starting today up to February 4, and hopefully we approve the draft committee report on February 9. On the 16th of February we will be able to send it to the plenary so that by march it will be with the Senate and with the President," Rodriguez said.

Authors raise doubts on BBL passage

Some lawmakers said they find it difficult to reconcile the carnage that happened in Maguindanao to the peace process between the government and the MILF, which – under the current proposal – will lead the transition government towards the Bangsamoro.

After attending the hearing on the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Basic Law under the committee of Senator Miriam Santiago Monday, Senator Pia Cayetano, one of the authors of the bill, posted the following tweets:

Her brother, Senator Alan Cayetano, asked the same questions and did more: he withdrew his authorship of the proposed Bangsamoro law.

He said he is "disgusted" with what happened and doubts whether the law will be passed.

"The basis of a peace agreement is to have a framework to ensure the rule of law. But if you're going to say that they did not coordinate with us, what if it happens to them? What if MILF fighters enter an area and there is an encounter and they are killed? Can we say that you did not coordinate with us?" Cayetano said.

Senator JV Ejercito later withdrew his co-authorship of the bill as well.

Crucial votes

The support of all 13 authors of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the Senate is crucial. With Cayetano's decision to withdraw his authorship, the proponents of the law are no longer assured of a majority vote – 13 votes already comprise majority of the 24 members of the Senate.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, however, said the "unfortunate incident and and the deaths of our policemen, condemnable as it is" should not stand in the way of peace efforts.

"I therefore call on authorities to conduct a comprehensive investigation and get to the bottom of this tragedy that killed 50 of our policemen. Our nation deserves an explanation as to why dozens of our brave policemen doing their duties had to die in such a manner," Drilon said.

Calls for probe

At least two separate resolutions in the House and the Senate were filed a day after the Maguindanao clash that killed at least 49 special police forces and 5 MILF members.

The so-called Saturday Group, composed of former military officials such as Representatives Romeo Acop, Leopoldo Bataoil, Samuel Pagdilao, Gary Alejano and Francisco Ashley Acedillo, said the House of Representatives should suspend deliberations pending the result of an investigation by a "multi-agency govenrment panel."

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate likewise condemned the incident and called for a probe.

Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe wants to know why special police forces were sent to Mamasapano in the first place. (READ: PNP probes Maguindanao 'misencounter')

What's the mood among lawmakers?

Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr, who said his cousin was one of the police officers killed in the clashes, sums it up:

The government and the MILF signed a peace agreement in March 2014 that is now the basis of the proposed law pending in Congress.

Since signing a ceasefire agreement in the late 1990s, there have been complaints from both sides on possible breaches but the Mamasapano incident is the worst breakdown of the ceasefire.

PNP-Bicol prepares for possible NPA attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): PNP-Bicol prepares for possible NPA attacks

With the expiration of the Suspension of Police Operation against the New People's Army rebels from Dec. 18, 2014 to Jan. 19, 2015, the Philippine National Police Bicol regional office has placed its men on high state of alertness for possible attacks of the communist rebels in connection with the NPA anniversary in March.

With this possibility, the PNP-Bicol has intensified its counter-insurgency strategies and augmented its field personnel for any atrocities that would be done by the rebels.

Chief Supt. Victor P. Deona, Bicol regional police chief, said his men will closely guard vital installations, economic assets, local and foreign businesses, tourist destinations and places where people converge so that they would not be made targets of rebel activities.

Deona said he has also intensified intelligence operations to preempt any plan of the rebels and terrorists.

He said they will mobilize force multiplers like the Barangay Intelligence Network and other groups fighting against lawlessness in their areas.

The top PNP regional official said he has also intensified close cooperation with Armed Forces of the Philippines, their partner in operations against the rebels.

Some 1,500 of Bicol police officers have just arrived trom Tacloban City where they helped maintain peace and order and provided security during Pope Francis' visit.

Deona said the regional office will give honors to these 1,500 police for successfully performing their mission with professionalism, dedication and enthusiasm.

3 more rebels voluntarily surrender to Eastern Mindanao Command units

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): 3 more rebels voluntarily surrender to Eastern Mindanao Command units

Three more New People's Army (NPA) fighters have voluntarily surrendered to Eastern Mindanao Command units in Davao Del Norte and North Cotabato last Jan. 24.

Reports forwarded Monday by Major Ezra Balagtey, Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, said the first two rebels surrendered to Army units in Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao Norte.

The identities of the two were withheld for security reasons.

The third NPA fighter identified as 22-year-old Jemuel Damali Maneb alias "Renren" voluntarily surrendered to a "Bayanihan" team in Barangay Luayon, Makilala, North Cotabato.

He surrendered one homemade Uzi autopistol with five rounds live ammunition.

Accordingly the surrenderees decided to leave the organization due to hardship and disillusionment in the NPA organization.

Balagtey said the three will be enrolled in the Comprehensive Localized Integration Program in their respective communities for them to live a normal and peaceful life.

Task Force Davao reaches out to barangays via MedCap

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): Task Force Davao reaches out to barangays via MedCap

Task Force Davao, in collaboration with the Community Outreach Volunteers Advocates (COVA), conducted another MedCap project in Sto. Niňo National High School in Barangy Sto. Niňo, Tugbok District, Davao City.

Free medical and dental check-up, tooth extraction and hair cut were extended over the weekend to more or less 800 beneficiaries of the said project which included students and faculty members of Sto. Niňo National High School and their families.

Warm arrozcaldo prepared by the City Mayor’s Office was also enjoyed by the participants.

Another activity organized for this event was the Safety and Bomb Awareness Symposium headed by the Philippine Army’s Explosive Ordnance and Disposal unit aimed to emphasize the importance of public awareness to thwart any threats of terrorism from jeopardizing the order and security in the city. Discussions on the fight Against Human Trafficking were also tackled by Hope Fernandez of Global Impact Philippines Foundation.

Many of the unit’s constant supporters and stakeholders also took part in the whole day endeavor. This include the Global Impact Philippines Foundation, 10ID Medical and Dental Team, 84th IB personnel, the Young Living Canada headed by Hector Nevares who gave school supplies to the student attendees, Dr. Reginald Jopson of the Philippine Mental Health Association, Davao City Health Office and Tugbok District Barangay Health Workers.

COVA adviser and SNNHS External Affairs Committee Chairman, Melani Carnazo, in an interview, expressed her gratitude in behalf of the organizers and the school, to everyone who responded to their invitation of partnership for the project.

“You all came and that’s what we have truly appreciated”, Carnazo added.

Such effort did not just intensify the unit’s mission to encourage cooperation from the citizens of Davao City in the fight against terrorism, but also allowed everyone involved to see firsthand the importance of reaching out to the youth of today.

The unit hopes to inspire the people of Davao City to be vigilant in realizing the needs of the youth to encourage their development into the citizen that everyone hopes them to be. They are the students of today but may one day become the city’s protector of tomorrow.

(Update) Bodies of fallen cops, others brought to Army camp in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): (Update) Bodies of fallen cops, others brought to Army camp in Maguindanao

More than 30 bodies of policemen killed in Sunday's clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are now at Camp Siongco, Awang, Maguindanao for verification purposes.

Camp Siongco is the headquarters of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division operating in South Central Mindanao.

The camp is currently on “restricted” status following the coming in of the bodies from Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The bodies were extricated from Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano town following Sunday’s bloody "misencounter" between the police’s Special Action Force and members of the MILF 105th Base Command in the area.

Sunday’s clash was described as the worse "misencounter" between state and MILF forces since the GPH-MILF peace process took off in 2011.

The SAF elements were after two highly-prioritized value targets in Mamasapano, identified as Afghanistan-trained bomb-makers Jemaah Islamiyah operative Zulkipli bin Hir, alias Marwan; and cohort Abdul Basit Usman when met by gunfire on Sunday dawn in Barangay Tukanalipao, an MILF–influenced area in the province.

Members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters camping nearby later joined the fray to wipe out the SAF team.

Von Al Haq, MILF spokesman, said the lack of coordination by the SAF raiding team with the MILF leadership led to the unfortunate incident.

Joint extrication operation for the bodies of those killed is still being done by PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel.

Some 530 families who evacuated from some five villages following Sunday’s clash in Mamasapano are also currently being assisted by Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao relief workers.