Thursday, February 5, 2015

Phil. Army's 56th IB (Tatag) commander embarks on winning the peace

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Phil. Army's 56th IB (Tatag) commander embarks on winning the peace

There is a new man at the helm of the Philippine Army’ 56th Infantry (Tatag) Battalion.

He is Lt. Colonel Joey Escanillas who is advancing the military’s mission mantra Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) codenamed “Bayanihan.”

To win the peace is to win the hearts and minds of local folks in its territorial jurisdiction covering the provinces of Aurora and Quirino, the towns of Bongabon in Nueva Ecija and Dinapigue in Isabela and portions of Alfonso Castaneda in Nueva Vizcaya.

Winning the peace in the 56th IB’s area of responsibility is an ardous task.

For one, the areas represent varied cultures and geographical make-up covering 17 municipalities composed of 320 barangays and inhabited by almost half a million people – 450,274 to be exact.

Aurora is a coastal province as distinguished from land-locked Quirino.

Dinapigue is a first class municipality while Bongabon and Alfonso Castaneda are second and fourth class towns, respectively.

When Escanillas assumed his post on June 1,2014, the 56th IB was in limbo.

The battalion has just been placed under non-operational status and its men were dispatched to the Army’s 7th Infantry Division headquarters in Fort Magsaysay, Palayan City for retraining purposes.

Upon assumption, he immediately buckled down to work.

He supervised the implementation of the IPSP, an operational road map of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on how it performs its mandate of protecting the people and the state from internal armed threats.

The IPSP’s utmost goal is to win the peace, instead of just defeating the enemy in military combat.

To win peace, it should involve the cooperation of various sectors and stakeholders such as local government units (LGUs), the community, non-government organizations and the citizenry at- large.

Six months after assuming his post, Escanillas led his troops in returning to the barracks, to its original base in Barangay Calabuanan in Baler, Aurora.

Shortly after, bayanihan teams were deployed in Aurora, Quirino and Alfonso Castańeda, Nueva Vizcaya.

Before actual deployment, Escanillas touched base with the LGUs and forged the signing of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) plus send-off ceremonies to the troops.

“These ceremonies aim to make each stakeholder entity to be cognizant of their respective roles and responsibilities in the attainment of peace and progress in their areas,” he said.

Among the areas where the MOUs have been signed were in Alfonso Castaneda in Nueva Vizcaya, Maria Aurora in Aurora and Maddela, Quirino.

Escanillas demonstrated that he is a hands-on manager overseeing the operations of his troops.

He personally involved himself in the deployment by orienting every team on IPSP, the significance of their deployment and gave emphasis on respect for and adherence to human rights, advocacy of the International Humanitarian Law and the rule of law as well as soldier discipline for which the Army is known for.

Escanillas understands the vital and indispensable role of coordination in forging peace and unity in the battalion’s AOR.

Armed with this belief, he lost no time paying courtesy calls to Governors Gerardo A. Noveras of Aurora and Junie Cua of Quirino, Mayor Allan Xystus Gamilla of Bongabon, Mayor Annie C. Bayawan of Alfonso Castaneda and Mayor Reynaldo D. Derije of Dinapigue.

Being the chief executives of their respective localities, he explained that these political leaders have the grasp of the situation on the ground, including the peace and order situation and the attendant threats to its preservation and upkeep.

“In a sense, they are ground commanders who have a pulse of the situation since they are the heads of their respective peace and order councils.

Besides, they carry with them overwhelming mandates and thus, are popular with the masses,” he said.

Escanillas raised the bar of performance of the battalion by actively engaging soldiers in essaying non-traditional roles in partnership with the LGUs in various operational fronts of civil-military operations such as – but not limited to - disaster relief and rescue operations, anti-illegal logging operations and environmental protection, the “Balik-loob” programs, community development activities and school activities.

He stressed that with these activities, winning the peace and progress is not an impossible dream.

Significantly, the battalion’s combat operations, backed up by a no-nonsense intelligence build-up, led to the recovery of four rounds of M-203 ammunitions, seven empty shells of M-203, 10 rounds of M-60 ammo, 23 empty shells of M-60, three rounds of M-16 ammo, 23 empty shells of M-16, improvised explosive device (IED) and one backpack containing medical supplies, medicines, subversive documents and food supplies during an encounter at Barangay Galintuja, Maria Aurora on November 12, 2014.

“Winning the peace is everybody’s concern. It’s not an issue of you and me alone but everybody,” he said.

“At the end of the day, peace is defined as not just the absence of war and conflict.

But an environment where there is rule of law, a climate of harmony, cooperation and camaraderie and the steadfast faith that we are all brothers – irregardless of our color, religion and beliefs – standing side-by-side in service to the nation,” he added.

Jungle fighters recover high powered firearms in Quezon

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Jungle fighters recover high powered firearms in Quezon

Elements of the 16th Infantry Battalion (IB) under the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry (Jungle Fighter) Division recovered four high powered firearms Thursday, at 11:30 a.m.

Lieutenant Coronel Andres F Ferrer, 16IB Commander, said his troops were on their way to conduct peace and security patrol at Area Minanga, Lumutan Village, Genaral Nakar when a concerned citizen gave information regarding the location of high powered firearms kept by unknown New People’s Army (NPA).

”The troops immediately proceeded to the area to confirm the information. 16IB troops recovered two M16 rifles, one M14 rifle and one Shotgun,” Lt. Col. Ferrer said.

The newly installed Commander of 2ID, BGen Romeo G Gan, congratulated the troops for the successful recovery of the high powered firearms.

“We would like to thank the people of Area Minanga, Lumutan Village , General Nakar for their continuing support in giving information and I assure the people of Southern Tagalog that we will continue in clearing the interior barangays (villages)from the influence of the NPA so that Local Government Units can implement their programs and be able to provide basic services for the people,” BGen Gan said.

US Navy EOD team aids PHL military in safe disposal, detonation of WW II bomb

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): US Navy EOD team aids PHL military in safe disposal, detonation of WW II bomb

A US Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team has assisted its counterparts in the Philippine military on the safe disposal and detonation of a 500 pound World War II-era bomb unearthed in Butuan City last year.

This was disclosed by the US Embassy in Manila Friday morning.

The bomb was recently discovered by a construction crew digging the foundation for a new school in the heart of Butuan City.

Philippine National Police personnel in the area moved swiftly first to safeguard the area and then to excavate the bomb and transport it outside of city limits as a precautionary measure to protect the civilian population.

After careful deliberation between PNP, Philippine Army, and Philippine Navy EOD units, a request for assistance was submitted to the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) at the US Embassy for assistance in determining the condition of the bomb.

On Nov. 17, JUSMAG deployed a two-man US Navy EOD team to liaise with Philippine counterparts and determine the appropriate course of action to dispose of the bomb.

The US Navy EOD team concluded, in conjunction with joint Filipino EOD units, that the bomb was armed and could pose danger to the local community if not properly disposed.

The US Navy EOD team recommended that the bomb be carefully transported to a rock quarry 2.5 km from its initial location where it could be safely detonated.

Over the course of the next two months, the JUSMAG EOD liaison officer, Lt. Jason Cocca, coordinated with the PNP, NAVSOG, and ASCOM EOD units to make preparations for the disposal using locally-procured tools and materials.

On Jan. 28, a four-man US Navy EOD team from EOD mobile unit five assisted the joint Filipino EOD team to safely detonate the WWII-era device.

“[The safe detonation] of this WWII remnant, was a huge success for Butuan City and the Philippines as a whole. Our EOD counterparts were able to protect personnel and property by eliminating an explosive hazard. It’s the quintessence of the EOD mission and our partnership,” Cocca said.

Seized videos show Usman giving shooting, bomb-making lessons

From GMA News (Feb 5): Seized videos show Usman giving shooting, bomb-making lessons

The laptop of wanted Filipino bomb maker Basit Usman that the military managed to seize last June yielded videos of giving shooting lessons as well as on how to make homemade bombs.

A report on GMA's “24 Oras” aired Thursday showed different videos allegedly taken by Usman himself.
[Video report]

Among the videos shown to GMA News were of Usman teaching a group of women how to fire a pistol in a makeshift shooting range, one showing him preparing an improvised explosive device, and another showing him detonating one.
According to military intelligence, Usman seems to be fond of taking videos of his activities since videos showing him with family members were also found on the laptop. 
There was also a video that showed Usman's bodyguards who were all equipped with high-powered firearms and combat gear.
Philippine Army 6th Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Jo-anne Petinglay said fugitives like Usman always had a sizable personal army.
“Unang-una alam nila na target sila ng hindi lang basta bastang puwersa. Elite forces will go after them so mabigat talaga. Expected na mabigat yung nakapalibot. And, pangalawa, may mga IEDs na inilalagay yan ready for detonation in case may papasok [na kalaban],” Petinglay explained.
Usman is among the most wanted terrorists of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation with a bounty of $1 million.
He was also one of the targets of a  massive police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 that ended in 44 elite lawmen killed and 12 wounded.

Chief GPH negotiator: Due process needed in turnover of MILF fighters, SAF guns

From GMA News (Feb 5): Chief GPH negotiator: Due process needed in turnover of MILF fighters, SAF guns

The head of the government's peace panel said Thursday that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is leading an internal investigation for the return of the firearms and other items taken from troopers of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force who fell in a clash in Maguindanao on Jan. 25.

"That has been a pending request. Of course, we understand they are still doing their investigation and we know it's going on now," chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told GMA News Online on Thursday. 
She also added that the return of the SAF weapons is part of MILF's commitment to the peace process, which involves the decommissioning of arms. 
Although giving up their weapons will not be easy, MILF peace panel head Mohager Iqbal said to push through with it, Ferrer said.
"He said it has to be done. I think he said that in relation to the decommissioning so they actuallly signed the agreement. They knew it was difficult but they committted to do it and they have the initial steps to actually start off the process of decommissioning," Ferrer said. 
In fact, before the Mamasapano incident happened and both parties flew to Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 29 to discuss the details of the decommissioning, MILF had already submitted the list of their firearms. 
Surrender fighters? 
When asked if the MILF is willing to surrender the fighters who were involved in the clash in Mamasapano town, Ferrer said that there must be due process for the government to request that. 
"There has to be due process for that and a clearer understanding as to what exactly happened. We don't know the exact charges filed against them since the Board of Inquiry is undergoing its investigation," she said. 
Members of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Figters splinter group, and private armed groups in Maguindanao have been accused of mutilating the fallen SAF policemen, prompting relatives and lawmakers to call for justice.  
However, Ferrer stressed that both sides suffered losses in the fighting. 
"The killing that happened was a gun battle. Both sides suffered losses. We need to take a look at the circumstances which distinguish it from a simple case of murder or homicide. That's something for the investigators to see and allow due process to kick in," she said. 
The chief negotiator stood firm that according to the rules of war, none of the combatants on either side should have been "killed off".
"In terms of the gun battle itself, we can presume that the SAF was outnumbered. But as far as other actions that may have been done, for instance, if one combatant was wounded he should not have been killed," Ferrer said. 
MILF has cooperated with government forces in the past
Meanwhile, she also said that the government's request for cooperation in capturing the main targets — Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman — was made years ago.
"That kind of request has been submitted to the MILF way back in 2011. The operations against Basit Usman have been going on for years. In fact, there have been many operations in the past in different parts of Mindanao, in Sulu, in Lanao, also in different parts of Maguindanao precisely to look after Marwan and Basit Usman. There has been cooperation and coordination going in most of these past operations.
"It's an understanding that's always been there. That security cooperation has been enhanced. I am sure that our Armed Forces in the ground remain in touch with their friends in the MILF (to capture Usman)," the government's chief negotiator said.

NSC: Four armed groups coddled Marwan in 12-year stay in PHL

From GMA News (Feb 5): NSC: Four armed groups coddled Marwan in 12-year stay in PHL

The National Security Council said international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan was coddled by at least four armed groups during his twelve-year stay in the country, a report from GMA's “24-Oras” program said Thursday.
The NSC named the groups as the Abu Sayyaf Group, Moro National Liberation Front, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
According to NSC Director General Cesar Garcia, Marwan known to be a smart and cunning man used religion to further terrorism in the Asian region particularly the Philippines.
“He drives these groups with stronger religious morals.... He is a jihadist, a pure jihadist. In fact that's the danger from him comes from,” Garcia said.
[Video report]
Meanwhile, former intelligence officer Rodolfo Mendoza described Marwan as a flexible man who knows how to position himself amid different political environments of various areas.
“Kaya niya pag aralan yung political environment. Kaya nia irelate yung sarili niya because he is educated,” Mendoza said.
He added that Marwan's three Filipina wives greatly helped in expanding his network in the country.
“Dahil sa nandiyan yung asawa niya na Pilipina he can relate easily. Kaya pati politician winewelcome siya doon,” Mendoza said.
Marwan was one of the primary targets of a massive operation launched by the Philippine Government in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25.
Some 400 elite lawmen from the PNP's SAF branch conducted the operation but at least 44 were killed and 12 were injured after a support unit was allegedly flanked by armed rebels.

MILF considers returning fallen 44 SAF men’s firearms

From GMA News (Feb 6): MILF considers returning fallen 44 SAF men’s firearms

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is considering returning the firearms of the 44 Special Action Force troopers slain in a clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25.
MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal said early Friday that while there is no "final" decision, he believes the decision could be "positive."
"There is no final decision yet, but mostly I think the decision will be positive," he said in an interview on dzBB radio.
View image on Twitter
FLASH: MILF, ikinokonsidera ang pagbabalik ng mga armas ng Spec'l Action Force, ayon kay MILF peace panel chair Iqbal

Cops foil Cotabato bombing

From the Philippine Star (Feb 6): Cops foil Cotabato bombing

Policemen intercepted a motorcycle-riding man with a grenade in his pocket here on Wednesday, possibly preventing another bombing in the city.

Esmael Gandawali was arrested after a brief chase after he refused to pull over when police officers flagged him down at a roadblock in Barangay Rosary Heights 10, said Senior Superintendent Rolen Balquin, Cotabato City police director.

Police and Army intelligence units are still trying to determine if Gandawali has links with Malaysian terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, who was killed by Special Action Force commandos last Jan. 25, and Abdul Basit Usman.

Balquin said Gandawali would be charged with illegal possession of explosives, and robbery if it is confirmed that he has stolen the motorcycle.

Abu Sayyaf in Basilan liquidates member suspected of spying

From the Philippine Star (Feb 6): Abu Sayyaf in Basilan liquidates member suspected of spying

The military revealed Friday the Abu Sayyaf had executed its member who was suspected of spying and breaking out from the group in Basilan.

Capt. Ma. Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command, said the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama shot dead a bandit named Ralphy Lahanan alias Kaloy, 20.

Lahanan was executed in Barangay Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo town on Saturday.

Muyuela, spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the militant member was on board a motorcycle when he was gunned down by another Abu Sayyaf member identified as Parung Tedie alias Abusay.

She said that according to police and military intelligence operatives, Lahanan was suspected of spying on the group of the authorities and he was suspected of planning to bolt the bandit group.

Informant, not SAF, will get $5M reward

From the Manila Times (Feb 5): Informant, not SAF, will get $5M reward

WHO will get the $5 million reward now that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had confirmed that it was indeed Malaysian terrorist Zulkipli Bin Hir alias Marwan who was killed by police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25?

While some have said that the reward, equivalent to more than P220 million, be given to the families of the 44 slain members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), a ranking official of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said the money should be given to the SAF informant or informants under the Rewards For Justice (RFJ), the U.S. Department of State’s Counter-Terrorism Rewards Program.

“I knew SAF had an informant in their operation against Marwan,” said the official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

He explained that under the system, rewards are not given to the operating unit that conducted the operation whether they arrest or kill a wanted person.

“But there were instances that informants, who received the reward, gave gratuities to members of the operation unit. Parang balato,” the official said.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had said the $5 million reward will go to the informant if it was proven that the Malaysian terrorist was dead.

But PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina said he has no idea about the $5 million reward for Marwan’s capture, or who could claim it now that the terrorist has been confirmed killed by the SAF.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday announced that the DNA sample from the small finger taken by SAF troopers from a man killed in the Mamasapano encounter perfectly matched those of Marwan’s brother, who is being detained in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Soldiers kill two Abu Sayyaf rebels

From the Manila Times (Feb 6): Soldiers kill two Abu Sayyaf rebels

GOVERNMENT forces killed two Abu Sayyaf members in Sulu on Thursday. At least four soldiers were also wounded in the 30-minute firefight with the extremist group.

Reports reaching the armed forces headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo said the Philippine Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Col. Gregorio Nieveras engaged the bandits in a fierce firefight Thursday morning in Patikul, Sulu.

The undetermined number of bandits later withdrew to their jungle lair as the Joint Task Force – Sulu group led by Col. Alan Arrojado implemented its pursuit operations.

While fleeing, the bandits left seven high-powered firearms that were later recovered by the military. Authorities did not reveal the identities of the wounded soldiers pending the notification of their families.

BBL as good as delayed; Muslim solons push peace

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 6): BBL as good as delayed; Muslim solons push peace

House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, Jr. may not spell it out, but the “big elephant” in Congress right now is the impending delay in the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The proposed law that aims to give greater autonomy for the Bangsamoro people was dealt a major setback in the form of the January 25 Mamasapano,

Maguindanao incident, as the deliberations of the House Ad Hoc Committee moving forward would be heavily dependent on several requested reports and documents related to the bloody clash.

“Yes certainly,” Ad Hoc panel chair, 2nd District Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said when asked earlier this week if he believes that the BBL’s passage would be delayed.

Yesterday, Muslim lawmakers threw a collective voice into the bloody Mamasapano encounter and appealed “to all concerned” not to use the incident to block the approval of the BBL.


“We appeal to all concerned not to use the incident as a deterrent in our quest for peace, development and prosperity through the approval and ratification of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, a measure dubbed as an instrument of peace,” nine of 12 congressmen representing Muslim-prevalent congressional districts stated in a joint statement.

Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong, chairman of the Committee on Muslim Affairs, said his fellow Muslim lawmakers found the need to issue the joint statement to clarify to everybody their stand on the incident that resulted in the death of 44 members of the elite Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF).

Sajid Mangudadatu (LP, Maguindanao); Ruby Sahali (NP, Tawi-tawi); and Sitti Djalia A. Turabin-Hataman (Amin Partylist).

The nine lawmakers appealed for “sobriety” among Filipinos as they try to understand the facts and circumstances that led to the incident.

“We sympathize with all the families whose loved ones lost their lives in the incident. We grieve over the loss of lives on both sides who fought for the same cause, that the right to live in peace be for all,” the statement said.

The congressmen said the incident was “highly unfortunate” as it took place while both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are one in seeking an end to the long drawn war in Mindanao.

As “representatives of different Muslim political constituencies,” the group also reiterated its commitment to support President Aquino in the search for peace in Mindanao.


“The original timetable will now be subject to the reports of these agencies, and subject to the normalization (agreement) coming in, and subject to the deferment of these four important provisions of the BBL,” Rodriguez said.

These four contentious provisions of the BBL — on National Security (which involves the armed forces); Public Order and Safety (police force); Operational Control; and Normalization — have become more crucial for solons now after the brutal death of 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) commandos at the hands of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Maguindanao.

The secessionist group is the Philippine government’s partner in the peace process in the Muslim south, and the BBL is the tangible representation of this partnership.

Even worse, is the timing of the Mamasapano clash: It took place a day before the 75-member Ad Hoc Committee’s executive sessions wherein it began the process of finalizing the proposed law, line-by-line. The closed-door executive sessions were supposed to have been concluded Wednesday, February 4.

The panel’s self-imposed deadline involves having the BBL passed on 2nd and 3rd reading this month, and to have it signed by President Aquino by the end of March.

Waiting for the reports

But the Ad Hoc Committee has expressed its intention to wait for the PNP’s in-depth report on the SAF mission, which according to PNP officer-in-charge, Deputy Director-General Leonard Espina, would be submitted to the panel on February 9.

“We might need to suspend [the deliberations] to call the persons who made the report for clarification,” Rodriguez earlier said.

An Ad Hoc panel member, Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, said the lawmakers should be given enough time to scrutinize the various agency reports once they get hold of them.

“They should give us sufficient time to study it and conduct a hearing with the chiefs of offices that would be able to answer questions as we examine the documents,” said the former senator and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief.

Speaker Belmonte has proposed that both Houses of Congress hold a joint hearing or inquiry into the Mamasapano issue, saying it would be the practical and efficient thing to do.

North Cotabato residents evacuate upon seeing MILF, BIFF fighters ‘massing up’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 5): North Cotabato residents evacuate upon seeing MILF, BIFF fighters ‘massing up’

Residents in a remote barangay (village) in Pikit, North Cotabato, have evacuated after armed men were seen massing up, a military official said Thursday.

Captain Jo-anne Petinglay, 6th Division spokesperson, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that residents of Barangay Kabasalan in Pikit town were frightened by the presence of Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Eastern Mindanao Front under Commander Jac Abas.

Petinglay said the rebels have been monitored in the area since Tuesday, prompting civilians to temporary seek refuge in nearby villages.

“As of now, there is no engagement. We have sent troops in Kabasalan,” she said.

A source in Pikit town said a group of armed men under Kagui Karialan of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were also sighted in the same barangay.

There was no immediate statement from the leadership of the MILF about evacuation of civilians.

The situation in Pikit occurred a week after 44 members of elite Philippine National Police Special Action Force were killed during an intense firefight with combined forces of MILF and BIFF in the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The police were on a mission to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as Marwan. After killing Marwan and as they were pulling out from the scene, they were attacked by MILF’s 105th Base Command and BIFF rebels.

Aside from the 44 slain SAF men, 18 rebels and five civilians were also killed in the fighting.

MILF vs BIFF fight erupts

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 6): MILF vs BIFF fight erupts

Action seen as bid to save peace process

HEIGHTENED ALERT  Government troops position their tanks on Wednesday along the highway in Mamasapano where a clash between members of the SAF and the BIFF on Jan. 25 left 44 police commandos dead. On Thursday, fighting between Moro rebels and their breakaway group erupted in the town of Pikit, North Cotabato, where the BIFF, fearful of retaliation from government forces, had sought refuge. The MILF offensive is widely seen as their attempt to show the former is PH partner in the antiterror drive.  JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

HEIGHTENED ALERT Government troops position their tanks on Wednesday along the highway in Mamasapano where a clash between members of the SAF and the BIFF on Jan. 25 left 44 police commandos dead. On Thursday, fighting between Moro rebels and their breakaway group erupted in the town of Pikit, North Cotabato, where the BIFF, fearful of retaliation from government forces, had sought refuge. The MILF offensive is widely seen as their attempt to show the former is PH partner in the antiterror drive. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday afternoon launched an operation to flush out members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in North Cotabato province more than a week after the debacle in Maguindanao province.

A firefight broke out between the MILF forces under commander Jack Abbas and BIFF members in Barangay (village) Kabasalan, Pikit town, around 5:50 p.m. on Thursday, military officials said.

The MILF operation could be the group’s “way of showing they are partners and antiterrorist,” said an official of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), who asked not to be named.

“The fighting is going on now. Residents are evacuating,” Capt. Jo-anne Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Division, told the Inquirer by phone.

The BIFF, led by Kagi Karialan, resisted the MILF forces and exchanged gunfire, a military source said.

Abbas led some 1,000 men from the 108, 109 and 110 Base Commands (BCs) in the operation against the BIFF in Kabasalan, Pikit, officials said.

The Inquirer also learned he would mount a similar operation against the breakaway group in Sultan sa Barongis town, Maguindanao.

Fearing retaliation from government troops, the BIFF forces retreated to Pikit town after the Jan. 25 bloody clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that killed 44 Special Action Force commandos, the military source said.

As they left the scene after killing Jemaah Islamiyah bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” in his hideout in MILF territory, the SAF troopers clashed with MILF and BIFF rebels.

At least 18 rebels and four civilians were also killed in the encounter.

Racing against time

The high death toll has sparked public outrage, and the MILF’s role in the clash has threatened to throw a monkey wrench into the passage of a draft law carving a new Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

Congress is racing against time to pass the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by March in keeping with its timeline of having the Bangsamoro government in place by the time President Aquino steps down in June 2016.

Accused of coddling the JI terrorist, the MILF had maintained it had no intelligence information of his presence in its territory.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator, had expressed hopes the MILF would be vindicated by the investigations of the clash once the “truth” comes out.

The MILF informed the CCCH that it would conduct a peace assembly in Barangay Kabasalan on Thursday, Petinglay said.

Through proper coordination, the military was informed of the MILF’s movement in the area, she said.

The CCCH official said the operation was coordinated with the CCCH and the Army’s 602nd Brigade and 7th IB.

Von Al Haq, MILF vice chair for military affairs, said they still had no clear reports from the ground but were able to monitor the BIFF movement in the area.

Late Thursday afternoon, civilians were frightened by the presence of MILF and BIFF in Kabasalan, Petinglay said.

The two groups have been monitored in the area since Tuesday, forcing civilians to flee and seek refuge in nearby villages, she said

“We have soldiers in the area tasked to ensure the safety of civilians,” she said.

Profile: Found alive in 2014, suspected Bali bomber Marwan confirmed dead in 2015

From GMA News (Feb 4): Profile: Found alive in 2014, suspected Bali bomber Marwan confirmed dead in 2015

Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, was one of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted terrorists. The FBI put up a sizeable bounty of $5 million for him to be neutralized.

A GMA News source said a DNA test has confirmed the claim of the PNP-Special Action Force that its commandos killed Marwan during its Jan. 25 operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

On the other hand, the FBI confirmed that the DNA sample it received from Philippine authorities was from Marwan.
A Malaysian said to be a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah, Marwan was the main target of the police operation which claimed the lives of 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force personnel.

The government had called the incident "a misencounter" with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with which the government has an existing peace agreement, and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

[Video report]

Armand Escalante
Believed born in either January or October of 1966, he was either 48 or 49 years old when he was killed. He also went by the aliases Armand Escalante and Henri Lawi.
An explosives and demolitions specialist, the engineer Marwan also supplied explosives to terrorists and taught bomb making particularly to the Abu Sayyaf 

Marwan was believed to be behind the bombing in Bali, Indonesia in 2002. He reportedly went into hiding in the Philippines in 2003.

He was charged in California for supporting terrorism in 2007.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines in February 2012 announced that Marwan was among the three most wanted terrorists killed during an air strike in Parang, Sulu.

But in August 2014, the authorities found out that Marwan was still alive.

Government troops went after Marwan until the fateful operation on Jan. 25.

It is believed that Marwan had two Filipino wives. It has yet to be determined if they were the two women who were found dead after the encounter with police commandos at Marwan's hut in Mamasapano.

One facilitator down

National Secrurity Advisor and Director General Cesar Garcia said that without Marwan, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist groups have no facilitators to assist their travels to the country.
"That's where Marwan and company becomes very important, because eventually some of those people who go there will want to come back," he explained.
However, Garcia said the base command for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's 105th Battalion must be reformed to change its status as a haven for international terrorists.
He also said that the Philippines must remain vigilant against terrorists due to new threats looming in the horizon.
"That generation of jihadists are slowly being accounted for, but there is a new breed of jihadists coming in. Self-radicalized, they have been radicalized in their local environment," he said.

Cagayan De Oro bombing
In 2012, a bomb exploded outside the Maxandrea Hotel in Cagayan de Oro City.
At least one person was killed while three were wounded.
A second bomb was placed inside a bag that was slipped under a Nissan pickup of GMA News' Engineering Department.
The pickup driver, Allan Mangubat, had been billeted at Maxandrea Hotel at the time.
Mangubat did not notice the bag but was informed by the driver of another vehicle parked in the area that there was a bag under the pickup.
Police were summoned, and a bomb squad discovered the bomb inside the bag.
The PNP Region 10 had tagged one Francisco de Guzman a.k.a. Dongon as the suspect in the Maxandrea Hotel bombing.
Charges were filed against De Guzman, who is believed to be the brother-in-law of Marwan.
Four other suspects had been charged for the Maxandrea bombing, with the PNP indicating they included Marwan and three students.

‘MILF selling SAF firearms for P1.5 M’

From the Philippine Star (Feb 5): ‘MILF selling SAF firearms for P1.5 M’

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was accused yesterday of trying to sell the weapons its fighters took from 44 policemen who died in the Mamasapano, Maguindanao bloodbath on Jan. 25.

Acting Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina made the accusation in a news conference at the House of Representatives in the presence of members of the special committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law led by its chairman, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

Espina said the PNP received reliable information that Muslim rebels who killed the 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) were selling the firearms taken from the dead policemen for P1.5 million.

He said the weapons being sold include recoilless rifles, which look like bazookas.

He specifically leveled his accusation against the MILF, which has admitted battling the SAF men in a supposed “misencounter,” in which they allegedly lost 18 fighters.

“MILF, you should return the weapons, uniforms, cellular phones and other things of our men. Those are not yours, they belong to the PNP and our dead policemen,” Espina said in Filipino.

“You already killed our policemen. Don’t add insult to injury (by keeping their weapons and other belongings),” he said.

Espina said some of those who took the dead policemen’s mobile phones even sent text messages to their wives, telling them that their husbands were dead.

Espina also reiterated what the Moro fighters did to the fallen SAF men was “excess overkill.”

Based on testimonies of survivors, Espina said the first team of 38 SAF men who tried to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir was met with gunfire.

Nine members of the team died but were able to kill their target, he said.

He said a second team of 36 policemen that served as back-up force encountered MILF fighters as the two SAF groups tried to withdraw after shooting it out with the Malaysian terrorist and his bodyguards.

“Thirty-five of the 36 were killed, only one survived. They were finished off with high-powered firearms after the initial encounter. Their faces and bodies were mangled. Their firearms, cellular phones, uniform and other belongings were taken,” he added.

He pointed out that this was the reason why many of the remains of the 44 SAF men were covered with white cloth or police uniform, or their caskets were simply locked.

The acting PNP chief stressed that if it was a “misencounter,” there would not have been so many lives lost on the part of the PNP.

“The MILF should have recognized our policemen after the initial gunfire, because our people were wearing uniform. Lack of coordination with the MILF was not an excuse for killing our policemen. Even if we did not coordinate with them, we were running after criminal elements,” Espina said.

Asked whether his being PNP chief in an acting capacity was the reason why he was not informed of the SAF operation, Espina replied: “I don’t think so.”

“If they wanted to inform me, they would have told me even if I am just acting PNP chief.”

He said relieved SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas informed him through a text message of the operation after the SAF men’s initial encounter with the MILF.

Espina said he asked for reinforcement from his Philippine Military Academy classmate, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, without asking why he was bypassed in the Mamasapano operation.

The same thing should have been done by the military, whose officials were also not informed of the SAF mission, he added.

The military has admitted that SAF officers coordinated with them but that it was “too little, too late.”

Espina added President Aquino should not be held responsible for the botched SAF operation.

“Our men were trying to serve arrest warrants, it was our job and we had to do it,” he said.

Rodriguez thanked Espina for promising to submit a full report to his committee on the Mamasapano bloodbath on Monday.

The committee has deferred discussions on BBL provisions relating to regional security and public safety pending the submission of reports from concerned agencies.

Rodriguez said the Maguindanao incident has implications on such provisions.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., for his part, urged the government and MILF to undertake confidence building measures in order to restore the public’s trust in the peace process between the two sides.

Marcos said it is vital for both sides to demonstrate they are interested in bringing out the truth about the incident in order for the peace process to move forward.

Among the confidence building measures suggested by Marcos is for the MILF to return the guns taken from the slain SAF members, help arrest terrorist Basit Usman and clarify its relationship with the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

On the part of the government, Marcos said an explanation must be made about the apparent absence of command and control during the operation in Mamasapano.

According to Marcos, determining the truth about the incident would help in bringing the discussions on the BBL back on track.

Marcos, chairman of the Senate committee on local government, suspended hearings on the BBL after the Mamasapano incident.

“We have a peace process and a BBL and then this happened. This tells me that we need to tweak the BBL. This incident has shown us that a lot more needs to be done,” he said.

Marcos said the results of the investigations into the Mamasapano incident would help him and his colleagues at the Senate fine-tune the provisions of the BBL towards a lasting peace in Mindanao.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, for his part, aired his disappointment over the slow pace in which the information about the incident is coming out.

He urged concerned authorities to disclose all the information about the incident to the public right away in order to avoid suspicions of a cover-up.

DVIDS: Osprey offers new experience for Philippine and U.S. Marines during fast-rope insertions

From DVIDS (Feb 5): Osprey offers new experience for Philippine and U.S. Marines during fast-rope insertions

Osprey offers new experience for Philippine and U.S. Marines during fast-rope insertions

Philippine and U.S. Marines fast-rope out back of an MV-22 Osprey Jan. 22 at Basa Air Field for a bilateral fast-rope exercise. Fast-roping is just one of the multiple training events conducted during Aviation Assault Support Exercise 15.1. AASE expands and promotes cooperative training opportunities with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to enhance core skill proficiency and to increase operational readiness. The Philippine Marines are with various units and the U.S. Marines are with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment currently assigned to 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force under the unit deployment program. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Mains/Released).

BASA AIR BASE, Philippines - Philippine Marine Capt. Capt. Rogin Toledo has had a fair share of fast-roping experience, but the same operation from a tiltrotor aircraft like the MV-22B Osprey is anything but routine.

“The last time I have done this type of training was six years ago, and it was off of a tower,” said Toledo, commanding officer for the 65th Philippine Marine Company, Philippine Marine Corps. “Fast-roping out of the Osprey was a thrill because it was about 30 or 40 feet in the air, and the blast from the Osprey was pushing you away.”

He and others joined their U.S. Marine counterparts to execute a bilateral fast-roping exercise Jan. 22 here as part of Aviation Assault Support Exercise 15.1.

The Ospreys, with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, enable fast insertion into environments where landing the aircraft is not practical or desired. The fast-rope system is located in the rear of the Osprey so that the lowered ramp facilitates egress.

U.S. Marines like Cpl. Martin A. Argueta, a squad leader for Company I, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, worked closely with the Philippine Marines to safely complete this type of training.

“Fast-roping out of an Osprey isn’t really the same as fast-roping out of a normal helicopter because we don’t go through the ‘hell-hole’, which is in the center of the helicopter; we are coming out of the back ramp,” said Argueta, from Yuma, Arizona. “To me that’s new because I have never jumped out of the back ramp. So it’s something new to them, as well as us.”

After working with his Marines to safely and successfully execute the event, Argueta has confidence they can perform their jobs efficiently while training with the Philippine Marines.

“I think it is awesome that my guys know their stuff and then the Filipino Marines can show us how they do it differently so we can compare our tactics afterwards,” said Argueta. “This builds our confidence and shows that we can properly communicate those infantry skills (together).”

Toledo hopes to work with his U.S. counterparts again in the near future.

“We enjoy working with the U.S. Marines and we appreciate that we are able to do this with them,” said Toledo, from Zamboanga City, the Philippines.

AASE expands and promotes cooperative training opportunities with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to enhance core skill proficiency and increase operational readiness.

Clashes erupt between BIFF and MILF

From Rappler (Feb 5): Clashes erupt between BIFF and MILF

Petinglay says MILF and BIFF members have been monitored in the area since Tuesday, forcing civilians to flee and seek refuge in nearby villages

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels man a check point inside Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town. AFP file photo

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels man a check point inside Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town. AFP file photo
Heavy fighting involving Moro rebels and their breakaway group erupted late Thursday in the town of Pikit, North Cotabato, forcing thousands of civilians to evacuate, a military official said.
In a phone interview, Army Captain Joan Petinglay, 6th Division spokesperson, said Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Jack Abas, who is the head of the rebels' 108th, 109th, and 110th Base Commands, are currently engaged in gun battle in the village of Kabasalan against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The insurgents figured in the January 25 clashes with members of Philippine National Police Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that left 44 elite cops dead.

Petinglay said the fighting started around 5:50 pm. “The fighting is going on now. Residents are evacuating,” the military official said.

Earlier, civilians were frightened by the presence of both MILF and BIFF in the village.

Petinglay said the two groups have been monitored in the area since Tuesday, forcing civilians to flee and seek refuge in nearby villages.
“We have soldiers in the area who were tasked to ensure the safety of civilians,” she said.

“The MILF has prior coordination with our troops in the area, as well as with the ceasefire committee that they will conduct peace dialogues.

However, they encountered BIFF guerrillas coming from Mamasapano,” she explained. She added that their only concern is a possible misencounter.

The incident in Pikit occurred a week after the Mamasapano encounter in Maguindanao.

The police were on a mission on January 25 to terminate Malaysian bomb maker and terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, but were attacked by the MILF’s 105th Base Command while they were pulling out.
He was confirmed dead by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was able to match the sample obtained by the police Special Action Force (SAF) with the DNA of his brother who is detained in the US.

At least 17 rebels and 7 civilians were also killed in the almost 8-hour gun battle.

Purisima 'resignation' story swirls, but Coloma insists there's 'no info on that'

From InterAksyon (Feb 5): Purisima 'resignation' story swirls, but Coloma insists there's 'no info on that'

Suspended PNP chief Gen. Alan Purisima

"No information on that." This was the cryptic response of Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. to reports that swirled Thursday that President Aquino has accepted the resignation of suspended PNP chief Gen. Alan Purisima, whose shadowy role in the Mamasapano mission by police commandos has sparked controversy.

Supposedly, President Aquino told a dozen Cabinet members gathered for a meeting at the Palace that he had accepted the resignation of Purisima, who is being pressed to explain his reported role as backroom commander of the police commandos mission to apprehend international terrorist Zulkifli binHir alias Marwan last Jan. 25. But Coloma said there was no emergency meeting held Thursday, only an ordinary meeting called by the Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras.

On Wednesday, the relieved Special Action Forces (SAF) chief, Getulio Napenas, told media that Purisima advised him to inform the acting PNP chief, Gen. Leonardo Espina, of the mission to get Marwan only when they hit the ground in Mamasapano, Maguindanao - a matter blamed for the terrible miscoordination between the SAF and the main PNP brass, and between the police and the military, which had a detachment near Mamasapano.

While the commandos succeeded in neutralizing Marwan, 44 of them died in a 10-hour firefight with Moro rebels. This raised questions about why Purisima was allowed to be on top of a sensitive mission in a cease-fire area, even when he was suspended. 

Officers from the Armed Forces and the police have been trading blame since the Jan. 25 mission, with the AFP saying they could not help extricate the commandos in a timely manner because they were kept in the dark about it - until it was too late.

The spokesman for political affairs of the Office of the Vice President fueled the speculations about Purisima's resignation even more. Atty. Rico Quicho issued this short statement: "Resignation should not be used as a subterfuge for the truth in the bloody encounter in Mamasapano. Purisima must still face the investigation in order to shed light on what was actually his participation in the operation that befell 44 members of SAF."

At a briefing late Thursday afternoon, Coloma told reporters there was no Cabinet cluster meeting on Thursday, and that Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras had called the meeting. But, he added, it wasn't an emergency meeting.

At least eight investigating panels have been formed in the aftermath of the Jan. 25 "slaughter" of the commandos, with the suspended Purisima's real role repeatedly cited as a key issue.

President Aquino himself is under fire after he said in an address to the nation last Jan. 28 that Purisima had provided him intelligence about the presence of Marwan in Mindanao way back in May 2014,, and had guided him through the jargon.

He stopped short of admitting, though, that he allowed Purisima to continue to play a role in actually carrying out the Jan. 25 mission even when the PNP chief was already suspended since December. Aquino said he told Napenas, who was relieved after the deaths of the commandos, to coordinate with the proper police and military hierarchies.

Manila says China starts dredging at another reef in disputed waters

From InterAksyon (Feb 5): Manila says China starts dredging at another reef in disputed waters

File photo of Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

China has started dredging around the disputed Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in the South China Sea, a Philippine navy commander said on Thursday, signaling Beijing may be preparing to expand its facilities in the area.

Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping tried to set Southeast Asian minds at ease over the country’s regional ambitions, but Beijing's reclamation work in the Spratlys underscores its drive to push claims in the South China Sea and reassert its rights.

China has already undertaken reclamation work on six other reefs it occupies in the Spratlys, expanding land mass five-fold, aerial surveillance photos show. Images seen by Reuters last year appeared to show an airstrip and sea ports.

China has claims on almost the entire South China Sea, which is believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims on the sea where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade pass every year.

Rear Admiral Alexander Lopez, commander of the Philippine military's western command, told reporters on Thursday a Chinese dredging ship was spotted at Mischief Reef, about 135 km southeast of the island of Palawan.

"We don't know what they plan to do in Mischief," he said. "They have long been doing that, only that it was Fiery Cross that got a lot of attention because that was on a bigger scale."

IHS Jane's said in November that images it had obtained showed the Chinese-built island on the Fiery Cross Reef to be at least 3,000 meters (1.9 miles) long and 200-300 meters (660-980 ft) wide.

Lopez did not say when China started the dredging work or give any details on the extent of reclamation at Mischief Reef, saying only the work had been "substantial".

Surveillance photos that were taken of Mischief Reef last October showed no reclamation work in the area.

The photos, seen by Reuters, showed two structures, including a three-storey building sitting on an atoll, equipped with wind turbines and solar panels.

China occupied Mischief Reef in 1995, building makeshift huts, which Beijing claimed provided shelter for fishermen during the monsoon season. But, China later built a garrison in the area, deploying frigates and coast guard ships.

In 2002, Southeast Asian states agreed with China to sign an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea to stop claimant states from occupying and constructing garrisons in the disputed Spratlys.

Last year, the Philippines and Vietnam protested China's reclamation work as a violation of the informal code.

North of Mischief Reef, China on Thursday defended the actions of a coast guard vessel in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal after the Philippines accused it of ramming three fishing boats.

"China's coast guard sent a dinghy to drive them away and slightly bumped one of the fishing vessels," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily news briefing in Beijing.

"We ask that the Philippines strengthen education and indoctrination of its fishermen to prevent such incidents from happening again."

The Philippines on Wednesday filed two diplomatic protests against China for harassing local fishermen and poaching at the Bajo de Masinloc, the disputed area off Zambales also known as Scarborough Shoal.

[READ RELATED STORY: PH files protest vs China for ramming fishing boats, poaching in Bajo de Masinloc]

A Philippine military spokesman, Colonel Restituto Padilla, described China's action as "alarming" saying the local fishermen were trying to seek shelter due to bad weather.

Photo: Freed

From MindaNews (Feb 4): Photo: Freed


South Korean kidnap victim Sung Ki Yoon (left) shakes the hand of Consul Yong Jeung Park at the PNP Region 10 office in Camp Alagar, Cagayan de Oro City Wednesday (4 Feb 2015). Sung was released in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur by his kidnappers on Tuesday after his family reportedly paid a ransom of P500,000. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Photo: Sky Jumpers

From MindaNews (Feb 5): Photo: Sky Jumpers


Two Army parachutists land at the parade ground of the 4th Infantry Division during its 45th anniversary in Camp Evangelista, Patag, Cagayan de Oro City Thursday (5 Feb 2014). MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

NPA captured, firearms seized in clash with police in Agusan

From MindaNews (Feb 5): NPA captured, firearms seized in clash with police in Agusan

Police troopers under the 13th Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) captured a suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerilla together with high-powered firearms and an improvised explosive device (IED) after a 15-minute firefight in Carmen town, Agusan del Norte Wednesday morning.

Senior Supt. Joseph Plaza, commander of the 13th RPSB, said a coordinated operation with the Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade surprised the 25 to 30 rebels, triggering a firefight around 11:30 a.m. in Barangay Rojales.

Supt. Martin Gamba, spokesperson of the Caraga Regional Police Office 13, said the encounter happened after intelligence reports pointed out a movement of armed men in the area.

He identified the captured rebel as Allan Lauro, 27, a resident of Sitio Anahawan in Barangay Rojales, who was reportedly left behind and tried to hide. Gamba said they are filing a case against the suspect.

“Our men took a different route while the Army had the other side,” Plaza said, adding that the coordinated effort was key in catching the NPAs by surprise. “They had very little time to organize and react,” he added.

The RPSB reported that they recovered seven high-powered firearms, including AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles. Also recovered were an M203 grenade launcher, grenades, pistols, radio equipment, medical equipment and medicines, mobile phones and an IED.

The encounter happened while many high-ranking officials of the Army – including Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, was in the headquarters of the 402nd Infantry Brigade in Barangay Bancasi in Butuan City for the turnover ceremony of the new brigade commander.

77 former rebels in Sarangani get livelihood aid

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): 77 former rebels in Sarangani get livelihood aid

The provincial government of Sarangani has released around Php385,000 worth of livelihood assistance to 77 former rebels who surrendered last year in parts of the province.

Sarangani board member Virgilio Clark Tobias said the livelihood grant comprise the initial assistance approved by the local government under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

“This is a starter fund to help jumpstart the livelihood activities of the rebel returnees,” he said in a statement.

Tobias, who led the awarding of the grant, said each rebel returnee will receive a Php5,000 assistance that will be used to fund their chosen livelihood projects or ventures.

Aside from the starter funds, he said they are currently working on the release of additional assistance for the former rebels through various programs of the national government.

The official said the beneficiaries were among the New People’s Army rebels from the area who surrendered to government forces last year following a series of negotiations.

He said the returnees came from the municipalities of Malungon, Alabel and Malapatan.

Since 2011, the provincial government of Sarangani has already assisted a total of 379 former rebels through CLIP.

Of these, 66 were already given livelihood cash assistance by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process through its national CLIP, which is formerly known as the Social Integration Program.

The recipients, who were mostly former members of the New People’s Army, received assistance ranging from Php5,000 to Php50,000 each depending on their category.

The provincial government has extended livelihood cash assistance to 167 other former rebels amounting to Php835,000.

CLIP reintegrates former rebels into the social mainstream and uplifts their socio-economic conditions to enable them to become active partners in local development.

The program also seeks to contribute towards the achievement of the goal of permanent peaceful closure of all armed conflicts with non-state armed groups.

The program’s protocol covers validation and authentication, immediate assistance, psychological intervention, resettlement and integration.

Davao intensifies measures despite zero threat group activities

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): Davao intensifies measures despite zero threat group activities

In the aftermath of the Mamasapano, Maguindanao encounter, Task Force Davao (TFD) asserts that there are no reported entries and activities of threat groups in the city.

TFD Commander, Col. Macariog S. Alberto said that despite no specific threats targeting Davao City, they continue to implement heightened security measures. They are also increasing the unit’s visibility in maintaining peace and order in the city in coordination with the Davao City Police Office (DCPO).

AFP-PNP patrols are also being conducted composed of TFD and PNP units and armoured assets.

The unit is strictly enforcing its policy on following the chain of command, thus denying reports of any movement against the government.

“There is a guidance not to join any movement that would break away from the chain of command or give any statement that will cause uncertainty and anxiety,” Col. Alberto said.

Upcoming events such as the Chinese New Year would again require intensified security patrols and deployment for the entire unit to ensure that everyone staying in the city could get to enjoy the activities without fearing for the safety of their lives.

Despite mourning with the entire nation over the loss of 44 lives in the Mamasapano bloodbath, the unit ensures its focus on its mission of securing the lives of everyone staying in Davao City and that it shall remain an active force against any threat of terrorism.

“This loss shall not stop them from following its mandate of being a reliable partner for Davao City’s peace and development,” he said.