Friday, February 13, 2015

Mom hurt in NPA attack

From Tempo (Feb 13): Mom hurt in NPA attack

A 32-year-old working mother was hit by a stray bullet when some 15 heavily armed members of the New People’s Army (NPA) attacked a military detachment in Barangay Anitapan, Mabini town, Compostela Valley province, at about 3:15 p.m., Wednesday.

The Army’s 10th Infantry Division (10th ID) reported that the detachment was manned by members of Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU).

The victim, identified as Lucrisia Lisondra, a resident of Purok 2 in Anitapan was hit in her right butt and was immediately rushed by the members of Peace and Development Team (PDT) of the 71st IB to the Regional Hospital in Tagum City for treatment, the report added.

Lt. Vergel Lacambra, chief of the public affairs office of 10thID said that Lisondra was gathering firewood when she heard gunshots.

She immediately ran towards the direction of her house to get her children for safety when she noticed some blood on her legs.

It was then that she realized that she was hit by a bullet from the attacking NPA rebels, the report added.

Lt. Col. Dennis Tanzo, commander of 71st IB, condemned the recent NPA attack that wounded a working mother.

‘Cadiz dev't ready'

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 14): ‘Cadiz dev't ready'

Cadiz City has been declared as peaceful and ready for further development, making it the second local government unit in Negros Occidental declared as such.
Cadiz City Vice Mayor Samson Mirhan and Col Jon. Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, led security and local government officials in the signing of declaration and peace covenant on Thursday in Cadiz City.
Present was Ma. Joy Maredith Madayag, provincial officer of the Department of Interior and Local Government, and members of the City Peace and Order Council.
Also present were LTC CORDOVA, 62IB Commander; P/Supt Gerardo Ulanday, Cadiz City Police Chief; F/Insp Gregorio AOtico III, Cadiz City Fire Marshall, Sangguniang Panlungsod Members; and, CPOC Members of Cadiz City.
Hinigaran town was the first Local Government Units in Negros Occidental to be declared as peaceful and ready for further development, because of the absence of any insurgency-related activity for more than two decades now, in concurrence with the Philippine Army and National Police.
Other parameters cited for declaring an area peaceful and ready for further development are positive indicators of improved delivery of social services, such as health services and wide reach of justice in its rural areas, and criminal activities are manageable by the PNP.
The city of Bacolod as well as the fourth district of Negros Occidental are being eyed to be declared next as such by local government and security officials. The signing is expected to take place by the end of March.
Similar efforts are underway in other districts of Negros Occidental to curb the influence of communist rebels, and turn over the lead role in maintaining internal security to local governments.
The armed fighters of the New People's Army in Negros have been placed by the military at about 200.
Priest-turned-rebel Frank Fernandez, spokesman of the National Democratic Front-Negros, and the spokespersons of other local NPA units however, disputed the military claims, saying that their controlled areas are expanding and their strength continues to grow.

Who informs us about Mindanao?

From Rappler (Feb 14): Who informs us about Mindanao? (by Patricio Abinales)

Visibly absent in history textbooks is any serious, substantive discussion of Mindanao's place in Philippine history

The larger issue that those concerned with what happened in Mamapasano and the pending Bangsamoro bill is the absence of Muslim Mindanao, if not the whole of Mindanao, in the national historical narrative.

Take a quick glance at the history textbooks available at National Bookstore, especially those approved by the Department of Education as required reading in all levels of the educational system, and you will notice that visibly absent is any serious, substantive discussion of Mindanao’s place in Philippine history. (The exception here may be Samuel K. Tan’s A History of the Philippines where he brings the Moros into the narrative).

Why this has been the case has never been thoroughly explained to us by our education czars nor our historians. But one can possibly come out with some tentative observations. The first has to do with numbers. When you go down the list of historians across the nation, what stands out is that you can count with your fingers those who write about Muslim Mindanao and/or Mindanao: Ruben Canoy, Salah Jubair (Mohagher Iqbal), Francisco Lara, the late Cesar A. Majul, Datuk Michael Mastura, Rudy Rodil, Samuel K. Tan, Macario Tiu, and the tandem of Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria.

Only Canoy, Iqbal, Mastura, Rodil, and Tiu are based in Mindanao. The others reside elsewhere: Lara heads an international NGO in Manila; Tan is retired in Quezon City; Vitug and Gloria help run Rappler; and Majul passed away in California decades back. Among those based in Mindanao, all but one (Iqbal) are based in the Christian settlement zones: Rodil teaches at Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology; Canoy continues to advocate for federalism in Cagayan de Oro; and Tiu has retired from Ateneo de Davao.

Unless Vitug and Gloria decide to leave journalism and become academics, no one in this list is teaching full time. And because a majority are still active in occupations other than academic, one doubts if they spend a good enough time continuing their research on Mindanao.

Lara’s Insurgents, Clans and States: Political Legitimacy and Resurgent Conflict in Muslim Mindanao, Philippines has been published by Ateneo de Manila University Press and so it is the most readily available. The University of the Philippines Press has also come out with a 2009 edition of Majul’s path-breaking Muslims in the Philippines (first published in 1973 and reissued in 1999), published Tan’s above-mentioned comprehensive history of the Philippines. And one can still find copies of his Selected Essays on the Filipino Muslims (1982) and A History of the Philippines (2008) in bookstores or in some stalls in Avenida. The same can be said of Iqbal’s second book The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process (albeit outdated because of current developments), and Rudy Rodil’s A Story of Mindanao and Sulu in Question and Answer (2003) and Kalinaw Mindanao: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996 (2000).

But Vitug and Gloria’s Under the Crescent Moon, Rodil’s The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago (2004) and Two Hills of the Same Land: Truth behind the Mindanao Problem (1979, and written under his nom de plum Rad Silva), and Tan’s The Filipino Muslim Armed Struggle: 1900-1972 (1977) and The Muslim Struggle in the Philippines, 1900-1941 (1973) are now difficult to find. And their respective publishers appear uninterested in issuing out new editions.
There are also a number of works that have yet to see the light of day, the most prominent of which is Datuk Michael Mastura thick tome, The Rulers of Maguindanao in Modern History, 1515-1903: Continuity and Change in a Traditional realm in the Southern Philippines (I saw a copy of it at the library in my place of work). Mastura, a distant relative via his spouse Lourdes, has informed me that the manuscript badly needs editing. But he has no time to do this, given his job as an MILF consultant who dispenses ideological and political advise for the rebel leadership.

Finally, even if these works are available, their reach is limited. Publishers often just print 500 copies of one’s work and will only issue reprints if it is clear that there is a market. This means that for most the part, readers from urban centers, are the first to have access to these materials. And as one moves farther from the cities, these books’ availability is also reduced, and quite considerably.

Neither has National Bookstore helped. It may have a nationwide chain but the stack of Filipiniana books are very much uneven. You can stumble into one of these books, but in most cases, looking for them in its provincial chains is like going through a maze with very little chance of finding them.

So, this is the first obstacle that we need to overcome if we are all serious about including Muslims and other Mindanawans into the national history.

But this is the less serious concern. The more problematic is the dominance of an orthodox explanation that, while progressive in orientation, has tended to obscure rather than clarify the issues surrounding Muslim Mindanao.

Policy paralysis and delays to Bangsamoro Basic Law likely after fighting between police and militants in Philippines

From IHS Jane's 360 (Feb 12): Policy paralysis and delays to Bangsamoro Basic Law likely after fighting between police and militants in Philippines

President Benigno Aquino III speaks in front of the caskets of 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) inside the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, the Philippines, on 30 January 2015. The officers were killed in an operation to arrest two men. Source: PA

Key Points
  • Senate Majority leader and one of the Bangsamoro Basic Law's authors, Alan Peter Cayetano, has withdrawn support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, as President Aquino has been blamed for the incident, signalling fierce public opposition to the granting of further concessions to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
  • Although it is unlikely that Aquino will be impeached over this given his control over both houses in Congress, he is likely to expend his political capital on passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which increases the risk that major policy changes and the passage of crucial economic bills will be stalled during the remainder of his presidency.
  • Delays to the Bangsamoro Basic Law's passage, resulting in consequent delays to the Bangsamoro plebiscite and the elections (originally scheduled to coincide with national elections in 2016) will increase risks of the derailment of peace in Mindanao, jeopardising the longer-term security outlook.


Calls have intensified for President Benigno Aquino's resignation over an operation in which 44 SAF troopers were killed.

On 26 January, Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. suspended Senate hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law following the 25 January encounter between the Special Action Force (SAF) police commandos and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in which 44 SAF troops died.

A public outcry has emerged over the deaths of the troops, with the public demanding to know why the police officers were authorised to conduct a surprise raid into heavily MILF-fortified territory to begin with, and why these troops were not adequately reinforced by army personnel. Details are still emerging, but it appears that the 55th SAF Company blocking force and the 84th SAF Company seaborne unit were sent in to arrest Zulkifli bin Hir ("Marwan") and Basit Usman on suspicion of links to terrorist groups and making bombs, when they encountered the 105th Base Command of the MILF, which claims it was not notified of the operation.

The Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division claims Marwan was sheltered in Tukanalipao village by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and fighting occurred when police strayed into MILF territory. The government claims Marwan was successfully killed, but it appears Usman escaped.

Malacañang, the presidential office, has stated that Aquino will not resign over the incident. Nevertheless, Aquino's political legacy is inextricably tied to peace in Mindanao, and he is likely to spend the remainder of his presidency focused on the Bangsamoro Basic Law's passage. Greater policy paralysis is accordingly expected, especially as Aquino is likely to expend his political capital defending himself over this incident. Interior Secretary and Aquino's Liberal Party's likely presidential party nominee, Mar Roxas, has also been asked to appear before the Senate committee tasked with investigating the incident, while Vice-President Jejomar Binay is separately being questioned by the Senate Blue Ribbon sub-committee, which is tasked with investigating wrongdoings in government and its agencies.

With key political players otherwise occupied, there is an increased risk that not all priority bills pending before Congress, namely the Customs Modernization Act, National Land Use Act, Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act, Anti-trust Act, and the Build-Operate-Transfer Law, are likely to be passed before Aquino steps down. Most crucial for foreign investors is Senate Bill 2517, which eases restrictions on foreign investment in manufacturing, construction and public works projects etc, to drive industrialisation and prepare Philippines for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The more controversial House Bill No. 5367, which rationalises mining revenue sharing schemes, is heavily opposed by industry and therefore unlikely to be passed soon.

The peace process is also at risk. Peace will require a strong government able to convince the Filipino public of its merits and push the Bangsamoro Basic Law through Congress in its current form, which is unlikely in a climate where politicians are more inclined to play to public sentiment in an election cycle. Strong political leadership on the MILF's part is also critical to secure support for the Bangsamoro entity among Mindanao's ethnically diverse constituents. It will also have to resist spoiler attacks by armed Islamic militant rebels opposed to the peace process, namely the BIFF, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the Abu Sayaf Group (ASG) and bring them to the negotiating table. A strong government-MILF working relationship is further critical to any decommissioning scenario, and the MILF's bona fides have already been called into question for harbouring and potentially aiding and abetting BIFF in the incident. Initial statements by MILF chairperson Mohagher Iqbal, that MILF remains a "revolutionary organisation" pending the implementation of the peace agreement, are alarming, and further fractures are likely when public calls for the arrest of MILF rebels intensifies and the MILF resists.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law was initially intended to be passed by end 2014/early 2015, leaving sufficient time for the MILF to disarm, begin party-building, and move from being a rebel group to a credible political party before the Bangsamoro elections in June 2016. The March 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) (the peace agreement between the government and the MILF) stipulates that once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed, it will be ratified in a Bangsamoro plebiscite, where residents of the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will vote on their inclusion in the new Bangsamoro political entity. Upon ratification, the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) will serve as an interim government until the election of Bangsamoro officials in 2016. This was originally designed to coincide with the 2016 national elections, to ensure the peace process is completed before the next president's term.


If the Bangsamoro Basic Law is only passed in 2016 there is a risk that the entire roadmap - a plebiscite, Bangsamoro elections, followed by the decommissioning/disarming of the MILF by 2016 - will be derailed, increasing the risks that the peace initiative will fail. A more likely (and more precarious) scenario is if delays to the roadmap result in the MILF-led BTA remaining indefinitely as an 'interim' government, under a new president who may not share Aquino's views on peace. Security risks will then emerge if the MILF becomes a quasi-government/part rebel group that never fully disarms. Questions over the non-elected BTA's authority will then give Islamist rebel groups greater pretext to stage attacks to destabilise the BTA, increasing the terrorism risk outlook in Mindanao in the longer term.

Police officials: No comment on US involvement in Mamasapano

From the Philippine Star (Feb 14): Police officials: No comment on US involvement in Mamasapano

Security officials confirmed intelligence sharing between the Philippines and US security forces but would not comment on the involvement of American troops in the Mamasapano clashes.

Zamboanga City police chief Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro said representatives of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had visited the local police office, offering training for the personnel as part of Washington’s commitment to help its ally in Asia.

He said the Australian Federal Police also offered similar assistance.

According to Casimiro, the assistance centered on investigation and training of the bomb squad.

“Terrorism has no boundaries and we in the security service have to work hand in hand, side by side with our international counterpart as the situation in the region has international implications,” Casimiro said.

Security forces of the Philippines and the US have shared intelligence information under the intel-fusion program with the aim of defeating terrorism in Mindanao.

An office for intel-fusion was set up at the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) headquarters by the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

Sources said the security facility built by the JSOTF-P is currently occupied by the SAF 84th Seaborne in a private resort near Westmincom.

The facility located in Upper Calarian is also being utilized as billeting place for visiting FBI agents.

Casimiro, who was once assigned with the intelligence operation, could not say, if US forces under the JSOTF-P were involved in the Jan. 25 operation to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

The Westmincom officials likewise would not comment on whether US forces helped the SAF in the planning and operation.

Marwan was killed during the firefight with Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in a remote village in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The SAF forces later figured in a firefight with combined forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) while withdrawing, leaving 44 SAF commandos dead.

Residents living near the 55th SAF camp in Barangay Mercedes confirmed seeing two US soldiers under the JSOTF-P training the SAF policemen before they were deployed.

The villagers said the US soldiers, in Desert Storm uniforms, were instructing the SAF troopers on attacking a cluster of makeshift huts as targets in a swift but stealthy manner.

The two US soldiers were there until the last day of training,  before SAF members were deployed on the night of Jan. 23, according to one of the villagers who befriended some of the SAF policemen involved in the operation.

Meanwhile, the police separately intercepted groups of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members on vehicles going to this city on Thursday.

Supt. Ariel Huesca, commander of the Public Safety Company, said his men pulled over a jeepload of male passengers in Barangay Licomo, who turned out to be members of the MNLF.

Huesca said the jeepney with 15 male passengers displayed a flag with green and red, a crescent moon and star.

He said a search was conducted by the police, yielding MNLF uniforms, black beret, combat boots and MNLF identification cards.

He said the passengers came from Matanog, Maguindanao.

Minutes later, another minitruck arrived from Polioc, Cotabato City, with 12 people aboard including two women.

He said an inspection led to the discovery of seven MNLF ID cards bearing the names, ranks and other personal data.

Huesca said the MNLF members, who claimed they were bound for Sulu, were temporarily detained while verification was conducted before they were escorted by the military to the port.

Drones ‘twinkled at night’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 14): Drones ‘twinkled at night’

Overhead flights peaked on Jan. 24, say residents

A FARMER sends his carabao to graze on the site of a gun battle between Moro guerrillas and Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, where 44 commandos died, many after making their last mobile phone calls to their families. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

A FARMER sends his carabao to graze on the site of a gun battle between Moro guerrillas and Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, where 44 commandos died, many after making their last mobile phone calls to their families. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

“Small planes that twinkled at night.”

At least a week before the Jan. 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, that killed 44 police commandos, 18 Moro guerrillas and five civilians, residents of the town had seen what members of a fact-finding mission said were US drones.

Rep. Luz Ilagan of the Gabriela party-list group, said the sighting of drones over the town was among the findings of the mission that went to four villages in Mamasapano—Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan, Lusay and Tuka—to gather information about the clash between Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Ilagan said the presence of drones in Mamasapano only bolstered reports of US involvement in the operation to get international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.”

Ilagan, a member of the mission, said villagers told her group that drone activity in the town peaked on the night of Jan. 24 and disappeared just after the carnage.

Ilagan said residents saw the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) “hover over their rooftops.”

“They called it small airplanes that twinkled at night,” she said.

UAVs are used for reconnaissance and surveillance. Operated by pilots on the ground, drones are also used for targeted attacks with bombs or missiles, such as air strikes against al-Qaida-linked terrorists in Afghanistan and Yemen.

Sources involved in the covert operation to get Marwan and his Filipino deputy Abdul Basit Usman said in earlier reports that the mission had been planned and executed with the help of US agents.

Seven days before the clash, Ilagan said, “the drones were already busy.”

“They were at their busiest the night before the encounter, which alarmed some women who thought there could be a military operation,” she said.

“They couldn’t sleep because of the noise and they began to worry,” she said.

“But the women said they told themselves there was a ceasefire and a peace process,” she added. “That’s how confident they were that there would no longer be military operations.”

The women interviewed by the mission said they were surprised when they were awakened by gunfire early morning of Jan. 25, Ilagan said.

Impeachable offense

She said President Benigno Aquino III could be charged with an impeachable offense if it was found that the US government had a direct role in the operation to get Marwan that led to the deaths of 44 SAF commandos.

“Allowing Americans to have a direct hand in the operation would be a betrayal of the Constitution, a betrayal of public trust, a betrayal of the police commandos who died in that operation,” Ilagan said.

The SAF commandos killed Marwan in his hideout in Tukanalipao before coming under fire from BIFF guerrillas.

Unable to carry the body of Marwan, the commandos cut off his right index finger for use in identification through DNA tests. Then the commandos shot their way out of the village.

Usman was wounded in the firefight but managed to escape. He is reportedly being carried by followers who are moving toward the border between Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces where they could be planning to take a boat and flee to either Sulu or Tawi-Tawi.

US help

The SAF may have pinpointed Marwan’s lair with US help.

According to a PNP official who is a former SAF officer, the US government has been providing technical and intelligence support to the Philippines since 2005 in the hunt for international terrorists who may have fled to the country.

The police officer is the same source who gave the Inquirer the video taken from a drone of the operation undertaken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to take down Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert Dulmatin in Tukanalipao in January 2005.

“The video was given to us by US agents for the SAF to study the terrain and the Liguasan Marsh, where Dulmatin was supposedly hiding,” the police official said.

The military operation failed because Dulmatin, one of the masterminds behind the
Oct. 12, 2002, bombings of two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people, had moved out of the target area, the officer said.

The PNP official said that prior to the SAF operation, the Americans were working with the military.

“The Americans were coordinating with the AFP and they bombed the area but nothing happened. The AFP claimed Dulmatin was killed in that operation but it turned out he was still alive,” the police official said.

Indonesian counterterrorism police killed Dulmatin in a raid on his hideout in Jakarta on March 9, 2010.

“Since then, the Americans and the SAF had been working closely, especially that SAF personnel provided security for the [US] Embassy,” the police official said.

Contacted for comment, the US Embassy neither confirmed nor denied that the US government helped local law enforcers in pursuing international terrorists.

“You have an unverified source giving you alleged but an unverifiable video product,” Kurt Hoyer, spokesperson for the embassy, said in a text message.

No physical presence

Malacañang has not commented on reports of US participation in the SAF operation that took down Marwan.

Apart from technical support, “the US also gave us the location of the target,” he said.

“They were present in the planning, but to be fair, they were not present in the ground operation, no physical presence on the ground,” he said.

The officer said US agents also provided the SAF with intelligence on a target’s location through a “tracer.”

“A tracer is the person closest to the target, because that person is easier to access,” he said.

Probe US role

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the House of Representatives should investigate the US role in the SAF operation to get Marwan.

One of the questions left hanging in the House inquiry into the Mamasapano clash is where Marwan’s finger was taken after the operation.

Officials involved in the operation were asked in the House hearing on Wednesday to confirm if the finger was turned over to US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in General Santos City. There was no answer.

“We have our own investigation protocols, why did they have to bring Marwan’s specimen directly to the FBI?” Zarate said.

He said claims by top police, military and interior department officials that President Aquino did not have direct supervision over the operation were unbelievable.

“President Aquino was in Zamboanga City on the day of the encounter, which was his mother’s birthday,” Zarate said.

Zarate said the lives of the 44 SAF commandos were sacrificed in the name of the US global war on terrorism.

Basit Usman: The big fish who always slips through the net

From GMA News (Feb 13): Basit Usman: The big fish who always slips through the net

Security forces are currently hunting down alleged Filipino bomb-maker Akmad Batabol Usman alias Abdul Basit Usman, who escaped during the Mamasapano operation which left 44 police commandos dead.
According to Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, Usman was reportedly wounded after the Jan. 25 police operation, but still managed to evade arrest and continues to be in hiding in Mamasapano town. 
This was not the first time that Usman, who is said to have ties with the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, escaped the long arm of the law. 
In 2002, Usman was arrested for allegedly bombing an area near Fitmart Mall in General Santos City, where 15 people were killed.

A few months after his capture, the suspected bomb-maker, who is facing multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder cases, escaped from the Sarangani provincial police headquarters, where he was allegedly given VIP treatment.
Following his escape, Usman allegedly launched two more bombings: one at a public market in Tacurong City last 2006, and another in Cotabato City, which killed two people.
In 2009, the US State Department offered $1-million reward for information that will lead to Usman’s arrest. The agency described Usman as “a threat to US and Filipino citizens and interest.”
The slippery bomb-maker has not just evaded arrest. He has also escaped death twice.
The suspected Filipino terrorist also managed to flee after a military raid of in Maguindanao in June last year. 

The arrest warrant for Basit Usman.

4 Syrians, one Yemeni hosted by BIFF, says security expert

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 13): 4 Syrians, one Yemeni hosted by BIFF, says security expert

Four Syrians and one Yemeni have visited the Philippines on September 2014 following the pledge of allegiance of some local jihadists to ISIS, a security expert said on Friday.

“It is not only Marwan who have established friendship and solidarity with local jihadist movement. [Last year] there are four Syrians and one Yemeni who arrived in the country and was hosted by the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters),” Rodolfo “Boogie” Mendoza, a retired intelligence chief of the Philippine National Police, said over a phone interview.

Mendoza played a key role in uncovering the Bojinka plot in the ’90s which included a plan to assassinate Pope John Paul II. He interrogated Abdul Hakim Murad, one of the brains behind the plot that led to the arrest of his cohort Ramzi Yousef in Pakistan.

Although he could not give a definite period on how long the five foreign nationals stayed in the south, he said their stay coincided with the trainings conducted by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 105th Base Command, the BIFF and a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group under Isnilon Hapilon. The training started mid-2014, Mendoza said. A video of one of the trainings was posted on the Facebook page of the MILF 105th where the name Usman was mentioned.

Mendoza said the five foreign nationals arrived in the country supposedly for the Bangsamoro Justice Movement (BJM).

“That is what is being used so that the connection cannot be traced to the local jihadist organizations,” Mendoza said.

The BJM is a rebel movement established in Malaysia on July 2014. Some of those who founded the BJM are Mohammad Ali Tambaco, former vice chair for political affairs of the BIFF; Basit Usman, operations commander of the BIFF, a bomb expert with links to Malaysian JI operative Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” and Abdul Jan Pagao, reportedly the former political affairs officer of the BIFF.

While there is an MILF component with ties with terrorist groups, Mendoza said the mainstream MILF has nothing to do with it “but appears they are tolerating it.”

He reiterated that the MILF should be transparent for the sake of the peace process.

‘Overkill’ video uploader identified

From the Manila Times (Feb 14): ‘Overkill’ video uploader identified

THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Friday said it has identified the people who uploaded the “overkill” video on YouTube that shows the supposed “execution” of one of the 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) commandos who were killed by Muslim separatist rebels on January 25 in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province.

Ronald Aguto, head of the NBI Cyber Crime Division, noted that the video had been taken down from YouTube but they were able to save copies of it and trace its origin.

The video indicated the brutal killing of the SAF policemen that corroborated autopsy findings that some of them were still alive when shot at close range by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the rogue Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Aguto said their findings were turned over to prosecutors of the Department of Justice for proper handling.

According to him, the video uploader had violated the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

He, however, withheld identities of the people who will be charged for the offense.
NBI investigators will visit the site of the encounter in Mamasapano to gather more material evidence and probably secure sworn affidavits from witnesses.

PNP spokesman and Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo also on Friday confirmed that the NBI has indeed made a breakthrough in its investigation.

“The NBI has made a breakthrough in its investigation such as [identifying] who is behind in the uploading of the video… but I still don’t have a copy of their report,” Cerbo told a news briefing.

The PNP spokesman appealed to holders of other videos of the encounter not to upload them anymore to show respect to both the victims and their families.

The Anti-Cyber Crime Group (ACG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has stepped into the investigation of the massacre and similarly moved to track down the uploaders of the grisly video.

The video was uploaded last Tuesday night and showed a wounded police commando’s last moments prior to his execution by a supposed MILF combatant.
Police officials attending a House hearing on the carnage confirmed that the police commando in the video was a member of the PNP-SAF identified as Police Officer 2 Danny Suhayon. Other reports identified him as PO1 Joseph Sagonoy.

Another video surfaced also on Friday, showing some MILF rebels staging an ambush of the police commandos.

“The ACG is automatically tapped in the investigation on video or Internet access,” Cerbo also told reporters.

NPA losing mass support in Panay

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 13): NPA losing mass support in Panay

Two abandoned camps of the New People’s Army (NPA) have been unearthed by the Philippine Army in Iloilo province recently.

Lieutenant Colonel Enriqueto Deocadez Jr., commander of the 82nd Infantry Battalion, said government troops found the two camps in the southern Iloilo towns of Miag-ao and Tubungan while on security patrol.

The two combined camps was able to accommodate 85 people. The camps also had observation posts, restrooms, kitchens, and even a classroom.

For the army on Panay Island, this is an indication that the NPA’s strength is waning.

“They continue to lose their grounds and mass support,” said Colonel Eric Uchida, commander of the 301st Brigade (301 IB).

According to records of 3rd Infantry Division (3ID), a total of 42 camps were discovered last year. Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, 3ID commander, said 24 camps were discovered in Negros Island while the remaining 18 camps were in Panay Island.

Maranaos hold rally in support to BBL; donate money for martyred MILF combatants

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 13): Maranaos hold rally in support to BBL; donate money for martyred MILF combatants

Maranaos hold rally in support to BBL; donate money for martyred MILF combatants

Malabang, Lanao del Sur - Synchronized rallies in major cities in Mindanao including Quezon City in Metro Manila right in front of the House of Representatives, Maranaos  also staged their own rally yesterday at Palaza Cabili in Bonggolo, Marawi City and called for support to the BBL.

The rally participants also contributed money, mostly coins for the families of the eighteen (18) martyred combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who perished in misencounter with members of the PNP-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) last January 25 at Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

“Puro na lang ba yung SAF-44 ang pinaguusapang tutulungan, paanu naman ang mga  naulila ng namatay na 18 MILF members?” lamented one elderly participant, who refused to be named”.

“Kahit pa piso-piso lang we can gather sufficient amount to help the families of the martyred MILF fighters and civilians. They are “shaheeds” (martyrs). They died for us and the Bangsamoro,” rally emcee Hadji Acmad Lao said upon seeing a group of students being given their “baon” (food provision).

“Hindi natin kaya yung millions na binigay sa SAF 44 pero gusto nating ipahiwatig sa mga pamilya ng ating mga “Shaheed” na hindi natin sila nakakalimutan”, Lao added.
The mammoth crowd that caused traffic congestion in the city was composed of students, professionals, women, MILF supporters and members, government retirees, businessmen, local politicians and even peace supporters coming from as far as coastal town of Malabang (Ranaoragat) that had to travel for 2 hours to reach the venue.

Various speakers took turns urging Congress and Senate to hasten the enactment of the BBL into law and not to let the Mamasapano misencounter derail it.

“Our stand in local government remains strong in supporting the programs of President Benigno Aquino III and the immediate approval of the BBL” said one mayor who requested anonymity.

One speaker even quoted the words of BTC Chair Mohager Iqbal, “the BBL is the sum of our hopes and dreams. It may mean nothing to you. But it is the whole world to us. It is what we got. It is what we only have.”

In an earlier published statement, twelve (12) Muslim solons led by Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong renewed their commitment of support to President Aquino in finding meaningful, lasting and sustainable peace and urged their colleagues in the chamber not to let the incident in Mamasapano affect the enactment of the proposed Bangsamoro Law.

CPP/NDF: On the Fourth Anniversary of Black Valentine’s Day Arrest

NDF statement posted to the CPP Website (Feb 13): On the Fourth Anniversary of Black Valentine’s Day Arrest

Alan Jazmines
NDFP National Democratic Front of the Philippines
I was arrested four years ago – on Black Valentine’s Day – on the eve of the long-stalled resumption of the formal peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP/GPH).

The principal agenda in the would-be resumption of the formal peace talks was supposed to center on the second of the four substantive agenda in the NDFP-GRP/GPH peace talks, i.e., on Comprehensive Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).

The first substantive agenda, that centered on respect for human rights, was already agreed upon in 1998, and had resulted in the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). Aside from the CASER, the other remaining agenda – on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR) and on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (EHDF) – are supposed to immediately follow after the start of and progress in the second substantive agenda.

On my part, as a regular member of the NDFP Socio-Economic Reforms Committee in the NDFP-GRP/GPH Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-Economic Reforms, I was supposed to directly participate in the slated NDFP-GRP/GPH talks on the socio-economic reforms agenda, with the objective of coming out a unity on CASER.

85 of us, long-since listed as peace talks participants, consultants and other officers and personnel of the NDFP significantly involved in the peace process with the GRP/GPH, are supposed to be protected by the NDFP-GRP/GPH Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and not subjected to surveillance, arrest, detention, torture, trumped-up court charges and other antagonistic acts that would deter our effective participation and work in the peace process.

As I was being arrested on Black Valentine’s Day, I invoked, before the head of the arresting forces, my JASIG protection. But the answer was that their higher-ups insist on the arrest – no matter the JASIG.

I also asked to immediately and directly be able to consult with the People’s Interest Law Center (and its head then, Atty. Romeo Capulong) that serves as legal counsel of the NDFP, its peace panel and consultants in the peace process, and to confer with our attorneys on the matter of my arrest, including on the question of its “legality” (especially as there was no warrant of arrest served at the time of my arrest) and its violation of peace agreements. But the only answer was that all these would have to be coursed through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), which accordingly has been on top of the situation all along. (I was, however, able to confer with my lawyers, only the next day arranged via other channels.)

The formal peace talks between the NDFP and the GRP/GPH were again stalled after a couple of days, because of the latter’s failure to release the victim of the Black Valentine’s Day Arrest and the other earlier arrested and still-detained NDFP peace talks participants and consultants supposedly protected by the JASIG.

While informal talks on the side continue to seek prospects and favorable conditions for the resumption and advance of formal peace talks, many hurdles and setbacks still need to be resolved and overcome, including:

The continuing detention of NDFP peace talks participants and consultants, together with some 500 other political prisoners;
The continuing failure to account and answer for the subjection to enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of some NDFP peace talks participants and consultants, their staffs and loved ones;
The further victimizing of detained NDFP peace talks participants and consultants and other political prisoners by swamping us with trumped-up criminalized charges. in violation of the Hernandez Doctrine, and thus keeping us in jail practically indefinitely;
The overly long hibernation and very slow crawl of justice in our cases, all the more prolonging our detention;
The utter lack of concern and effort to solve the many problems of prisoners being long-detained, even if they are minors, elderlies, sickly/incapacitated, mistakenly identified, with cases that have been mixed-up, and other discrepancies in the course of justice;
The very, very poor quality and unhealthy food rations, not even worth half the nominal P50/inmate/day food budget supposedly allotted to us;
Niggardly limiting our access to sunning and exercise in open air to only one hour a week, at the most. This, even if Philippine law and the United Nations Standards state that at least an hour daily of sunning and exercise in open air should be allowed to prisoners;
The abusive “greyhound” operations, supposedly to search for “contrabands”, but – since political prisoners do not have “contrabands” – the resorting to cruel and heartless confiscations, wanton spoilings, and even outright theft of harmless, essential necessities for the humane existence of detainees, like vitamins, nail cutters, long toothbrushes, ballpens, blunt scissors and other materials for writing and artwork, cooking stoves, CDs/DVDs (even on human rights) and the absurd justifications for such. (The confiscation, too, of a typewriter sent by the NDFP peace panel so that detained NDFP peace talks participants and consultants may still be able to continue with some – even if minimum – part of their work for the peace process, while still in jail.)
Human rights violations, heavy and unwarranted repressions and restrictions have escalated recently as a result of the jail authorities’ fascist reactions to the fasting and hunger strike, we, political prisoners, waged here at the Special Intensive Care Area 1 (SICA1) Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa, five days prior to the visit of Pope Francis I and during his five days of actual visit to this country, bringing along with him his call for “mercy and compassion.”

Our 10 days of fasting and hunger strike was an act of self-sacrifice to make loud our calls for our freedom, for justice, for real solutions to social ills, for serious efforts towards lasting.peace in our country.

Our calls emphasized our dire situation as political prisoners – imprisoned because of our struggles for political and social changes in the interest of our people; subjected to severe repressions, reprisals, abuses, deprivations, and other fascist acts by state and jail authorities; made to suffer one of the most rotten and slowest crawl of justice in the world; and frustrated with the long lack of progress in the peace process.

But in reaction to our act of self-sacrifice and our calls, the jail authorities resorted to foul and fascist acts. They violated our rights to the extent of disregarding international protocols on respect for human rights, the United Nation’s norms on the treatment of prisoners, as well as the prevailing state’s own laws.

The whole time we went through our act of self-sacrifice – and even afterwards – our doctors were totally barred from visiting us and checking on our medical conditions. There were instances, when even a lawyer of ours and some of our loved ones were also barred. Many, many visitors from human rights organizations, church organizations, other people’s organizations, and many more other supporters and sympathizers were also cruelly barred.

Worse, the jail authorities even machinated and unleashed malicious and vicious schemes to isolate us, political prisoners, and induce, from other inmates under the hands of leaders of a lumpen prison gang and of those accused by the government as terrorists, intensified antagonisms and orchestrated threats of violence against our lives and limbs. This, by also barring the visitors of all other inmates, and casting the blame for such on the “foolish” (“kalokohan”) hunger strike of political prisoners.

While we do still need to effectively fend off attacks by rotten and fascist jail authorities and their trigger-happy pawns, and more so also need to push for the rectification of the rotten, fake and abusive penal system, we maintain our focus on our prime objective – our fight for freedom, for justice, for social and political causes, and for related serious advances towards lasting peace – all in the interest of the mass of the people we were brought here for and continue to sacrifice for.

In the meantime, it has been four years since the Black Valentine’s Day Arrest …
The fight goes on!

NDFP peace consultant
detained at the
Special Intensive Care Area 1
Camp Bagong Diwa,
Taguig City
February 13, 2015

CPP: People demand full revelation of US, Aquino lead role in Mamasapano operation—CPP

Propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Feb 13): People demand full revelation of US, Aquino lead role in Mamasapano operation—CPP

Communist Party of the Philippines
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today said that the Filipino people are demanding the full revelation of the role played by the US military and Benigno Aquino III in planning, executing and bungling the January 25 Mamasapano operation. Over the past few days, the Filipino people have been closely monitoring the public hearings being conducted by the Senate and House of Representatives which are looking into the incident.

On January 25, close to 400 police operatives under the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) carried out an operation to neutralize Zulkfili Bin Hir alias Marwan who has been included by the US government “list of terrorists” and who carries a bounty of $6 million funded by the US State Department. An ensuing gunbattle between the police forces and armed Moro fighters in the area resulted in the deaths of 44 police forces, 18 MILF fighters, several BIFF men and at least five civilians.

“The Filipino people are dismayed at how certain senators, congressmen, officials of the Aquino government and resource people are determinedly preventing the revelation of the lead role played by the US government and military and its top-level clandestine collaboration with the Aquino government,” said the CPP.

“Former PNP-SAF commander Gen. Getulio Napeñas himself has refused to disclose to what extent the US military and its security agencies planned and executed the Mamasapano operation,” pointed of the CPP. “He was allowed to get away in his claim that the SAF spent only P100,000 for what was obviously a multi-million peso operation.”

“He clearly had close coordination with the US forces when his purported request for assistance to the US Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF-Philippines) for medical evacuation was immediately responded to, with the US military dispatching helicopters and men in the area,” said the CPP. Independent reports reveal that the US military sent helicopters to evacuate an American soldier said to be among the dead.

“Close coordination with the US government has nonetheless been inadvertently revealed in General Napeñas’ testimony that a severed finger from the slain police target taken for DNA was immediately sent to agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who were waiting in General Santos City,” pointed out the CPP. “He, however, was allowed to answer in executive session the reason why the FBI agents were already at General Santos City, although the Filipino people can clearly see through the veil of secrecy.”

“The Filipino people can also clearly see that the US forces were clandestinely working with Aquino himself in hatching up the Mamasapano operation,” said the CPP. “Aquino directly trampled on the authority of police officials by having his favorite lackey, suspended PNP chief Dir. Gen. Alan Purisima, plan out and supervise the operation, without the knowledge of the police echelon, nor of military officers and other key security and defense officials.”

“Aquino, himself, had Generals Purisima and Napeñas brief him on the status of the Mamasapano operation days prior to the operation,” said the CPP. “It is also apparent that General Purisima, together with US officials, were the ones giving Aquino updates during the early morning hours of January 25.”

“General Purisima was extended executive privilege when he was allowed to first seek Aquino’s permission before answering whether he was the one who informed the president of the status of the Mamasapano operation. However, he succeeded only in revealing how he and Aquino were deeply involved in the clandestine operation.”

The CPP urges the Filipino people to press on with their demand to have the truth fully disclosed, especially regarding the role of the US in instigating, funding and planning the operation, the violations of Philippine sovereignty in the clandestine operations of the US police, military and security agencies in the country and how it collaborated with treasonous government, police and military officials.

The CPP also supports the Filipino people in their clamor for Aquino’s ouster and plans to charge him criminally for using his ill-supported police operatives as cannon fodder by ordering them to wage battle deep in hostile territory.

29 of SAF 44 were shot in the head – autopsy reports

From GMA News (Feb13): 29 of SAF 44 were shot in the head – autopsy reports

Twenty-nine of the 44 police Special Action Force members killed in the Mamasapano clash in Maguindanao were shot in the head, GMA News' “24 Oras” reported on Friday.
According to the report which cited the autopsy results, most of the fallen PNP-SAF members sustained gunshot wounds to their head, face, neck and chest.

A reliable source told GMA News that the victims were probably shot at close range based on the bruises from their gunshot wounds.
The PNP-SAF were also equipped with bullet proof vests so those with wounds to the body most likely were stripped of their protective gear, the source said.
The following are some findings of the autopsies on some of the Fallen 44:
  • P/Insp. Rennie Tayrus, subleader of the 84th SAF seaborn sustained gunshot wounds to the head, back, and lower body.
  • P/Sr. Insp. Ryan Pabalinas, whom SAF officer-in-charge Chief Supt. Noli Taliño said was the person he last talked to on the radio during the mission sustained gunshot wounds to the head, neck and body.
  • Pabalinas sustained a total of fourteen gunshot wounds.
  • P/Sr. Insp. Gednat Tabdi, who was reportedly the one who cut Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan's finger for DNA sampling, sustained a single gunshot wound to the head.
  • P/Sr. Insp. Max Jim Tria, reportedly the last man standing on the side of the PNP-SAF's 55th company, sustained gunshot wounds to his left arm and left thigh.
  • P02 Joseph Sagonoy, allegedly the downed SAF member who was killed in the start of the viral Mamasapano video, sustained two gunshot wounds to the head and another one in his thigh.
The Mamasapano assault involved 392 SAF personnel according to the SAF's operations plan of Operation Exodus and as later gathered by the Philippine National Police's Board of Inquiry. 

Peace pact took a hit, foreign monitors say

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 14): Peace pact took a hit, foreign monitors say

THE Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) that assesses the implementation the signed agreements between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front admitted that the Mamasapano incident has set back the peace process despite the peace deal’s significant progress.

But even with the recrimination caused by the death of 44 police commandos who were killed in Mamasapano last January 23, TPMT chairman and former European ambassador to the Philippines Alistair MacDonald said the peace deal is still “the best possible vaccination against radicalization and terrorism.”

Kimi Cojuangco
“The best way to avoiding radicalization is to promote peace and prosperity. Some people said the peace process is best possible vaccination against radicalization and terrorism. I am absolutely sure that is the case,” MacDonald said in a press briefing.

“I think it is evident the very tight deadline in which Congress is working is already very difficult. It is now thrown in disarray. We cannot make predictions,”

MacDonald said, adding he hopes the public will be reminded of the distance the peace process has already traveled.

MacDonald said the challenges have “strengthened and multiplied now, but the commitment of both parties is very crucial, noting that both parties must restore trust in the peace process.”

Aside from MacDonald, the other TPMT members are Huseyin Oruç of Turkey, Steven Rood of the United States, Karen Tañada  and Rahib Kudto of the Phlippines.
At the same time, President Benigno Aquino III has promised the Moro Islamic Liberation Front a “peace budget” amounting to P80 billion, P10 billion of which will be released this year, an administration lawmaker and a militant group disclosed Friday.

Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco said the Bangsamoro, with a population of 3.7 million, was allocated P70 billion in peace budget while the rest of the country or the rest of the 96.3 million Filipinos will have to share with only P40 billion in Internal Revenue Allotment.

“The P70 billion will be released soon after we pass the suspended Bangsamoro Basic Law. How in heaven’s name will I affix my signature when 44 SAF families are crying for justice because those responsible for the commandos’ death were the forces that the government was negotiating peace with,” said Cojuangco.

“So I withdrew my support for the BBL. No to BBL,” Cojuangco told the Manila Standard.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. also questioned the P10 billion that the Department of Budget and Management announced will be released this year.

The announcement was made by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on February 11, barely two weeks after the Mamasapano carnage.

Cojuangco, a Nationalist People’s Coalition leader, said the P70 billion was explicitly stated in the Palace-drafted BBL, of which deliberations the House suspended Monday last week.

“The P70 billion was just a conservative estimate. It is a block grant, four percent of the national budget. And based on the BBL that was crafted by the Palace, they will not need to go to Congress to defend their proposed budget. It will automatically be given to them every year,” Cojuangco said.

“And on top of the P70 billion, they will also receive a special development fund from the national government for infrastructure,” Cojuangco said.

In announcing the P9.94-billion package, Abad said the national government was “seeking the peaceful settlement of armed conflict in the country, not just by focusing on national defense and security but by also restoring the provision of essential government services in areas affected by conflict.”

“That’s why government programs that strengthen peace-building, reconstruction, and development activities are a top priority in the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA), receiving a budget of P9.94 billion,” Abad said.

“We need to sound the alarm because the cause of peace is being used to mask corruption in government. It is also deceptive since these programs do not really address the root causes of the armed conflict,” Reyes said.

“The nearly P10 billion so-called ‘peace budget’ looks like pork and is a revival of previous DAP-funded projects,” Reyes said.

Among the items Bayan is questioning include the P7.29 billion PAMANA fund that includes: P760 million Department of Social Welfare and Development or DWSD funds for “community support,”; P519 million for Department of Public Works and Highways’ road construction; P1.8 billion for Department of Agriculture “community driven development projects,”; P656 million Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao “community driven development projects,”; and P200 million Department of Environment and Natural Resources reforestation projects.

“How can the Aquino administration claim to boost peace with spending that appears geared towards patronage and corruption more than anything else? The budgets seems to be geared for 2016 and is reminiscent of DAP spending,” Reyes added.

Nagging questions on US role in Mamasapano mission

From ABS-CBN (Feb 13): Nagging questions on US role in Mamasapano mission

[Video report: U.S. Embassy: American troops only helped evacuate the wounded]

Questions persist over the true role of the United States in the events leading up to the deadly encounter in Mamasapano and in the immediate aftermath.

Did the US provide all or part of the intelligence that formed the basis for the ill-fated Special Action Force operation?

Were its operatives involved in the planning of the mission and in its execution?

And why were personnel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation apparently ready to receive evidence after the clash went so horribly wrong?

In his first nationwide address after the Mamasapano incident, President Aquino said the government had received "actionable intelligence" around which the Mamasapano mission was built.

He said authorities had found not just the region, province or municipality but the very houses in which terror suspects Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Basit Usman were hiding.

In his statement at the Senate on Monday, relieved PNP-SAF commander Getulio Napenas Jr. said resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima told him last November to work with Police Supt. Fernando Mendez, director of the PNP Intelligence Group, on the use of the intelligence.

Napenas was told the PNP had an agent in the area and that the "intelligence packet" was subjected to long studies and served as the basis for the planning of the mission.

US Embassy Spokesman Kurt Hoyer has said the United States did not provide any intelligence to Philippine authorities in connection with the Mamasapano operation.

But several military sources have told The World Tonight Washington was in fact involved in the hunt for the two terrorists "from Day One."


The ABS-CBN News team learned from local residents that American soldiers were seen frequenting a private resort in Calarian, Zamboanga City a few days before the Maguindanao encounter,

The La Vista Del Mar resort in Calarian is located near the camp of the 84th Special Action Seaborne Company. It is believed the plan to attack Marwan's lair was hatched there last month.

But the resort's owner, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, said he has no idea if these reports are true.

The SAF camp has also remained closed since the Mamasapano incident.


What about reports that unidentified Americans took part in the actual operation?

In the days following the clash, remarks attributed to a spokesman of human rights group Suara Bangsamoro quoted a Mamasapano farmer as saying he saw the body of a Caucasian after the fighting.

But both the US Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs denied that any US soldier participated in the encounter.

"At the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, US service members serving in JSOTF-P (Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines) responded to assist in evacuation of dead and wounded after the firefight in Maguindanao," U.S. Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer said in a statement.

Hoyer said Americans only provided help in evacuating the dead and the wounded.
Several Americans were photographed in the area that day, dressed in civilian clothes and using civilian aircraft.


What about speculation that the operation was monitored by drones?

Several media reports quote anonymous sources as saying there was an "eye in the sky" tracking developments on the ground in real time.

A member of the assault team, Senior Inspector Recaredo Marasigan, was even quoted as saying: "The source of the real-time intelligence was both technical and human."

At Tuesday's Senate hearing, Mamasapano Mayor Datu Benzar Ampatuan said he had seen some kind of white aircraft hovering over the town. But he could not confirm that it was, indeed, a drone.

"May lumilipad po na eroplanong puti. Hindi po natin masabi kung drone or kung ano. Paikot-ikot po," he said.

Napenas has told senators no request was made to the US for drones, and that the PNP has no such high-tech gadgets. Yet a military source has told The World Tonight, the non-lethal white phosphorus delivered by artillery in order to drive the attackers away can only be unleashed with the aid of a drone.


Adding another layer to the mystery surrounding the US role is the revelation that FBI agents were already in General Santos City two days after the clash, waiting for the turnover of physical evidence from Marwan's body.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas told senators the sample did not pass through the PNP, and PNP officials could not provide a definitive answer as to how the sample ended up in the FBI's hands.

Police Director Benjamin Magalong, PNP Board of Inquiry chief, said he was told FBI personnel were standing by in General Santos City the Tuesday after the clash to receive the sample.

FBI spokesman Josh Campbell said the agency had no prior knowledge of the Mamasapano raid. But the circumstances beg the following questions:

Who coordinated the turnover of the sample, and on whose orders?

At what point was that coordination made?

How were FBI agents deployed so quickly?

Pressed by senators, Napenas said he would only provide answers in executive session.
With a number of key officials invoking executive privilege after being asked sensitive questions, it is anybody's guess whether the public will ever know all the answers.

SOLCOM celebrates 28th years of dedicated service

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 13): SOLCOM celebrates 28th years of dedicated service

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) celebrated on Thursday its 28th years of dedicated service as protector of the people and state in Southern Tagalog and Bicol regions and agent of peace in a simple ceremony at Camp Guillermo Nakar, Lucena City.

Lieutenant General Hernando DC A. Iriberri, Commanding General of the Philippine Army was the guest of honor and speaker for the event .

“SOLCOM: 28 Taong Tapat na Serbisyo at Kaagapay ng Sambayanan Tungo sa Kapayapaan, Kaunlaran at Kasaganaan sa Katimugang Luzon define in the most basic terms the continuing spirit that has made SOLCOM an effective, responsive force in its Area of Responsibility," said Lt. Gen. Iriberri.

During the program, efforts of 12 deserving military personnel were awarded with military combat and admin awards while seven other individuals were recognized for various contributions to SOLCOM and the AFP in peace and development in the region.

The Southern Luzon Command is under the leadership of Major General Ricardo R. Visaya, the 28th commander since its activation on January 1, 1987.

This anniversary highlighted some accomplishments during the previous year and early 2015 particularly the declaration of Catanduanes and Camarines Norte in Region 5 as “Conflict Manageable and Ready for Further Development” provinces. This is due to the relentless effort of soldiers under SOLCOM in neutralizing threats in the countryside in partnership with local government units as well as giving solution to poverty and ignorance, the roots of insurgency, through its Bayanihan Team Activities in the NPA influenced barangays (villages).

To cite the highlights of its thrusts, the Southern Luzon Command has applied its strength and strategy to accomplish the following:

Achieved further weakening of the CPP-NDF-NPA armed component with the neutralization of 112 regular members as well preventing recruitment.

Capture of 18 CNN ranking leaders that weakened the movement's regional base in Southern Luzon.

Increased partnership with stakeholders, as numerous development undertakings have sustained interaction and built strong relationships

The focused operations have built confidence in the business sector of the region that they will continue to be protected from enemy depredations. In fact, in CY 2014, there were no incidents of sabotage activities recorded.

Another area which has benefitted from strong partnerships is the actions in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Operations, with the consolidated effort to build people-centered disaster-resilient communities.

“After 28 years, SOLCOM moves forward to making more peace efforts in its regions by creating strong bonds with its stakeholders, building up communities and bringing the services of the government closer to the people,” said Major General Visaya. “Peace is no longer a dream but a reality easily imaginable with SOLCOM and its stakeholders,” he added.

Army leads peace, dev’t rally at San Agustin town

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 13): Army leads peace, dev’t rally at San Agustin town
The 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army’s 502nd Brigade based in Echague town led a peace and development rally Wednesday in this town.

The activity was attended by provincial officials led by Governor Faustino G. Dy III, the Isabela Police Provincial Office (IPPO) led by P/Supt. Sotero Ramos Jr., the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), municipal officials and employees of San Agustin, elementary and high school students of the town.

502nd Deputy Brigade Commander Col. Edgar Labitoria said the theme of the peace and development rally was “Nagkakaisang hakbang para sa Bayan na Kaayaaya at Payapa.”

Col. Labitoria said the activity aimed to encourage everyone to promote peace in the province that will push for more development.

The army official also called on the residents to promote "bayanihan" and help the law enforcers to encourage the armed rebels to return to the mainstream society and live a normal life.

The government, through the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP), is extending help to the surrendering rebels to start a new life by providing livelihood assistance fund.

For his part, Gov. Dy urged the active participation of barangay officials in maintaining peace and order in their respective areas to help the government push for development programs and projects.

Dy cited the vital role of village officials being the frontline service providers, who know the needed services in their areas.

Army chief in Negros Occidental dismisses coup rumors

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 13): Army chief in Negros Occidental dismisses coup rumors

Col. Jon Aying, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army in Negros Occidental, denied the reported coup plot against President Benigno S. Aquino III.

Aying said Friday he only heard about it through the media.

“I am confident that the military in Negros are professionals and we are very particular about civilian superiority over the military," Aying said.

The issue is civilian in nature, he added.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had confirmed reports of a coup plot amid the outrage over the Mamasapano incident which led to the deaths of 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. had earlier said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was duty-bound to prevent or quell any enemies of the state, including those who were planning to oust the President.

Coloma said that it was Gazmin who assured of the readiness of the military to do its job.

"Tungkulin ng Sandatahang Lakas na pigilan at puksain ang lahat ng kalaban ng estado...lahat ng mga banta laban sa estado ay tinututukan at ganap ang kahandaan ng ating Sandatahang Lakas laban sa mga bantang ‘yan," he said.

Coloma was reacting to reports that there was an ongoing coup plot against President Aquino in the aftermath of the January 25 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Soldiers pursue NPA rebels who fired at 'Bayanihan' team in Sorsogon

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 13): Soldiers pursue NPA rebels who fired at 'Bayanihan' team in Sorsogon

Troopers from the 9th Infantry Division are now conducting pursuit operations against the six New People's Army (NPA) bandits who opened fire on a "Bayanihan" team of the 31st Infantry Battalion doing development work at Barangay San Antonio, Barcelona, Sorsogon Thursday afternoon.

Capt. Mardjorie Paimela Panesa, 9th Infantry Division spokesperson, said no one among the soldiers in the "Bayanihan" team was killed nor hurt in the incident that took place at 12:45 p.m. .

Responding soldiers from the 31st Infantry Battalion engaged the fleeing rebels in a one-minute firefight, inflicting some casualties on the latter, Panesa said.

NBI seizes DVDs of video footage of alleged Mamasapano clash being sold in Iligan

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 13): NBI seizes DVDs of video footage of alleged Mamasapano clash being sold in Iligan

Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have raided three areas in Iligan City for selling DVDs containing video footage allegedly in connection with the Mamasapano clash.

According to Atty. Alex Carbonay, chief of the NBI-Iligan City, the DVDs are being sold for Php25 each.

Carbonay said that they confiscated the DVDs and told the merchants to stop the selling of the said DVDs because it may cause trouble.

He added that it cannot be avoided that those who would watch the said video footage may enflame their feelings, hence, it should not even be distributed.

Under Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), those who sell or distribute films or videos which are contrary to morals are penalized with a fine of up to Php12,000.

House senior leaders reiterated commitment to pursue peace by supporting constitutional BBL

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 13): House senior leaders reiterated commitment to pursue peace by supporting constitutional BBL

House leaders reiterated on Friday their commitment to pursue peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) provided that justice is served to the “Fallen 44” of Special Action Force (SAF) and that Bangsamoro Basic law (BBL) would be legal and constitutional even if this may mean a watered-down version.

This was stressed by ABAKADA Party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong, and Isabela Rep. Rodolfo “Rodito” Albano III after MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told a Senate hearing the other day that a watered-down version of the BBL may not be acceptable to the Bangsamoro people.

De la Cruz, a member of the House independent bloc led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, said the BBL should be constitutional.

“Well will just have to work out the best constitutionally acceptable law. After all, the BBL is not the end to attain peace and development in Mindanao and the entire country,” said de la Cruz.

Acop, a retired police general and comptroller during the stint of Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, said peace talks are the only solution to the problems in Mindanao.

“I recommend that peace talks must always prevail. However, we cannot talk of peace without giving justice to the victims and their loved ones,” Acop said.

Even Loong, a former commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), agreed that talking of BBL which the 75-man House ad hoc committee on the BBL indefinitely suspended is not an issue right now.

“Well to me, it is not yet time to talk about BBL because of the prevailing situation,” said Loong, the chairman of the House committee on Muslim affairs.

Albano said Congress should guarantee that the BBL should conform the Constitution.

“That's their concern not ours. It’s part of a negotiation process, it’s a two way street, not a one-way street,” said Albano.

During the Senate hearing the other day on the Mamasapano, Iqbal said the MILF hopes that Congress will pass the BBL as crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

At the Senate hearing, Iqbal said a watered-down version of the BBL would not address the grievances of the Bangsamoro people.

Some constitutional experts stressed that the BBL would create the proposed Bangsamoro territory into a sub-state, which is not allowed under the Constitution.

Palace: Government, MILF must study proposal for independent Mamasapano probe

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 13): Palace: Government, MILF must study proposal for independent Mamasapano probe

Chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Mohagher Iqbal’s call for an independent body to investigate the deadly Mamasapano clash must be studied thoroughly, a Palace official said on Friday.

"Kailangan pong pag-aralan ang panukalang ito," Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said during a press briefing when asked about Iqbal's proposal.

During the Senate hearing on the Maguindanao incident on Thursday, Iqbal suggested the participation of the United Nations to do an inquiry to ensure an impartial investigation.

Iqbal said that aside from their own investigation, they were pushing for an independent probe on the Mamasapano incident.

He said that they were encountering such problems as perception and speculation.

The MILF, he said, is willing to meet with its government counterparts to discuss further the independent investigation.

The government has created a Board of Inquiry to investigate what happened in the Mamasapano incident. The MILF is also doing its own probe.

The government and the MILF signed a peace pact last year and is working for a Bangsamoro political entity when the Mamasapano incident occurred.

Special Action Force (SAF) commandos targeted terrorist suspects, Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Basit Usman, on January 25, but they clashed with members of the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as they were moving out of the area.

The encounter left 44 SAF commandos dead.