Saturday, February 14, 2015

NPA still a threat to Compostela Valley despite deployment of forces–military

From the Philippine Daily Star (Feb 14): NPA still a threat to Compostela Valley despite deployment of forces–military

Military officials on Friday admitted that the communist insurgency remained a threat to the resources-rich province of Compostela Valley despite the deployment of forces from at least three Army brigades.

“Compostela Valley is the only province (in the country) in which the insurgency problem has not yet been totally addressed,” said Col. Casiano Monilla, commander of the 1001st Infantry Brigade.

With the presence of large agribusiness plantations and small and medium-scale mining operations in the province, Compostela Valley is a “perpetually-contested area” between government security forces and the New People’s Army (NPA), he said.

The 1001st Brigade has three battalions in the province, the 46th, 25th and the 71st infantry battalions.

The 701st and the 1003rd infantry brigades also have troops that operate in other areas of the province.

At least P2.3 million in so-called revolutionary taxes are collected by the NPA in Compostela Valley every month, according to Capt. Rey Vergel Annogui, the 1001st Brigade’s information chief.

The collections allegedly come from banana plantations, business establishments and even politicians, as well as the thriving mining industry.

“The rebels will not just easily give up the province because of the huge resources they can get from here. Extortion money the NPA gets from here is funding the insurgency up to the national level,” Monilla said as he tried to illustrate how important the province is for the rebels.

Since January last year, the NPA has initiated 18 violent incidents such as abduction of civilians and government forces (six), bombings (five), burning of government and private equipment and facilities (five), assassinations (two) and ambuscade and robbery.

Annogui said their brigade dealt with two NPA sub-regional commands, with an estimated strength of 220 armed fighters spread over six guerrilla fronts and three mobile strike forces called Pulang Bagani (Red Warrior) Companies (PBCs).

Monilla said the mountain ranges separating Compostela Valley with neighboring provinces such as Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental, and the ease of crisscrossing these to evade punishing military operations contributed to the difficulty that security forces face in addressing the insurgency problem in the province.

But he said the military was banking on civic action programs under the Oplan Bayanihan or the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) to help solve the decades-old communist insurgency problem.

“We really have to double our efforts in clearing Compostela Valley of the communist insurgency,” said Monilla. “At least we minimized the number of villages now under the influence of the NPA.”

He said the NPA was also trying to gain more foothold as it had setup at least three “municipalities,” complete with governmental structures such as a mayor and other local functionaries.

These komiteng munisipyo (municipal committees) were in fact district revolutionary governments comprising several municipalities in the province’s two legislative districts, he said.

“These shadow municipalities already have a school, a sort of cooperative and several businesses, but with the income being taken by the communist movement,” Monilla said.

During a briefing with reporters at the brigade headquarters, Annogui said part of the brigade’s objective is to “de-influence” all of the 155 barangays of the province from the NPA by the first six months of the year.

Part of the efforts toward that, he said, included the strengthening of the relationship between the Army and local government units, businesses and other sectors and the conduct of peace and development outreach programs (PDOP) to far-flung communities.

Army apologizes to shaken birdwatchers

Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Feb 14): Army apologizes to shaken birdwatchers

An Army official has expressed apologies for the encounter between soldiers and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in a popular birdwatching site near a protected area here that caught seven foreign birdwatchers in surprise.

“They were in shock and still shaken,” Army Lt. Col. Nassar Lidasan said of the seven foreigners caught in the crossfire between his troops and rebels in Barangay Dalwangan Friday.

Lidasan, chief of the Army 1st Special Forces Battalion spoke briefly with Peter Simpson, one of the foreigners, over the phone Friday afternoon.

The Army officer offered Simpson his apologies for the near-tragic incident.

“The birdwatchers scampered for cover when the firing started. They did not know what was happening,” Lidasan said.

Simpson and six other foreigners identified as British Paul Thomas Rendel, Jill Patricia Rendel; Danish Leo Soegaard Borch, Birgette Noerregaard, Ole Frederiksen; and Australian Richard Lindsay Johnstone trekked to Mangasa, Barangay Dalwangan to see a Philippine Eagle nest when a 10-minute clash between Army soldiers and NPA rebels erupted at 8:51 a.m. Friday.

Not expecting to be caught in a firefight, the birdwatchers scampered for cover but Johnstone got separated from the group. He was reunited with his companions at Del Monte lodge in Dalwangan at 2 p.m.

Their Filipino guide Carlito Gayramara, 61, was wounded and brought to Malaybalay Polymedic General Hospital.

Lidasan said his troops, who have been in frequent clashes with the rebels since Feb. 10, did not know of the presence of the birdwatchers.

“I really wanted to apologize to the birdwatchers. Had we known they were there we would have not engaged the rebels,” he said.

Col. Jesse Alvarez, chief of the 403rd Infantry Brigade said they were surprised when they were told of the presence of the bird watchers.

One soldier killed

Alvarez said their soldiers have been hunting the NPA rebels since Feb. 10 when the Army Special Forces clashed with them resulting to the death of one soldier.

“Nobody coordinated with us. We could have advised them not to go,” he said.
Dalwangan Barangay Chair Esperanza Martinez confirmed that the mountains of the Mt. Kitanglad range near their village were the scenes of heavy fighting the past days.

“We can hear loud explosions from our village. Sadly, the bird watchers did not coordinate with us,” she said.

Daniel Somera, Protected Area Superintendent for Mount Kitanglad of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said their office granted the foreigners a permit to watch the Philippine Eagle nest in Mangasa from Feb. 10 to 14, 2015.

Aside from the Philippine Eagle, the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park is home to endemic bird species like the Kitanglad leaf-warbler Apo Myna and Whitehead Swiftlet.

It was declared as a national park in 1990, and became a full-fledged protected area in November 2000 through Republic Act 8976.

Another NPA official falls

From Tempo (Feb 15): Another NPA official falls

Intensified security operations by troops under the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command have resulted in the arrest of another ranking leader of the New People’s Army, a military spokesman said.

Major Ezra Balagtey, Eastmincom spokesperson, said the arrest of Robert Laurente Rivas Jr., alias “Opos,” allegedly an NPA vice commander, and one Jojea Alameda also prevented the communist armed group from staging atrocities on Friday the 13th.

Balagtey said soldiers from the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion and elements of the Lianga Police Station arrested them in a checkpoint in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur on Thursday.

The two were reportedly “on their way to lay land mine in the area.”

Balagtey said Rivas and Alameda were on board a motorcycle when they were stopped by the troops for inspection.

Recovered from their possession were one anti-personnel improvised explosive device, one caliber .38 pistol, blasting cap, 27 meters firing wire for IED, one mobile phone, and two battery packs.

2 Abu Sayyaf killed in Al-Barka clash

From Rappler (Feb 15): 2 Abu Sayyaf killed in Al-Barka clash

(2nd UPDATE) Troops from the Philippine Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion encountered fighters from the Abu Sayyaf Group in Al-Barka town on February 15

Troops from the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Join Task Group Basilan encountered fighters from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Al-Barka town in Basilan before daybreak on Sunday, February 15.

According to the AFP, government forces were implementing a military operation against members of the ASG led by a certain Bashir Kasaran in Barangay Kuhun in Al-Barka.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lt Col Harold Cabunoc said 6 soldiers were wounded in sporadic clashes that lasted for 7 hours.

At least 2 members of the ASG died while two others were wounded, Cabunoc said, adding that 5 civilians were shot by ASG members. The civilians and soldiers are currently being treated at a local hospital.

"The soldiers heroically rescued them amidst the heavy fighting and transported them to a hospital," Cabunoc said in a tweet.

In an earlier tweet, Cabunoc said MG MD 520 choppers had been sent to the area to support government’s troops.

"The AFP and [Philippine National Police] are relentlessly pursuing the bandits in Basilan province in collaboration with the local government and in coordination with other stakeholders including the MILF communities," Cabunoc said in a statement released by the AFP.

"We will not allow the lawless elements to hamper the development projects and other peace initiatives in the province of Basilan and the rest of Mindanao," he added.

Al-Barka is the same town where almost 4 years ago, 19 soldiers from the Army’s Special Forces were killed by forces from the ASG and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It would be the worst operational blunders in the Army’s recent history. Officers from the AFP were court-martialed over the incident.

Two were found guilty while the other two, acquitted before a military court.
In 2007, some 23 troops from the Marines were also killed in Al-Barka during skirmishes with the MILF.

The MILF and the Philippine government have recently signed a peace deal that would pave the way to the creation of a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao.

But the death of at least 65 individuals including 44 elite cops during a police operation gone awry in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, have put the peace process in danger.

3 soldiers wounded in Army-Abu Sayyaf clash in Basilan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 15): 3 soldiers wounded in Army-Abu Sayyaf clash in Basilan

Three soldiers were wounded in a clash with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Al Barka town in Basilan on Sunday morning.

 Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said wounded were soldiers from the 104th Army Brigade which clashed with Abu Sayyaf bandits in the village of Kuhon at 5:45 a.m. Sunday.

Muyuela said the clash was a result of security operations of Task Force Kasanyangan (Peace) which was formed and tasked to address insurgency in Al Barka, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

TF Kasanyangan was organized by the Office of the Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman and supported by Basilan Provincial Governor Jum Akbar and Joint Task Group Basilan.

2 attack choppers bomb Abu Sayyaf lair in Basilan, 3 govt troopers wounded in ground offensives

From InterAksyon (Feb 15): 2 attack choppers bomb Abu Sayyaf lair in Basilan, 3 govt troopers wounded in ground offensives

The military, together with the support of local government officials, has launched an “all-out offensive” against the kidnap and terror group Abu Sayyaf in its lair in Basilan, firing from two attack helicopters.

The mission carried out by Task Force Zambasulta (which stands for Zamboanga Penisula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) also had ground offensives starting at 5:45 a.m. Sunday.

A sketchy report from Zambasulta commander Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma said two MG520 attack helicopters are currently bombarding with rockets and releasing 50-caliber fires at the bandit group’s locations in Barangay Kuhon, Albarka, Basilan.

Yoma said the ground offensives of the 104th Infantry Brigade and Joint Task Group Basilan initially engaged the group of ASG leader Basir Kasaran alias Basir.

Kasaran has less than 50 armed men.

Another ASG group which is much bigger than Basir’s, the group of Furuji Indama and Nurhasan Jamiri, are also on the run but are closely being pursued by a much bigger number of government troops.

Yoma said three government troopers have been wounded in the firefight.

“Trails of bloods on the ground are everywhere from ASG positions vacated by them after the initial contact. They are on the run but our troops relentlessly pursuing them now,” he said.

The Naval Forces Western Mindanao Command (Navfor-Westmincom), which Yoma also commands, has been blocking all exit and entry points of Basilan to intercept bandits who might be escaping to nearby islands.

Yoma said the ongoing offensive is a result of the persistent efforts of the Task Force Kasanyangan, an inter-agency task force organized by the Office of the Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Office of the Provincial Governor of Basilan, Basilan Police Provincial Office, and other stakeholders.

“The purpose of the task force is to come up with a whole-of-nation approach supported by various agencies of the government and civil society groups to address the prevailing insurgency problem and revive governance in the Municipality of Albarka, a renowned ASG stronghold,” Yoma said.

Abu Sayyaf, which is engaged in kidnap-for-ransom and other banditry acts, has been active since the early 1990s.

It is a small but violent Islamist militant group which operates in southern Philippines.

Hundreds flee fighting between military, NPA in Bukidnon town

From GMA News (Feb 14): Hundreds flee fighting between military, NPA in Bukidnon town

[Video report: Mahigit 400 Residente, Lumikas Dahil Sa]

More than 400 residents of a barangay in Impasugong town in Bukidnon fled their homes on Saturday because of a clash between the military and the New People's Army there.
According to a report on "24 Oras" aired Saturday, a tour guide who was in the area with foreign bird watchers was hit during the clash. The foreigners were reportedly unharmed.
The residents of Barangay Kibenton have been allowed to stay at a day-care center and at a covered court in town, the report said.

Suspected NPA guerrillas raid water facility in Masbate

From GMA News (Feb 15): Suspected NPA guerrillas raid water facility in Masbate

Some 50 suspected New People's Army guerrillas on Saturday raided a water treatment facility in Masbate, with police saying this could be over the firm's failure to pay "revolutionary taxes."
Bicol police spokesperson Inspector Maria Luisa Calubaquin said the incident occurred at about 6 a.m. at Singfil Hydro Builders water treatment facility in Barangay Mandali in Mobo town.

The armed men and women disarmed the duty personnel and guard a ng took away three handheld radios, a charger, a cal-.45 pistol, and two cal-.38 revolvers.

Calubaquin said their investigation showed the company failed to pay so-called revolutionary taxes to the NPA.

Police are identifying the attackers and preparing charges against them.

AFP: Soldiers clash with Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

From GMA News (Feb 15): AFP: Soldiers clash with Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

Government forces figured in a clash with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan before dawn Sunday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said.

AFP public affairs unit head Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the clash occurred in Barangay Kuhon in Al Barka town at 5:45a.m.

Military MG MD 520 choppers were sent to support the troops, he said.

Marwan had trained bombers since 2000

From the Philippine Star (Feb 15): Marwan had trained bombers since 2000

Photo obtained from military sources shows a man they identified as terrorist Marwan (right) with BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato in July 2012 when a group of foreign and local jihadists with links to IS paid the ailing commander a visit in Talayan town, a couple of kilometers from Mamasapano.

Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir has been operating and running the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist cell in the Philippines from as early as 2000 until he was killed by the police in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last month.

Zulkifli, also known as Marwan, had been training Muslim rebels in bomb making and demolition operations.

Among those who trained under Marwan were members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf.

Intelligence reports obtained by The STAR showed that despite the signing of the peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF on Oct. 7, 2012, the rebel group continued stockpiling arms and training at Camp Uato, Sitio Barit, Barangay Uato in Marawi City.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misri has been boasting in various radio and television broadcasts of the group’s direct alliance with Islamic State (IS) extremists as well as the Abu Sayyaf under Isnilon Hapilon, and that they were trained by Marwan to manufacture improvised explosive devices in Maguindanao and in Lanao del Norte.

An instructors’ training for the BIFF at Barangay Pilis in Talayan, a few kilometers from Mamasapano in Maguindanao held during the third week of July 2012 was supervised by a relative of Marwan.

It was also reported that aside from the BIFF, some 40 fighters of the MILF 105th Base Command also finished their basic military training course held at Barangay Libutan in Mamasapano in July 2012.

Both the MILF and the BIFF rebels controlled surrounding villages in the area.

“The MILF and the BIFF literally controlled inner areas in Mamasapano and most of the adjacent villages of other towns in the complex that it was highly impossible for them not to know Marwan’s presence within their very own enclave,” one senior security official said.

This was his response to the MILF’s firm denial that they did not know Marwan’s whereabouts, claimed that he was highly mobile.

Marwan was hiding at Barangay Pidsandawan when the police Special Action Force raided the hut he was staying in and killed him before dawn last Jan. 25.

The operation to neutralize Marwan, however, came at a heavy price, with 44 SAF commandos killed by combined MILF and BIFF rebels in the fighting that ensued.

While there is no official confirmation from the BIFF of knowing Marwan’s presence in their area, sustained anti-terrorism intelligence monitoring showed the slain Jemaah Islamiyah militant had been moving from one place to another in Maguindanao as well as in Lanao del Norte.

Marwan was even photographed sitting beside with the already sick BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato when a group of Arab and local jihadists with links to the IS paid him a visit at his enclave at Barangay Pilis in Talayan town, a couple of kilometers from Mamasapano.

The towns of Shariff Saidona and Datu Saudi, located between Talayan and Mamasapano, have been classified by government security forces as the “loitering area” of Muslim and private armed groups.

Marwan’s ‘graduates’

Marwan and his Filipino cohort Basit Usman have trained hundreds of militants in explosives and bomb making.

Security officials pointed out Marwan’s “graduates,” estimated at around 300 militants, have been scattered around Mindanao and are possibly now hiding in Metro Manila.

Following the killing of Marwan, there is a big possibility that his graduates would stage retaliatory attacks in Metro Manila.

The 18,000-strong National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) has remained on heightened alert to prevent this, a ranking police official said yesterday.

NCRPO chief Director Carmelo Valmoria clarified they have not received any intelligence information that Marwan’s “disciples” would stage retaliatory attacks in Metro Manila, but he ordered his men to track them down as a preventive measure.

Valmoria alerted the five police district directors in Metro Manila of such possibility as he ordered them to coordinate with elders of Muslim communities to report immediately the presence of Marwan’s “students” once they are spotted.

Valmoria also ordered the close monitoring of airports, seaports and bus terminals to detect the possible entry of Marwan’s graduates.

Philippines remains firm on a diplomatic resolution to territorial dispute despite a hawkish China

From the Business World (Feb 13): Philippines remains firm on a diplomatic resolution to territorial dispute despite a hawkish China

THE PHILIPPINES remains firm on its push for a diplomatic resolution to territorial disputes, amid reports that Beijing is preparing to use military force in the South China Sea.

Malacañang yesterday maintained the government will settle its escalating tensions with China over shoals in the disputed waters through international arbitration, Communications Secretary Herminio B.Coloma Jr., told a news briefing in Malacañang Friday.

Hindi natitinag ang posisyon ng ating pamahalaan hinggil sa pangangailangan na pairalin ang isang rules-based approach sa pagharap sa mga usapin sa West Philippine Sea o South China Sea,” he said.

(The Philippines government continues to remain firm on its position that a rules-based approach is needed to resolve the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea issue.)

Mr. Coloma made the pronouncement following a statement made by the outgoing US navy intelligence chief of the Pacific Fleet that China “has been and continues to prepare to use military force” in the South China Sea.

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed in 2002 on the non-binding Declaration of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. However, more than 10 years later, these countries have yet to come-up with a binding agreement that would govern actions in the disputed waters.

China and the Philippines continue to be embroiled in a territorial dispute over potentially oil-rich parts of the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls as the West Philippine Sea.

Manila has elevated the matter to a United Nations tribunal, a move which China continuously rejected. China is also locked in heated disputes with its neighbors in the region Brunei, Malaysia, as well as Taiwan and Tokyo.

Manila has recently bared China’s “accelerating” construction activities on the disputed shoals the past months. The Philippines has already filed a diplomatic protest against China over supposed reclamation activities in at least five reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

2 NPA men nabbed in Surigao clash

From the Sun Star-Davao (Sep 14): 2 NPA men nabbed in Surigao clash

SECURITY forces arrested two suspected members of the New People's Army (NPA) following an encounter in Barangay Diatagon in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur on Friday morning.

Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) public information officer Ezra Balagtey, identified the two rebels as NPA leader Robert Laurente Rivas Jr. and Jojean Alameda.

Members of the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion and Lianga Municipal Police Station nabbed Rivas and Alameda at a checkpoint in Diatagon around 9 a.m.

"The two, on board a motorcycle driven by Alameda, were on their way to lay a landmine in the area when they were stopped by the troops for inspection," Balagtey said.

Recovered from the possession of the two rebels were improvised explosive device (IED), one caliber .38 revolver, one blasting cap, 27-meter firing wire, cellular phone, two battery packs and P520.

After the two rebels were arrested, Balagtey said, a 10-minute firefight ensued between the government troops and NPA rebels in Barangay Capitan Angel in Malaybalay City in Bukidnon.

Balagtey said no one was reported hurt on the incident.

PMA expects 4,000 cavs

From the Sun Star-Baguio (Feb 13): PMA expects 4,000 cavs

Philippine Military Academy will open its doors to all alumni next week, bringing in an expected 4,000 cavaliers back to their alma mater.

“For many cavaliers, this event has become their way of renewing and strengthening their sense of patriotism and idealism that the Academy has imparted in them, to some it is a time to unwind and reacquaint with their mistahs,” PMA information chief Major Fara Krishna Candelaria said.

Candelaria said there will be no tension within the ranks of former classmates despite controversies hounding PMA alumni today.

In the latest controversy surrounding the January 25 Operation at Mamasapano, Maguindanao involving PMA Dimalupig Class of 1981, most military and police officials at the ongoing Senate hearings are mistahs.

Candelaria said the PMA is not worried about clashing ideologies or controversial issues during the homecoming saying there will be no bad blood between the cavaliers as when they step into the PMA they will all be equals.

“At the end of the day, they will still be classmates,” Candelaria stressed.

 Cadelaria said there are no updates to date on who will attend the homecoming.

The grand parade is set on February 21, starting with arrival honors for the keynote speaker, Eduardo Oban, Executive Director of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Force, followed by the Alumni Parade and Review at the Borromeo field.

Candelaria said the PMA is ready for at least 4,000 visitors on the alumni week consisting of cavaliers, their families and friends.

BIFF confirms 2 fatalities in clashes with MILF

From the pro-CPP Davao Today (Feb 14): BIFF confirms 2 fatalities in clashes with MILF

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters confirmed on Thursday that it suffered two casualties this week in two separate clashes with the rival forces of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

BIFF’s Spokesperson, Abu Misry Mama, in a phone interview Thursday, confirmed to DavaoToday that two of their BIFF fighters were killed after it traded shots with MILF on Monday and Wednesday at Barangay Kalbugan, Pagalungan in Maguindanao. Two were also wounded.

The MILF-BIFF skirmishes were also confirmed by the military stationed at Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

Captain Joan Petinglay, army’s 6th ID spokesperson, on Tuesday said a BIFF fighter was killed while two others were wounded in a gun battle with MILF forces in Barangay Kalbugan.

Petinglay said that 5:20 p.m on Monday the rival forces of MILF’s 108th Base Command led by Jack Abas and BIFF forces led by Gani Saligan traded shots in the remote village of Kalbugan in Maguindanao.

A new MILF-BIFF clash reportedly erupted Wednesday in the same area after BIFF forces intruded a village known to be a bailiwick of MILF ‘s Abas, according to Mama.

Mama claimed that Monday’s and Wednesday’s firefight with the MILF were meant to drive them out in their enclaves.

“North Cotabato Governor Lala Mendoza paid Jack Abas to drive out BIFF forces in our territory,” Mama alleged.

In a separate interview Wednesday, Mendoza said the MILF-BIFF clashes were a result of “personal grudge between Karialan and Abas about territory, guns and their members.”

“Ask the military, ask Abas. Huwag nila akong isali sa drama at away nila,” said Mendoza.

Mendoza claimed that BIFF has threatened her, saying “I heard of threats from BIFF.
Well, it comes with the territory kasama sa trabaho ang dahil sa pulitika, namomolitika at napaka convenient para sa 2016 kung mapatay ang governor diba?”

On Monday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed that an operation is ongoing to hunt and capture Basit Usman, the alleged Filipino bomb maker linked to terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah.

Agusan folk flee as police, NPA clash

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 15): Agusan folk flee as police, NPA clash

Some 125 families or 812 individuals from the Manobo, Lapaknon tribe and Christian communities fled their homes in Barangay Binicayan, Loreto, Agusan del Sur following clashes between policemen and New People’s Army guerillas in the area.

The firefight between the policemen and NPAs left two persons dead – a police officer and a suspected NPA guerilla commander.

Killed in action were PO2 Danny Suhayon, who was assigned with Agusan del Sur Provincial Public Safety Company and one alias Jaguar, the alleged Commander of Sandatahang Yunit Propaganda of Guerilla Front 34 of the NPA.

Seriously wounded during the firefight was PO1 Rodnilo A. Gier Jr. of the 131st Regional Public Safety Company.

Reports said the policemen were doing combat patrol when they encountered an estimated 35 communist guerillas in Sitio Union, in Barangay Binucayan on Tuesday.

Jaguar’s body was recovered during  pursuit and clearing operation. Also recovered were three magazines of AK47 with ammunition, two improvised explosive devices, several subversive documents and personal belongings.

The body of PO2 Suhayon, meanwhile, was brought to PPSC Patrol Base in La Fortuna, Veruela, Agusan del Sur while PO1 Gier was brought to one of the hospitals for treatment in Agusan del Sur.

Loreto, Agusan del Sur Mayor Darius Otaza said that the firefight the lumad residents to leave their homes for fear that they would be caught in a crossfire.

This is the second time in two months that the lumads had to flee their homes because of an encounter between government forces and NPA rebels. On Jan. 23, more than 222 families or about 1,500 individual lumads fled their homes in 14 Banwa-on lumad communities in San Luis, Agusan del Sur starting January 23 because of a similar firefight.

‘Govt pact with MILF became a monster’

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 15): ‘Govt pact with MILF became a monster’

The Moro National Liberation Front on Saturday blamed the government for creating a “monster” out of the peace deal it entered with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which it said only complicated the peace and order situation in Mindanao.

MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said President Benigno Aquino III and his lieutenants developed a “trojan horse” after it abrogated the 1976 Jakarta peace accord and forged a peace negotiation in bad faith with the MILF, which now faces public outrage over the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law following the tragic death of the 44 Special Action Force commandos in the Jan 25 Mamasapano incident.

“They have created a trojan horse, and at present they’re having a hard time extricating themselves after falling into a pit,” Cerveza said.

“The negotiations with the MILF, to me, is a treachery, because we (the MNLF) had an standing peace negotiation,” Cerveza added.

Cerveza recalled that when the MNLF was negotiating with the government, other government, particularly former House Speaker Jose De Venecia, was negotiating with the MILF.

When asked if the MNLF is willing to provide realistic solution to the government to once and for all attain lasting peace in Minandao, Cerveza said “wala na kaming magagawa, kasi kasalanan nila. Noon pa sabi namin sa kanila wag na muna kayong maki-pag negotiate with the MILF, pabayaan ninyo kami ang gumawa ng paraan para magkaroon ng organix reunification ang dalawan group—MILF and BIFF. Eh hindi pa kami nakapag trabajo sa Jakarta andun na si De Venicia nakikipag-usap na sa MILF,” Cerveza said.

Cerveza also blamed the government, particularly Secretary Theresita Deles for concealing the crucial status of the ongoing MNLF-Government peace negotiations that was seriously being pushed by the OIC for its complete and final implementation.

Mamasapano incident should not hinder quest for Mindanao peace, says Palace

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 15): Mamasapano incident should not hinder quest for Mindanao peace, says Palace

The Palace said lawmakers should not lose the perspective of attaining a lasting peace in Mindanao as they investigate the bloody Mamasapano clash that killed 44 SAF commandos more than two weeks ago.

The House leadership said that because of the investigation on the encounter and the effects on lawmakers' perception about the peace process, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) can no longer be passed in the first quarter of the year.  The BBL may stay in the back burner until late this year or early next year, it said.

In a radio interview Saturday, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda admitted that it would be hard to discuss the Bangsamoro Basic Law right now given the emphasis of Congress on the investigation on the Mamasapano incident.

"But I do hope that as we continue to seek accountability, let us not lose focus on the importance of finding a peaceful solution," Lacierda told dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.

"The Mamasapano incident may provide some context to the Bangsamoro Basic Law Bill being deliberated and... siguro kailangan tingnan ito, at kung ano ang kailangan nilang ma-improve sa bill, pag-usapan, dahil mahalaga naman that we move forward."

The ongoing inquiry must seek accountability but it also needs to look at what will happen to Mindanao in the long term, he said adding Congress has to come up with a Bangsamoro Basic Bill.

"Kung ano sa tingin nila ang kailangang pagbabago doon sa Bangsamoro Basic Law gawin po nila. Pero huwag tayong tumigil sa ating perspective, sa ating focus na kailangan tayong magkaroon ng isang just and lasting peace sa Mindanao," he said.

Some lawmakers said the unfortunate Mamasapano incident eroded some support because of the brutality of the killings as well as the large number of casualties on the government side.

Lacierda said the MILF could regain the trust of the people if it returns the weapons seized from the dead commandos and honor its pledge to help the government capture Basit Usman, one of the targets of the January 25 SAF operation in Maguindanao.

He added that the appearance of MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal at the Senate investigation this week was a positive development.

The Palace official also said that he doesn't know what the MILF is doing at this time with regards to apprehending Usman but the group should show sincerity that it is a true government partner in the peace process.

Army, PNP on alert vs. retaliatory bombings by Marwan, Usman recruits

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): Army, PNP on alert vs. retaliatory bombings by Marwan, Usman recruits

Police and military authorities in North Cotabato have remained on heightened alert weeks after the bloody Mamasapano carnage in Maguindanao where Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” was killed.

Army Colonel Audie Edralin, commander of the 7th Infantry Battalion based in Pikit, said soldiers have been on alert on thwart bombing attempt by recruits of Marwan and his Filipino aide Abdul Basit Usman. Usman was seriously wounded in the Mamasapano operation but managed to escape along with about 15 armed followers.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Toto Mangudadatu said Usman was still in Maguindanao and highly mobile to avoid detection by authorities.

He appealed to Moro villagers in communities where Usman and his men are believed to be hiding to report quickly to police or military authorities “so the bombings in Maguindanao and nearby areas will stop.”

“There is a possibility that bombers trained by Marwan and Usman will launch retaliatory attacks in populated areas to get back at the death of their leader,” Edralin told reporters.

After the death of Marwan was confirmed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, police and Army intelligence community had monitored movement of suspected bombers out to sow terror in North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

Pikit was among the target, the Army colonel said. In fact, two suspected bombers were killed in Pikit three days after Mamasapano incident when the improvised bomb they were carrying prematurely exploded.

This intelligence information was corroborated by the local police.

Senior Inspector Sindatu Karim, Pikit police chief, said Asraf Mohammad and Jomar Palaguyan, both of Pikit, were student-recruits of Marwan and Usman.

The two were blasted to death on the night of January 28 while on board a Baja motorcycle along Manuel Quezon Avenue in Pikit town proper.

Witnesses said Asraf, 28, was driving the motorbike and back rider Palaguyan, 29 was carrying a box on his lap when it suddenly exploded at 6:20 p.m., throwing the duo off the motorcycle.

"I was shocked seeing mangled body," said witness Cesar Eleuterio, 34, who was on his way to the convenience store when the blast happened. "I felt strong wind coming to me right after the blast," he said.

Karim said bomb experts recovered fragments of 60-mm mortar with mobile phone as trigger mechanism at the blast site.

Karim also said the incident was also related to the death of suspected bomber during anti-drug buy bust operations two weeks ago.

Police remained on heightened alert here as more cops were deployed at the town public market.

Armed group torched van loaded with bananas in Surigao del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): Armed group torched van loaded with bananas in Surigao del Sur

A container van loaded with banana fruits were set on fire by heavily armed men Thursday afternoon in a coastal municipality of a southern province in the region.

Belated reports from Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office reaching the regional headquarters here on Friday said that the container van loaded with bananas, owned by DOLE Philippines, was set on fire by about seven men armed with AK47 at Sitio Nangka, Guinhalinan, Barobo, Surigao del Sur at 4:56 p.m. on Thursday.

The van marked GESEACO, bearing Body Number GESU 937712-9 was attached to an orange prime mover (TYA 973) with Body Number 07 and owned by a certain Allan Bernal, a resident of Poblacion, Barobo of the said province.

It was manned by Edgar J. Fedillaga, 44; resident of Cabangohan, Panabo City. The prime mover was traveling from the DOLE Philippines Plantation at Brgy. Guinhalinan of the said place bound for Davao City when it was flagged down by the armed group.

Police also said that the armed men ordered the driver to disembark, confiscated his cellular phone and ordered him to open the container van. The driver said that one of the armed men poured about two gallons of gasoline inside the van and then set it on fire. The driver was however released with the prime mover.

The estimated cost of the damage is anbout Php 2 million. Initial police investigation showed the DOLE Philippines refusal to give in to the extortion activities of the lawless elements motivated the burning of the van.

Php22.3 million allocated for repairs of BRP Rizal

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): Php22.3 million allocated for repairs of BRP Rizal

The Philippine Navy (PN) has allocated the sum of Php22.3 million for machinery repairs of the BRP Rizal (PS-74), one of the oldest ships in the fleet.

Winning bidders are required to complete the repairs within 100 calendar days.

The repairs are to ensure that the BRP Rizal is seaworthy and battle-worthy at all times.

The BRP Rizal is the lead ship and first of two Rizal class ships in service with the PN.

She is formerly an ex-US Navy Auk class minesweeper that were produced during World War II, and is now classified as a patrol corvette protecting the vast waters of the Philippines.

BRP Rizal was commissioned into Philippine service in June 18, 1965.

DND allocates Php55-million for acquisition of 50 metric tons of propellant powder

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): DND allocates Php55-million for acquisition of 50 metric tons of propellant powder

The Department of National Defense (DND) announced that it is allocating the sum of Php55-million for the acquisition of 50 metric tons of propellant powder for use of the Government Arsenal in Limay, Bataan.

The money will be sourced from the General Appropriations Act of 2015.

The powder fills the interior of an ammunition cartridge or the chamber of a gun or cannon, leading to the expulsion of a bullet or shell.

Interested bidders must have completed a similar project within the last five years

Winning bidders must be able to deliver the item within 180 calendar days.

Pre-bid conference is slated for Feb. 24 while bid opening is on March 11.

Both will be held at 11 a.m. at the DND bidding and awards committee conference room, basement, left wing, DND building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Intensified security operations net NPA vice commander in Surigao Del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): Intensified security operations net NPA vice commander in Surigao Del Sur

Intensified security operations of units under Eastern Mindanao Command resulted in four encounters against New People's Army rebels and the capture of an NPA vice commander last Feb. 12.

Major Ezra Balagtey, Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, in a statement Saturday, said troops from 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion and Lianga Police Station apprehended two NPAs in a checkpoint operations at Samilia Detachment, Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao Del Sur.

The duo, identified as Robert Laurente Rivas, Jr., alias "Opos," a rebel vice commander operating in the area and Jojean Alameda, were on their way to lay landmines when intercepted by government troops.

Recovered from their possession were an anti-personnel improvised explosive device (IED); a .38 caliber revolver; a blasting cap; 27 meters firing wire for IED; a cellphone (My Phone) with simpack; two battery packs for cellphone; and cash money amounting to Php 520.

In another incident, a 10-minute skirmish took place between Special Forces troopers and NPA fighters in Barangay Capitan Angel, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, also 9 a.m. Thursday.

Still in Bukidnon, another firefight took place at 2 p.m. when troops from 8th Infantry Battalion were fired upon by NPA bandits while responding to the information about armed men coercing Barangay folks in Barangay Pagan in the town of Kitaotao.

In Dominga, Calinan District, Davao City, troops from 69 Infantry Battalion securing the road construction in the Bukidnon-Davao Highway, figured in a 10-minute encounter against NPA bandits at about 3 p.m.

In Sarangani Province, troops from 73rd Infantry Battalion were fired upon by NPA rebels at Sitio Tinungkaan, Barangay Tamban, Malungon town while conducting security operations in the area.

No casualties was reported among the government troops and from the NPAs during these skirmishes.

MILF commander: No 'overkill' in Mamasapano

From Rappler (Feb 14): MILF commander: No 'overkill' in Mamasapano

Shedding light on possible US involvement in the bloodbath, MILF commander Haramen also says they observed a drone hovering around the area the night before the attack on January 25

SLAIN COMRADES. Philippine police commandos load body bags containing the remains of their comrades killed in a clash with Muslim rebels onto a truck in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 26, 2015. Photo by Mark Navales/AFP

SLAIN COMRADES. Philippine police commandos load body bags containing the remains of their comrades killed in a clash with Muslim rebels onto a truck in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 26, 2015. Photo by Mark Navales/AFP

Stressing it was not an “overkill,” a Muslim rebel commander said his troops retaliated against an elite police force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, because they thought the policemen's attack was part of a clan war or rido.

In an interview with MindaNews published on Friday, February 13, MILF commander Haramen said his troops heard the first shots at around 4:30 am on January 25.

“Akala namin rido (clan war) 'yun. Ang kadalasang mangyari sa amin, rido,” said Haramen, operations commander under the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

He said they didn't think the attackers belonged to the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) or the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The MindaNews report quoted Haramen as saying “it was easy to know if government troops are operating because the first bursts of gunfire would be followed by air support and mortar fire.”

Pero sa mga sandaling yun, hindi pa namin alam ang kalaban namin kung military o SAF kasi walang eroplano, walang bazooka, 105 (mm howitzer). Kapag military yun, galing sa gobyerno, siguradong mayrong eroplano at saka 105. Buong akala namin grudge talaga, na mga tao na ayaw nila ang aming tropa,” Haramen said.

(But in those moments, we didn't know if our enemies were from the military or SAF because there was no airplane, no bazooka, no 105-mm howitzer. If it's from the military, from the government, for sure there would be an airplane and 105. We really thought it was from people holding a grudge, people who don't like our troops.)
The MILF commander's statements come as criticism over the lack of coordination – between the SAF and the MILF, and between the SAF and the PNP – continues to hound the Mamasapano operation. (READ: Mamasapano: What ifs and what could have beens)

'How can it be a massacre?'

In his interview with MindaNews, Haramen said he and his troops knew their attackers were from SAF only at 2:30 pm on January 25. This was after the MILF's central committee informed them about this.

He said they initially didn't see the SAF members who hid in the cornfields.

Sila ang nakakakita sa amin. Nakita namin sila noong pag-search na. Pero wala na kaming magawa. SAF pala. Pero nangyari na ang nangyari,” he said. (It was they who saw us. We only saw them during our search. But we couldn't do anything; it turned out to be SAF. What was done is done.)

Haramen, however, denied allegations that the MILF perpetrated an overkill. The MILF's critics earlier said it was not an encounter but a massacre.

'Yun ang sasabihin nila kasi galit sila sa amin. Kahit anong sabihin nila, nagsasabi pa sila na 'massacre' pero paano ang massacre eh engkwentro? May napatay sa amin, sila pa ang unang bumaril. Paanong sabihin na massacre? Pero maraming sumasakay na hindi gusto ang kapayapaan. Gusto nila ang hindi kapayapaan,” he said.

(That's what they will say because they're against us. They say it's a massacre, but how can it be a massacre when it was an encounter? Some of us died. They were the ones who fired the first shots. How can that be a massacre? But many people who don't like peace want to ride on the issue. They don't like peace.)

He said farmers like himself want peace, not war. “Kung may giyera dito, sino kayang mag-araro? Sino kayang mag-farm kung may eroplano na magbomba sa amin?” (If there's war here, who would do the farming? Who would farm if an airplane would bomb us?)

Haramen denied that MILF troops killed SAF members who were seriously wounded but alive.

Hindi po totoo. Sa amin po bawal barilin ang patay at ang hindi na makalaban,” he said. (That's not true. We're not allowed to shoot those who are dead and helpless.)

On February 11, during a joint joint House public order and peace committee hearing on the deadly clash, Police Chief Inspector Reynaldo Ariño, commander of the 5th Special Action Battalion, confirmed that the armed officer shot twice in a purported video of the Mamasapano clash circulating online was a member of the SAF.

"Yes, it's a SAF officer assigned in the 55th company," Ariño was quoted as saying.
It has not been established, however, who did the merciless shooting, which had been described by the MILF's peace chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal as an act of someone worse than a terrorist.

Drone seen over Mamasapano

Haramen's statements also shed light on the possible American involvement in the Mamasapano attack.

Haramen said he has heard reports that the United States had a hand in the bloodbath, but said he himself didn't see Americans.

On the night before the attack, however, starting around 8 pm on January 24, he and his troops observed a drone hovering around the area.

Relieved Police Director Getulio Napeñas denied the use of drones in Mamasapano, in the face of reports that a drone supposedly owned by the US surveyed the area and monitored operations.

The Mamasapano clash thrust Philippine President Benigno Aquino III into one of his worst crises, with critics even calling on Aquino to quit.

When asked about a rally set on February 22 to ask Aquino to resign, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Saturday, February 14, said the Palace respects these “demonstrations for expression.”

Lacierda, however, said the Palace is waiting for the results of the investigation into the incident “because we really need to know the truth.”

Armed men torch container van loaded with DOLE bananas in Surigao del Norte

From InterAksyon (Feb 14): Armed men torch container van loaded with DOLE bananas in Surigao del Norte

Initial investigation showed that seven men armed with AK-47 assault rifles stopped the container van bearing markings of GESEACO with body number Gesu-937712-9 attached to an orange prime mover with license plate number IYA-973.

The van was reportedly owned by Allan Bernal of Poblacion, Borobo, Surigao del Sur and was being driven by Edgar Fedillaga, 44, married, of Cagangohan, Panabo City. The shipment was being transferred from the DOLE Philippines Plantation at Brgy. Guinhalinan and headed for Davao City.

It was flagged by the seven armed men, who ordered the driver to get off the vehicle before one of the suspects poured gasoline all over the van and then set it on fire, the report said.

After setting the container van on fire, its driver and the prime mover was released unharmed by the suspects, while the estimated losses were placed at P2 million.

The report added that the incident might related to the refusal by the management of DOLE Philippines to give in to the extortion demand by lawless elements operating in the said area.

The reports added that the Borobo Municipal Police Station coordinated with other friendly forces in the area to pursue the suspects, who fled after the incident.

Double-talk nga ba?

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Feb 14): Double-talk nga ba?

Isang gunsmith sa Maguindanao ang makikitang gumagawa sa kanyang tagong shop sa lalawigan at inamin nito na may mga lumapit sa kanya upang ipabura ang marka sa isang Glock pistol at Bushmaster automatic rifle na pagaari ng Philippine National Police, ngunit tinanggihan niya umano. At makikita rin sa larawan ang isang MILF sniper habang nasa training gamit ang MILF-made na Barrett  rifle. (Mindanao Examiner Photo – Mark Navales)

MAGUINDANAO – Double- talk nga ba? Ito ngayon ang katanungan na ipinupukol saMoro Islamic Liberation Front matapos nitong pasinungalingan na miyembro nila ang mga armadong kalalakihan sa kumalat na video sa Facebook na makikitang pinagnanakawan ang mga pinaslang nilang Special Action Force commandos sa Maguindanao province.

Mismong si MILF Vice Chairman Mohagher Iqbal ang nagsabing hindi nila kasapi ang mga armado sa naturang video. Isa sa mga ito ay makikitang pinagbabaril ng walang awa ang isang sugatan SAF commando hanggang sa mapatay habang pinagnanakawan naman ng iba ang mga kasamahan ng parak.

Napatay sa labanan sa MILF ang 44 SAF commandos sa Barangay Tukanalipao sa bayan ng Mamasapano matapos silang kuyugin ng mga armadong miyembro nito.

Palabas na sana ng nasabing lugar ang  grupo ng SAF matapos na mapatay nila si Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir ng pinagtulungan sila ng MILF at Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Teritoryo ng MILF ang lugar na kung saan naroon ang kubo ni Zulkifli.

Sa kabila ng pagtanggi ni Iqbal ay sinabi naman nito na ibabalik nila ang mga armas na nakuha ng ilang miyembro ng MILF at inginuso pa nito ang BIFF na umakong nasa kanila ang mahigit sa isang dosenang armas ng SAF commandos.

May sariling pagawaan ng armas ang MILF at maging ang Barrett sniper rifle ay ginagaya ng mga ito, ayon sa militar.

Naniniwala ang pamunuan ng pulisya na pawang mga miyembro ng MILF ang nasa kumalat na video at pinagtatakpan lamang ito ni Iqbal dahil sa brutal na pagpatay sa sugatang SAF commando ng kanilang tauhan.