Saturday, February 21, 2015

Army retakes North Cotabato villages from BIFF

From Rappler (Feb 22): Army retakes North Cotabato villages from BIFF

'The next thing that we are going to do along with local officials is to work on for the return of affected civilians into their respective villages.'

Government security forces have taken full control of remote villages in North Cotabato that were occupied by breakaway Muslim rebels following a ground and artillery offensive on Saturday, February 21, a military official said Sunday, February 22.

ENCOUNTER. In this file photo, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters members in their camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao in September 2012. File photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler
ENCOUNTER. In this file photo, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters members in their camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao in September 2012. File photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler
Army Captain Joan Petinglay, 6th Division spokesperson, said in a phone interview that members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), that were occupying the villages of Kabasalan, Buliok and Barongis in Pikit town since February 13 have fled towards the marshy areas of Sultan sa Barongis in Maguindanao.

“The villages [are] already free of the rebels’ presence. Our men also scoured and cleared the areas for possible improvised bombs left by the enemies,” Petinglay said.

“We have stopped the operation. The next thing that we are going to do along with local officials is to work on for the return of affected civilians into their respective villages,” she added.

Petinglay said the areas where the BIFF fled were marshy and it would be difficult for the troops to chase them.

Jack Abas, a commander of MILF in the area, told a local radio station they have recovered 7 homemade bombs in Pikit and another one in Pagalungan, Maguindanao left by withdrawing BIFF.

Zorahayda Taha, regional director of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), said the government provided relief assistance to around 20,000 individuals were affected by the conflict in Pikit.

The MILF earlier said the military coordinated their operation with them to prevent a repeat of the incident on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where 44 police commandos died after an intense fighting with their forces under 105th base Command.

Petinglay said Saturday’s offensive was meant to drive away BIFF presence that caused massive displacement of civilians in the towns of Pagalungan in Pikit.

“The police and military will not allow that these rebel groups will continue to create havoc and fear among the populace,” she said.

“We will exert utmost effort to contain the fighting in specific areas so that it will not spill over and to ensure that order and security will be restored,” she added.

She said as a result of their operation there were casualties on the enemy side and they are waiting for the official report of their ground commanders.

The skirmishes in Pikit North Cotabato and in nearby Pagalungan in Maguindanao that started February 13 has something to do with land dispute between Commander Gani Saligan of the BIFF and Jack Abas, head of the MILF.

The military said more than 250 BIFF rebels occupied their 3 villages, forcing civilians to evacuate to safer grounds. Datukon Ampuan, known as Commander Falcon of MILF, and 5 of his followers, were reportedly killed.

DND to BIFF: Surrender or experience overwhelming firepower, might of the military

From Ang Malaya (Feb 22): DND to BIFF: Surrender or experience overwhelming firepower, might of the military

The military started its offensive operations against the rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Initial reports say at least four fighters were killed after firing of artillery on Saturday. Department of National Defense said the rebel group will experience overwhelming firepower and might of the military.

“If they will surrender, that’s fine, but if they will resist, the government will throw everything it has against them,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said as quoted by government operated news outlet. Gazmin is in Baguio City attending Philippine Military Academy grand alumni homecoming.

He explained that if the Moro rebels will immediately surrender further bloodshed will be prevented. He added that the plan is to effectively neutralize the bandit group.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is also on the offensive against BIFF, however, it clarified that it is not fighting in a joint operations with the military.

Why the South China Sea is so crucial

From the Business Insider Australia (Feb 20): Why the South China Sea is so crucial (by Robert D. Kaplan)

 Asia's cauldron

[In this excerpt from “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea And The End Of A Stable Pacific,” author Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor and former member of the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board, explains how the region’s unique geography fosters aggression.]

The South China Sea functions as the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian oceans — the mass of connective economic tissue where global sea routes coalesce.

Here is the heart of Eurasia’s navigable rimland, punctuated by the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar straits.

More than half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through these choke points, and a third of all maritime traffic worldwide.

The oil transported through the Malacca Strait from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is triple the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and fifteen times the amount that transits the Panama Canal.

South china sea maps csis
Eighty per cent of Japanese and 39 per cent of Chinese oil imports pass through the Indian Ocean en route from the Middle East. Chinese firms also have billions of dollars of investments in East Africa, concentrated primarily in the oil and gas, railways and roads, and other mining sectors.
Roughly two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 per cent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and 80 per cent of China’s crude oil imports come through the South China Sea.Whereas in the Persian Gulf only energy is transported, in the South China Sea you have energy, finished goods, and unfinished goods.

In addition to centrality of location, the South China Sea has proven oil reserves of seven billion barrels, and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

If Chinese calculations are correct that the South China Sea will ultimately yield 130 billion barrels of oil (and there is some serious doubt about these estimates), then the South China Sea contains more oil than any area of the globe except Saudi Arabia. Some Chinese observers have called the South China Sea “the second Persian Gulf.”

South china sea csis map
Five different countries control some land features in the Spratly Islands, while just one state controls the Kuril Islands, Liancourt Rocks, Senkaku Islands, and Paracel Islands.
If there really is so much oil in the South China Sea, then China will have partially alleviated its “Ma- lacca dilemma” — its reliance on the narrow and vulnerable Strait of Malacca for so much of its energy needs coming from the Middle East.

 And the China National Offshore Oil Corporation has invested $US20 billion in the belief that such amounts of oil really do exist in the South China Sea. China is desperate for new energy. Chinese oil reserves account for only 1.1 per cent of the world total, while it consumes over 10 per cent of world oil production and over 20 per cent of all the energy consumed on the planet.

It is not only location and energy reserves that promise to give the South China Sea critical geostrategic importance, it is the territorial disputes surrounding these waters, home to more than two hundred small islands, rocks, and coral reefs, only about three dozen of which are permanently above water.

Disputed islands south china sea csis
The South China Sea is the site of several ongoing ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ disputes between neighbours.
Yet these specks of land, buffeted by typhoons, are valuable mainly because of the oil and natural gas that might lie nearby in the intricate, folded layers of rock beneath the sea. Brunei claims a southern reef of the Spratly Islands.
Malaysia claims three islands in the Spratlys. The Philippines claims eight islands in the Spratlys and significant portions of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Taiwan, and China each claims much of the South China Sea, as well as all of the Spratly and Paracel island groups.

South china sea Kennan csis
Hughes Reef, November 15, 2014.
In the middle of 2010 there was quite a stir when China was said to have called the South China Sea a “core interest.” It turns out that Chinese officials never quite said that: no matter. Chinese maps have been consistent.

Beijing claims to own what it calls its “historic line”: that is, the heart of the entire South China Sea in a grand loop — the “cow’s tongue” as the loop is called — surrounding these island groups from China’s Hainan Island south 1,200 miles to near Singapore and Malaysia.
The result is that all of these littoral states are more or less arrayed against China, and dependent upon the United States for diplomatic and military backing.

South china sea csis cuarteron
Cuarteron Reef, November 15, 2014.
For example, Vietnam and Malaysia are seeking to divide all of the seabed and subsoil resources of the southern part of the South China Sea between mainland Southeast Asia and the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo: this has elicited a furious diplomatic response from China.These conflicting claims are likely to become more acute as energy consumption in developing Asian countries is expected to double by 2030, with China accounting for half of that growth.

“Paradoxically, if the postmodern age is dominated by globalization,” writes the British naval expert Geoffrey Till, then “everything that supports” globalization, such as trade routes and energy deposits, becomes fraught with competition.
And when it comes to trade routes, 90 per cent of all commercial goods that travel from one continent to another do so by sea.

Map south china sea trade
China and ASEAN (Southeast Asia), China and Japan, and Japan and ASEAN states have robust trade relations. The China-ASEAN trade relationship is especially strong.
This heightened maritime awareness that is a product of globalization comes at a time when a host of relatively new and independent states in Southeast Asia, which only recently have had the wherewithal to flex their muscles at sea, are making territorial claims against each other that in the days of the British Empire were never an issue, because of the supremacy of the Crown globally and its emphasis on free trade and freedom of navigation.

 This muscle flexing takes the form of “routinized” close encounters between warships of different nations at sea, creating an embryonic risk of armed conflict.

One high-ranking official of a South China Sea littoral state was particularly blunt during an off-the-record conversation I had in 2011, saying, “The Chinese never give justifications for their claims. They have a real Middle Kingdom mentality, and are dead set against taking these disputes to court. China,” this official went on, “denies us our right on our own continental shelf. But we will not be treated like Tibet or Xinjiang.”

This official said that China is as tough with a country like the Philippines as it is with Vietnam, because while the latter is historically and geographically in a state of intense competition with China, the former is just a weak state that can be intimidated. “There are just too many claimants to the waters in the South China Sea.

The complexity of the issues mitigates against an overall solution, so China simply waits until it becomes stronger. Economically, all these countries will come to be dominated by China,” the official continued, unless of course the Chinese economy itself unravels. Once China’s underground submarine base is completed on Hainan Island, “China will be more able to do what it wants.” Meanwhile, more American naval vessels are visiting the area, “so the disputes are being internationalized.”

Because there is no practical political or judicial solution, “we support the status quo.”
“If that fails, what is Plan B for dealing with China?” I asked.
“Plan B is the U.S. Navy — Pacific Command. But we will publicly remain neutral in any U.S.-China dispute.” To make certain that I got the message, this official said: “An American military presence is needed to countervail China, but we won’t vocalize that.” The withdrawal of even one U.S. aircraft carrier strike group from the Western Pacific is a “game changer.”

Us military csis south china sea
US assets and personnel deployed in Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam, are also devoted to the safety and security of the region.
In the interim, the South China Sea has become an armed camp, even as the scramble for reefs is mostly over. China has confiscated twelve geographical features, Taiwan one, the Vietnamese twenty- one, the Malaysians five, and the Philippines nine. In other words, facts have already been created on the ground.

 Perhaps there can still be sharing arrangements for the oil and natural gas fields. But here it is unclear what, for instance, countries with contentious claims coupled with especially tense diplomatic relations like Vietnam and China will agree upon.

Take the Spratlys, with significant oil and natural gas deposits, which are claimed in full by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and in part by Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei. China has built concrete helipads and military structures on seven reefs and shoals.

South china sea cisis mischief reef
Mischief Reef, January 19, 2015.
On Mischief Reef, which China occupied under the nose of the Philippine navy in the 1990s, China has constructed a three-story building and five octagonal concrete structures, all for military use.

 On Johnson Reef, China put up a structure armed with high-powered machine guns. Taiwan occupies Itu Aba Island, on which it has constructed dozens of buildings for military use, protected by hundreds of troops and twenty coastal guns.

South china se johnson
Johnson South Reef, November 15, 2014.
Vietnam occupies twenty-one islands on which it has built runways, piers, barracks, storage tanks, and gun emplacements. Malaysia and the Philippines, as stated, have five and nine sites respectively, occupied by naval detachments.

 Anyone who speculates that with globalization, territorial boundaries and fights for territory have lost their meaning should behold the South China Sea.

[In this excerpt from “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea And The End Of A Stable Pacific,” author Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor and former member of the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board, explains how the region’s unique geography fosters aggression.]

Reefer Madness: Why is China on a Building Spree in the South China Sea?

From Foreign Policy (Feb 20): Reefer Madness: Why is China on a Building Spree in the South China Sea? (by Keith Johnson)

[Keith Johnson is a senior reporter covering energy for Foreign Policy.]

Breakneck construction on disputed atolls has China’s neighbors -- and the United States -- worried about just what Beijing is up to in the world’s watery flash point.

Reefer Madness: Why Is China on a Building Spree in the South China Sea?

China’s frantic construction activity on a series of disputed reefs in the South China Sea has set off alarm bells across the Pacific and in Washington, raising fears that Beijing is putting steel in the ground to back up its contentious claims to a big swath of one of the world’s key waterways.

Since last summer, China has been busy transforming underwater reefs hundreds of miles from its coastline into artificial islands. Dredging vessels have been sucking out sand to create land where none was found before, and China is building new installations on the islands, including possibly airstrips, barracks, and radar sites.

In recent months, Chinese work has accelerated on about half a dozen disputed bits of coral in the South China Sea, according to new surveillance photos published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, an arm of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The construction activity is just the latest chapter in a long-running conflict over the South China Sea that has pitted China against most of its maritime neighbors and has brought it into conflict with the United States and Japan. China’s push into the area seems designed to bolster Beijing’s claim to the resource-rich waters — which teem with fish and may hold plentiful reserves of oil and natural gas — and to increase China’s ability to project military force in an area traditionally dominated by the United States and its allies.

China has nominally claimed the South China Sea since the end of the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s — based on a map drawn by the communists’ Nationalist opponents — but Beijing has intensified its bid for outright control in the last few years under President Xi Jinping. Aggressive actions, such as the dispatch of an oil-drilling rig and scores of escort vessels to Vietnamese waters last year, sparked months of cat-and-mouse skirmishing. Chinese ships regularly spar with fishing vessels from other countries.

And now the reef-building frenzy is getting China’s neighbors nervous, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. A Philippine foreign affairs spokesman this week said his country is “seriously concerned” about Chinese activities.

At issue is whether China is entitled, as it claims, to nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, and whether the frenetic construction on the disputed features will end up trumping international law and changing the geopolitical face of a volatile region.

Manila has sued China before an international tribunal over some of the disputed reefs, but Beijing has refused to litigate, attempting instead to browbeat neighbors with cranes and dredgers. China refused to allow the South China Sea disputes on the agenda of an upcoming meeting at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“If China is actually able to build working airfields and other installations on newly manufactured islands, it will be able to put steel behind its territorial claims,” said James Holmes, a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College.

The reef building has some in Washington and Tokyo alarmed that Beijing will be able to station Chinese air and naval forces right in the middle of a key shipping lane that sees about $5 trillion worth of commercial traffic a year.

U.S. officials are increasingly focused on the potential threat from creeping Chinese presence in the region. The Navy’s top officer said this week that he is considering stationing U.S. warships in Australia, in addition to several new warships slated to be deployed to Singapore beginning in 2017.

China’s reef building is “fueling greater anxiety within the region about China’s intentions amid concerns they may militarize outposts on disputed land features in the South China Sea,” said a State Department official who declined to be named in discussing the issue. The department has urged China and its neighbors to “avoid destabilizing activities.”

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is pressing the country to shed its post-World War II pacifism and embrace a more interventionist military role, in large part because of Chinese maritime aggression across the Western Pacific. Earlier this month, Japan said it is considering expanding its maritime patrols to the South China Sea.

And that underscores the risky nature of China’s maritime antics: They are raising the ire of countries across Asia, countries which for years had been drifting closer to Beijing’s orbit thanks to China’s massive economic growth.

In addition to Japan’s military muscle flexing, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam are all ramping up defense spending, especially on naval vessels to counter China’s growing fleet. Indonesian shipbuilders are for the first time preparing a fresh order for a foreign customer, the Philippine navy. Australia is deepening defense ties with the United States and Japan and adding new submarines and baby aircraft carriers to its fleet. Security analysts now talk about the need for the United States and Japan, in particular, to bolster their own military hold on the islands off China’s coast to contain the threat.

So why do it? China’s efforts to turn coral atolls into navy bases and airstrips may help it intimidate neighbors by making it easier to keep coast guard and other ships operating far from Chinese ports, said M. Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese maritime policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That could set the stage for a repeat of last summer’s water cannon war between Chinese and Vietnamese ships circling around the controversial drilling rig. That looks even more likely after China said this month that it had made a “large-scale” natural gas discovery in the South China Sea.

But the building frenzy may not pay the wider kinds of security dividends, such as those it has reaped in disputed waters in the East China Sea with the construction of an air-defense identification zone, or ADIZ.

“These outposts are unlikely to provide China with enough capability to create an ADIZ over the area,” Fravel said, due to low-lying radars and a dearth of nearby airstrips. What they could do is give China’s opponents a stationary target if things go horribly wrong.          “Militarily speaking, these outposts remain as vulnerable to attack, as they present fixed targets without substantial defensive capabilities,” Fravel said.

It’s also unlikely that turning a submerged obstacle into an artificial sandbox will change anything from a legal point of view; most international law scholars agree that modifying natural features does not bless them with fresh legal attributes. That matters because reefs and rocks don’t confer nearly as many territorial benefits on their owners as actual islands do.

Whether the construction activities bolster China’s legal arguments or not, they do create a prickly new reality on the ground, even as Washington continues to urge a diplomatic solution to the maritime disputes and claimants such as the Philippines await their day in court.

“If these states can’t successfully defend their claims, what will they do?” asked Holmes. “And if they can do nothing, over time the facts on the ground will harden into international custom, and maybe even into international law. And that would suit Beijing fine.”

DND-AFP buying twelve 155mm towed Howitzers

From Ang Malaya (Feb 22): DND-AFP buying twelve 155mm towed Howitzers

The Department of National Defense-Armed Forces of the Philippines is applying the amount of PhP438.6 million for the acquisition of twelve 155mm Towed Howitzer with 240 rounds of high explosive ammunition including an integrated logistics support package.

Winning bidder must completely deliver the all the goods in 360 calendar days upon the issuance of Letter of Credit. Bid opening will be on March 19. The fund will be from Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program.

The same project was initiated March of last year, with similar SARO NR BMB-D-13-0002663, with Israeli Elbit Systems Ltd. was declared as lowest calculated bidder with PhP368.84 million bid. With the same project undergoing ‘re-bidding’ may mean that Elbit was not able to pass the post-qualification round.

A howitzer can fire different types of projectiles like high explosives, smokes (white phosphorus or sulfur trioxide), chemicals or illuminations.

‘MILF combatants did no wrong’

From the Manila Times (Feb 21): ‘MILF combatants did no wrong’

Muslim rebels maintained that they acted purely in “self-defense” in a clash that killed 44 police commandos in Maguindanao last month, despite police claims that they were ambushed.

The botched anti-terror operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province saw the single biggest loss of life of government forces in recent memory and has cast doubt over the peace process, sparking calls for the resignation of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

The commandos were hunting for one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Bali bomber and Jemaah Islamiyah militant Zulkifli bin Hir, who initial DNA tests show was killed during the fighting.

While authorities claim police came under ambush by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) —who occupy the area where Zulkifli is believed to have been hiding—the MILF vice chairman gave a different version of events.

“They (rebels) did not ambush the PNP-SAF (commandos),” Ghazali Jaafar said in an interview with ANC. He said the unannounced police presence gave the rebels the impression that they were under attack.

“The combatants did it in self-defense…. On that basis, they did no wrong,” he said. Civilians who were awakened from their sleep also joined in the fighting, thinking they too were under attack, Jaafar said.

“When a stranger enters your house, and you think your life is in danger, you have to defend yourself,” he added.

Eighteen rebels were also killed during the chaotic 12-hour gun battle.

A finger that police cut from what was believed to be Zulkifli’s body was sent to the FBI where a preliminary DNA test showed a “possible relationship” with one of the militant’s relatives.

The US had offered a $5-million bounty for Zulkifli, a Malaysian bomb-maker who had been hiding in the southern Philippines for over a decade.

Jaafar said the MILF were still conducting an internal probe into the incident.

 The police, military, human rights commission and justice department are also carrying out their own investigations.

Soldier, NPA killed in Comval clash

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 21): Soldier, NPA killed in Comval clash

ONE SOLDIER and a member of a New People’s Army were killed following an encounter in Barangay San Isidro, Monkayo, Compostela Valley Province last Thursday.
Lt. Vergel Lacambra, Division Public Affairs Officer, said the troops under the 25th Infantry Battalion encountered around 20 NPAs under alias Lope of Sentro de Grabidad, Front 3 of the NPAs Southern Mindanao Regional Command.
Lacambra said that the firefight lasted for five minutes which wounded fatally Private First Class Mark Ballaran. He was declared dead on arrival at the Montevista District Hospital.
Pursuit operation was conducted that led to another encounter  against the rebels which lasted for about 10 minutes at around 11:00am in Barangay Banglasan in Montevista, which resulted to the death of an NPA member and recovery of a rifle.
Troops of the 25th Infantry Battalion is now coordinating with the local authorities for the identification of the rebel.
Last Wednesday, four soldiers  under the 701st Infantry Brigade sustained minor injuries while a rifle was recovered in a clash with the NPAs at Brgy. Sainz, Mati City.
Earlier, 10th Infantry Division Commander, Maj. Gen . Eduardo Ano, has ordered to intensify tactical offensives against the armed group..”Despite the risk, we will always work hard to keep our communities safe from rebel threats.” Ano said.

MILF: Editorial -- ‘Straight path’ and principled engagement

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Feb 21): Editorial -- ‘Straight path’ and principled engagement

If there is one reason why the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace engagement has reached this far --- and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is already in Congress --- it is because they are truthful to each other.
President Benigno Aquino and his Cabinet are pursuing a straight path policy and the MILF matched it with equal zeal and sincerity.

To date, the only terms of reference (TOR) that bind the GPH and MILF, which they must observe and abide to, are signed agreements including the ceasefire agreement and the mechanism of the Ad Hoc Joint Action (AHJAG). The MILF, which is a revolutionary organization, is operating beyond the pale of the Philippine Constitution. As a non-state actor, it also has certain obligations in relation to international relations. This rebukes the assumption of realism and other black box theories of international relations, which argue that interactions between states are the main relationships of interest in studying international events.

Frankly, we do not want to over-stress these points; it might be taken as provocative to other people, but to us these must be explained explicitly, so that people would understand where we are coming from. The MILF is not only a revolutionary or liberation movement, but it has its own ideology which is Islam and from which ideological, political, organization and military issues are clearly set in proper perspectives. Therefore, the MILF can be very flexible and very accommodating in other matters especially material things, but when principles are involved, we are very consistent. In negotiation, principles cannot be negotiated; only strategies and approaches are.

In clear terms, forcing the MILF to surrender its forces who figured in that unfortunate incident in Mamasapano on January 25 is subjecting the MILF to agree to an unprincipled situation that is not found in any of the agreements of the Parties. Besides, granting that in the beginning it was a “misencounter” between friendly forces or those observing the ceasefire, but later it turned out to be a bloody life-and-death struggle that at that precise moment the parties viewed each other as “enemies”. Therefore, who have fallen in that encounter on either side are considered “casualties of war” and those captured weapons as “war booty”.

Frankly, we can go the extra miles to save the peace process and the BBL and restore sense to the shattered harmonious relations of many people of this country.

Accordingly, we have returned to the government the firearms in our position and we have reiterated our full commitment to work with government to defeat terrorism in this country. But please do not force the MILF to turn over our combatants. This will not only violate the very principles that guide the Parties in their 17 long and harsh years of negotiations, but it also destroys the very core values that we are willing to defend unto death if our integrity as a people and the justness of our cause are violated.

When we agreed to hold peace negotiation, these are some of the basic principles that guide the Parties: mutual respect and parity of esteem, abiding by commitments, equal and fair application of justice, upholding truth, which is self-evident, not to deliberately put the other party into a humiliating position, and help one another in times of crisis for mutual benefits for the sake of the peace efforts.

The Mamasapano incident is indeed very unfortunate; it pains not only the government but the MILF as well. That is why the MILF is not only expressing sadness and condolence to the 18 martyrs of the MILF but also to the 44 SAF-PNP commandos who died during the incident. But we must rise above our emotions and try to appreciate the larger picture of needing to have the armed conflict in Mindanao resolved. And the means to do that is the passage of a good legislation by Congress in the form the BBL.

MILF: OPAPP, KDFI conduct massive information campaign on FAB, CAB & BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 21): OPAPP, KDFI conduct massive information campaign on FAB, CAB & BBL

OPAPP, KDFI conduct massive information campaign on FAB, CAB & BBL

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Kalilintad Development Foundation, Inc. (KDFi) conducted massive information campaign on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) held at Barangay Magatos, Kabacan, North Cotabato on February 18, 2015.

The activity was spearheaded by Prof. Esmael A. Abdula, KDFI-Senior Consultant OPPAP-KDFI Project Manager.

Those who participated in the activity were representatives from OPPAP, KDFI, government and Non- government organizations, local government units, women sector and residents from neighboring localities. Delegates from the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD), SAWC, and the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) also attended the activity. The religious group was also represented.

The representatives from the OPPAP were surprised to see the large number of participants that reached 1,126, when organizers were expecting about 200 participants. A video coverage was also made with a title, “NO TO WAR AND YES TO PIECE”.

Local residents that attended were elated to have known the salient provisions of the FAB, CAB and the BBL. The participants expressed their gratitude to the OPAPP, KDFi, and other personalities or groups that organized the program.

MILF: Despite delay, government optimistic BBL will be passed

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 21): Despite delay, government optimistic BBL will be passed

Despite the delay caused by the Mamasapano clash between government troops and Moro rebels last January 25, the government is optimistic that the proposed Bangsamoro Law will be passed by congress.

Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the “The government has accepted the delay in the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but has obtained the assurance of Congress leaders that the bill remains on the table.”

 “At this point, the peace panel and the presidential adviser on the peace process is cognizant that there is already a delay in the timetable. The leadership of Congress has conveyed to us that they are not dropping the matter. They recognize that it’s an important piece of legislation,” Valte said in a press briefing.

Once the hearings on BBL resume, concerned government officials are ready to attend the deliberations and answer any questions about the proposed legislation, Valte also said.

Under the roadmap, the BBL should be enacted by December, 2014, but was reset to first quarter of 2015 amid questions of constitutionality on some of its provisions. The killing of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and members of breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) badly affected the congressional hearings.

 “At least on the side of the government, tanggap na nating magkaka-delay (We’ve accepted that there will be a delay). But it’s still on the table, and, as I said, the peace panel and our peace advocates will be ready to answer questions when the deliberations come,” Valte said.

Please review the draft BBL, “so we can avoid misinformation from groups that are anti-peace process,” Valte further said.

CPP: Intensify people’s struggles in the face of the US-Aquino regime’s political crisis

CPP propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Feb 21): Intensify people’s struggles in the face of the US-Aquino regime’s political crisis
CPP Ang Bayan
A serious political crisis is currently shaking the ruling regime as a result of disclosures regarding the direct responsibility of Benigno Aquino III and US military officials in the bloody Mamasapano operation on January 25.
Aquino’s persistent shirking of his accountability and his coverups of the truth have further enraged the Filipino people and fired up their desire to oust the puppet, corruption-ridden, brutal and deceptive regime.
The Aquino regime is now scrambling to find a way out of the political crisis through a series of measures designed to prevent the truth from coming out and using government funds to create diversions and prevent the people from casting blame on the US and Aquino for the deaths of more than 80 people, including 44 special police troopers, paramilitary forces, Moro fighters and civilians.
Indicating the depth of the people’s anger at the ruling regime, a number of PNP Special Action Force (SAF) elements who joined the Mamasapano sortie have revealed the truth regarding US military officers’ direct hand in training for, planning and executing the operation. These exposés reveal the Aquino government’s high treason as it acted as the US military’s errand boy in undertaking the mission to liquidate Zulkifli bin Hir who had a $6 million reward on his head offered by the US State Department.
In an attempt to stop the disclosure of classified information that would pin the blame on Aquino and the US, the Filipino people were banned from viewing, and listening to, the ongoing investigation at the Senate dominated by pro-Aquino and pro-US politicians. Should such information be made public, it would certainly be “sanitized” to avoid further stoking the people’s anger. Congressional hearings, on the other hand, have been indefinitely suspended out of fear that Aquino’s officials would be put on the defensive by the questioning, especially by progressive legislators who are determined to ferret out the whole truth about the Mamasapano incident.
Despite the tens of millions of pesos given by Malacañang to the relatives of the slain police troopers, it has failed to stifle their complaints and grievances about the abandonment of the troops who had been besieged in the operation. The families of the slain SAF troopers are likewise in possession of a lot of information that may further point to the accountability of Aquino, his closest people and the US military.
The Aquino government continues to distort the truth about the US’ role. Aquino’s officials claim that “there is nothing wrong” with US military “assistance,” as if it were not the US that masterminded the whole operation.
The Aquino government’s persistence in covering up and distorting the truth about the bloody Mamasapano operation merely enflames the Filipino people’s desire to go through all the pieces of information they have dug up and make sense of them in order to discover, above all, Aquino and the US’ responsibility in planning and undertaking the operation. The broad masses refuse to accept Aquino and his officials’ statements and depictions of what happened. This is reflected in the demands made by members of the Catholic Church hierarchy for the Aquino government to come out with the whole truth.
Aquino’s suppression of the truth about Mamasapano and his attempts at a coverup are fuelling the Filipino people’s widespread anger at the ruling regime and further stoking calls by broad sectors to oust Aquino from power.
Demands for Aquino’s resignation go far and strong. His severe isolation likewise emboldens his reactionary political rivals and their cohorts among the military and police top brass to join people’s actions and turn their backs at the ruling regime. A number of religious leaders have also expressed solidarity with calls to form a democratic council that would take over once Aquino resigns.
The Filipino people deeply desire to oust the Aquino regime because of its corruption and brutality, its puppetry to the US and its deceptiveness. It has perpetrated myriad crimes against the people. The bloody operation in Mamasapano was but the latest in a long list of transgressions that have caused the people’s suffering, oppression and repression.
We must gather the people’s anger, forge their unity and unleash their power through widespread street protests. All sectors, groups and personalities who are one in their demand for accountability from Aquino for his leading role in the Mamasapano operation must be united. The patriotic forces must relentlessly expose and assail the US military for masterminding the operation in violation of Philippine national sovereignty.
The workers and the toiling masses must strengthen their mass actions to hold the US and Aquino accountable for the bloody Mamasapano operation. More important, this demand must be closely linked to the issues of raising the minimum wage, rollbacks in metrotrain fares, prices of oil and other commodities and power and water rates and higher budgets for education, health and other social services.
This way, they can unite the broader ranks of the toiling masses for them to serve as a major force in mass actions and measures to oust Aquino from power and further advance their struggles under the post-Aquino government.
The New People’s Army (NPA) must intensify armed struggle and take advantage of the turmoil within the AFP and PNP officer corps. The biggest blows must be meted on the officers and units that have been most brutal and repressive on the people and in defending the rotten Aquino regime. Let us encourage the disgruntled military and police officers and rank and file to turn their backs on the Aquino regime and join the revolutionary movement or cooperate with it.
In the coming months, all NPA commands must launch tactical offensives to contribute to the people’s struggle to end Aquino’s rule. This, in consonance with advancing agrarian struggles and expanding and consolidating organs of democratic people’s government. The revolutionary forces must give their all in order for the protest actions and struggles against the US-Aquino regime to contribute to the all-sided advance of people’s war nationwide.

MILF tipster gets P15M

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 21): MILF tipster gets P15M

Priest says amount is only partial payment from US

A mole from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who provided information that led to the killing of Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” reportedly received P15 million even before the actual operation to get the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist was carried out on Jan. 25.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Graduate School of Peace Studies at Notre Dame University here said the amount received by the informant, identified only as Hashim, was just a partial payment from the US Rewards for Justice Program.

Administered by the Diplomatic Security Service of the US Department of State, the program offers rewards for information that prevents or favorably resolves terrorist attacks against American citizens worldwide.

The program has paid more than P125 million since its establishment by law in 1984.

$6-M bounty

Marwan, one of the brains behind the 2002 bombings of two nightclubs in the resort island of Bali in Indonesia that killed 202 people, including Americans, had a bounty of $5 million (about P221.2 million at P44.20 to $1) for his capture, dead or alive.

The reward was reportedly raised by $1 million before the launch of “Oplan Exodus,” the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) operation that took Marwan down in Tukanalipao village, Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, in the early hours of Jan. 25.

Mercado told a local radio station here on Friday that Hashim was one of the tipsters whom the US government had tapped in the manhunt for Marwan.

The Inquirer learned last week that the MILF was holding two members believed to have tipped off the SAF to the presence of Marwan in Mamasapano.

It was unclear, however, whether the two men were being held for betraying Marwan or to protect them, as they stood to benefit from the US reward.

The two men reportedly sought refuge in territory controlled by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after the SAF operation, but they were taken by the MILF after a clash with BIFF fighters on Feb. 6.

The SAF threw 392 elite police commandos into the operation to get Marwan and his Filipino deputy, Basit Usman, who has a $3-million price on his head.

The Malaysian-born Marwan was killed, but Usman escaped.

Forty-four of the commandos were killed while 15 others were injured in a 12-hour gun battle with guerrillas from the BIFF and the MILF who attacked the policemen as they withdrew from the town.

Information from locals

Asked where he got his information, Mercado said it was from locals he met during a recent visit to Tukanalipao.

“They even told me that I knew the informant,” Mercado said.

Sought for comment, Kurt Hoyer, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Manila, said: “In general, all information pertaining to an RFJ-listed terrorist case would have to be fully confirmed and resolved prior to its being assessed for any potential associated reward payment.”

Hoyer declined to comment on Mercado’s claim.

Tell all

“We cannot speak about the specifics of the Marwan case, because it is currently under investigation,” he said in a statement sent to the Inquirer.

The tragic ending of the Mamasapano operation has sparked widespread public anger and stalled congressional discussion of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that would establish a new, autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao, as provided for in the peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in March last year.

Mercado said President Aquino must disclose the truth behind the operation in Mamasapano to restore public trust in the peace talks.

“The anger of the people is so strong and their trust has been shattered. The people want to know if the operation was facilitated by the US,” he said.

Mercado said the basis of the public’s suspicion was the sighting of Director Getulio Napeñas, the sacked SAF commander, and two US soldiers at the command post in Shariff Aguak town, also in Maguindanao, on Jan. 25.

Two Evergreen Bell noncombat helicopters also landed in Shariff Aguak on that day.

“This only means that Napeñas, along with the two US soldiers, and the President in Zamboanga City on Jan. 25 monitored the situation in real time,” Mercado said.

The military said the helicopter belonged to a contractor for the US military that helped to evacuate the wounded SAF personnel and the bodies of the slain commandos.

Not walk in the park

Mercado said it turned out that the SAF operation was “not a walk in the park” unlike in the killing of Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-maker Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi in 2003.

“In the case of Al-Ghozi, [the SAF] got him from his hideout and then killed him along the highway. But with Marwan’s, it’s not like a walk in the park. The area is an MILF territory. All the people there are sympathetic [to the rebels]. You will be isolated,” Mercado said.

An Indonesian, Al-Ghozi planned and financed the bomb attack on LRT Line 1 that killed 22 people on Dec. 30, 2000.

He was arrested on Jan. 15, 2002, and was sentenced to 17 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges of illegal possession of explosives.

Al-Ghozi escaped from jail on July 14, 2003, but was killed in a gunfight with police at a military checkpoint in Pigcauayan town, Cotabato province, three months later.

Indon jihadist among dead in Mamasapano

From Tempo (Feb 21): Indon jihadist among dead in Mamasapano

An Indonesian jihadist was reported to be among those killed by Philippine National Police-Special Action Force commandos during the January 25 encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

This was disclosed by sources from the security sector privy to the ongoing investigation on the bloody clash that claimed the lives of 44 police commandos.

Aside from the Indonesian, sources also gave the names of 24 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters allegedly killed in the firefight.

The Indonesian was identified as Amir Ibrahim, who was in the country reportedly to help international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” train Moro rebels.

The sources identified the slain BIFF gunmen as Salah Mahmod, who is a brother of Commander “Resbak”; Tonton Budsal, alias “Boy 60”; Mursid Saga, alias “Or”; Aminudin Akmad, Zacariah Mustapha, and Paglala Kemod.

The MILF fatalities were Mahmod Saga Monib, Salahudin Salindatu, Esmail Abid, Abdurahim Abdila, Daglala Kahmed, Ali Ismael, Musib Hasim, Omar Dagadas, Rasul Zukarnin, Mamarisa Omar, Nadruden Langalem, Ginibun Angkay, Suweb Kemod, Nasrullah Saptula, Salahudin Salindatu, Mahmod Salah, Kaharudin Baluno, and Abdulrahim Abdulah.

Two more names were listed among the fatalities, Zaif Alima, from Digal, Datu Paglas Maguindanao; and Bagnal Mukalis from Buluan, Maguindanao. They were initially reported as Civilain Armed Forces Geographical Unit members but sources said they are not in the CAFGU Active Auxilliary roster.

Marwan was the target of the PNP-SAF in a covert operation called “Oplan: Exodus” along with Filipino bomber Basit Usman on January 25 in Mamasapano.

Marwan, known as the “Osama bin Laden” of Southeast Asia, was killed in the operation, but Usman managed to escape. Marwan and Usman each carry $5 million and $1 million bounties, respectively.

While the PNP-SAF succeeded in their mission to get Marwan, 44 police commandos were killed in the ensuing firefight with Moro rebels.

There were reports that two Caucasian-looking men were also killed in the encounter, but authorities have yet to confirm this.

The United States Embassy had issued a statement that there were no US service member casualties in the Mamasapano operation.According to the US Embassy, “the operation (to get Marwan) was planned and executed by Philippine authorities” and that “upon the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, US service members serving in JSOTF-P (Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines) only responded to assist in the evacuation of casualties after the firefight.”

Int’l humanitarian law for soldiers

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 21): Int’l humanitarian law for soldiers

The Armed Forces of the Philippines will train soldiers on international humanitarian law as part of the military’s advocacy to promote human rights.

The education of around 30 soldiers will take place in Davao City from Feb. 23 to 26.

Col. Jose Antonio Carlos Motril, chief of the Human Rights Office, said they would promote human rights and international humanitarian law among soldiers and even members of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) at the 10th Infantry Division in Panacan.

“As frontliners, our enlisted personnel and the Cafgu need to know the basic principles of international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and respect for wounded or captured fighters,” he said.

The AFP will conduct the training with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a neutral organization mandated to protect and assist civilians affected by armed conflict and other situations of

The training will include lectures on international humanitarian law principles and Republic Act No. 9851, or the Philippine International Humanitarian Law Act.

Hunt on for 4 Malaysian JI members

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 21): Hunt on for 4 Malaysian JI members

The police and military intelligence communities in Zamboanga City and in Western Mindanao are now in search of four suspected Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members who allegedly arrived through the so-called backdoor last year.

Senior Supt. Angelito Casimiro, the city police director, told the Inquirer that all four were Malaysian citizens.

“Their plan was to go straight to Basilan, then board a plane from Zamboanga to Manila and then to the Middle East,” he said, quoting an information provided by the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) in Tawi-Tawi.

Casimiro said based on what the BID had told them, Malaysian authorities also provided details on the four Malaysian nationals.

It has yet to be confirmed whether the four are students of slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” who is one of the most wanted JI leaders operating in Southeast Asia.

After their arrival here during the first quarter of 2014, Casimiro said the four foreigners went to Basilan to join the group of Puruji Indama, a Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf subleader.


“We suspect that they went to Basilan either to train Abu Sayyaf members in bomb-making or as students of Indama,” Casimiro said.

The Aviation Security Group, port security and those manning bus terminals had been provided copies of photos of the four Malaysian JI members as there were also reports that they were moving in and out of Basilan to other Western Mindanao areas, he said.

But Casimiro admitted that they don’t have warrants of arrest for these overstaying Malaysians.

Third Moro rebel group

Meanwhile, the “third group” involved in the bloody clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25, denied that its forces looted firearms and personal belongings from the slain members of the Special Action Forces (SAF).

Ibrahim Malang, acting spokesperson of the United Islamic Movement for Justice (UIMJ), a breakaway group of the Umra Kato’s Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, admitted their participation in the encounter but said they had to withdraw shortly after two wounded members were rushed home. Both later died due to serious injuries.

Malang said he was speaking on behalf of UIMJ leader Mohammad Ali Tambako.

Asked whether they had plans of returning any firearms seized from slain SAF men, Malang said their members did not loot from the corpses of the police commandos.

Malang said their men would not have been interested in “Korean-made” firearms even if they had seen them in the battlefield. The UIMJ spokesperson was shown photos of the firearms returned by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

During the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano tragedy last week, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal first dropped the name of Tambako as among leaders of three groups operating in Mamasapano. The other two groups are the MILF’s 105th Base Command under Zacaria Goma and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), under Kagui Karialan.

“It is public knowledge that the BIFF broke into three groups—the group of Ameril Umba Kato, the one of Kagui Karialan, and the group of Muhammad Ali Tambako. But now, Tambako has formed another group, and its name is one that has the word ‘justice’ in it,” Iqbal said at the sidelines of the turnover of the 16 firearms to the government on Monday.

Abu Misri Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, confirmed that Tambako had bolted the BIFF but Karialan remains as Kato’s deputy leader.

Malang said Tambako left the BIFF to clear his name, after being implicated in criminal charges that the rebel group was facing for the series of attacks in North Cotabato in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Economic jihad

Another reason, Malang said, as to why Tambako left the BIFF is his “principle of championing the cause of the poor through economic jihad (which literally means ‘struggle’).”

He said Tambako learned it from the late MILF chair Salamat Hashim that armed military jihad could fail, without political component, sustained by “economic and inner self jihad for both collective and individual well-being.”

Malang said Tambako had encouraged and loaned financial capital and basic family provisions to his farming relatives to plant banana in their own farm lots in three villages, which he did not want publicly disclose for security reason.

He said the UIMJ was not formed as an anti-government armed group but as an educational and economic movement to be able to address the root causes of the problem of the Moro community, which are injustice, poverty and ignorance.

However, Malang said it is necessary for individuals to be armed with guns in interior communities for security and self-defense from “seasonal intruders imposing unjust taxation upon our people.” He hinted that UIMJ members were only forced to join the Jan. 25 clash.

“That is why this group is a movement for justice based on Islam and unity against injustice,” Malang said.

Source: Maguindanao massacre suspect coddling Usman in Mamasapano

From the Philippine Star (Feb 21): Source: Maguindanao massacre suspect coddling Usman in Mamasapano

Usman, an ethnic Maguindanaon, was said to have undergone training in handling of explosives and fabrication of improvised bombs in Kandahar, Afganistan and in Peshawar Pakistan in the 1990s.

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - The wounded bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman is still in Maguindanao's Mamasapano town, moving from one swampy area to another to avoid detection, rebel sources on Saturday said.

Local folks, speaking on terms of anonymity for security reasons, said a moneyed suspect in the infamous Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre has been providing Usman with food and antibiotics for the wounds he sustained in an encounter with members of the police’s Special Action Force on January 25 in Barangay Inog-og in Mamasapano.

Usman, an ethnic Maguindanaon, was said to have undergone training in handling of explosives and fabrication of improvised bombs in Kandahar, Afganistan and in Peshawar Pakistan in the 1990s.

Moro community leaders said Usman, known in Mamasapano as “Teng,” was indeed wounded in an encounter with SAF operatives that killed in a dawn raid last January 25 Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, most known as Marwan.

The house of Marwan in Barangay Inog-og is only about 50 meters away from Usman’s shanty.

“He is treating his wounds with antibiotics supplied by a benefactor, someone who was implicated in the Maguindanao massacre,” one of the sources said in the Maguindanaon dialect.

Usman was known in Mamasapano as a close aide of Marwan, who was said to have trained more than 300 recruits in the past three years, some of them Yakans from Basilan and Tausogs from Sulu.

“Before January 25 he (Usman) was always at the market at Sharif Aguak to buy food supplies for Marwan as if he is not a wanted person,” a 53-year-old peasant said.

The public market of Sharif Aguak, the old provincial capital of Maguindanao, is near the provincial police office and the headquarters of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade.

A barangay official said Marwan was buried in Dasikil, an agricultural area at the border of Mamasapano and nearby Rajah Buayan town, also in Maguindanao.

“He was buried there a day after he was killed by policemen,” said the source.

Local officials in Rajah Buayan said residents of Dasikil had confirmed that Marwan was indeed buried in an unmarked grave in the area.

Usman is wanted for his involvement in deadly bombings in Central Mindanao.

“He is just moving now from one area to another in Mamasapano, at the border of Datu Piang and Salibo (municipalities),” a source said in Maguindanaon vernacular.

A grains trader said Usman is a friend of an armed group led by a suspect in the Maguindanao massacre.

Barangay folks dislocated by the January 25 hostilities between policemen and MILF members in Mamasapano said it was too unbelievable that most local officials never knew of Marwan and Usman’s presence in the municipality.

An aide of Usman last bought Cloxacillin antibiotics for him in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on February 16, another source hinted.

Usman was tagged as behind the February 2003 setting off of a vehicle packed with explosives at the Maguindanao Awang Airport near Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat town.

The bombing occurred three days after Marine and Army combatants took over the residential compound at the Buliok Complex in Pagalungan, Maguindanao of the MILF’s founder, Imam Salamat Hashim.

Usman was also implicated in the detonation in June 2005 of a vehicle loaded with explosives and parked along a busy thoroughfare  in the town proper of Sharif Aguak just as the convoy of then Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Jr. was passing by.

The governor survived the explosion unscathed but eight people in separate vehicles trailing behind were killed in the attack, which also injured more than 10 others.

Army bombards BIFF posts in North Cotabato

From the Philippine Star (Feb 21): Army bombards BIFF posts in North Cotabato

Soldiers yesterday pounded with artillery the posts of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) bandits in Pikit town here to force them to leave and stop extorting villagers.

The bombardment was triggered by the BIFF’s ambush on members of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion (IB) who were patrolling in Barangay Bulol last week.

The BIFF, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, does not recognize the peace agreement forged by the government and the MILF in 1997.

Lt. Col. Audie Edralin, chief of the Army’s 7th IB, said his men were responding to reports about the presence of armed men in Barangay Bulol when they were ambushed by the bandits.

The bandits, led by Gani Saligan and Imam Karialan, thrice figured in encounters last week with MILF forces under Jack Abbas at the border of Pikit and Pagalungan town in Maguindanao.

The hostilities forced more than 10,000 families to seek shelter at evacuation sites near Pagalungan and Pikit.

Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the military’s response to the BIFF’s attack was just enough to drive the bandits away.

Petinglay said the Army’s 7th IB and the local police are initiating measures to force the bandits to leave the villages they took over last week.

Improvised explosives hamper MILF operations vs. BIFF

From GMA News (Feb 21): Improvised explosives hamper MILF operations vs. BIFF

MILF fighters in clash with BIFF in North Cotabato town

Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters at Brgy. Bulol in Pikit town in North Cotabato on Feb. 21, 2015. MILF reinforcements have been arriving to help drive out members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the Kabasalan marsh area. The military has been firing artillery to support the operation. Ferdinandh Cabrera

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been having a hard time going against its former members now with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters because of the threat of  improvised bombs.
According to information gathered by GMA News, one MILF fighter has already died from an improvised explosive device planted by the BIFF.
The fighter was part of an MILF group going after the BIFF in Pagalungan town in Mindanao and triggered the bomb. 
The MILF found seven more IEDs in BIFF strongholds in Bulol and Kabasalan villages in Pikit, Cotabato province.
The IEDs have made the going slow for the MILF, which has been in clashes with the BIFF in Pikit since last week. The fighting is believed to be related to a rido, or clan war.  
According to a source, the MILF detonates the IEDs with dried coconut leaves and gasoline so the homemade bombs will not hurt civilians.
The Army 6th Infantry Division, which has been assisting and coordinating with the MILF against the BIFF, said the 7th Infantry Battalion and the MILF engaged the BIFF in Bulol on Friday evening.
The Army has also been using artillery against the BIFF.

Photo: Three warships

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 22): Photo: Three warships

Three warships from the Royal Thai Navy  arrive in  Manila for a goodwill visit until February 24, 2015:Her Thai Majesty’s Ship (HTMS) Kraburi, HTMS Bangpakong and HTMS Pattani. DANNY PATA

Speaker: BBL okay reset to mid-June

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 22): Speaker: BBL okay reset to mid-June

The House of Representatives on Saturday set a new deadline for the passage of the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law which deliberations in Congress had been suspended in the light of the January 25 Mamasapano incident.

Belmonte Jr.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said the Lower House would exert effort to meet the June 11, 2015 deadline for the passage of the measure.

“We will extend the life of the ad-hoc panel so that it can continue hearing the BBL,” said Belmonte, who earlier admitted that the support in Congress to the BBL had not been as solid after the botched Mamasapano operation which left 44 police commandos dead.

Belmonte also admitted he was not sure if the BBL would still get enough numbers in the Lower House in the wake of the Mamasapano incident.

“This is not a good time to bring it out there. That committee is composed virtually of congressmen from Mindanao and given the atmosphere, the incident, I don’t think they are all very enthusiastic to be very supportive at this stage,’’ Belmonte had said.

“Until we know the circumstances it’s still your call. I will not hold you to your deadline. This is not the best time (you don’t have the numbers),” Belmonte added.

But he was quick to say the consultations on the BBL being conducted by the House ad hoc committee chair, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, would continue.

“They can continue to consult among themselves. I’m hopeful we will be able to do it eventually. I’m not hopeful it can be done,” Belmonte said.

House Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said the BBL as it is drafted and presented to Congress by the government peace panel would not pass because of legal infirmities.

“The BBL as it is has so many deficiencies,” Aggabao said, noting that Congress has to work hard to correct those provisions that are found to be ‘unconstitutional’ for it to become a law.

Aggabao also agreed that the real of the BBL’s constitutionality would be the Supreme Court, and the Filipino people.

Bello, a member of the House minority bloc and former peace negotiator, said:  “the BBL with revisions to meet the test of constitutionality and acceptability will get the approval of Congress.”

But despite these developments, government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said she still “sees positive signs”  for Congress to pass the bill.

“BBL is not down and still kicking,” Ferrer said during a press briefing.

She said the government will continue to pursue a peaceful and lasting solution to the decades-old armed conflict in southern Philippines.

Ferrer admitted that the timetable for Congress to pass the BBL by next month will not happen but expressed hopes the legislative body will act on it before it adjourns.

With regards to building up the case against those involved in the attack, Ferrer said the Department of Justice is in charge in building up the case and the gathering of evidence.

At the same time, Ferrer and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita “Ding” Deles said they expect the MILF to sanction their men involved in the ambush according to their rules.

P139.5M PAMANA projects underway in Camarines Norte

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 20): P139.5M PAMANA projects underway in Camarines Norte

DAET, Camarines Norte -- A total of P139.5 million worth of infrastructure projects for the PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) under the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) are in progress here through the partnership of the provincial government, Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

DILG poured out a P69.6 million fund while DA allocated P70 million.

PAMANA project is a national government program that extends development interventions to isolated, hard to reach and conflict-affected communities, ensuring that they are not left behind.

Among the projects under the DILG-PAMANA are concreting of Exciban Road amounting to P15M, concreting of Calabasa to Maot Road – P15 M, concreting of Submakin Road – P15M, concreting of Patag Ilaya to Maulawin Road – P10M, concreting of Tabugon to Maulawin Road – P10M, Guisican Water System – P2.5, Malangcao-Basud Water System – P1M and Masalong Water System – P1M all in the towns of Labo and Sta. Elena.

On the other hand DA-PAMANA projects includes the concreting of Bagong Silang II Road amounting to P10M, concreting of Bagong Silang Road – P10M, concreting of Manguisoc to Gaboc to Angas Road – P15M, concreting of Mambungalon Road – P5M, concreting of Cayucyucan Road – P10M, concreting of Poblacion Road to Mampili Road– P10M, and concreting of Mocong to San Jose Road – P10M, all in the towns of Labo, Mercedes and Basud.

During the Provincial Peace and Order Council Meeting held
Wednesday, Feb. 18, Area Manager for Bicol-Quezon-Mindoro Paul E. Escober said that those projects which were unfunded in the previous year will be included in the 2016 list of priority.

He said that the PAMANA projects are in the term of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and will end on 2016.

Meanwhile Governor Edgardo A. Tallado urged agencies to submit list and accomplishment reports to the provincial government to avoid overlapping of projects.

The PAMANA started in this province in 2011 with the projects amounting to P140M and was funded by the OPAPP. These were implemented in the towns of Mercedes, Jose Panganiban and Labo. In 2012, DILG also funded similar projects amounting to P20M in the towns of Labo, Jose Panganiban and Capalonga.

Some P106M for 2013 PAMANA projects was funded by the DILG, DA, and National Irrigation Administration (NIA) in the towns of Basud, Capalonga, San Lorenzo Ruiz and Sta. Elena.

Last year’s PAMANA under DILG allocated some P81M covering five municipalities namely Basud, Capalonga, Labo, Mercedes and Sta. Elena. Only Camarines Norte received an allocation from the DILG for the PAMANA projects in the Bicol Region. The projects in 2014 are 30% to 90% completed.

700 pupils get books, toys from Army division in Bicol

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 21): 700 pupils get books, toys from Army division in Bicol

CAMP ELIAS ANGELES, Pili, Camarines Sur -- As respite from their peace and security operations, the 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based here distributed free books and stuffed toys to at least 700 pupils of the Del Rosario Elementary School in Naga City on Friday.

The school received the donations from the 9th ID during a simple turnover ceremony initiated by its 9th Civil Military Operations (CMO) Battalion and Books for the Barrios Inc., according to Capt. Mardjorie Paimela P. Panesa, 9th ID spokesperson.

The military personnel handed 70 boxes of assorted books, reading and entertainment materials over to Margerie B. Bathan, school principal, who expressed deep appreciation to the gestures of the Philippine Army and the Books for the Barrios.

“These reading materials could be of great help for the knowledge and education of the youth,” Bathan said.

Lt. Col. Joselito P. Pastrana, 9th CMO battalion commanding officer, assured that the Philippine Army will continue to push this undertaking and partnership with civilians for a good cause.

He encouraged other groups and individuals to join them in this endeavor.