Sunday, February 22, 2015

Militants bring mock PHL jail cell to Pemberton arraignment venue

From GMA News (Feb 23): Militants bring mock PHL jail cell to Pemberton arraignment venue

Militants on Monday trooped to the Olongapo Hall of Justice with a mock "Philippine jail" cell for Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, as they called for justice in the murder of transgender woman Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude.
Photos tweeted by radio dzBB's Divine Reyes showed some of the militants wearing mock orange prison outfits behind the "Philippine jail."
"No special treatment for Pfc. Scott Pemberton... Scrap VFA!" read a streamer they brought.
     View image on Twitter
     View image on Twitter
DZBB Super Radyo @dzbb   
Lumusob ang mga militante sa Olongapo Hall of Justice para igiit ang pagpapanagot kay Pemberton. | via @divinereyes

MILF, not PNP, informed govt’s ceasefire body about Mamasapano clash

From GMA News (Feb 23): MILF, not PNP, informed govt’s ceasefire body about Mamasapano clash

It was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and not the Philippine National Police (PNP),which first sounded alarm bells for the government’s ceasefire body about the deadly Mamasapano clash last January 25.

During the continuation of the Senate hearings on the deadly encounter, Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr. of the Philippine government’s Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) with the MILF said he never got a call from relieved PNP-Special Action Force (SAF) head Chief Supt. Getulio Napeñas or any other police on the day of the clash.

“It is very unfortunate na wala pong PNP na tumawag sa akin,” Galvez said during the Senate inquiry.

Galvez further said he first got an information about the encounter from his counterpart from the MILF at 6:38 a.m.

Asked what he did upon learning about the clash, Galvez said he called up military ground commanders, who informed him that there was no firefight between the MILF and AFP.

“Tinawagan po namin ang field commanders. Vinerify kung may sa 105th AFP. Tumawag kami sa field units at tinning may engkwentro. Sinabi wala po,” he said.

Mamasapano clash

On January 25, 44 PNP-SAF members were killed in a firefight with the MILF and its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Eighteen MILF fighters were also killed in the encounter.

The clash occurred despite a peace deal signed by the MILF and the Philippine government last year.

The police commandos supposedly entered an MILF-controlled area to arrest Filipino bomb maker Abdulbasit Usman and Malaysian terrorist Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan,” who was confirmed killed in the operation by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation after a DNA test.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal earlier said MILF members only defended themselves during the incident. He added that government forces did not inform their group about the operation.

DFA: Mamasapano mission’s planning, execution were 100-percent Filipino

From GMA News (Feb 23): DFA: Mamasapano mission’s planning, execution were 100-percent Filipino

Foreign Affairs USec. Evan Garcia (right) on Monday, February 23, tells the Senate committee investigating the January 25 Mamasapano clash that the fight against terrorism must be a cooperative effort among all responsible nations. Also in photo is Justice Sec. Leila de Lima. GMA News

The United States was not involved in the planning and execution of the January 25 Mamasapano operation which left 40 PNP-Special Action Force commandos dead, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.
“In our own discussions with the US, we have ascertained from our own discussions that the plan and the execution of the operation were 100-percent Filipino,” DFA Undersecretary for Policy Evan Garcia told a Senate inquiry on the deadly operation.
Garcia also stressed that US participation in combat operations in the Philippines is prohibited under the 1987 Constitution.
The DFA official likewise said the Philippines "has been working with the US on military intelligence, training, casualty evacuation and care, and humanitarian and development assistance.”
He, however, did not say whether the US indeed provided intelligence for the Mamasapano operation.
"As to the alleged American participation in the operation in Mamasapano, we respectfully defer to our colleagues on operational details,” Garcia said.
Citing an unnamed source from the PNP-SAF, the Philippine Daily Inquirer earlier ran a report saying that the US provided logistics, intelligence and funding for the so-called “Oplan Exodus.”
The operation involved the arrest of alleged Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was one of the most wanted terrorists of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Authorities claimed killing Marwan, but another suspected bomb-maker, Filipino Basit Usman, was able to escape.
The operation proved costly as 44 PNP-SAF members were killed when they engaged combatants from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The MILF said 18 of their fighters were killed in the clash. 

Japan, Australia, SoKor, New Zealand, PHL, US join together in Cope North 15

From Ang Malaya (Feb 23): Japan, Australia, SoKor, New Zealand, PHL, US join together in Cope North 15

Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Philippine Air Force and U.S. Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard have joined together for the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief portion of Exercise Cope North 15 in Guam and throughout the region of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands February 15 through 18.

“This marked the first time the RNZAF and PAF participated in Cope North to assist with the aeromedical evacuation portion of the HA/DR exercise” says US PACOM in a news release.

“Natural disasters are very common – there’s a lot of volcanic activity, there’s earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons that remain a threat throughout the region, so practicing our capabilities and improving our capacities, and not just the United States, but all our partners in the region … working together, we can cover more area together,” U.S. Air Force Capt. Mark Nexon, Cope North 15 HA/DR mission commander said as quoted in U.S. Pacific Command’s official website.

Cope North was designed to increase interoperability, improve combat readiness, and develop a synergistic disaster response capability between the countries involved. The second half of Cope North will shift the focus to air combat training which will include air-to-air and air-to-ground combat and a large force employment exercise.

4th district set to be declared dev’t ready

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 23): 4th district set to be declared dev’t ready

The declaration of the 4th district of Negros Occidental as peaceful and ready for further development is slated to be signed Feb. 25, as the nation marks its People Power anniversary.

The signing rites will be held during the Provincial Peace and Order Council meeting at the Provincial Capitol in Bacolod City, Provincial Planning and Development Officer Ma. Lina Sanogal said.
Expected to attend the declaration signing rites are mayors of La Carlota and Bago cities, municipalities of Valladolid, San Enrique, Pulupandan and Pontevedra, Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, Senior Supt. Milko Lirazan, provincial police director of Negros Occidental, among other security officials, and Gov. Alfredo Maranon Jr.
Sanogal said not a single insurgency-related incident had taken place in the district for more than a decade now.
The declaration is made by local government officials and security sectors in areas where there have been no insurgency-related activity for more than two decades, there are positive indicators of improved delivery of social health services, a wide reach of justice in its rural areas, and manageable criminal activities.
Aying said the declaration and signing in the Third District, composed of the cities of Victorias, Silay and Talisay, Murcia and EB Magalona, may take place next month.
Marañon said he hopes this will escalate in the whole province, that is now peaceful and ready for tourists and investors, with the insurgency problem now more of banditry and atrocities, and no longer driven by ideology.
The Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade headed by Aying is targeting to declare the whole province as peaceful and ready for further development by June this year, with pockets of the insurgency problem noted only in some hinterland areas of the 1st, 5th and 6th districts of Negros Occidental.

Army hunting down NPAs in landmine attack in South Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 23): Army hunting down NPAs in landmine attack in South Cotabato

The military have launched manhunt against suspected members of the New People's Army (NPA) who harassed a militia detachment and planted landmine on military reinforcement route in Tampakan, South Cotabato Sunday.

Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Jess Alcudia, 27th Infantry Battalion commander, said the operation was on going in the hinterlands of Tampakan where the NPA operates.

"We are hunting them down, we will not allow the communist terrorist to continue harassing our troops and civilian communities," Alcudia told reporters.

On Saturday noon, about 30 heavily armed communist rebels attacked a detachment of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) in Barangay Datal Biao, Tampakan, South Cotabato that left militiaman Mark Lozada dead.

But the attackers failed to over run the militia patrol base as CAFGU members, although outnumbered, fought back.

On Sunday, a team of 27th IB elements were conducting patrol operations in Barangay Datal Biao when the Army vehicle hit a landmine planted by suspected NPA in Barangay Danlag, Tampakan, South Cotabato.

"Two Army troopers of 27th IB, 10th ID, paid the ultimate sacrifice while performing their duties as vanguards of peace," Alcudia told DXOM-AM Radyo Bida Koronadal of his fallen fighters he refused to identify unless their next of kin are fully and officially informed.

After the blast, another team of 27th IB soldiers responded, rescued the wounded soldiers and rushed them to the South Cotabato provincial hospital in Koronadal City.

He rushed to the South Cotabato provincial hospital where his wounded men were brought after the landmine attack and looked into the welfare of his men, ensuring they get the necessary medical treatment.

Alcudia believed that the land mine attack by the NPAs was related to the harassment it carried out against militiamen in Barangay Datal Biao.

Army clearing operations vs BIFF continues

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 23): Army clearing operations vs BIFF continues

The Army's 6th Infantry Division through its 7th Infantry Battalion is continuing its clearing operations with Army bomb experts conducting post-conflict assessment in regained villages, an Army regional spokesperson Monday said.

Capt. Joanne Petinglay, 6th ID spokesperson, said the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have fled toward the Liguasan marshland, particularly in the villages of Sultan sa Barongis, Maguindanao after the Army launched artillery operation.

"More than 100 BIFF lawless elements have been driven out of at least seven interior villages of Pikit and Pagalungan," Petinglay said.

Army bomb experts have been conducting clearing operations in the village of Kabasalan, Pikit where the BIFF occupied and stayed for about a week.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which clashed with rival BIFF since Feb. 13, recovered eight improvised bombs left by fleeing lawless elements.

Citing information from its members, Commander Kamid, a sub commander of MILF based in Pikit, said the BIFF left an undetermined number of improvised bombs fashioned from 60 and 81 mm mortars.

Kamid said the MILF detonated the IEDs by setting them on fire in an open field.

Kamid also advised civilians not return to their communities as of yet as clearing operations by the Philippine Army was still on going in the villages of Kabasalan, Bulol, Buliok and Barongis in Pikit and Kalbugan in Pagalungan, Maguindanao.

Tahira Kalantongan, Pikit municipal disaster risk reduction and management council officer, said at least 25 houses were torched.

Without saying who burned the houses, Kalantongan said the local government of Pikit has started distributing housing materials for civilians who lost their homes due to fire.

At least 20,000 civilians, mostly Moro residents, have fled from a dozen communities situated in the borders of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

A "rido" or family feud involving leaders of the MILF and BIFF triggered evacuation.

Involved in the "rido" were only members of the MILF and BIFF and not the entire organizations, its leaders have repeatedly said.

BIFF's Kagi Karialan is at odds with Commander Jack Abas of the MILF. The clash which began on February 13 left MILF sub-Commander Datukong Ampauan alias Commander Falcon and four of his men dead.

Abas said the clashes also killed 13 BIFF fighters but Abu Misry Mama, the spokesman of the BIFF, denied his group suffered heavy casualties.

When the MILF, through the ceasefire committee, sought help from the Army, the 7th IB launched artillery fire, forcing the bandits to fled toward the marshland.

Unconfirmed reports said about 30 BIFF were killed. The MILF in Barangay Bulol told reporters the BIFF suffered heavy casualties based on information they gathered on the ground.

Capt. Petinglay said the Army could not confirm nor deny the report on casualty figure.

South Cotabato gov denounces use of landmine in NPA attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 23): South Cotabato gov denounces use of landmine in NPA attack

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes has denounced the use of landmines by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in an attack in a hinterland village in Tampakan town on Sunday afternoon that killed two Army soldiers and wounded 11 others.

Fuentes said the rebels violated international humanitarian laws and a United Nations (UN) convention when it used landmines in an attack on a convoy of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Sitio Campo 4 of Barangay Danlag, Tampakan at around 1:45 p.m. on Sunday.

She was referring to the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty or the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction” and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

The governor said the use of landmines is not only banned by such treaties, which the NPA had claimed adherence, but very dangerous, especially for civilians.

“It’s very appalling because they could have harmed civilians passing by the area,” Fuentes said in a radio interview.

The 27th IB troopers were on their way to Sitio Datal Biao of Barangay Danlag when a landmine exploded by the roadside at a portions of Sitio Campo 4.

The group was responding to an attack on Saturday staged by NPA rebels in Sitio Datal Biao on a Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) base under the Army 72nd IB that killed a Cafgu member identified as Mark Lozada.

Lt. Col Ronald Jess Alcudia, 27th IB commander, said a soldier was killed on-the-spot while another later died while being treated at the South Cotabato Provincial Hospital in Koronadal City.

The fatalities were identified as Cpl. Mark Casipe and Pfc. Arnel Inonaria, who sustained severe head and body injuries.

The injured troopers were rushed to the provincial hospital but some of them were later referred to hospitals here and in Davao City due to their critical condition.

Fuentes said their top priority as of the moment is the medical treatment of the wounded soldiers, most of whom sustained head injuries.

She said the local government shouldered the initial expenses for the treatment of the injured troopers.

The governor said the incident has not triggered any evacuation from local residents and assured they are closely monitoring the situation in parts of Barangay Danlag.

She added that the South Cotabato Provincial Police Office has already mobilized some of its personnel to augment the security operations in the area.

Two soldiers killed in landmine blast in Cotabato

From Rappler (Feb 23): Two soldiers killed in landmine blast in Cotabato

Thirteen soldiers are also injured. They were on a mission to catch members of the New People's Army who allegedly harassed a military detachment.

At least two government soldiers were killed while 13 others were wounded in a landmine attack staged by suspected leftist rebels on Sunday, February 22, in the southern Philippine province of South Cotabato.

Army Lt Col Ronald Jess Alcudia, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said his men were heading towards the village of Datalbiao in Tampakan town around 1:45 pm to conduct clearing operations when the vehicle they were riding in hit a landmine along the highway in the village of Danlag.

Alcudia said the incident killed two of his men and caused injuries to 13 others.

The wounded soldiers were immediately extracted and were brought to the nearest hospital for proper medical attention.

The troops were dispatched to the area over the weekend to chase members of the New People’s Army (NPA) that harrased a militia detachment on Saturday, February 21.

The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging a guerrilla campaign in the countryside for 4 decades.

Military estimates placed the NPA strength at more than 5,000 men scattered in more than 60 guerrilla fronts throughout the country.

Peace talks between the government and the rebels bogged down in 2004 after the United States included the NPA in its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

US Marine refuses to enter plea on murder of transgender Laude

From InterAksyon (Feb 23): US Marine refuses to enter plea on murder of transgender Laude

US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton. FROM FACEBOOK

US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton did not enter any plea at his arraignment in connection with the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, signaling the start of the formal legal process.

Marilou Laude, sister of the victim, said the environment inside the courtroom was very intimidating as the room was full of NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) personnel. She also said Pemberton seemed to be very relaxed, as if “nakasandal sa pader (leaning against a wall).”

Harry Roque, one of the prosecution lawyers, said Pemberton’s lawyers sought to further delay the proceedings by seeking to determine the cause of Laude’s death.
“They already had the maximum allowance for review,” Roque said.

“In legal terms, issues have been joined. The formal process begins,” he added.

No US involvement in Mamasapano ops; 'twas '100-percent Filipino' - DFA

From InterAksyon (Feb 23): No US involvement in Mamasapano ops; 'twas '100-percent Filipino' - DFA

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg told the Department of Foreign Affairs that it was not involved in the Mamasapano operations, which was “100 percent Filipino,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Evan Garcia told the Senate hearing on the Jan. 25 incident where it was reported that the United States was involved, even as it took the finger of suspected international terrorist alias Marwan for DNA verification.

“We have checked with the US ambassador and he said there is no US involvement. We have ascertained (through meetings with our counterparts) that the planning and execution of the operations were 100 percent Filipino,” he said.

The United States, as with other countries that have security cooperation agreements with the Philippines, engage in non-traditional security activities including counter-terrorism.

The only constitutional restriction is to not engage in combat operations, he said.
Planning, monitoring, and exchange of information are acceptable forms of engagement.

Over 20 houses burned as Army, MILF continue operations vs BIFF in North Cotabato

From MindaNews (Feb 22): Over 20 houses burned as Army, MILF continue operations vs BIFF in North Cotabato

Over 20 houses were reportedly burned in the outskirts of this town as government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued separate offensive operations against the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) Sunday.

The Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said at least 17 homes of civilians who fled Barangay Kabasalan burned to the ground.

“We cannot say who burned the houses. We counted 17 in Barangay Kabasalan alone,” Tahira Kalantongan, Pikit MDRRMC said.

Five other houses in nearby Barangay Barongis, a stronghold of the MILF in Pikit, also burned down.

The 7th Infantry Battalion launched offensives Saturday and Sunday against the BIFF after the rebels occupied eight villages in Pikit and two barangays in nearby Pagalungan, Maguindanao.

Commander Jack Abas of the MILF said the BIFF moved out of Kabasalan after the Army fired mortars and howitzers and continued ground operations.

“Our troops are now in Kabasalan conducting clearing operations,” he said in a phone interview.

The BIFF, led by Kagi Karialan, occupied Kabasalan for about a week after they fled Mamasapano, Maguindanao following a clash with police commandos on January 25.

Reports said a feud between Karialan’s and Abas’ families triggered the armed hostilities in interior villages of Pagalungan and Pikit.

Abas denied he has a feud with Karialan but said the MILF leadership could not tolerate the atrocities allegedly being committed by the BIFF such as bombing and extortion.

Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, admitted his men abandoned Kabasalan Sunday “because the Army used mortars and howitzers.”

“The Army and the MILF have joined forces against us. We will not back off, we will continue our guerrilla fight against them to the last drop of our blood,” Mama said in Filipino.

Kalantongan meanwhile said she could not say when the evacuees from Kabasalan could return to their homes since many were afraid that the fighting might have left unexploded ordnance in their villages.

MILF vows to pursue talks; says Bangsamoro law must conform to peace pact

From MindaNews (Feb 22): MILF vows to pursue talks; says Bangsamoro law must conform to peace pact

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front will continue pushing for the conclusion of the peace agreement with government even if the present Congress fails to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law or if it approves a watered-down version of the law, two MILF officials declared in a forum here on Saturday.

“The MILF does not have the intention to go back to war. Unless, unless we have to defend ourselves because the act of self-defense is a right…If there’s no situation that would push some of our brothers on the ground to themselves, we will not go back to war,” said Robert Alonto, deputy chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and senior member of the MILF peace panel.

“We are on a peace treaty relationship with the Philippine government,” Alonto, speaking during a roundtable discussion on the BBL, said.

Alonto, however, said the MILF has always maintained its “principled position” that the BBL must be consistent with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

“Government ought to have held on to the same [position],” he said, adding “this is not just wishful thinking on our part. This is not mere imagination. This is a commitment of government in the peace negotiations. Otherwise, it would not have signed the FAB and CAB from which the BBL draws its rationale and legitimacy.”

“We have not abandoned this position, and we will not abandon it. It is for this reason that we stand behind Brother [MILF] Chairman Al Haj Murad who stated without equivocation that the MILF will not accept any watered down version of the BBL let alone a mangled one that is far removed from the spirit and letter of the FAB,” he said.

Congress has suspended deliberations on the BBL following the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 that left 44 police commandos, 18 MILF fighters and five civilians dead.

The policemen, all members of the Special Action Force, went to Mamasapano to get terror suspects Zulkipli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman. Marwan was reportedly killed in the raid but Usman escaped although wounded.

Several government officials have accused the MILF of insincerity [in the peace talks] as a result of the deadly clash. The MILF however said it was not their fault that members of the SAF operated in their area without coordinating with them thus they did not know who they were fighting against until it was too late.

The MILF has an existing ceasefire agreement with the government.

Alonto said he is inclined to believe that “given the emerging facts surrounding the Mamasapano incident…the BBL was, and is, a target, apart from the so-called terrorists Marwan and Usman, of the people behind the debacle in Mamasapano.”

For his part, MILF peace panel member Prof. Abhoud Sayyed Lingga also assured the MILF will continue talking.

Responding to opinions that certain provisions in the BBL would require amending the Constitution, Lingga said that at the start of the negotiations, they (MILF) were made to understand that the Charter has enough flexibility to accommodate their position.

He said the government has the duty to comply with the terms of the agreement even if it means changing the Constitution.

“You have the agreement. Both parties have obligations under the agreement. I think we still want to see the government pass a law that would conform to the agreement,” he added.

Lawyer Ana Basman, chief legal counsel of the government peace panel, pointed out the peace process will not stop no matter what happens to the BBL.

She cited that the panels were not dissolved, and that once all the substantive agreements are complied with the parties will sign an exit agreement.

“War is not an option for both parties,” she stressed.

Basman echoed the statement of GPH peace panel chair Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer that “no BBL is better than a mangled BBL”.

She said a mangled BBL would be worse than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“I do not entertain that idea and I’m still very hopeful that Congress will pass a law that will implement the agreement. The bottom line here is to me, it will be the responsibility of government,” she added.

The ARMM, which President Benigno S. Aquino III called a failed experiment, will be replaced by the Bangsamoro once the law is approved and ratified in a plebiscite within the areas proposed for inclusion.

8 IEDs, grenade found in Cotabato and Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Feb 21): 8 IEDs, grenade found in Cotabato and Maguindanao

AFP file photo of MILF rebels.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reported it had found eight improvised explosive devices in two towns of Maguindanao and North Cotabato, even as its ongoing clashes with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Pikit town had claimed the life of a member.

The MILF fatality was identified as Tilak Kamid, 27, resident of Pikit, North Cotabato. He was buried right away following Muslim tradition.

The MILF said its clearing operations in several villages in Pikit town yielded seven IEDs; and one IED was found in the town of Pagalungan in Maguindanao.

MILF Commander Utto Bantolo said they suspect the BIFF is behind the planting of the IEDs. Their members placed all eight IEDs in a safe zone and exploded them.

The MILF said civilians who fled the MILF-BIFF fighting in Barangays Bago-Inged and Rajamudah may now return home.

But it is not yet safe for residents of four other villages to return home as clearing operations by MILF are not yet done.

Meanwhile, residents of Don Ramon Rabago Extension were alarmed when a grenade was found Friday morning beneath a vehicle owned by one Joemar Brahim, 33 years old.

China’s island-building spree is about more than just military might

From Quartz (Feb 21): China’s island-building spree is about more than just military might

Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows the result of Chinese land reclamation at Hughes Reef in the South China Sea's Union Banks.(IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly ©CNES 2015, Distribution DS/IHS: 1570064)

China’s playing Monopoly in the South China Sea—only, instead of building hotels on Pacific Avenue, it’s constructing helipads and, in some cases, whole new islands.
In less than a year, shallow reefs in the Spratly Islands have sprouted white-sand outcrops, sporting what look to be Chinese military facilities, according to satellite imagery published this week by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, a consulting company. The Spratlys are more strategic than they are substantial; under international law, the archipelago could have exclusive claim to the bounteous fishing grounds in the surrounding seas, and to the potentially oil-rich seabed—which may explain why China and five other Asian countries claim the islands.
The new reclaimed islands are only the latest Spratly rockpiles and reefs that, since February 2014, China has willed into existence by heaping sand atop of them–to the alarm among China’s neighbors.

Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery shows the brisk clip at which China has turned Gaven Reefs into a helipad-supporting island.(IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly ©CNES 2015, Distribution DS/IHS: 1570064)

Military experts say China’s beefed-up reefs are aimed at enforcing sovereignty claims (paywall) to the waters. A US government report notes that the airstrip China recently built at the aptly named Mischief Reef would allow the People’s Liberation Army to vastly expand the reach of its air defense.

Comparison of current operational distances of PLA bases with airstrips from<br />Taiwan versus the Spratly Islands (distances in nautical miles).("China’s First Airstrip in the Spratly Islands Likely at Fiery Cross Reef," Ethan Meick, using Google Maps; adapted from David Shlapak, “Chinese Air Superiority in the Near Seas,” in Peter Dutton, Andrew S. Erickson, and Ryan Martinson (eds.), China’s Near Seas Combat Capabilities (China Maritime Studies, U.S. Naval War College, February 2014))

Fish, oil, and natural gas

One of the military initiatives China’s likely to undertake once it’s done building the islands is to implement an air-identification zone (a.k.a. ADIZ), says Peter Dutton, director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. But China’s Spratly ambitions likely go way beyond mere military might, he adds.

“It certainly also means supporting the fishing fleet, oil and natural-gas exploration, the ability to support law enforcement and coast guard, in addition to military activities,” says Dutton. “The islands being built up in the South China Seas really do present a major problem for other claimants in the region in that regard, because China simply outclasses them in every dimension of state power needed to reinforce [its claims].”

(Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and the Center for Strategic and International Studies)

Sand fight

One conspicuous element of the Spratly controversy is the timing: China’s building spree has been recent and furious. Land reclamation itself isn’t strictly illegal, says Mira Rapp Hooper, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies—in fact, Vietnam and Malaysia have reclaimed Spratly land in the past. Other claimants have also built on disputed Spratlys; until 2014, China was the only one, other than Brunei, without an airstrip.
The main reason that “China’s current activities strike many states as especially destabilizing,” says Rapp Hooper, is “because they are taking place on six different land features, very quickly, and with the clear intent of creating artificial islands where none existed before.”

Rock, reef, or island?

That still doesn’t explain China’s sudden need to build, though. Rapp and her AMTI colleagues have a theory: in addition to building up military might, China’s also trying to stymie a legal challenge to its claimed Spratly jurisdiction that the Philippines brought in 2013.
UNCLOS territorial jurisdictions.(Wikipedia)
To understand why, it helps to grasp an arcane yet critical piece of the UN law of the sea (UNCLOS, pronounced “un-claws”), which lays out coastal states’s rights over adjacent waters and seabed. UNCLOS grants a country jurisdiction over its “territorial waters,” which extend 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers, 14 miles) from its shores, as well as the sole right to exploit resources within an “exclusive economic zone,” (EEZ) extending another 200 nautical miles, and the right to seabed resources in the “continental shelf,” which can reach up to 350 nautical miles.
In other words, even a one-palm island can be incredibly valuable if it’s in the middle of valuable seas—and the Spratlys certainly are. This likely explains why, even though China’s nearest legal shores are hundreds of miles from the Spratlys, the archipelago forms part of the lower bound of Beijing’s notorious Nine-Dash Line, the huge sweep of the South China Seas within which China claims sovereignty.
But UNCLOS doesn’t make it quite so easy for countries to parcel up the sea in search of tuna and crude. An island must be naturally formed—and not reclaimed—land that sits above water at high tide—otherwise it gives the claimant country no right at all. Meanwhile, rocks that can’t “sustain human habitation or economic life of their own” grant their owners no more than the 12-nm territorial sea.

“Tampering with the evidence”

These rules have been little tested, though. In January 2013, the Philippines brought brought a case against China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, asking the tribunal to rule on whether six of the Spratlys that China is building on are indeed islands—or whether they’re rocks or reefs. The tribunal will announce sometime this year whether it has jurisdiction over the case, and if it finds it does, is expected to rule in 2016.
China has declined to participate, at least not formally. However, its out-of-the-blue land reclamation spree might still relate to the case, argues Jay Batongbacal, a director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, in an AMTI blog post. To rule, the court will need to review detailed surveys of the six Spratly maybe-islands. By obscuring what they used to look like, China’s dramatic makeover effectively “tampers with the evidence” the court needs to review to reach its decision. This wouldn’t ordinarily be such a problem. However, “accurate surveys in the South China Sea are notoriously lacking, and will prove impossible for features permanently modified by Chinese expansion,” says CSIS’s Gregory Poling on the AMTI blog, noting the court will require rigorous geological surveys, not the satellite imagery making the rounds on Twitter.

More distant ambitions?

UWC’s Dutton is less concerned about the lack of evidence; he says the US compiled solid documentation prior to the Chinese reclamation. But he brings up another potential spur driving China’s South China Seas buildup. When Taiwan holds its presidential elections in January 2016, experts say the Kuomingtang Party, which traditionally favors closer relations with China, is likely to lose to much less pro-China Democratic Progressive Party.
“If you turn the map, there’s a very interesting, almost direct axis line between the islands China’s been reclaiming in Spratlys and Taiwan and the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands,” he says. “If I were a Taiwanese security planner, that would have caught my attention.”

MILF failure to surrender fighters risk to peace deal

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 22): MILF failure to surrender fighters risk to peace deal

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is unlikely to surrender their fighters who took part in a deadly clash with police last month in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, risking the collapse of a peace accord that seeks to end a four-decade insurgency.

“It’s up to the government to punish its own men, and for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to punish its own,” the group’s chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said in a phone interview from Cotabato City last Friday.

The Muslim fighters acted in self-defense, he said, citing initial results of his group’s investigation of the clash that killed 44 policemen, about 20 MILF rebels and five civilians.

The botched anti-terror operation 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 Aquino.

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

While authorities claim police came under ambush by the MILF – who occupy the area where Marwan 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 told local broadcaster ANC, adding the unannounced police presence gave the rebels the impression that they were under attack.

“The combatants did it in self-defence… 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 Marwan’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 Marwan, 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.


“If Aquino pushes hard on the justice front, the whole peace process could fall apart given the MILF’s findings of self-defense,” Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at De La Salle University in Manila, said by phone. “If he sidelines concerns with justice to preserve the peace process, he could face a huge public backlash that could undermine his entire legacy.”

Some lawmakers have already withdrawn support for a bill seeking to set up a new Muslim autonomous region with more powers and wealth that is called for in the peace agreement reached in March of last year.

Aquino on February 6 accepted responsibility for the botched police operation, which he said had achieved one of its goals with the killing of Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, who was on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list. The president has called on the Moro Islamic leadership to help capture Filipino terrorist suspect Abdul Basit Usman, who was another target of the Jan. 25 raid on a town controlled by the MILF and another rebel group.

“MILF failure to surrender its men once the justice department makes indictments could mean the end of the peace agreement,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila, said in a phone interview. “The peace deal is over once they say they’re not covered by court processes. And this is more than a legal question. It’s now a question of trust.”


Department of Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario said he will seriously consider the Senate’s invitation for him to attend the continuation of the Senate probe on the Mamasapano operation on Monday.

“If we are (invited) we will consider it,” Secretary Del Rosario said.

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, earlier announced that they have invited the DFA chief to the resumption of the public hearing on Oplan Exodus, the police operation to take down Marwan.

Del Rosario is expected to shed light into reports that the United States government was deeply involved in the planning and implementation of the Jan. 25 operation.

The foreign affairs chief earlier declared that he does not see any problem in any assistance that the Philippines may have received from the US in pursuit of Marwan.

“For me,” Del Rosario said, “it’s not something I’m concerned about because we do need help from everybody, from the rest of responsible nations throughout the world.”

Senate to DFA: Explain US role in Exodus

From the Philippine Star (Feb 23): Senate to DFA: Explain US role in Exodus

The Senate committee investigating the encounter that resulted in the death of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 will ask officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to explain the role US forces could play in assisting local troops.

Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, has invited Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to today’s hearing amid reports that US troops were involved in Oplan Exodus to get Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted persons’ list with a $5-million bounty.

Poe said she wants to seek clarification on the US role in police operations in relation to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“First of all, we want to know what is the implication of this kind of situation under those agreements? We don’t see any issue if they help us,” Poe said.

“I can’t understand why, if they have this type of involvement, why are they keeping it under wraps? Why can’t we reveal their presence if ever there was any. Is it because we don’t want other countries to know that other countries are aiding us?” she asked.

In a radio interview, Poe said there are many issues surrounding the US’ reported role in the covert operations that she wanted clarified, and if these are allowed under current agreements.

“If you look into history, the United States of America really had many operations in several countries,” she said, citing Pakistan and African nations.

Sources revealed that the US may have provided intelligence information to the Philippine National Police (PNP) with regard to the operations against Marwan.

A US-manned surveillance aircraft was also spotted in the Mamasapano area on Jan. 24, a day before police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos assaulted Marwan’s hideout.

The same US aircraft supposedly hovered in the “battle area” as members of the 84th Seaborne Company and 84th Special Action Company (SAC) were trying to withdraw from hostile territory.

The police commandos launched an operation in Mamasapano to get Marwan and his Filipino cohort Basit Usman, who have been linked to the international terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Marwan was reportedly killed while Usman escaped.

In past hearings, some senators also expressed concern that the severed finger of Marwan was turned over immediately to the FBI when it could have been tested first by the National Bureau of Investigation.

PNP Board of Inquiry head Director Benjamin Magalong, of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, told senators in one of the hearings that Marwan’s severed finger was immediately brought by a SAF official to a waiting FBI team in General Santos City shortly after the extraction from Mamasapano.

Poe also wants to ask Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina about reports that the 16 firearms returned by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were cannibalized.

During the inquiry, Poe said she also hopes to determine what the PNP has been doing to ensure the speedy release of benefits for the families of the slain 44 SAF commandos.

Meanwhile, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said he will hold public hearings on the creation of an independent Truth Commission on the matter this Wednesday.

PNoy urged to tell the truth

Senators also urged President Aquino to tell the truth about what he knew about Operation Plan: Exodus from the planning stage to implementation, including how he directed ground troops who requested for reinforcement at the height of the clash.

“I think the President should tell all about his role in the Mamasapano massacre,” Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told The STAR. “The longer he waits, the less credible he is becoming,” said Marcos, chairman of the Senate committee on local governments, which is scrutinizing the provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Poe also called on the President to shed light on his role on the operations to give the public a clearer picture.

“The President has started talking about his actual knowledge of what happened and I am hopeful that he will continue to give the public more details,” Poe told The STAR. 

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara expressed his view that the truth will prevail, noting how every investigation – whether by Congress or the PNP – unravels the real story.

BIFF withdraws from Pikit, leaves at least 20 houses razed

From GMA News (Feb 22): BIFF withdraws from Pikit, leaves at least 20 houses razed

Government forces have driven away Moro bandits who occupied at least eight villages in the outskirts of Pikit, North Cotabato, local officials said today.
But the Pikit Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) said at least 17 homes of civilians who fled Barangay Kabasalan were razed to the ground.
“We cannot say who burned the houses, we counted 17 in Barangay Kabasalan alone,” Tahira Kalantongan of the Pikit MDRRMC said. Five houses in nearby Barangay Barongis, an MILF stronghold in Pikit, were also razed to the ground.
The Army 7th Infantry Battalion launched offensives Saturday and early Sunday against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters after they occupied eight villages in Pikit and two barangays in nearby Pagalungan, Maguindanao.
MILF commander Jack Abas said the BIFF moved out of Barangay Kabasalan after the Army fired mortars and howitzers to support continued MILF pressure on the ground.
“Our troops are now in Kabasalan conducting clearing operations,” he said in a phone interview.
The BIFF, led by Kagi Karialan, occupied Kabasalan for about a week after they fled Mamasapano, Maguindanao following a clash with police Special Action Force troopers on Jan. 25.
Karialan is locked in a family feud with Abas, the root cause of the latest fighting in interior villages of Pagalungan and Pikit.
Abas has denied that there is a feud with Karialan, but said he cannot tolerate BIFF's alleged activities, which include extortion, bombing and other atrocities.
Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, admitted his men have abandoned Barangay Kabasalan Sunday “because the Army used mortars and howitzers.”
“The Army and the MILF have joined forces against us, we will not back off, we will continue our guerrilla fight against them, to the last drop of our blood,” Mama said in Filipino.
The Pikit MDRRMC could not ascertain when the internally displaced persons from Barangay Kabasalan can return since many are afraid of unexploded ordnance in the area.

Kidapawan City on red alert vs. BIFF

From GMA News (Feb 22): Kidapawan City on red alert vs. BIFF

Kidapawan City, the capital of Cotabato province, was on red alert against the the threat of an attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Red alert is the highest security alert status for military and the police.

The BIFF last week threatened to attack Kidapawan because of Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza's perceived support for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The governor has said she has nothing to do with the fight between the two groups.

The BIFF had separate encounters with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the MILF in Pikit town in North Cotabato and Pagalungan town in Maguindanao over the weekend, GMA's "24 Oras" reported on Sunday.
[Video report: Opensiba sa BIFF]
The military said that their operations were done separate from, but in coordination with the MILF, the television report added. 
The MILF said that they were fighting the BIFF because they condemn the splinter group's terroristic acts.
Members of the MILF, who refused to talk on camera, added that the BIFF members are hard to go after because they are trained to make improvise explosive device, and plant bomb in the area.
The military has been pursuing the BIFF men in North Cotabato since Saturday. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has ordered continued military operations against the rebel group. 
On Jan. 25, a police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao against two terrorists — Jemaah Islamiyah leader Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan and Abu Sayyaf member and Filipino bomb maker Basit Usman — claimed the lives of 44 Special Action Force commandos, 18 MILF members, and four civilians.
Marwan, who has a $5 Million bounty on his head, reportedly died during the clash, while Usman managed to escape.

Defense Sec. Gazmin downplays coup rumors

From GMA News (Feb 22): Defense Sec. Gazmin downplays coup rumors

There are no solid coup plots threatening the Aquino administration, despite what Sen. Miram Santiago said.

At least that’s what Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin said in an interview Saturday night.

“Wala, kaya nga rumor eh,” Gazmin said, even joking that reporters “had to be born just yesterday” if they believe rumors of a destabilization attempt.

Last week, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said she received information about a brewing coup attempt reportedly being financed by an unidentified wealthy Filipino.

Despite downplaying the coup rumor, Gazmin said the Defense Department continues to monitor and verify threats. In a Senate hearing Thursday, Gazmin also admitted receiving reports of people planning to oust President Benigno Aquino III.

In the same interview, Gazmin was tight-lipped on the issue of what the government plans to do should the Moro Islamic Liberation Front refuse to surrender its men involved in the killing of 44 elite policemen in Mamasapano last month.

"Well, we will cross the bridge when [we get] there," said Gazmin. "Our actions will be based on facts. Right now, we still don’t have the facts. If we already have facts, that's the time we'll act."

Instead, he said, it would be best to wait for the results of the investigations being conducted by the government and the MILF on the matter.

MILF to release result of Mamasapano probe this week

From GMA News (Feb 22): MILF to release result of Mamasapano probe this week

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Sunday said that it will release its report on the deadly Mamasapano encounter that claimed the lives of 44 elite police troopers, 18 MILF members, and four civilians.
In an interview with GMA News Online, chief MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said that they will make the executive summary of the investigation report public after MILF Chairman Ebrahim Murad comes back from a pilgrimage in Mecca.
"Substantially, gawa na 'yung report. But, we can't reveal the result yet because the chairman is still out of the country," he said. 
Iqbal said that he has seen parts of the narrative report. He declined to give details.
"Hopefully, we can share the executive summary by the last week of February. Very soon. Hinihintay lang namin ang pagbalik niya (Murad) para mabasa niya. Hindi na aabutin ng March ito," he said.
Iqbal added that he will attend the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash on Monday.
[Video report]
The Senate committees on public order, peace, unification and reconciliation, and finance are set to conduct the fourth hearing on the Mamasapano firefight on Monday. 
Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the public order committee, said that they will focus on President Benigno Aquino III's role in the deadly clash. 
"Kung sinabi sa kanya (PNoy), ganito na ang sitwasyon, marami na'ng mamamatay o ganyan, ano'ng inutos niya? At kung inutos man niya 'yun, sapat ba ang oras?" she said in a report on GMA's "24 Oras" aired on Sunday.
The Senate panel will also ask former Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima to read his text message exchanges with Aquino and former Special Action Force chief Director Getulio Napeñas Jr. during the Mamasapano encounter, the television report added. 
The Department of Foreign Affairs has also been called in to explain the scope of counterterrorism cooperation with the US, amid reports that Washington was part of the Jan. 25 police operation to take down international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan. 
The PNP SAF's mission was to serve the warrant of arrest against Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Basit Usman. 
Marwan, who has a $5 million bounty on his head, reportedly died during the clash, but Usman managed to escape. 
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway group, was also involved in the deadly encounter.

Gazmin orders BIFF forces to surrender immediately

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Gazmin orders BIFF forces to surrender immediately

As the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are conducting a joint tactical offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in North Cotabato, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has ordered the bandit group to surrender immediately.

He warned that failing to do so would will result on the BIFF being exposed to the overwhelming firepower and might of the military.

Reports said the BIFF forces have already experienced severe casualties.

Gazmin said that the plan is to effectively neutralize the bandit group.

"If they will surrender, that's fine, but if they will resist, the government will throw everything it has against them," the DND chief said in Filipino.

He added that the quick surrender of the group will ensure peace and prevent further bloodshed.

Government and MILF forces conducted operations against the BIFF in an effort to neutralize and bring peace to areas being affected by the brigands.

Gazmin said that the MILF requested support from the military, in the form of artillery, air support, and blocking units, in its drive against the BIFF.

The DND chief added that there is no deadline for the ongoing operations against the bandits.

Slim chance of getting the rest of SAF 44's firearms

From Rappler (Feb 22): Slim chance of getting the rest of SAF 44's firearms

Meanwhile, the earlier surrender of the firearms stolen form the SAF commandos shows that the MILF central command has 'control' over its individual members

FIRST 16. Some of the 16 SAF firearms returned to the PNP by the MILF. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
FIRST 16. Some of the 16 SAF firearms returned to the PNP by the MILF. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

The co-chairman of the GPH-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) admitted Saturday, February 21, that they are not very confident the rest of their firearms taken from the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos killed in Mamasapano will be recovered.

Brigadier General Carlito Galvez said the government will recover one more M4 baby armalite taken from the SAF commandos killed in the January 25 firefight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other private armies in Mamasapano.
"Mayroon pa kaming isang M4 na di nakuha. Nasa kabilang ilog yung may-ari. We are convincing the people to return the rest," Galvez said. (We have yet to recover one more M4. The owner lives across the river.)
The MILF earlier returned 16 firearms – several M4s with grenade launchers, one minimi machine gun, and an M60 machine gun – almost a month since the firefight the broke the years-long ceasefire between government forces and the MILF.
BIFF got high-powered firearms

It's not just the MILF that took the SAF's firearms, however. Galvez said it will be hard to recover those taken by the BIFF and other private armies. The various armed groups in the Mamasapano incident engaged the SAF commandos pintakasi (free for all) style.
"Hindi na ako confident. Kasi yung mga high powered, yung malalaki, nasa BIFF," he said. (I am not so confident anymore because the high powered firearms are in the hands of the BIFF.)
[Video report: General Galvez on SAF firearms
The BIFF was the group that reportedly engaged the US-trained SAF Seaborne unit, the main effort that killed top Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir. The group claimed taking 10 long firearms from the SAF.
BIFF are former members of the MILF. They opposed the peace process however and decided to split and form their own group.
In the aftermath of the Mamasapano clashes, sources in the military told Rappler concerns over the SAF's firearms getting into the hands of enemies. They demanded accounting of the SAF firearms, including night vision goggles, to be able to properly assess the new capabilities of the enemies.
MILF's 'big gesture'
TURNOVER: MILF returns 16 firearms taken from SAF commandos TURNOVER: MILF returns 16 firearms taken from SAF commandos
It takes fellow fighters to understand and appreciate MILF's "big gesture" in the wake of politicians protesting the delay in returning the firearms. (READ: AFP, PNP: Return of SAF firearms 'good first step')
"Ang masasabi ko lang, it's the first time na nagkaroon ng turnover ng firearms. In gunbattle, I have never received information na yung mga spoils of war binabalik," said Galvez. (What I can say is, it's the first that a turnover of firearms happened. In any gunbattle, I have never received information that the spoils of war are returned)
The surrender shows that the MILF central command has "control" over its individual members, he said.
He explained: "Kasi sa kanila kapag nakuha mo na yan, normally, merong treasure sa kanila yung ganon. Kahit sa amin, may mga instances na talagang, kung makikita ninyo by history, kapag gunbattle talagang kinukuha nila parang war trophy," Galvez added. (READ: OPAPP: Gov't did not buy returned SAF firearms)
(When they acquire firearms in gunbattles, they normally ascribe value to the weapon immediately. Even among soldiers, there are instances – this is historical – we really take the firearms during gunbattles.)
To soldiers, firearms are also symbolic of their honor, as Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr explained in September 2014 why he didn't allow the Filipino peacekeepers to follow orders to surrender their firearms to the Syrian Al Nusra Front that promised them safe passage in exchange.
"We do not surrender our firearms. There was a deadlock because Al-Nusra said it was symbolic that they take the firearms. I said, 'To us, it is not just symbolic. It is our honor at stake,'" Catapang was quoted saying back then.
Galvez is the former commander in Basilan, where he led operations against the Abu Sayyaf and handled the spill over of the Zamboanga siege in September 2013.
MILF's gesture is stained however, by reports that the firearms may have been cannibalized meaning some parts of the weapons are no longer original. The PNP has yet to release a report on the recovered firearms.
Galvez maintained the gesture is more important the the state of the returned firearms, however. "Ang tinitingnan namin yung gesture," Galvez said. He said the MILF members also lost loved ones and, like the relatives of the SAF members, are very emotional about the issue.