Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fort Magsaysay to send 120 new soldiers to Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 25): Fort Magsaysay to send 120 new soldiers to Mindanao
FORT RAMON MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija --The Philippine Army's 7th Infantry (Kaugnay) Division (7ID) will send 120 fresh graduate soldiers to various units in Mindanao soon.

Capt. Mark Ruelos, information officer, said the 120 privates who will be deployed in Mindanao belong to the total 280 soldiers who graduated last January 29, this year.

The departure ceremony which exact date has yet to be disclosed will be attended by families, relatives, friends, officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees from this command.

Major General Glorioso V. Miranda, 7ID commander, will lead the send-off ceremony.

Each infantry battalion will be given 40 privates to improve its strength--the 69th Infantry Ballation based in Barangay Dalisay, Panabo City, Davao del Norte, 71st Infantry Battalion at Barangay Pangibiran, Mabini Compostela Valley and 84th Infantry Battalion at Barangay Malagos, Baguio District, Davao City.

After the departure ceremony, the privates will be transported this camp to Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

Then they will be transported by C-130 from Villamor Air Base to Davao City.

Miranda said that soldiery is a noble profession as such each soldier should be prepared to be assigned to the different parts of the Philippines in serving the people and securing the land.

He expressed belief on the importance of the family, relatives and loved ones to support the soldiers, especially those assigned in Mindanao.


Marwan’s hut torched by armed men in Mamasapano—police

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 25): Marwan’s hut torched by armed men in Mamasapano—police

marwan dead lite

This file photo reportedly taken by police commandos inside a hut in Barangay (village) Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao, shows the body of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan. Police reported that armed men torched the hut Tuesday night, Feb. 24, 2015.

Armed men set on fire Tuesday the hut where Zulkifli bin Hir, the Malaysian bomb terrorist known as “Marwan,” was killed by police commandos in Barangay (village) Pidsandawan, Mamasapano, Maguindanao, police said.

Senior Inspector Reggie Abellera, Mamasapano police chief, said Wednesday they learned that the incident took place at about 10 p.m.

“We have a team that will go to the site to check,” he told a local radio station here.

Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, told the Inquirer the Army got a similar report about the incident but was still verifying it.

“The location (of the huts) was remote,” Petinglay said.

But the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) confirmed the burning, saying apart from the hut where Marwan was killed two adjacent huts were also razed.

Von Al Haq, MILF vice chair for military affairs, refused to speculate on who could be behind the incident, however.

Abellera said initial witness accounts indicated that several armed men went to Barangay Pidsandawan and set on fire the house of Marwan.

He added, the gunmen reportedly used kerosene in setting ablaze the hut , which was made of light materials.

A small mosque nearby was spared, the police official noted.

The reported burning of Marwan’s hut took place hours after members of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) visited Mamasapano for an ocular inspection.

Police Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the BOI, told media on Tuesday that they did not go to Marwan’s hut partly because of reports that “BIFF” men have been sighted in that area.

But Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, denied knowledge of the incident, adding that he had not received any report from their members there.

A source said among those burned were the slain terrorist’s personal belongings. These objects were seen in the photo of the dead Marwan, which was provided the media.

With the area very difficult to penetrate, local authorities were still trying to get more information to identify the perpetrators and their motive, the source added.

Magalong said the burning of Marwan’s hut “will not impact our investigation.”


Up to 800 MILF fighters fought SAF men in Mamasapano – BOI head

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 25): Up to 800 MILF fighters fought SAF men in Mamasapano – BOI head


BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF KILLING FIELD The flat cornfields of Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province, where 44 commandos of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force were pinned down and killed on Jan. 25 in clashes with Moro rebels, as seen from a hovering drone. REM ZAMORA/INQUIRER

MAMASAPANO, Maguindanao, Philippines – The head of the police’s Board of Inquiry (BOI) investigating the January 25 clash here said as many as 800 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters battled 72 police commandos on that fateful day.

Director Benjamin Magalong of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he had confirmed that the MILF members were from at least three base commands: the 118th, 105th and 106th.

A total of 44 members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) were killed in the incident, along with 18 rebels and five civilians.

Magalong said that when fighting broke out at about 7 a.m. of January 25, MILF residents of Tukanalipao and surrounding areas rushed to the area and joined the fighting.

In his testimony before the Senate, then SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas said he insisted that the military fire artillery support for the embattled commandos, apparently owing to the superior number of opposing forces.

Combined forces of the MILF and the outlaw Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had reportedly surrounded two groups of SAF members.

Napeñas insisted that his men might not have suffered so many casualties had the military fired heavy guns at the rebels.

But the military said it did not have the needed information to fire their howitzers at the attackers.

“We hope we can talk directly to an MILF field commander so we can also get their side,” Magalong said.

He said based on the initial findings, about 700 to 800 MILF members were involved in the firefight.

The BOI is currently in Maguindanao to conduct its own investigation on the incident.


Are MILF members training with Abu Sayyaf rebels in Sulu?

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 24): Are MILF members training with Abu Sayyaf rebels in Sulu?

Alleged members of the MILF purportedly training with Abu Sayyaf rebels in Sulu. Photos sent by Sulu Vice Governor Abdusakur M. Tan to the office of Senator Grace Poe

The government is validating photos showing members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front allegedly training in Sulu with the presence of Abu Sayyaf Group.

“We asked the ceasefire mechanism to do their own checking. There is a report from the ceasefire committee about their own analysis,” government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The photo is also being validated with the MILF, she added.

A copy of the report will be submitted to the Senate

Photos sent to Senator Grace Poe by Sulu Vice Governor Abdusakur Tan showed training and recruitment by MILF in Panglima Estino municipality in Sulu.

“I would like the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to look into the said allegations as these developments have raised fears among ordinary citizens. The images show that high-powered firearms being used during training. These activities are provocative actions which are inimical to the security of our people. It also violates the implementing operational guidelines on the cessation of hostilities between the Philippine government and the MILF,” Poe said.

The photo had something to do with Sulu politics, Ferrer said.

“There are some identified personalities and some private armed groups in terms of weaponry. It’s very sensitive because of the nature of politics in the area,” she said, referring to “political alliance emerging in 2016.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said that it is not only political but political with a possibility of violence.

“Violence may break out between parties if information will be disclosed about the said photos,” she said.

It was the Western Mindanao Command that provided information on the photos.

MILF negotiating chairman Mohagher Iqbal, could not confirm the authenticity of the photos, which he said was first presented at a Congressional hearing last month.

“It merely states in that hearing showing the MILF is recruiting fighters in Sulu it doesn’t mean there were Abu Sayyaf,” he said.

He added that he was not given a copy of the photos to validate it with the MILF leadership.

“That area, that municipality is embroiled with political problems. There is ongoing misunderstanding among politicians in the area I think it has something to do with that,” he said.


Who are the 2 Pinoys on FBI's most wanted list?

From ABS-CBN (Feb 25): Who are the 2 Pinoys on FBI's most wanted list?

REDWOOD CITY, California - Two Filipino terrorists remain on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) most wanted terrorist list.

Just like terrorist Marwan, who was a target in the Philippines’ Mamasapano mission, they have a bounty of up to $5 million each.

Philippine-born Isnilon Totoni Hapilon and Raddulan Sahiron were both indicted in the District of Columbia for terrorist acts against US nationals.

Hapilon allegedly served as second in command for the Philippine terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf Group.

Meantime, Sahiron has been the overall leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group since 2005, and is believed to be in the area of Patikul Jolo, Sulu, Philippines.

Both men are considered armed and dangerous.

The Rewards for Justice Program of the US Department of State is offering a reward of up to $5 million each for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of Hapilon or Sahiron.

Any information concerning the individuals may be given to a local FBI office or the nearest US embassy or consulate.


AFP chief Catapang orders all-out offensive vs. BIFF

From GMA News (Feb 25): AFP chief Catapang orders all-out offensive vs. BIFF

Exactly a month after the Jan. 25 bloody Mamasapano clash in Maguindanao, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. ordered an all-out offensive operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Catapang said he intends to protect the communities in Mindanao against the armed attacks by the BIFF. 
"I am saddened by the news that at least 20,000 people had been displaced by the violent attacks perpetrated by the BIFF in the hinterland villages. We will do our best to protect the people and allow them to go back to their homes," he said.
Forty-four elite policemen died during the clash with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, along with its splinter group, the BIFF.
The troopers were then on a mission to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifi bin Hir alias Marwan of Jemaah Islamiyah and Filipino bomb maker and Abu Sayyaf member Basit Usman.

CPP/NDF: NDF-EV to military: Aquino regime, not the NPA, likely to meet premature end

NDF propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Feb 24): NDF-EV to military: Aquino regime, not the NPA, likely to meet premature end

Fr. Santiago Salas (Ka Sanny)
NDFP Eastern Visayas Chapter
The National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas today dismissed the 8th Infantry Division-Philippine Army’s claim that the New People’s Army is over in Samar, and said it is the Aquino regime that is likely to end prematurely because of the Mamasapano debacle and other burning issues. “The New People’s Army is looking forward to the threshold of the strategic stalemate in the people’s war in one or two years,” said Fr. Santiago “Ka Sanny” Salas, NDF-EV spokesperson. “On the other hand, the commander-in-chief of the military, Benigno Aquino III, is in real danger of not finishing his term because of his proven incompetence and unconcern for the lives of the people as well as his own troops. Even the military and police are at each other’s throats over the Mamasapano incident. Thus the NPA is confident in fighting forward and supporting the people in the struggle to end an insufferable regime.”

Fr. Salas added that the military is supporting an unpopular regime, while the NPA has the support of the people. “The 8th ID should be ashamed of itself and start questioning who it is fighting for when it claims Oplan Bayanihan as a success. For the US imperialist that designed Oplan Bayanihan? For the commander-in-chief Aquino who is a US puppet with no qualms in turning his troops into cannon fodder and repeating Mamasapano over and over again? On the other hand, the NPA is fighting for national sovereignty and the democratic interests of the people, and it will never be defeated because it bears the dignity and freedom of Filipinos at heart.”

The NDF-EV spokesperson also said the military’s offensives are repeatedly foiled by the NPA, while civilians suffer human rights violations at the hands of government soldiers. "For example, last February 12 and 16, combined troops of the 87th IB and the 82nd Division Reconnaissance Company were harassed by the NPA in Brgy. Mabini, Basey, Samar. A sergeant was killed and many other soldiers wounded in the NPA offensives.

“On the other hand, civilians in the various sitios (subvillages) of Brgy. Mabini have evacuated to the village proper because of indiscriminate firing by government troops. An irate village official also went on air over DYBR FM radio station to complain that the military threatened last February 20 to abduct 20 suspected NPA members from the barangay. The rights of civilians should be respected and the military should not conduct reprisals against civilians because of their losses to the NPA. The people of Basey, a calamity area, have not even recovered fully from past storms and the 8th ID “storm troopers” are now stomping on them. Furthermore, the NDF-EV calls on the military to surface and free Elpidio Romanca and Artemio Estueta and his wife, civilians from Brgy. Mabini who were abducted earlier by the military and remain incommunicado with no access to family or legal counsel to date."

Fr. Salas said military abuses only further isolate the Aquino regime and inspire the people to join the armed struggle and the movement to oust it. “The unjust war under Oplan Bayanihan waged by the Aquino regime will only strengthen the just war to overthrow the reactionary ruling system. The Aquino regime’s days are numbered. It is bound to be swept away from power for its incompetence, brutality, corruption and contempt for the people’s well-being. The people will surely fight for a transition to a government that listens to them and undertakes basic reforms. The revolutionary struggle will also grow stronger until the reactionary ruling system is overthrown and national freedom and democracy is possible.”


Iqbal: Malaysia gets probe results first

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 25): Iqbal: Malaysia gets probe results first

The Malaysian government, not the Philippines, will have the first crack at the result of the Mamasapano probe being conducted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) once it is completed.

This was revealed by MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal citing existing protocol, Malaysia being the third party facilitator in the peace talks between the secessionist group and the Philippine government (GPH).

“There is a protocol, we are still talking…normally the procedure with documents, the exchange of documents, it has to pass through the facilitator. That’s our procedure,” Iqbal told reporters in a chance interview before the start of the Senate Committee on Public Order hearing on the Mamasapano tragedy that martyred 44 Special Action Force commandos who were on a mission to arrest Malaysian terrorist bomb maker Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan and his Filipino understudy Basit Usman.

The MILF probe is about 90 to 95 percent complete, Iqbal told the panel chaired by Senator Grace Poe.

Iqbal said he would not ask for an executive session anymore in revealing the result of the MILF probe. “There is no need for me to ask for an executive session. I’ve disclosed it already in open session.”

The SAF commandos were engaged by joint forces of the MILF and fighters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) as they executed Oplan Exodus to get Marwan amid a frustrating web of miscommunication and lack of coordination that is just clearly coming to light.

The incident has practically derailed the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in both Houses of Congress – the fruit of the GPH-MILF negotiations that spanned 17 years that is expected to bring peace in Mindanao.


US special forces leaving Philippines

From ABS-CBN (Feb 25): US special forces leaving Philippines

Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines officers, in a photo released in 2012, honor 10 of their members who died when their US MH-47E Chinook helicopter went down in the Bohol Sea while returning from a mission in Basilan in 2002. US Air Force photo by Maj. Darrick B. Lee/FILE

ZAMBOANGA CITY (UPDATED) -- After 13 years, US forces troops are preparing to leave Zamboanga City after the deactivation of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) on Tuesday.

A flag-raising ceremony was held to symbolize the ending of the agreement between JSOTF-P and the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).

However, a small number of US soldiers will replace them next month to help Filipino troops fight terrorism.

Wesmincom deputy commander Brig. Gen. Orlando De Leon, who served as the guest of honor during the ceremony, thanked the US soldiers for their help.

Before the closing program, a moment of silence was held to honor 17 US soldiers who died in the Philippines during their tour of duty.

The JSOTF-P's mission was "to advise and assist Philippine security forces at the tactical, operational and strategic levels against violent extremist organizations throughout the southern Philippines" at the request of the Philippine government, according to the US embassy.

The Philippine government bans US troops from engaging in direct combat in the Philippines.

The Associated Press reported year that the US was dissolving the anti-terrorism group established in 2001 to fight terrorist networks led by the Abu Sayyaf group.

However, a small of US soldiers might stay in the Philippines to help the Armed Forces against the Abu Sayyaf, the AP added.

"Our partnership with the Philippine security forces has been successful in drastically reducing the capabilities of domestic and transnational terrorist groups in the Philippines," Kurt Hoyer, the U.S. Embassy Press Attache, told AP. He said most terrorist groups in the region "have largely devolved into disorganized groups resorting to criminal undertakings to sustain their activities."

The Philippine government bans US troops from engaging in direct combat in the Philippines.

According to globalsecurity.org, the JSOTF-P consisted of between 500 and 600 personnel, including Army Special Operations Forces, Navy Seals, Air Force special operators, and support personnel.

Its headquarters was based at Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City, and had 3 regional task forces.

Several JSOTF-P personnel also worked in Manila to coordinate activities with the US embassy and the AFP General Headquarters, globalsecurity.org said.

The task force had a Joint Special Operations Aviation Detachment (JSOAD) for special operations in country.

The JSOAD had a small fleet of PC-12 and C-12 fixed-wing aircraft, as well as Bell 214 helicopters.


Police, Army bracing for BIFF retaliation

From the Philippine Star (Feb 25): Police, Army bracing for BIFF retaliation

Police and the military are preparing for possible retaliation by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) bandits who are reportedly planning to avenge the deaths of their comrades in last week’s skirmishes in Pikit town here.

More than a dozen BIFF bandits were reportedly killed after the military bombarded the villages that the group took over last week.

Seven bandits were reportedly killed when 105 Howitzer projectiles hit them as government troops pushed them back into the Liguasan Delta.

BIFF’s spokesman Abu Misry Mama denied the group’s reported losses and warned of more attacks in the province.

The bandits burned houses in every village that they occupied. Local officials described the harassment as part of the group’s ploy to scare and extort villagers.

Senior Superintendent Danny Peralta, provincial police director, said they are prepared in case the BIFF would launch attacks.

Peralta said they received reports that the group is planning to attack farming communities to force residents to pay protection money.

Lt. Col. Audie Edralin, chief of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Pikit, said Muslim elders and clerics have urged him to continue patrols in the villages to prevent the bandits from returning.


NPAs attack 2 CAFGU detachments in Abra

From GMA News (Feb 24): NPAs attack 2 CAFGU detachments in Abra

Suspected New People's Army rebels on Monday attacked two detachments of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit in Abra province.
The NPAs attacked a detachment at Barangay Labaan in Bucloc town in Abra, GMA Ilocos reported on Tuesday.
A second group attacked another detachment in Barangay Maguyepyep in Sallapadan town, the report added.
No one was reported injured in the resulting exchange of gunfire, the report said.
The Philippine Army said the NPA attack could be related to its upcoming anniversary on March 29.
"Ipinakita nila ito sa mga civilian para sa ganon makakuha sila ng suporta kasi ngayon medyo nawawala na ang suporta at tiwala ng mga civilian sa kanila," said Col. Edmund Tubiera, commanding officer of the Army's 50th Infantry Battalion.

Ex-rebel killed, 2 soldiers hurt in Comval clash

From the Sun Star-Davao (Feb 23): Ex-rebel killed, 2 soldiers hurt in Comval clash

A FORMER rebel acting as a guide for government troops was killed after members of the New People's Army (NPA) attacked the soldiers Sunday in Compostela Valley.

Two soldiers were also wounded in the fighting in Sitio Sto. Niño in Barangay Poblacion, Montevista, the Army's 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, Lieutenant Vergel Lacambra, reported.

Killed was Julius Magpatok, who was leading to soldiers to an NPA member, identified only as Sander, who was about to surrender.

Wounded were Captain Ariel Lobusta and Private First Class Allan Pajal, who belong to the 10th ID's Civil Military Operations Battalion.

Lacambra said the soldiers, who were in a civilian truck, were attacked by seven NPA members.


BIFF weapons captured in Maguindanao clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): BIFF weapons captured in Maguindanao clash

Troopers from the 1st Mechanized Brigade have captured seven firearms and assorted equipment following a clash with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) bandits in Barangay Mapayag, Datu Angal Midtimbang town, Maguindanao in the morning of Feb. 22.

Reports forwarded by 6th Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay Tuesday said the incident took place 5: 20 a.m.

She added that troopers from the 1st Mechanized Brigade were conducting regular security patrol when they met an undetermined number of BIFF men, triggering a sharp firefight.

Government troops retaliated, forcing the bandits to retreat 20 minutes later, leaving behind two M-16 automatic rifles, one shotgun, one rocket propelled grenade, a .45 caliber pistol, an Ingram 9mm machine pistol, assorted magazines and several rounds of live ammunition, bandoleers, assorted camouflage uniforms and suspected drug paraphernalia.

There were no reported casualties among government security forces.

"6th Infantry Division is continually and actively conducting security operations in the area in order to preempt the armed lawless group from launching atrocities and havoc among the communities. The command will exert effort to disrupt the plans of the group that might threaten the security situation and bring fear to the populace," Petinglay concluded.


AFP joins nation in celebrating 29th anniversary of EDSA 1

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): AFP joins nation in celebrating 29th anniversary of EDSA 1

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be joining the rest of the nation as it celebrates the 29th anniversary of EDSA 1 People Power Revolution Wednesday.

President Benigno S. Aquino III is expected to lead the activity through a wreath-laying ceremony at the People Power Monument in honor of the participants in the restoration of democracy in the country.

At 7:30 a.m., over 300 soldiers will join the activity at the EDSA People Power Monument that will culminate in a Unity Walk, a reenactment of the historic march against the dictatorship in 1986.

“The activity is a symbolic one both in reenacting the unity of the Filipino people and in signifying the solidarity of the AFP and the PNP in serving the country,” AFP chief-of-staff General Gregorio Pio P. Catapang. Jr., said.

At least 500 soldiers will also be deployed to support the police in providing security coverage during the activity.

They will be placed under the control of the National Capital Region Police Office, which is the lead agency for the security of the event.

This security contingent is composed of civil disturbance management personnel, EOD teams, and K-9 teams from the different units of the military.

In line with the celebration, a wreath-laying ceremony was also held at around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.

The event was led by former President Fidel V Ramos and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

They were joined by the commanding general of the Philippine Army, Lt. Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri and Philippine Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Jesus Millan​.


Ranking Japanese naval official visits PHL counterparts

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Ranking Japanese naval official visits PHL counterparts

In line with the ongoing efforts of the Philippine Navy (PN) to expand its ties with other naval services in Asia, Japan Maritime Self-Defense chief-of-staff Admiral Tomohisa Takei arrived to discuss with his Filipino counterparts about possible Navy-to-Navy interactions.

This was confirmed by PN flag-officer-in-charge Vice Admiral Jesus Millan Tuesday.

Such cooperation became possible after the Department of National Defense and Japan Ministry of Defense signed a new Memorandum of Defense Cooperation and Exchanges last January.

This was finalized during the visit of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in Japan last Jan 29 to 31.

"His visit to Philippines is part of the exchange visits for 2015. This is his first visit to Manila and it is his introductory call also as the new chief of JMSDF," Millan said.

Takei also paid a visit to Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City where he was welcomed by AFP deputy-chief-of-staff Lt.Gen. Virgilio Domingo.

Millan said that also discussed in the meeting was the PN hosting of the biennial Western Pacific Naval Symposium which is slated this April.

"Also discussed was promoting cooperation in maritime security using the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) and how it be implemented at the tactical level to avoid unusual incidents," he added.

Millan also said that possible humanitarian assistance and disaster relief cooperation and training was also tackled along with possible port visits of JMSDF ships.

"I also thanked him of their help and prompt assistance after Typhoon 'Yolanda'," he concluded.


Gov't. troopers capture 2 rebel camps in Agusan Del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Gov't. troopers capture 2 rebel camps in Agusan Del Sur

Troopers from the Cagayan De Oro-based 4th Infantry Division have successfully captured two New People's Army (NPA) camps during two separate armed encounters in Barangay Padiay, Sibagat town, Agusan Del Sur on Monday.

The first clash happened at about 12:50 p.m. wherein troops of 26th Infantry Battalion led by 2Lt. Bryan O. Villena were able to engage rebel forces in a 10-minute firefight which ended with the NPAs retreating, leaving their makeshift camp and some AK-47 automatic rifle ammunition.

Another encounter took place at 3:10 p.m. as troopers from the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion under Capt. Romeo Ferdinand N. Bautista engaged an estimated 30 rebels in a 40-minute gun battle.

After incurring casualties, the NPA band abandoned their camp, leaving behind four IEDs and assorted war paraphernalia.

Major Christian Uy, 4th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the second NPA camp can accommodate about 50 persons.

No losses were sustained by government forces in the two encounters.

Barangay Padiay is a hinterland community which is also in the boundary of Agusan Del Sur, Agusan Del Norte and Surigao Del Sur.

These areas are known to be NPA safe havens and have been the staging areas in conducting different atrocities in the region.

One of these was their multiple murder of civilians particularly the killing of Joey Sabas, Noel Estiban, Nanny Egua and Godofredo Piamonte in Prosperidad, Agusan Del Sur on July 16, 2014.

“We are now fighting the NPas in their strongholds and we will continue to hunt to prevent them from harming our fellow Filipinos,” 4th Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Oscar T. Lactao said.

“Our fellow Filipinos have always been wanting for a peaceful CARAGA. We are calling on our brothers who are still in the mountains fighting against the government to lay down their arms and return back to the folds of the law. It is not yet too late and together, we can help you to grow and live a normal life," he added.


House Ad Hoc committee chair on BBL says MILF needs to comply with the 3 demands

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): House Ad Hoc committee chair on BBL says MILF needs to comply with the 3 demands

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) needs to comply with the three demands or conditions of the majority of lawmakers who are members of the House Ad Hoc committee to convince them that the Muslim rebels are sincere to pursue peace.

The panel chairman and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said on Tuesday that “it is all or nothing” that legislators may decide to support again Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The demands made by lawmakers were to return the stolen firearms of Special Action Force (SAF) and their personal belongings; get and surrender Basit Usman at all cost and the third is the surrendering of MILF fighters who will be identified by the Department of Justice who were responsible and killed mercilessly dying SAF members on January 25, 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

“I have relayed this information to MILF Vice Chairman Al Haj Murad and Peace Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal when we met in Jakarta, Indonesia during the continuation of their peace conference.

He said the move is confidence building measure and regain the lost respect of lawmakers who admitted that they were dismayed to the actions made by MILF on the ground against the 44 members of SAF.

In the same press conference, Rodriguez said they take their cue to the reports of the Board of Inquiry and the DOJ who vowed to finish their investigation before the end of February.

“We might resume the hearing by March 3 or 4 not to vote for the measure but to study and go line by line in the investigation reports,” Rodriguez explained.

He admitted that if they will ask for a vote, he is afraid that he cannot get the needed support for the measure.

“All 75 members of the committee will decide on the fate of the BBL and to date, majority of them have relayed information that they are not inclined to support the measure,” the chairman stressed claiming that those who informed him are members of political or geographic blocs.

But once the MILF complied with the three conditions, Rodriguez assured that those who have second thoughts will go back to support BBL.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez said that President Benigno Aquino III when they were invited in Malacanang did not give any timeline when to pass BBL.

“The president was very candid that he wanted to pass the measure during his term and I am the one who gave the timeline that before we adjourn sine die, the measure is expected in the plenary,” he told House reporters.

The veteran lawmaker said they will try their best to toss BBL to the plenary on May hoping that they can finish it by June before sine die of the second regular session of 16th Congress.

However, he stressed that if MILF will not comply with the three conditions, the measure might not reach plenary because they will not get the needed support from its members.


Malacañang still trusts MILF as government partner in peace process

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Malacañang still trusts MILF as government partner in peace process

The Palace said it remains hopeful that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would stick to its commitment to peace, despite the bloody Mamasapano clash and as time is running out in the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Congress has to complete the deliberations on the BBL at the committee level before adjourning on March 20, and resume deliberations at the plenary level when sessions resume on May 4.

In a press briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Benigno S. Aquino III and his administration still consider the MILF as a government partner in achieving peace.

"Lahat po ng pahayag ng Pangulo at lahat ng kanyang pagsasalita hinggil dito ay nandoon sa aspeto na itinuturing ang MILF ng pamahalaan na partner o katuwang dito sa prosesong pangkapayapaan," he said.

"At binanggit na rin ng Pangulo sa kanyang mga nakaraang talumpati na simula noong nagkasundo hinggil doon sa FAB (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro) at CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) ay napanatili ng MILF ang katahimikan."

During those periods, there was no violent clash between government and MILF combatants, according to Coloma.

The government will stick to that position, but in case there are groups that will sow instability, the country's security forces are ready to act to maintain order, he added.

"Ang ating Sandatahang Lakas ay nahahandang harapin ang anumang banta na manggagaling sa anumang sektor dahil tungkulin ng pamahalaan na tiyakin ang kaligtasan at kapanatagan ng ating mga mamamayan," Coloma said.

It can be recalled that after the Supreme Court declared the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) unconstitutional in 2008, the MILF attacked several communities in Mindanao.

Coloma said it is up to legislators to follow the initial timetable for the approval of the proposed BBL, considering the narrowing window of opportunity for its passage.


DOJ says MILF combatants cannot be charged in international court of justice

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): DOJ says MILF combatants cannot be charged in international court of justice

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday clarified that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who allegedly killed the Special Action Force (SAF) men during Mamasapano incident should be subjected to the Philippines courts and not in the international court of justice.

De Lima made this clarification after MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal claimed that the MILF fighters who engaged in the Mamasapano incident will be submitted to the jurisdiction of the international court of justice “if it is in the nature of a war crime.”

”In so far as this whole issue is concerned in the Mamasapano incident in relation to the peace process, MILF here is a non-state actor involved in a non-international armed conflict,” De Lima explained to the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs that conducted hearing on the Mamasapano incident.

The DOJ chief said the Philippines has capability of executing its laws like the investigation being done by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) team on the killing of the 44 SAF commandos last January 25.

”It’s working. We are the state and we have the power to enforce our laws and we have the power to compel people to submit themselves to the criminal justice system of this country,” she explained to Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV.

Earlier, Senator Aquino asked Iqbal on what the MILF will do if their combatants will be found guilty based on the MILF investigation.

”If it is in the nature of a war crime, we have to submit to the jurisdiction of the international court of justice. That’s the body that has jurisdiction over war crimes,” Iqbal replied.

De Lima explained the MILF can only resort to international court on war crimes “if it established that what was really committed really constitute war crimes under international law and our own domestic law.”

”If our domestic authorities aren’t able to work, meaning we are unable, unwilling or failed to investigate or prosecute, they can resort to the international criminal court on war crimes. That is very clear under both international laws,” De Lima further explained.

Iqbal said the MILF is conducting its own investigation although he recommended also the creation of separate independent body to look into the incident specifically to reports that the firearms taken by the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) fighters have been cannibalized.

The MILF official also vehemently denied that they are coddling terrorists specifically high-profile terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias "Marwan" and Basit Usman, the main targets of the Jan. 25 Oplan Exodus in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

”We have no relations with terrorists and terrorist organization. We are not coddling Marwan and Usman. That’s why we’re cooperating with the government with the fullest extent that the terrorists will be eliminated,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal went on saying that the terrorists are plagues in the society.

”The terrorists are unlike the revolutionary that the legitimate target are the combatants. The terrorists plant bombs that affect even children, elderly, women,” Iqbal said.

Meanwhile, Iqbal said the MILF will continue to show gesture of good faith by convincing their commanders and fighters to give up their firearms, including the remaining weapons taken by their combatants from the fallen SAF 44.

”We will return the firearms and even the personal effects if there are still at the hands of our fighters,” Iqbal said.

He said the MILF is committed to push through the peace process “because we might be facing bigger problem in the future if we will not push through the peace process.”

”On our part, we are willing to do anything that is possible for us to do. We promised that the remaining firearms will be turned over to the PNP as soon as we would have that firearms with us,” Iqbal said.

On the circulated video showing a combatant killing a wounded SAF trooper, Iqbal said not only the killer should be charged criminally but also those who uploaded the videos.


AFP chief pleased with conclusion of Senate hearing on Mamasapano incident

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): AFP chief pleased with conclusion of Senate hearing on Mamasapano incident

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Tuesday expressed his pleasure on the termination of the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano incident where 44 Special Action Force members were killed last Jan. 25.

The SAF men were killed following an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters members shortly after a successful effort to neutralize Malaysian terror bomber Zulkipli bin Hir alias "Marwan".

"The Chief-of-Staff of the AFP, General Gregorio Pio P. Catapang Jr, is very pleased that the Senate hearing has been terminated and that the concluding statement of Senator Grace Poe, Chairperson of Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, announced that their findings showed that the AFP did not commit any lapses during the Mamasapano incident."

Catapang said that his hopes are high that what happened in the Mamasapano would give way to a more effective and enduring collaboration during joint operations between the AFP and Philippine National Police.


Army foils BIFF attempt to ambush soldiers, attack civilian communities

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb  24): Army foils BIFF attempt to ambush soldiers, attack civilian communities

The Army here has foiled attempts by suspected Bangsamoro Moro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to get back at government troops when the soldiers engaged them in a 20 minute firefight early Monday morning, the Army said Tuesday.

Capt. Joanne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said elements of the 1st Mechanized Brigade were conducting regular security patrol along the national highway in Barangay Mapayag, Datu Anggal Midtimbang, Maguindanao when fired upon by about 10 BIFF bandits at about 6 a.m.

Petinglay said the soldiers returned fire, triggering a 30 minute running gunbattle as the BIFF scamper to flee deep into the mountains.

She said the soldiers recovered from what appeared to be a bunker in Barangay Mapayag assorted firearms left by fleeing bandits.

Among those recovered were two M-16 Armalite rifles, one homemade shotgun, one homemade rocket propelled grenade with one ammunition, one cal. 45 pistol, one homemade Ingram 9mm pistol, assorted ammunition, bandolers, fatigue uniforms with BIFF patches and suspected drug paraphernalia.

Petinglay said the Army's 6th ID is continuously and actively conducting security operations in its area of operation to preempt armed lawless elements (BIFF) from launching atrocities against military personnel and civilian communities.

"The command will exert effort to disrupt the plans of the group that might threaten the security situation and bring fear to the populace," Petinglay said in a statement.


Military now pursuing IED planters in Basilan

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Military now pursuing IED planters in Basilan

Troopers from Joint Task Group Basilan are now conducting pursuit operations against the lawless elements who planted IED (improvised explosive device) at Block 7, Barangay Mangal, Sumisip town, Basilan, which exploded and wounded a civilian last Feb. 19.

In a statement forwarded Tuesday by Capt. Rowena Muyuela, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, the wounded civilian was identified as Markus K. Llagao, 36, married, a rubber tapper, and a resident of Barangay Mangal.

He was wounded after he accidentally hit the IED while tapping rubber at the Maluso Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Corporation (MARBEDCO).

Llagao was immediately brought to the nearest detachment of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-11 (MBLT-11) for treatment.

Col. Rolando Bautista, Joint Task Group Basilan commander, said the incident may be attributed to refusal of MARBEDCO to give in to the Abu Sayyaf Group extortion activities.


DOLE 6 receives citation from PA's 301st Infantry Brigade

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): DOLE 6 receives citation from PA's 301st Infantry Brigade

The 301st Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army has lauded the efforts of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Region 6 for bringing the government’s much needed services down to the grassroots to improve the socioeconomic well-being of the village folks.

DOLE's Regional Director Ponciano M. Ligutom received a citation during the Infantry Brigade's 32nd anniversary celebration on Feb. 16 in Camp General Adriano D. Hernandez, Dingle, Iloilo for the DOLE’s unprecedented support in the implementation of Tubong-Tubong Project in conflict-prone areas on the island of Panay.

The DOLE was the only government agency which received such award along with some non-government organizations and army officers.

The Tubong-Tubong project, a convergence program of the DOLE, 3IB PA, local government units and other stakeholders, is implemented in the municipalities of Tapaz in Capiz and Tubungan in Iloilo to bring livelihood assistance to the people living in these areas. Tubong-Tubong is a local term for convergence.

According to Col. Eric C. Uchida, peace and order can be attained not by bullets but by bringing the necessary change in the lives of the people in conflict-prone areas through the delivery of government services such as this convergence program which aims to contribute to the development of the locality and alleviate the lives of the people.

In Tapaz, the region released in 2013 to the LGU the amount of PhP950,000 as counterpart in the PhP1.8 million Abaca Production Project which is aimed at benefiting the 321 indigenous people from barangays Maliao and Hilwan in Tapaz, Capiz.

Another PhP2,920,000 was released in 2014 to promote food security through Abaca Fiber and Livestock raising to 116 marginalized farmers and unemployed workers who survived the wrath of typhoon "Yolanda."

In Tubungan, the amount of assistance granted to the LGU for the development of the coconut industry of the locality reached a total of PhP2,799,575 which directly benefited 1,207 small coconut farmers and their families.

Other areas to be covered by the Tubong-Tubong project included Libacao in Aklan, San Remegio in Antique and Bingawan in Iloilo.


2 more towns in Negros Occidental declared ‘peaceful, ready for further development’

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): 2 more towns in Negros Occidental declared ‘peaceful, ready for further development’

Two more towns in Negros Occidental – San Enrique and Toboso – were declared “peaceful and ready for further development” Monday after they manifested strong commitment to become instruments of peace and to promote a culture of non-violence in their respective localities.

In San Enrique, located in southern Negros, the declaration and signing of the resolution was led by Mayor Mario Magno with Provincial Planning and Development Coordinator Ma. Lina Sanogal, and Col. Noel Buan, deputy commander of the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade.

Over at Toboso in the north, Mayor Richard Jaojoco, and Col. Jon Aying, commander of the 303rd IB, led the local government and security sector officials in the signing of the joint declaration.

Earlier this month, Cadiz City, Hinigaran and Pontevedra towns were also declared “peaceful and ready for further development.”

Based on the joint assessment on the security situation of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police, the occurrence of violence, criminality, insurgency and subversion has become negligible and isolated in the declared local government units thus, an enabling environment for economic development has been established in the community.

“Peace can be simply defined as security and development under good governance blessed by the Almighty One,” Aying said.

Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. had earlier said the third and fourth districts in the province will also be declared “peaceful and ready for development” soon.

Marañon said he is expects that the province will also be declared as such for investments and tourists to come in.


Army camp launches “STAR PARADE” program

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Army camp launches “STAR PARADE” program

CAMP MELCHOR DELA CRUZ, Gamu, Isabela -- The 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army (5ID-PA) based in this town launched over the weekend the “Stop the Arm Response, Let’s Go to Peace, Reform and Development,” (STAR PARADE) program.

The program aimed to bring peace and development initiatives of the government and the military for the benefit and welfare of the people.

Col. Jose Arn Real, commander of 86th Infantry Battalion based in the town of San Mariano, said the STAR PARADE program involves not only military personnel but also local government units and other stakeholders.

Real said peace and development can be achieved with the help of everyone, particularly the local government executives.

He said the military is supportive of all peace and development initiatives of the government by bringing the programs and services right at the door steps of the people.

Col. Real said arm struggle is not the key to attaining peace as he urged the rebels to return to the folds of law and live a normal life.

Aside from the STAR PARADE program of the army, they are also supporting the government’s national greening program.


3 more rebels yield to Army troops in Sarangani

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24):  3 more rebels yield to Army troops in Sarangani

With the surrender of three more New People's Army (NPA) fighters over the weekend, 10th Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Eduardo M. Año on Tuesday urged remaining rebels in Sarangani to return to the fold of the law so that they can live peacefully with their loved ones.

“We are calling on our deceived brothers who are still with the NPA to grab the opportunity of living a peaceful life before it’s too late. The best option for them is to abandon the futile armed struggle and put an end to the unnecessary loss of lives,” he added.

Last Feb. 21 and 22, NPA fighters identified as Marilou Intan Dela Cruz, a rebel squad medic; Odoy Maway Malbino and Tata Yata Intan, 24, a rebel squad leader, voluntarily surrendered to troopers of the 73rd Infantry Battalion in Alabel town, Sarangani.

Malbino also surrendered an M-16 automatic rifle.

Año said the three participated in the Feb. 16 encounter in Alabel where nine rebels were killed.

He added that the surrender of the three raises the number of NPA surrenderees to six for the past two weeks.

Año said the surrendered NPA fighters will be enrolled at the Sarangani Province Comprehensive Localized Integration Program as part of the effort to reintegrate them into mainstream society.


PA to recommend declaration of Iloilo as a peaceful province

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): PA to recommend declaration of Iloilo as a peaceful province

Philippine Army 3rd Infantry Division Commander Rey Leonardo Guerrero said that they will soon recommend the declaration of Iloilo as a peaceful province because of the decreased incidents of violence and situation in the countryside slowly normalized.

Guerrero, who was interviewed Tuesday, further that said that their recommendation for the declaration for the province of Iloilo, which is the last to be declared as such in Region 6, is also due to the dwindling forces of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the delivery of essential services particularly to the farflung areas.

” During the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) meeting one of the topics to be discussed will be the declaration,” the army official contended.

He said that with the approval of Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor, Sr. who chairs the PPOC a resolution to that effect hopefully could be passed.

He added that in fact they already planned last year to have such a declaration but because of the typhoon and due to other reasons that kept the provincial government busy that the plan was not carried out.


Ex-MILF leader advices comrade in the BIFF to reform for good

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Ex-MILF leader advices comrade in the BIFF to reform for good

A former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrilla leader has appealed to his former comrade leader to reform and live normal life like he did.

Noah Sabel, former head of MILF’ 10th base command, said he and Gani Saligan were in the same armed group in the MILF fighting for self-determination and equality when he decided to shift and joined the local government.

Sabel is now the village chairperson of Barangay Dugong, an outlying village of Mlang, North Cotabato and he has an unsolicited advice to his former comrade.

Saligan heads a team of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after they broke from mainstream MILF in 2008.

Sabel said he parted ways with Saligan because he was involved in illegal activities.

“Brother Gani was engaged in criminal activities like cattle rustling, robbery and land grabbing,” Sabel said.

In fact in 2011, Sabel groups clashed with Saligan’s group in the marshland of Mlang.

“My advice to brother Gani is to reform, be sorry for his sins while he still can and devote the remain years of his life into doing good for his people,” Sabel told DXND Radyo Bida Kidapawain in the vernacular.


Army soldier shot dead by unknown suspect in Naga City

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Army soldier shot dead by unknown suspect in Naga City

A Philippine Army soldier was shot dead by an unknown suspect at about 9:55 p.m. Monday on San Juan St., Peñafrancia Avenue, Naga City.

Captain Mardjorie Paimela Panesa, public affairs officer of the 9th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, identified the victim as Corporal Erwin Ilarde, 36, married, a resident of the place and assigned with the 9ID.

Panesa said Ilarde was in front of his rented computer shop when a suspect armed with a .45-caliber pistol shot him dead.

The Philippine Army is now coordinating with Naga City police in the investigation of the case.

Panesa said the 9ID will give benefits to the family of Ilarde.


Senate to peace panels: Explain ‘MILF training’ photos

From Rappler (Feb 24): Senate to peace panels: Explain ‘MILF training’ photos

The images provided to the Senate public order committee show high-powered firearms reportedly being used for MILF training

 MILF TRAINING? A photo of alleged MILF training and recruitment in Sulu involving high-powered firearms, presented at the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash on February 24, 2015.

MILF TRAINING? A photo of alleged MILF training and recruitment in Sulu involving high-powered firearms, presented at the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash on February 24, 2015.

Senators asked the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels to explain photos of alleged MILF training and recruitment in Sulu involving high-powered firearms.

At the fifth Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash on Tuesday, February 24, Senate public order committee chairperson Grace Poe presented the photos via Powerpoint, which she said a “concerned citizen” had sent to her committee.

Poe’s staff later released the photos enclosed in a February 17, 2015, letter of Sulu Vice Governor Abdusakur Tan. The photos had text identifying some of the men, the tag “MILF member and mostly ASG,” and the label: “Date started-January 01, 2015. Place-CAMP AKBAR, DEMO FARM. Barangay Punay, Municipality of Panglima Estino, Sulu.”

The senator asked the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to look into allegations of “ongoing massive recruitment and training being done by the MILF in the municipality of Panglima Estino, Sulu, and the opening of an MILF camp in the said town.”

Citing information from Tan’s letter, Poe said: “The images show high-powered firearms being used during the training. These activities are provocative actions, which are inimical to the security of our people. It also violates the Implementing Operational Guidelines on the Cessation of Hostilities between the Philippine government and the MILF.”
The senator added that the photos showed that the MILF is “strengthening its forces” and if this will not be stopped, this will become “a big problem for our future.”

In Tan’s letter, the vice governor said that former Panglima Estino Mayor Hadji Munib Estino and his son, incumbent Mayor Benshar Estino “reportedly facilitated” the MILF recruitment and training “as they announced the opening of the MILF Camp intended for the Basic Training of the Bangsamoro National Guard as a prerequisite to becoming bona-fide members of the MILF.”

Tan said he supports the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which aims to create an expanded region in Muslim Mindanao with greater powers and resources. Yet the vice governor expressed reservations about some provisions in past congressional hearings.

Tan wrote in his letter: “We fear that other sectors of the community who are opposed to the Estinos may resort to likewise arming themselves for their own defense, which could result to turmoil that may erupt at anytime. The local government units in the Province of Sulu are expressing their collective apprehension on this matter even as we support the passage of the BBL.”

Under the peace deal with the MILF, the rebel group is supposed to turn over its arms after the passage of the BBL, a gradual process formally known as “decommissioning.” It is one of the steps in the peace roadmap under the transition phase in the creation of the Bangsamoro region.

Drilon: What’s sensitive about politics?

Senate President Franklin Drilon asked MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, OPAPP Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, and government peace panel chairperson Miriam Coronel-Ferrer to explain the photos.

Iqbal said he first saw the photos as presented by Tan in a January hearing on the Bangsamoro bill at the House of Representatives. Yet, the MILF leader said that the photos then did not have the label “ASG,” which is known to stand for the terrorist “Abu Sayyaf Group.”

“There was no mention about Abu Sayyaf. This is the first time I saw that kind of photo with ‘Abu Sayyaf.’ I cannot confirm if that photo shows the MILF. I asked for a copy of that photo but I was not given a copy,” Iqbal said.

He added: “That municipality is embroiled in political problems, an ongoing misunderstanding between politicians in area. It has something to do with that.”

Deles said her office also received a copy of the photos, and that she asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), and a secretariat member of the MILF to check them.

Drilon responded: “Should we not have done our own investigation as government? On an issue such as this, you ask the MILF to comment. The MILF is expected to deny, as chair Iqbal is doing now.”

Ferrer then said that the government peace panel already asked its ceasefire mechanism to check on the photo, and it already has a report and analysis of the picture. She said the “source of the validation” was the office of Western Mindanao Command Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero.

When Drilon asked Ferrer if the peace panel provided Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin a copy of the report, Ferrer said no.

“This issue has to do with Sulu politics and that is part of the context. We have not been able to elevate this. In compliance with what Sulu officials asked us to do, we have done our own investigation,” said the government negotiator.

Ferrer added, “There are some identified personalities, some private armed groups in terms of weaponry. It is very sensitive because of the nature of politics there, political alliances emerging in time for 2016.”

Drilon responded, “What’s so sensitive about that? Apparently there is a continuous build-up of arms notwithstanding the Comprehensive Agreement [on the Bangsamoro] we have signed.”

Drilon and Poe asked Ferrer to provide the Senate a copy of the report, saying only national security, not politics, can be invoked as grounds for secrecy.

Deles later said the issue “has the possibility to bring out violence.” She echoed Ferrer in saying that the matter involved arms used in “political conflicts.”

“The peace process navigates through terrain that is not always black and white. If we’re not preoccupied with hearing, this report would have reached me and I will send this to you,” Deles said.”


Cadet Cudia loses legal fight to be reinstated at PMA

From InterAksyon (Feb 24): Cadet Cudia loses legal fight to be reinstated at PMA

Dismissed Philippine Military Academy cadet Aldrin Jeff Cudia lost his legal battle against his dismissal from the PMA after the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday upheld the institution's decision against him.

The SC Spokesperson, Atty. Theodore Te, told journalists the High Tribunal, in upholding the PMA's decision dismissing Cudia for violation of its Honor Code, also affirmed the Honor Code as "a set of basic and fundamental ethical and moral principle, the minimum standard for cadet behavior and the guiding spirit behind each cadet's action."

The SC, Te said, ruled that it has no reason to deviate from the PMA's findings in the controversial Cudia case, which rocked the military academy last year, adding that the PMA did not violate his due process when it dismissed him.

Also, the SC affirmed the PMA's academic freedom and its right to enforce its rules on discipline particularly its Honor Code.

"The Court has always recognized the right of schools to impose disciplinary sanctions, which includes the power to dismiss or expel, on students who violate disciplinary rules," Te said quoting the ruling.

Te added that the PMA, as the primary training and educational institution of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), "has the right to invoke academic freedom in the enforcement of its rules and regulations, which are the Honor Code and the Honor System in particular."

The SC, according to Te also ruled that it is the responsibility of the cadets to maintain the highest standard of honor, and, throughout his or her stay in the PMA, "he or she is absolutely bound by it."

Cudia was found guilty of lying about his reason for being late in a class and was dismissed from the academy. He was also not allowed to join his class during their graduation in March 2014.

He appealed the case, but it was dismissed by the PMA and its Cadet Review and Appeals Board (CRAB), prompting him to seek an audience with the Commander-in-Chief, President Aquino.

The President ordered the AFP to conduct a review of the case.

Cudia then filed a petition with the Supreme Court, asking the latter to issue a restraining order or a status quo ante order that would have allowed him to join his "Siklab Diwa Class" in their graduation, but the High Tribunal did not grant his petition.

He and his family then filed several petitions before the high court, the last being in December 2014, asking the Supreme Court to immediately rule on his case because any continued delay in the resolution of his case is putting his life and future in limbo.


Blast from improvised explosive device in Sumisip hurts rubber-tapper in Basilan

From InterAksyon (Feb 24): Blast from improvised explosive device in Sumisip hurts rubber-tapper in Basilan

A civilian suffered minor injuries after one of his group of rubber-tappers tripped on an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan, 1st Lt Sally Christine Magno, public affairs officer of the Joint Task Group-Basilan, reported Tuesday.

The explosion happened at Block 7 in Barangay Mangal, Sumisip.

Magno identified the victim as Markus K. Llagao, 36, who was immediately brought to the nearest detachment of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-11 (MBLT-11) by Joseph Circulado, supervisor of Maluso Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Corporation (MARBEDCO), for medical treatment.

"He is now in stable condition," Magno said.


Senators grill peace panel, Iqbal over new MILF training camp in Sulu

From InterAksyon (Feb 24): Senators grill peace panel, Iqbal over new MILF training camp in Sulu

One of the photos received by Senator Poe's office, showing the alleged new MILF camp in Sulu and suspected leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, an extremist group engaged in kidnap for ransom and terrorist activities.

Members of the Senate Committee on Public Order investigating the Mamasapano incident on Tuesday grilled representatives from the government peace and rebel group panels over an alleged new Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) training camp in Panglima Estino town in Sulu.

Before the questioning, Senator Grace Poe, the panel chair, disclosed a letter from Sulu Vice Governor Abdusakur Tan showing photos of leaders and members of the MILF and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) gathering at Camp Akbar Demo Farm in Barangay Punay, Municipality of Panglima Estino, Sulu.

The photos were apparently taken starting Jan. 1, 2015.

In his letter, Tan told the committee that the opening of the MILF camp was reportedly facilitated by former Mayor Hadji Munib Estino and his son, incumbent Mayor Benshar Estino, where they announced the move was intended for the basic training of the Bangsamoro National Guard as a prerequisite to becoming bona-fide members of the MILF.

"These recent developments have raised fears among ordinary citizens in the province, instead of hope, after the signing of the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro.

"More so when the pictures show high-powered firearms being handled by the above-named former and incumbent local officials and their supporters," Tan said in his letter, which was read by Poe during the resumption of the Senate probe into the Mamasapano incident.

"These activities are provocative actions which, to our minds, are inimical to the security of our constituencies and violate the implementing operational guidelines on the cessation of hostilities between the GPH and the MILF," Tan pointed out.

Earlier, Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel, denied in a previous hearing that they are conducting recruitment activities, but only organizing volunteers from different provinces as the MILF begins preparing to organize a political party.

"However, if such is true, why are there firearms involved? Are they preparing for war instead?" Tan asked.

When Senate President Franklin Drilon asked Iqbal about the veracity of the photos, the MILF official said he already saw the pictures at the hearing held at the House of Representatives, and also said that the MILF leadership will look into reports that those in the pictures are MILF members.

"But, that area, that municipality, is embroiled in political problems. There is an ongoing misunderstanding among the politicians in the area. It has something to do with that," Iqbal said.

When asked by Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Iqbal confirmed the MILF has a camp in Sulu, but "not the one showed in the photos."

But when Drilon turned to ask Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles about the photos, she said that her office has referred the photos to the secretariat of the MILF.

"We relayed the matter to the MILF Secretariat that this is something we have to respond to because we received it on an official basis," Deles said.

She said the government peace panel has also asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities (CCCH) to verify the pictures.

However, Drilon did not buy her answer: "Should the government have not done its own investigation? Isn't this revealing? We are government. On issues such as this, you are asking the MILF to comment? And of course, the MILF, it would be expected of them to deny anything, everything," he told Deles.

Sec. Deles affirmed, however, that the government has done its part and investigated the matter by referring it first to the West Mindanao Command (WestMinCom).

Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government peace panel chair, said they asked the ceasefire mechanism of the government to conduct a parallel investigation.

"They have given us a report of what they found out about this and we can provide the Senate with a copy of their response," Ferrer said, requesting in the same vein that this be done in executive session since there are national security issues involved.

Asked if they have provided the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) with copies of the report, Ferrer acknowledged that the matter was not elevated to Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II and National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin due to the sensitive nature of the report.

But Drilon pointed out that he finds nothing irregular with revealing the details of the report on the pictures.

"I am asking this because, in the past five hearings, it was obvious that many of these things happened because of lack of coordination, lack of information, lack of proper reporting," Drilon explained.

"This issue," Ferrer articulated, "has to do with Sulu's local politics and, therefore, that is part of the context of executive privilege. This is also in compliance with what the Sulu officials have asked of us. We have done our own investigation."

Ferrer said the CCCH is already composed of members of the AFP and the PNP and the source of the validation was the Westmincom.

"There are some identified personalities there, and there are some private armed groups there, in terms of the weaponry, and so on, but it's very sensitive because of the nature of the politics in the area," Ferrer explained.

"What is so sensitive about the politics in the area? [Political] parties are never sensitive," Drilon retorted.

"Political alliances are emerging in time for the 2016 elections," Ferrer responded.

"What is so sensitive about political alliances for 2016? Why is that confidential? Why can't it be revealed in public? Because what is at issue here, as our chair has stated, is that, apparently, there is a continuous build up of arms notwithstanding the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro that we have signed," Drilon pointed out.

Deles, however, clarified that the government's first response was to conduct its own investigation on the photos through its own mechanism, before asking the MILF to verify the photos.

When pressed by Drilon to bare the contents of the report, Ferrer insisted the matter constitutes intelligence information and should be "treated confidentially."

Drilon gave up in the face of Ferrer's insistence. "Madam, chair. I submit," Drilon told Poe.

Deles defended Ferrer, pointing out that the matter may complicate the ongoing peace process with the MILF.

But Poe countered Deles' assertion, saying they cannot just invoke executive privilege over matters that can hamper criminal or military investigations.

"For the record, I think that it should be clear also that when you invoke certain security concerns, it is because you do not want to jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation or military operation," Poe said.

"Technically, we cannot allow you to invoke that, unless there is a clear and present danger to the lives also of the constituents within the area... we request you to submit those documents, please," she reiterated.

Ferrer agreed, saying her office will provide the committee with a copy of the report.
"Yes your honor, maybe just to clarify that it is not purely political but it is political with the possibility of violence between conflicting political parties," Ferrer stated.