Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Army to NPA in Western Visayas: Observe Lent

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): Army to NPA in Western Visayas: Observe Lent

The Philippine Army in Western Visayas urged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) to renounce violence and armed struggle in the season of Lent.

“Together with all the stakeholders, we call on the remaining NPA members in the region to go back to their families and spend a week of peace and freedom in our democratic society,” Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said in a statement.

Guerrero also instructed field commanders to closely coordinate with other law enforcement agencies, particularly the Philippine National Police, in ensuring the safety and security of the people and in securing vital installations and places frequented by tourists.

On Sunday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the population of the NPA is declining as the development projects of the government are now gaining momentum in the countryside, an official said on Sunday.

So far, the rebel strength all over the country is placed at 4,000.

"We can foresee their downfall as long as development will come in and we will have economic growth and prosperity to every Filipino. In the years to come, the NPA will be irrelevant as foreseen by the Internal Peace and Security Program 'Bayanihan' strategy," said AFP spokesperson Brigade General Joselito Kakilala.

The military’s strategy aims to beat the rebels by developing depressed countryside communities to remove a mass base for the NPAs.


BIFF finance officer falls in Cotabato City

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): BIFF finance officer falls in Cotabato City

The military's 6th Infantry Division has announced Tuesday the arrest of an officer of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)in his residence in Cotabato City Monday night.

In a statement, Capt. Joann Petinglay, 6th ID spokesperson, identified the arrested BIFF official as Agdulgani Esmael Pagao, alias "Abdulayman Pagao," the group's finance officer.

Petinglay said the operation was carried out by the combined elements of 5th Special Forces Battalion, Intelligence Support Group, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, 6th Military Intelligence Group, 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion, JSOU1, and Cotabato City Police Office.

Pagao was arrested at Campo Muslim in Barangay Mother Bagua, Cotabato City based on a search warrant issued by Judge Bansawan Z. Ibrahim dated March 30, 2015.

Seized from Pagao was a caliber .45 pistol with ammunition, two loaded magazines, and a fragmentation grenade. He did not resist arrest.

Petinglay said the arrest of Pagao marked another accomplishment of the government through excellent coordination with the different law enforcement agencies.

She said rebel group is expected to weaken as its sources of funds fell to government hands.

Task Force Central, a police-military composed tasked to neutralize lawless elements in Maguindanao, has slowed down its law enforcement operations although it is yet to arrest Filipino bombing expert Abdul Basit Usman and another Malaysian suspected terrorist hiding with him in the marshland.(


Army condemns BIFF attack on military ambulance carrying wounded fighters

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): Army condemns BIFF attack on military ambulance carrying wounded fighters
The Army's 6th Infantry Division on Tuesday condemned the ambush and killing of a military ambulance driver by suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao on Sunday.

Maj General Edmundo R. Pangilinan, 6th ID chief and commander of Task Force Central, said the slain Army ambulance driver was transporting wounded infantrymen from the Army-BIFF encounter in Shariff Saydona to the Maguidanao provincial hospital when ambushed in Barangay Elian, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

“It only shows that these bandits do not observe and respect the International Humanitarian Law (IHL),” he said in a statement released by the Division Public Affairs Office on Tuesday.

A band of BIFF fired at the ambulance as it hurriedly transporting wounded soldiers. The medical team was able to fire back at the bandits while bringing the wounded soldiers to a safer area.

The driver-fatality, identified as Staff Sgt. Robert E. Espia of Forward Support Medical Platoon of Task Force Central, was hit while driving an ambulance. On board the ambulance were two wounded elements of the 34th Infantry Battalion.

The soldiers were also killed in a separate clash in Barangay Pamalian, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao. Thirteen BIFF were reported killed, including three commanders.

One of them was allegedly the hit squad leader of the BIFF who pinned down at least seven soldiers in separate occasions in Maguindanao.

The slain soldiers were identified as Cpl Faizal A. Julmain and PFC Marlon E. Marino of 34th Infantry Battalion and PFC Vincent Q. Gulla of 1st Mechanized Battalion.

The series of encounters last Sunday was evident that some members of the BIFF were still in the operation area.

On Monday, AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio P. Catapang announced the conclusion of the month-long all-out offensive against the rebel group BIFF.

However, the government forces will still continue pursuing the scattered members of the BIFF to prevent the group from regrouping and reorganizing in conducting terror activities in Mindanao.

A send-off ceremony was also held in 6ID for the four soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice during the recent clash.


AFP recognizes 9 units for complying with transformation roadmap

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): AFP recognizes 9 units for complying with transformation roadmap

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday recognized the Public Affairs Office and eight other units that are on-track in taking initiatives towards the completion of the journey towards the realization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Transformation Roadmap.

These awardees are part of the second group of AFP offices and units that was conferred with Plaques of Recognition.

This set of awardees followed the first wave of military offices and units which received recognition on March 9 for their exemplary efforts of making AFP a better organization by following the points set by the AFP TR.

The AFP Office for Strategic Studies and Strategy Management (OSSSM) listed the following on second set of awardees: Office of the Ethical Standards and Public Accountability (OESPA); AFP Educational Benefit System Office (AFP EBSO); Public Affairs Office (PAO); AFP Peace and Development Center (AFP PDC); AFP Bids and Awards Committee (AFP BAC); Office of the Adjutant General (OTAG); Office of the Legislative Affairs (OLA); Dean, Corps of Professors (COP); and Office of the Chief Chaplain Service (OTCCHS).

These offices and units were recognized for making steps towards genuine transformation and reform through crafting of their respective strategy maps and performance scorecards.


Army commander visits 6th Infantry Division

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): Army commander visits 6th Infantry Division

Philippine Army (PA) commander Lt. Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri paid a visit to the officers and enlisted personnel of the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division on Monday.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said Iriberri's visit was connected withsituation updates on the ongoing joint law enforcement operations of Task Force "Kampilan" against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Aside from that, the PA commander also decorated the military personnel who were wounded in Sunday's clash with BIFF splinter groups.

He also led the inauguration of the new and refurbished facilities of the 6th Infantry Division -- the Kampilan Water Station, SM Transient Quarter, and Presidential Cottage.

Iriberri also decorated deserving officers and enlisted personnel who risked their lives in the conduct of law enforcement operations against the BIFF.


US admiral says China ‘creating great wall of sand’ in sea

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 31): US admiral says China ‘creating great wall of sand’ in sea

The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet says China is using land reclamation to create “a great wall of sand” in disputed areas of the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions.

Admiral Harry Harris Jr. told a naval conference in Australia on Tuesday that competing territorial claims by several nations are increasing regional tensions and the potential for miscalculations.

Harris said there is particular concern about what he called “unprecedented land reclamation currently being conducted by China” to buttress its territorial claims.

He said China “is creating a great wall of sand” with dredges and bulldozers over the course of months.

Harris said the rapid pace and scope of China’s construction of man-made islands “raises serious questions about Chinese intentions.”


AFP now in 'blue alert' for Holy Week

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): AFP now in 'blue alert' for Holy Week

With the Holy Week rush now in full swing, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Tuesday placed all military units in "blue alert".

"Blue alert" refers to having 50 percent of available troops and their supporting equipment in stand-by at camps nationwide for possible deployment.

"We are now in 'blue alert' for Holy Week, it means that half of our available troop strength must in camps in case there is a need for them," Catapang said in Filipino.

Earlier, AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said that units based in non-threat areas can grant leave to their personnel wanting to go home this Holy Week.

However, this condition cannot be applied to provinces and areas with intact threat groups like the New People's Army (NPA) and other lawless elements.

Areas in the Philippines known to be hosting NPA groups include Masbate, Sorsogon in Southern Luzon and Kalinga in Northern Luzon, Leyte, Eastern and Northern Samar in the Visayas and CARAGA Regions and Compostela Valley in Mindanao.


Concrete bridge rising at site of Mamasapano incident

From the Philippine Star (Mar 31): Concrete bridge rising at site of Mamasapano incident

BRIDGE OF PEACE. Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan of the 6th Infantry Division, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (3rd from left) and other officials walk through the iconic timber footbridge in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, to be replaced with a P10 million concrete structure. Philstar.com/John Unson

The military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front jointly launched on Tuesday the construction of a concrete footbridge over a river near the scene of the deadly January 25 encounter between police commandos and secessionist rebels.

The P10 million worth bridge project in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, Maguindanao is an infrastructure thrust of Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and his public works secretary, Hadji Emil Sadain.

The project will be bankrolled by Hataman's office with savings generated in recent quarters by the ARMM’s Department of Public Works and Highways.

Hataman, Sadain, Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad, Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, senior MILF officials Von Al-Haq and  Toks Ebrahim jointly officiated the symbolic launching of the project, in the presence of villagers and Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan.

Al-Haq, who is spokesman of the MILF's military wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, said they are grateful to the ARMM government for having embarked on various infrastructure projects needed to address poverty and underdevelopment in Barangay Tukanalipao and surrounding peasant enclaves.

Al-haq said the police-MILF encounter in Mamasapano’s adjoining Barangays Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan and Inog-og could be a "blessing in disguise," something providential and meant to show to the national government the grinding poverty besetting the local communities.

He said the MILF will not disengage from its diplomatic dealings with government despite the "Mamasapano incident," which hogged the headlines and challenged the group's compact with MalacaƱang.

Al-Haq said the MILF is ready to help the Hataman administration implement its infrastructure projects in Mamasapano.

"Creating war is easy while building peace is a lengthy effort. All it takes to start war is just one shot, just one shot," Al-Haq said.

Also present in the activity were Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan of the Army's 6th Infantry Division, Col. Melquiades Feliciano of the 601st Brigade, officials of the ARMM regional police office and Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. of the government’s ceasefire committee, which helps enforce all interim GPH-MILF security agreements in flashpoint areas in Mindanao.

Catapang, in a speech before the launching of the concrete footbridge, urged local folks to put closure to the Mamasapano fiasco.

Catapang lauded the ARMM leadership and the local communities for helping one another overcome the impact of the January 25 hostilities between Special Action Force commandos and MILF guerillas.

At least 44 SAF operatives, 17 MILF members and five innocent civilians were killed in the incident.

"Tapusin na natin ang issue ng Mamasapano. Mag move on na po tayo," Catapang said.

Laisa Alamia, ARMM's regional executive secretary, said Catapang and Abad's involvement in the launching of the concrete footbridge can help convince local folks that President Benigno Aquino III will not let the Mamasapano incident affect the now 18-year bilateral GPH-MILF peace initiative.

Also present in the event were representatives from the office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu led by provincial engineer Abdulrahman Asim.

Hataman, Sadain, representatives of the 6th ID and Engineer James Mlok of Maguindanao's 2nd District Engineering Office launched last week more than P40 million worth of infrastructure projects in Mamasapano.

The ARMM government and the 6th ID also started last week the construction of a P400,000 worth mosque in Barangay Tukanalipao.


Tukalinapao Bridge in Mamasapano to be completed within 6 months

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): Tukalinapao Bridge in Mamasapano to be completed within 6 months

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Tuesday said it will take at least six months to complete the Tukalinapao Bridge in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao.

The bridge, which will replace the rickety bamboo footbridge spanning the river and the cornfields where 44 Special Action Force members were killed during the operation which neutralized Malaysian bomber Zulkipli bin Hir last Jan. 25, is worth Php10-million.

"(Contractors) said it will take them six months as they need to put up the foundation first. It needs to be completed before the rainy season. Actually, once the foundation is constructed, the railings and steel portion of the bridge can easily be set up," Catapang said in Filipino.

He also assured the military is more than capable of securing the bridge as attested by the serious beating the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters sustained during the month-long law enforcement operations against the BIFF.

Around 151 BIFF men were killed, 65 wounded and 12 captured on the campaign which started Feb. 25.

Ten soldiers were killed while another 33 were hurt in the said campaign.

"Violence has stopped because they have realized that we are stronger than them and they will have a hard time (should they initiate hostilities anew).

Catapang on Monday terminated the law enforcement operations against the BIFF but said pursuit operations will continue against the bandit splinter groups.

Aside from the bridge, the government is planning to set up various development projects in Mamasapano, including an irrigation system.


3 rebels slain in clash on NPA’s 46th anniversary

From the Philippine Star (Mar 31): 3 rebels slain in clash on NPA’s 46th anniversary

Three suspected New People’s Army guerrillas were killed while another was captured following a firefight that occurred during the NPA’s 46th founding anniversary in Bukidnon Sunday.

Soldiers belonging to the Army’s 4th Infantry Division were on patrol in Barangay Manibugao when they encountered a band of rebels, said 1/Lt. Lorefel Judaya, deputy spokesman for the Army’s 66th Infantry Brigade. The military has yet to identify the fatalities.

Judaya said the rebels belonged to the Guerrilla Front 4-B of the NPA North Central Mindanao regional command.

He said they were investigating the arrested rebel, who suffered injuries in the firefight.

In Agusan del Sur, 30 insurgents raided a sawmill in Barangay Manat in Trento town and burned two trucks, two engines and a chainsaw.

The sawmill, reportedly owned by a barangay official, was said to be operating without a permit. Police placed the damage at P800,000.

2 soldiers hurt in Capiz encounter

Meanwhile, two soldiers were wounded in another encounter with suspected NPA guerrillas in Tapaz town in Capiz Sunday.

Cpl. Niel Lagat and Pfc. Raymund de Juan, both of the Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion (IB), were airlifted to the 3ID Station Hospital at Camp Peralta in Jamindan town following a firefight in Barangay Tacayan,  Major Ray Tiongson, spokesman for the Army’s  3rd Infantry Division, said.

Lt./Col. Victor Llapitan, chief of the 61st IB, said the troops were checking reports about the presence of armed men in the area when they encountered the rebels.

Llapitan said the armed men were extorting money from the villagers. He believes there were rebels who were killed or wounded in the clash.

Ex-rebel nabbed for murder

In Laguna, an alleged former NPA official tagged in the murder of a court employee in Oriental Mindoro was captured in Sta. Rosa City Sunday.

Allan Alarzar, 39, surrendered after authorities cornered him in his hideout in Barangay Sto. Domingo at around 11:30 a.m.

Alarzar’s arrest was based on a warrant issued by Pinamalayan Judge Recto Calabocal for three counts of murder, Senior Superintendent Florendo Saligao, Laguna police director, said.

Alarzar was tagged in the killing of Paquito Umbao, an employee of the Pinamalayan court, on Oct. 30, 2011.

Saligao said the suspect was a former official of the communist group operating in Oriental Mindoro before he engaged in contract killing.


Return to your homes, AFP chief tells evacuees

From the Philippine Star (Mar 31): Return to your homes, AFP chief tells evacuees

Representatives from the police, military, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao launch the start of the construction of a concrete footbridge in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Philstar.com/John Unson

Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Tuesday urged evacuees dislocated by the government's law enforcement operation against the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to start returning to their homes.

Catapang said evacuees driven away from their farming enclaves by the four-week face-off between different military units and the BIFF can now return to their homes since the Armed Forces had suspended its tactical offensives against the group.

Catapang, in a message before the launching of a footbridge project, said the government will, however, continue to initiate small-scale, commando-style operations against remnants of the group.

Army and Marine combatants took over the BIFF's eight hideouts in Maguindanao's neighboring Mamasapano, Salibo, Datu Unsay, Sharif Saidona and Datu Saudi towns in operations that started last March 1.

"We shall now have focused military operations," he said.

Catapang said smaller units of Army Rangers will continue the hunt for remaining members of the BIFF.

"This will prevent collateral damages and dislocation of civilians," he said.

READ: Concrete bridge rising at site of Mamasapano incident

The office of Hataman has since been spending more than P1 million a week for the food of the evacuees, whose houses and farms they abandoned for fear of getting trapped in the crossfire.

"Pwede na pong bumalik ang mga civilians sa kani-kanilang mga lugar," Catapang said.

Catapang said the Armed Forces had effectively weakened the BIFF in its all out law enforcement operation against the group.

The government's anti-BIFF campaign, which started four weeks ago, involved more than a dozen Army and Marine units and combatants from the 1st Mechanized Brigade.


Military operations to continue until BIFF leader Kato bagged

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): Military operations to continue until BIFF leader Kato bagged

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Tuesday vowed to continue arresting and neutralizing ranking Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) until BIFF commander Ameril Umbra Kato is apprehended.

Catapang airred this in the wake of the neutralization of military units of Cmdr. Bisaya during an encounter in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao last Sunday and arrest of Abdulgani Ismael Pagao, BIFF 4th Division deputy commander, at Campo Muslim Barangay Holy Mother Bagua, Cotabato City Monday night.

Aside from this, Pagao is also the financial and spiritual leader of the entire BIFF, whose strength is now placed at less than 200 fighters.

"(The neutralization of these two) shows that the leadership of the BIFF is now on the decline. The next thing we will do is to expedite the location and arrest of Kato," Catapang said in Filipino.

Pagao did not resist arrest when the law enforcers served the arrest warrant issued by Executive Judge Bansawan Z. Ibrahim.

A loaded caliber .45, caliber M-1911A1 pistol, and a fragmentation grenade were seized from the suspect.

Pagao was turned over to the Criminal Investigation Detection Group for inquest proceedings Tuesday.

As this develops, the AFP chief said that they were still conducting searches against Filipino terror-bomber Basit Usman and hoped to nab the latter before the rainy season in June.

Catapang also classifies the BIFF strength on the decline with these recent arrest and heavy casualties inflicted on them by the military during the month-long focused military operations against them.

The campaign, which started on Feb. 25, so far caused the death of 151 BIFF men, wounding of 65 and capturing of 12 other BIFF men.

Ten soldiers were killed while another 33 were hurt in the campaign.


Palace says President Aquino already answered most of Makabayan bloc's 20 questions

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): Palace says President Aquino already answered most of Makabayan bloc's 20 questions

President Benigno Aquino III has already answered most of the 20 questions asked by the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives regarding the Mamasapano incident, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Tuesday said.

"If anyone looks at the questions posed by the Makabayan bloc, most of them have been responded one way or the other by the President," Lacierda said in a press briefing in Malacanang.

"The question is: ‘Why you are asking these questions again? Perhaps you're not… You don't want the answers the president gave, one reason, or you are not satisfied with the president's statement or there is a line that you want the president to state, to say," he said.

Lacierda said the Palace would leave it up to the leadership of the House to decide on the 20 questions.

Lacierda said since the Makabayan bloc were members of the House of Representatives, “it’s up to go through and the House leadership to go through the procedure.”

”I think the processes, the deliberations on the request to the 20 questions should first be addressed to the House leadership,” Lacierda said in a press briefing in Malacanang.

The Palace official, however, emphasized the commitment of the President “to uncovering the truth” behind the Mamasapano incident that left 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers dead.

Lacierda said the President has already stated in a number of occasion the role of the President in the Oplan Exodus where the Chief Executive has already own up full responsibility.

”The President and his spokespersons have already stated in a number of occasion the role,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said the President has even explained already the role of then suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima on the Mamasapano incident.

”He wants those questions recorded as part of in aid of legislation. Let’s go to the process but what is that process? Let the House leadership determine that process in uncovering and in making sure that the statements of the President are also reflected in their House report,” Lacierda said.

The House leadership has approved the resumption of its own inquiry into the Mamasapano incident on April 7 and 8.

”Again, this is a procedure where the House should work itself out mindful of the separation of powers and the respect for the co-equal branches of government,” Lacierda said.

The Makabayan bloc insisted that the President should be invited to the House probe.

Most of the questions of the Makabayan congressmen were centered on the role of Purisima in the planning and execution of the Oplan Exodus on January 25.

As to the next PNP chief, Lacierda urged the public to just wait for the next announcement of the President for the next PNP chief.

Purisima resigned amid questions on his role in the mission to arrest Zukifli bin Hir ‘alias’ Marwan and Basit Usman despite his preventive suspension slapped by the Ombudsman.


AFP urges UN to ‘immediately’ act on PHL protest vs. China

From GMA News (Mar 31): AFP urges UN to ‘immediately’ act on PHL protest vs. China

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has urged the United Nations to immediately act on the Philippines' diplomatic protest filed against China over the latter's reclamation activities in South China Sea.
A report on radio dzBB on Tuesday quoted AFP chief of staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang as saying the UN should decide on the matter for the military to "move on" to other duties, such as the country's fight against global terrorism and global climate change.
Catapang said that while the case is pending, the military will refrain from any action that may further escalate tension.
On Monday, Catapang confirmed that China is indeed building structures in Areas One, Five and Seven on the West Philippine Sea where the Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef), Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) and Kennan Reef (Chigua Reef) are located.
Catapang said these three areas are within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Defense capabilities
Meanwhile, while waiting for the resolution, Catapang stressed the need for new equipment to improve the country's defense capabilities.
He noted that China's defense capabilities are far more advanced than those of the Philippines.
Beijing is currently undertaking land reclamation on seven disputed features in the South China Sea, including in areas that Philippine officials say are within Manila's territory.
A latest surveillance photo of Burgos Reef (Gaven Reef), according to Philippine defense officials, showed that China has constructed a building as large as the Mall of Asia in Pasay City—Manila’s biggest shopping mall.

AFP to continue operations against BIFF leader Kato

From the Philippine Star (Mar 31): AFP to continue operations against BIFF leader Kato

The military is set to continue its operations to arrest Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters commander Ameril Umbra Kato. John Unson

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced on Tuesday that neutralization operations for Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) commander Ameril Umbra Kato will continue despite the end of an all-out offensive against the rebel group.

The military ended its offensive against the group last Monday, citing that the BIFF leadership has declined.

READ: AFP ends offensive vs BIFF without getting Usman

AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang said that the military is set to expedite the location and arrest of Kato.

According to a report, the government troops were able to neutralize military units of Commander Bisaya during an encounter last Sunday in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao.

The military also arrested BIFF 4th Division deputy commander Abdulgani Ismael Pagao on Monday night and was turned over to the Criminal Investigation Detection Group.

The AFP also vowed to continue its operations against local terrorist Basit Usman, who was one of the targets of Oplan Exodus or the Mamasapano operation which led to the death of 44 police commandos.

The military started the all-out offensive last February 25 to protect local communities who were being affected by the BIFF's attacks.

A report from the AFP showed that 164 BIFF members were killed, 64 bandits were wounded and 12 others captured since the operations started.

Ten soldiers were killed while 31 others were injured during the encounters.


Security forces collar senior BIFF leader in Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Mar 31): Security forces collar senior BIFF leader in Maguindanao

Combined elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police have arrested a ranking BIFF leader in Cotabato City.

Lt. Col. Harold M. Cabunoc, Chief, Public Affairs Office, AFP, informed journalists that Abdulgani Esmael Pagao was arrested in Campo Muslim, Brgy Mother Bagua, Cotabato City at about 8:30pm Monday.

"He did not resist arrest when the law enforcers served the arrest warrant issued by Executive Judge Bansawan Z. Ibrahim," said Lt. Col. Cabunoc.

A loaded caliber .45 M1911A1 pistol and a fragmentation grenade were confiscated from Pagao.

He was turned over to the PNP's Criminal Investigation and Detective Group for inquest proceedings.

Pagao is considered the second ranking BIFF leader arrested by government troops since the start of the law enforcement operations against the BIFF in February 2015.
Another leader, Commander Bisaya, was killed in a clash with the Army troops in Datu Unsay town on March 29.
Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr, AFP Chief of Staff, ended the "all out offensive operations" against the BIFF at 12 noon on Monday (Mar 30).

However, calibrated law enforcement actions against the bandits using small unit patrols will continue.


Philippine troops capture terror leader

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Mar 31): Philippine troops capture terror leader
Security forces raided a hideout of the terrorist group BIFF in southern Philippines and captured its deputy leader, officials announced on Tuesday.

Officials said policemen, backed by soldiers, stormed the hideout late Monday in Cotabato City and captured Abdulgani Pagao. The terror leader was unable to fight back to fight back after being subdued by the raiders.

Security forces also recovered a .45-automatic caliber pistol and a hand grenade from Pagao.

Officials did not say how security forces managed to tracked down Pagao, but his arrest was not made public immediately because of the on-going operation aimed at weakening the BIFF capability to launch terror attacks.

Pagao was handed over to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and is being interrogated while police are preparing criminal charges against him.

"This (arrest) is part of our (military and police) continuing efforts against terrorism and lawlessness and the capture of Pagao will definitely reduce the capability of the BIFF to sow terror.This is a significant accomplishment of the AFP and PNP intensified law enforcement operations in Maguindanao," Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

The military said the operation against the BIFF is continuing, but not as intense as it was a month ago when security forces launched an all-out war that killed over 100 gunmen in different towns in Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the troubled Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines.

The BIFF, founded by Ameril Umra Kato, broke away with the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front after accusing its leader Murad Ebrahim of abandoning its pursuit of Muslim independence in Mindanao. The MILF has signed a peace deal with the Aquino government last year.