Saturday, January 31, 2015

Army, MILF harmony turns fragile

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 1): Army, MILF harmony turns fragile

IN ONE of the biggest successfully coordinated efforts of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an unidentified member of the Presidential Security Group exchanged banter with female members of the MILF as both government and MILF forces helped secure an area near the MILF’s Camp Darapanan that was visited by President Aquino in February 2013. KARLOS MANLUPIG

IN ONE of the biggest successfully coordinated efforts of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an unidentified member of the Presidential Security Group exchanged banter with female members of the MILF as both government and MILF forces helped secure an area near the MILF’s Camp Darapanan that was visited by President Aquino in February 2013. KARLOS MANLUPIG
When the sun rose on Jan. 25, the phones of military and police officials and leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Maguindanao province were ringing nonstop.

All the callers had one question: What happened?

A military source, who refused to be named, said even the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, specifically the 6th Infantry Division (ID) based in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao, did not expect a gunfight between government forces and the MILF because they had been coexisting peacefully for the past years as a result of a truce.

MILF commands, local police forces, military units and local governments complemented efforts of the peace panels of the MILF and national government in keeping the peace.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, has said the truce held after it was realized that the solution to the fighting was not more bloodshed but a political settlement.

Although there are many roadblocks on the way to peace, avenues have been opened for negotiations instead of gunfights.

Truce monitor

One of these was the agreement on the cessation of hostilities that was signed on July 18, 1997, leading to the creation of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) on May 6, 2002.

The 1997 agreement was clear on what were prohibited: kidnapping, hijacking, piracy, sabotage, arson, bombing, grenade attacks, robbery, executions, unjustified arrest, torture, unwarranted search and seizure, and attacks on civilians and places of worship.

The agreement was also clear on another thing: Harboring criminals was a no-no.

The AHJAG was formed to enforce this agreement.

Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the military’s 6th ID, confirmed that although there were problems in the earlier part of the peace process and in the implementation of the mechanism, it had been working smoothly in the past.

One instance of successful coordination between government and MILF forces was in July 2012, when troops of both sides helped secure the passage of thousands of MILF members and supporters to Camp Darapanan, the main MILF camp, for a consultation assembly on the peace process.

“Coordination with the AFP was very smooth. This coordination is a display of sincerity from both sides. And sincerity is very important for the progress of the peace negotiations,” MILF vice chair for military affairs Von Al Haq said during the activity.

Assault vs BIFF

On July 6, 2013, government forces launched a major assault to flush out members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Datu Piang town and in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town.

Former 6th ID commander Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz then said “atrocities and threats” from the BIFF prompted the military, Philippine National Police, the AHJAG and the MILF to conduct law enforcement operations.

Several gunfights ensued in other locations, including in the province of North Cotabato, but there were no cases of MILF forces getting involved in clashes with government soldiers.

Al Haq earlier explained that the military had closely coordinated with the leadership of the MILF “to avoid misencounters.”

“The operation was successfully done with the help of the MILF through coordination in accordance with the ceasefire mechanism,” Petinglay said of the July 2012 coordinated effort by the MILF and government in Camp Darapanan.

In August 2013, a joint clearing operation between the MILF and the military was initiated in Butig, Lanao del Sur province, where a suspected terror cell was hiding after a bomb attack in Cagayan de Oro City.

In October 2013, Kadtatabanga Security Force was launched in Datu Hoffer Ampatuan town. It was composed of local PNP, military and MILF men who would respond to crimes.

‘Good relationship’

“This shows that there is a good relationship among government forces and the MILF in this area,” Petinglay said.

On June 10, 2014, an operation was launched in Barangay Libutan to capture the suspect in the June 6 bombing in Datu Unsay Ampatuan town that killed a soldier and injured three others. A gunfight broke out during the operation, lasting for about two hours. The military reported that two suspects were killed and four others were arrested. A sniper rifle, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and a van were recovered from the suspects, former 6th ID spokesperson Col. Dickson Hermoso said.

It was later divulged that the target in the operation was Basit Usman and among those arrested was his wife.

Usman was wounded but was able to escape.

Petinglay said critics of the military-MILF coordination efforts would say Usman’s escape should be reason enough to keep the MILF out of the loop on future operations against terror suspects.

But other factors led to Usman’s escape then, Petinglay said.

Petinglay said there were things beyond the control of authorities. “It can happen,” Petinglay added.

Sources said someone who saw the troop movement called up Usman and alerted him.

Petinglay, however, said the operation was still successful, despite Usman’s escape, because his cell was paralyzed.

One of the major accomplishments of the coordination between the military and the MILF was the fall of the main camp of the BIFF 2nd Division in SK Pendatun town.

The BIFF maintained at least 50 huts, barricades, trenches and posts with overhead bunkers inside the camp, Petinglay said.

An IED and documents on how to make an IED were found in the camp, Petinglay said.

Securing P-Noy

One of the biggest coordinated efforts was securing President Aquino when he came to visit Maguindanao, according to Petinglay. Mr. Aquino visited the site of the launch of Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a program to facilitate the delivery of social services to MILF areas, just a few kilometers from Camp Darapanan.

Petinglay said the military, local police and the MILF also worked together in several instances to secure the release of kidnap victims and to arrest criminals in Mindanao.

Many cases of clan feuds, or “rido,” were also resolved through the joint efforts of government forces and the MILF, Petinglay said.

These were proofs that the mechanism worked only if it was heeded, Petinglay said.

The emergence of a photo of a dead Marwan inside the territory of the MILF 105th Base Command, however, fueled speculation that the MILF had provided sanctuary to one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.

In a classified cable wire posted in Wikileaks, former US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney reported that Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair, in a meeting in Camp Darapanan in February 2008, acknowledged that terror groups were taking advantage of the rebel group and using MILF areas to shelter terrorists.

Jaafar has said these were speculations that would be clarified only through an impartial investigation.

He said the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the armed wing of the MILF, and its central committee were strict on the enforcement of discipline among its fighters and would not hesitate to punish erring members.

On why there was no coordination with the MILF on the mission to get Marwan in Mamasapano, no answers were ready.

Disrupting violence in Mindanao

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 1): Disrupting violence in Mindanao (by Francisco J. Lara Jr.)

The violent fate that befell 44 police commandos on Jan. 24 has called into question the effectiveness and resilience of the peace agreement that the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in 2014.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was supposed to herald a peace that not only looked good on paper but also could be felt through enhanced cooperation and trust between the former protagonists in Mindanao.

Yet, for many people, that belief and optimism were shattered in the early morning of Sunday and now threaten to set back the painstaking effort to create a Bangsamoro homeland.


The government and the MILF are now speaking in unison about the causes of the violence. Rules were not followed and as a result a “misencounter” occurred and people got killed. Why an action that undermines the terms of the ceasefire agreement was sanctioned in the first place has not been answered—instead the problem is seen as a technical one and an investigation has been called to avoid a repeat in the future.

The problem with this explanation is that it conceals the nature of violent episodes in Mindanao. For a while now the country has profited from a lull in rebellion-related violence despite the contentious processes and long delays in securing a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The uncertainty and insecurity that this brings about can easily create the space for violence entrepreneurs to step in. Building peace must be continuous and sustained to prevent violence from shifting from rebellion to terrorism to clan feuding and crime.

Conflict strings

The Mindanao conflict scholar Nikki Philline de la Rosa has written extensively about Mindanao’s conflict strings and how these can be cut only by the building of institutions that deliver a more permanent security infrastructure that people can trust. Her studies show how the causes of violence can shift and produce strings of violence and how victims can morph into perpetrators in an instant unless these violent strings are disrupted.

In “Disrupting Conflict Strings in Subnational Contexts: Experience from Muslim Mindanao” (2014), De la Rosa argues that violent incidents cannot be analyzed as discrete events isolated from other causes and interrelated incidences in the examination of why conflict endures in post-conflict contexts, such as the signing of a peace agreement. It has to examine violent conflict in terms of the propensity of causes of conflict to lead into violent strings.

De la Rosa emphasizes identity issues and their tendency to produce revenge killings—the sort of violence that comes in pairs, threes, fours, etc.

Kinship ties

In the Mamasapano incident, for example, clan relations between the combatants of the MILF and BIFF must be examined to determine how these produced a free-for-all (pintakasi) that led to the deaths of so many. Were the kinship ties and the interlocking relationships that often trumped rebel group identities taken into account in the planning of the operation?

De la Rosa’s thesis underscores the potentially deadly outcome that awaits law enforcement in volatile environments with a history of clan feuding, rebellion and insurgency. Deterring crime is not easily distinguished by the imagery of policemen in uniform serving warrants of arrest against terrorist suspects or criminal gangs.

Until the Hobbesian state makes its presence felt in Mindanao, heavily armed communities will view the entry of law enforcers as no different from the military invasion of their communities during the long years of conflict.

Nightmares of the past

The sad thing about this tragedy is that everyone was well aware of the growing frustrations since the CAB was signed. People knew that the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other threat groups were spoiling for a fight that could disrupt what their former comrades had achieved with their political settlement.

Yet, the expected blowback from dissent and frustration with the peace agreement has mainly taken the form of improvised explosive devices going off, indiscriminate attacks on public places and the hit-and-run attacks of various threat groups that had been on the rise before the incident.

This ill-timed operation and its deadly consequences are now playing into the hands of other threat groups and the political opposition. The BIFF has been invigorated by this incident. The problem is that the deaths from flash points in 2012-2013 are now dwarfed by the current one, dispelling the notion that this new threat group could not rival the MILF.

It boosts the claims made by the anti-MILF opposition that any agreement with the MILF should include other groups, such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the BIFF—a position that everyone acknowledges can endanger the peace agreement.

Meanwhile, political elites who oppose the rise of an MILF-led devolved authority are casting new doubts on the sincerity and resolve of the MILF to decommission their weapons and retire their combatants.

The schedule for the passage of the BBL and the subsequent referendum may face further delays. Worse, we are now witness to a wave of slurs against Muslims in general and those supportive of the BBL unleashed by an emotional social media.

Unless this discourse is reversed, a further slide into violence is inevitable and new clashes may again lead to what Interior Secretary Mar Roxas has described as “the single largest loss of life (of security forces) in recent memory.”

Memories of Al-Barka

The current tragedy also resurrects eerie memories of the 2011 Al-Barka incident that killed more than a dozen Scout Rangers, who were similarly poised to deliver warrants of arrest to criminal suspects in a known lair of the MILF. But the scale of the Al-Barka operation was much lower in terms of troop numbers and firepower. (See related story.)

This claim cannot be made in the current case. Yet, the same rationale and explanation that demonstrably failed in 2011 are being revived and ultimately face the same skepticism from a cynical public.

BBL fate hangs in balance

Does the violence signal the need to review the CAB and the subsequent processes that should have led to a basic law? Are we really supposed to end all negotiations and hearings on the basic law until we’ve come to the bottom of this issue?

These proposals are being made by legislators who feel the need to be more accountable now for the votes they make and the actions they take in support of a bill that is being linked to the recent tragedy. Whether fair or not, there is ample reason to take stock, review the bill and improve its components.

However, what worries government, development agencies and peace-building advocates is when the process of review is used to derail the vital components of the CAB, or to sow wider distrust toward both the GPH and MILF panels. It is ironic that the many failed attempts of disparate groups to demean the MILF and the BBL are now riding a crest of popularity not of their own making.

Those who desire to profit from this tragedy by further delaying the passage of the BBL and by denying the MILF a leadership role in the transition should take a leaf from the past. The failure of the 1996 final peace agreement between the government and the MILF produced waves of violence in 2000, 2002-2003 and 2013.

Private armed groups

The ebb and flow of the GPH-MILF negotiations was accompanied by flash points in 2003, 2005 and 2008, and provided the setting for the rise of private armed groups and criminal gangs.

Traditional modes of political control and legitimate rule are also affected by the thinning of support for the Moro political and clan elites who could no longer provide the welfare and protection that communities demanded in situations of extreme conflict.

Except for the island provinces, the firepower of mainland clans has been inadequate in confronting rebel groups. This is to be expected and is a usual feature of post-conflict transitions where a predominant armed group disables traditional modes of governance that cannot easily be restored after conflict has ebbed.

The same outcomes resonate in other developmental and conflict transitions in other parts of the developing world—from Myanmar and Nepal to Egypt and Lebanon.

Graying leadership

The graying leadership of the MILF is another matter of concern for future development and peace-building initiatives. MILF chair Murad Ebrahim and MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal are rightly worried about having to pass on the leadership of the MILF to younger cadres and combatants who may be swayed by competing ideologies with no aversion to indiscriminate and extremist violence.

Intelligence reports have emerged that point to new threats arising from the spread of more radical threats from within the country and other parts of Southeast Asia, including reports of young men and women returning from combatant roles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. Securing an agreement now provides the best guarantee that a slide into extremism can be averted.

The present leadership of the MILF has demonstrated the patience and resolve to secure a just and principled agreement unmatched by previous peace processes. This needs to be acknowledged.

Moving forward

The BBL may be close to suffering the fate of a stillborn child but only if we permit this to happen. The concerns of the people of Muslim Mindanao for a genuine transition to a more accountable and inclusive authority depends upon the passage of the law and the successful conclusion of a plebiscite that will determine the actual scope of the devolved authority.

Peace dividends

Peace dividends are threatened by the new round of violence and its potential aftereffects. Investment decisions made by the energy, agribusiness, fisheries and mining sectors may be placed on hold if another race to arms comes to fruition as a result of recent incidents.

The huge budget committed to the new Bangsamoro and its potential knock-on effects on health and education in a region facing high poverty and inequality can be delayed again by the uncertainty and insecurity posed by new flash points.

More importantly, the erosion of trust in the viability of a truly peaceful Bangsamoro will not only deter the much needed development and democracy in the region but also weaken the legitimacy of a nascent leadership of young Muslim professionals who are working tirelessly in preparation for a future government that they can truly call their own.

In the original plan, the entire process of establishing the Bangsamoro should be concluded by now—with sufficient time available for the MILF to function as a transition authority. This bargain was secured to enable the MILF to genuinely govern even for a limited period of time before the elections of 2016. This is getting to be more difficult with the pressures being faced by legislators and the peace panels as a result of recent events.

By the time the MILF becomes a transition authority, the election campaign period will be upon us and an election spending ban will be in place that will effectively hamper the ability of the MILF to rule.

Unclench fists

This explains why all stakeholders must prevent the legislative process from suffering further delays. The Mamasapano tragedy should be seen as an occasion to unclench, rather than to clench, fists. Each side in the conflict divide should be willing to bend backward to accomplish an agreement on the basic law as soon as possible.

Let’s honor the dead with more cooperation, instead of more contestation.

Fallen brother’s plea

In 2011, a junior lieutenant and a Philippine Military Academy graduate named Erran Khe spoke lovingly and wisely about his elder brother Lt. Delfin Khe and how their family felt about the latter’s death in his failed mission in Basilan.

Erran wanted justice but did not seek revenge. Instead, he and his family wanted to honor Delfin with a plea for genuine and lasting peace to reign in Mindanao. Delfin’s sacrifice and his brother’s passionate call for justice and peace should not be lost on those who bear responsibility for securing a durable peace in Mindanao.

[The author is country manager of International Alert UK, senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines Diliman and research associate of LSE Crisis States Research Network.]

3 tagged in SAF massacre

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 1): 3 tagged in SAF massacre

Moro rebel chiefs emerge as top suspects

 A Philippine National Police Special Action Force commando stands near a tarpaulin poster calling for justice to 44 commandos killed in a clash with Muslim rebels following a two-day wake Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at Camp Bagong Diwa at suburban Taguig city, south of Manila, Philippines. Southeast Asia's top terrorist suspect has evaded capture and survived several military assaults in the southern Philippines, where police now await DNA results to confirm if he is the man killed in the Jan. 25 raid that left 44 police commandos dead. AP

A Philippine National Police Special Action Force commando stands near a tarpaulin poster calling for justice to 44 commandos killed in a clash with Muslim rebels following a two-day wake Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at Camp Bagong Diwa at suburban Taguig city, south of Manila, Philippines. Southeast Asia’s top terrorist suspect has evaded capture and survived several military assaults in the southern Philippines, where police now await DNA results to confirm if he is the man killed in the Jan. 25 raid that left 44 police commandos dead. AP

In the search for answers, and perpetrators, in the treacherous slaughter of 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), three names of Muslim rebel leaders stand out—Zacaria Goma, Kagi Karialan and Waid Tundok.

Goma heads the 105th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Karialan belongs to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an MILF splinter group. Tundok is a ground commander of the MILF’s 118th Base Command.

Goma had not issued a categorical denial of his involvement in the clash that led to the massacre of the SAF men.

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Goma told reporters he could not give a detailed account of what happened because the MILF central committee had issued orders that all queries about the massacre would be addressed only by the central committee.

“It’s better for us to listen to what the MILF (central committee, chaired by Ebrahim Murad) has to say because that is the truth,” he told the Inquirer in an intriguing text message on Wednesday.

Goma became 105th Base Command chief after his superior, Ameril Umra Kato, broke away from the MILF to form his own armed command, the BIFF.

Karialan’s involvement in the massacre was not surprising to many sources. They said the rebels who fought another group of SAF commandos that was serving as a blocking force against a group of rebels pursuing the main SAF group that got Marwan, belonged to the group headed by Karialan.

The names of Goma, Karialan and Tundok have emerged as authorities—and the relatives of the SAF commandos killed on Jan. 25 while on a mission to arrest the Malaysian bomb maker Marwan—demand why the troopers suffered what acting PNP Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina described as an “overkill.”

Not first time

It is not the first time that Goma and Karialan, and the groups that they head, have been accused of attacking government forces in violation of a ceasefire agreement between MILF and the government.

On Dec. 24 last year, Goma’s group, combined with a BIFF force, stormed the town of Rajah Buayan in Maguindanao, where the Army’s 45th Infantry Battalion was securing a highway concreting project.

The combined MILF-BIFF force, led by Goma and Karialan, engaged soldiers in a nightlong gun battle, sending hundreds of civilians, many of them women, fleeing.

The reasons for the gun battle were known to residents. They said that Karialan had accused an Army unit of raiding his house at Kabalukan Hills in Mamasapano, the town in Maguindanao province where the massacre of the 44 SAF commandos took place last Sunday.

Following the Dec. 24 raid, Rajah Buayan Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan said he had received a report that Karialan had warned that he would attack Rajah Buayan in retaliation against the 45th Infantry Battalion stationed there.

A Medal of Bravery, the fourth highest police award of the Philippine National Police, is placed on the coffin of Police Officer 3 Virgel S. Villanueva, one of 44 elite commandos killed in a clash with Muslim rebels, during its final wake Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at Camp Bagong Diwa at suburban Taguig city, south of Manila, Philippines. AP

A Medal of Bravery, the fourth highest police award of the Philippine National Police, is placed on the coffin of Police Officer 3 Virgel S. Villanueva, one of 44 elite commandos killed in a clash with Muslim rebels, during its final wake Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at Camp Bagong Diwa at suburban Taguig city, south of Manila, Philippines. AP

Where SAF were headed

The Kabalukan Hills has been the site of several recent raids by government forces, whose objectives remained unclear to local authorities and residents.

But based on the location where the bodies of the slain police commandos were found after the Jan. 25 fighting in Sitio Inugog in the village of Pidsandawan, it is possible that the SAF men were headed for Kabalukan Hills in pursuit of their Malaysian quarry.

The path to the Kabalukan Hills is swampy and goes through some cornfields.

It was in Sitio Inugog that the smaller group of SAF commandos clashed with MILF forces under the command of Goma.

Goma has not categorically denied his involvement in the fighting that resulted in the death of the 44 SAF commandos.

Highly unlikely

There were reports that another MILF leader, Waid Tundok, was also involved in the fighting. But the sources said Tundok’s involvement was highly unlikely.

The sources said Goma and Tundok are at odds and could not possibly be on the same side.

Recently, a small armed group of Goma’s MILF 105th Base Command rescued a man being arrested for murder and arson in the town of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao. Authorities, with the help of Tundok, had gone to the town to arrest the suspect but Goma’s group intervened, allowing the subject of the arrest warrant to flee.

Post MOA-AD rampage

Tundok himself is responsible for many atrocities when the MILF went on a rampage following the defeat at the Supreme Court of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), the peace agreement that the Arroyo administration had offered the MILF.

In February 2014, Tundok was arrested for murder in connection with his role in the attack on civilian villages by MILF members led by Kato after the high court ruled the MOA-AD to be unconstitutional.

Kato is said to have broken away from the MILF because of disagreements in the handling of the peace talks with the Aquino administration and is now recognized as the BIFF founder.

Upon his release after a court recalled the warrant for his arrest, the 62-year-old Tundok promised to follow the path of peace.

“We have had enough of violence as a means to resolve animosity and misunderstanding, and now is the time to overcome evil with good by supporting the government-MILF peace initiative,” Tundok said in an earlier interview.

Karialan is reported to have taken over the leadership of the BIFF after Kato suffered a stroke. This was, however, denied by BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama who said Kato was still calling the shots in the supposed MILF breakaway group.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, former spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, in an earlier interview, described Karialan, whose real name is Muhaiden Animbang, as a “hard-liner."

Is he dead? Philippines awaits answer of costly terror raid

Posted to the Philippine Star (Feb 1): Is he dead? Philippines awaits answer of costly terror raid

FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2012 file photo, then Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Marcelo Burgos shows a picture of Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, during a press conference in suburban Quezon City, north of Manila, Philippines. Southeast Asia's top terrorist suspect has evaded capture and survived several military assaults in the southern Philippines, where police now await DNA results to confirm if he is the man killed in the Jan. 25, 2015 raid that also left 44 police commandos dead. (AP Photo/Pat Roque, File)

The cellphone message of the Filipino police commandos to their base was triumphant: "Mike 1 bingo," a code meaning they have killed one of Southeast Asia's most-wanted terror suspects, Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan.

But the euphoria among police generals monitoring the Jan. 25 dawn assault in a southern swampland was brief.

As daybreak lifted their night cover, the young commandos came under intense rebel fire, trapped in the marshy fringes of Mamasapano town, a Muslim rebel stronghold about 2-3 kilometers (1.2-1.8 miles) from where backup police forces waited. Unable to carry Marwan's body, one of the commandos chopped off his finger and another took pictures as proof of his death, according to police officials.

Another policeman kept frantically calling for reinforcements by radio, but standby forces failed to penetrate the battle scenes and the pleas for help eventually vanished.
"There was radio silence, a very long silence," Chief Superintendent Noli Talino, who helped oversee the operation, said in Friday's eulogy, his voice cracking.

The fighting left 44 commandos dead — the biggest single-day combat loss by government forces in recent memory — and a familiar question: Is Marwan dead or alive?

Commanders and a confidential police intelligence report say Marwan was killed, something they expect to be validated by DNA tests. A purported picture of the slain militant circulating in the local media closely resembled Marwan's profile in wanted posters. But many remained skeptical.

In 2012, the Philippine military announced that Marwan and a Singaporean militant known as Mauwiyah were killed, along with a Filipino Abu Sayyaf extremist commander, in a US-backed airstrike on southern Jolo island. The operation employed American-supplied smart bombs for the first time.

Filipino police intelligence officials, however, believed Marwan and Mauwiyah survived and continued hunting them. They have since launched at least two major secret attempts to capture Marwan in the southern Philippines, where according to US authorities, he has been hiding since 2003.

A US-educated engineer, believed to have been born in Malaysia's Muar town in Johor province in 1966, Marwan is among the last few known surviving militants of his generation of al Qaida-inspired extremists who survived the anti-terror crackdowns in Asia following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US
Known as a master bomb-maker, Marwan also was very skilled in evading capture. He had more than two dozen aliases and spoke the languages of Malaysia and the Philippines, along with English and Arabic.

Marwan used to head a terrorist group called the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia, and also was a senior member of the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network, according to the U.S State Department, which offered a $5 million bounty for his capture and prosecution.

The JI was blamed for the 2002 nightclub bombings that killed 202 people in Bali, Indonesia.

It was in the southern Philippines, though, where he stayed longest, taking cover among Muslim separatists fighting a decadeslong rebellion. He had three Filipino wives, who helped him assimilate and blend in. He struck alliances with Muslim insurgents from virtually all groups and provided bomb-making and religious training in exchange for sanctuary, according to government terrorism reports.

He allegedly helped plot numerous bombings and other attacks.

But after surviving the 2012 airstrike, Marwan proved to be a liability for the Abu Sayyaf, one of four rebel groups operating in the south. He was reportedly expelled from Jolo island by an Abu Sayyaf commander, Radulan Sahiron, who believed the Malaysian was a magnet for military attack, according to a government interrogation report of a captured militant commander, Khair Mundos.

From Jolo, Marwan traveled to the marshy heartland on the main southern island of Mindanao and strengthened his alliance with a notorious local bomb-maker, Abdul Basit Usman. Police said that Usman and Marwan were together during Sunday's assault, but Usman escaped.

"There are reports that they run factories of improvised explosive devices, which they sell to fellow terrorists," President Benigno Aquino III said this week. "They have injured and killed many people, and they continue to threaten the safety of our citizens as long as they roam free."

Police commandos nearly caught him in July 2012, in a remote farming village off Butig town, near a key camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest rebel group that signed a peace deal with the government last year. The group has agreed to a cease-fire that requires government forces to notify the insurgents in advance of any planned anti-terror raids to avoid accidental clashes.

The commandos missed Marwan that time, but they did seize a huge cache of explosives, electronic bomb parts, assault firearms, ammunition, Islamic extremist books and two laptop computers, according to a confidential police report.

The laptops contained old US Army manuals on counterintelligence, combat, explosives and survival techniques.

Washington has increasingly grown worried about Marwan. US security officials were concerned when Marwan's character was depicted in a 2012 video war game in which he narrowly escapes US forces in the southern Philippines but later dies in a suicide attack on a train.

They feared that the video may raise Marwan's stature among foreign jihadis and help him raise terror funds, a Philippine security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Even before the latest raid, the commandos tried but failed to capture him near the corn-growing community last year. Military officials have long suspected that Marwan eluded arrest by taking cover near rebel strongholds.

On Sunday night, the police commandos did not notify the Moro rebels of the raid, officials said.

Was it worth sacrificing 44 elite police troopers to get an international terrorist, Talino, the police commander, posed a question at the eulogy.

"We live by our motto: We save," he said, holding back tears. "I'm sure if you will ask them, it is worth it."

MILF rebs to get pardon

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 1): MILF rebs to get pardon

THE government admitted on Saturday that the agreement it signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Friday includes a pardon and amnesty provision that may include guerillas who were behind the killing of 44 police commandos who were out to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir.
Trouble predicted. Peace negotiators Mohagher Iqbal (left) of the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government’s Miriam
Coronel-Ferrer (right) sit beside Malaysian intermediary Tengku
Razaleigh as they answer questions about the arms decommissioning
pact they signed in Kuala Lumpur oon Friday. AFP
“Amnesty and pardon has always been part of reconciliation,” chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer when asked about the amnesty and pardon provision in the agreement on decommissioning of arms.

But Ferrer maintained that the amnesty provision has “parameters” and “even though you grant amnesty, we know under international humanitarian law, there’s exceptions.”

“We’re still discussing parameters... Such will depend on the case,” she added.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal also could not directly answer when asked if the weapons involved in the Mamasapano incident will also be covered by the decommissioning protocol.

“First, we have to wait for results of probe. After evaluating, perhaps we can move forward. This is a special case. I don’t think we can now factor in weapons allegedly captured,” Iqbal said, stressing however that the MILF is not opposed to the idea of turning over weapons in the Mamasapano incident.

He declined to say how many combatants and weapons were involved, but insisted the MILF is not coddling Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and his Filipino protege Basit Usman, who were the targets of the police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Iqbal said the two terrorists were being kept by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and not the MILF.

“The truth will show that we have not been coddling Marwan. Marwan was in the company of the BIFF, not the MILF,” Iqbal said. “You cannot turn something which is not in your possession.”

Both Ferrer and Iqbal, in a press briefing in Kuala Lumpur, issued a joint plea for the country to stick to a historic peace accord that is now in peril after a deadly clash spurred calls for retribution against the guerrillas.

FAST FACTS: Mamasapano, Maguindanao

From Rappler (Jan 31): FAST FACTS: Mamasapano, Maguindanao

Dominated by the Ampatuan clan, half of the town's councilors are affiliated with the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan or PDP-Laban

The town of Mamasapano in Maguindanao was witness to the bloody encounter between the elite Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police and Muslim rebels.

It was not the first that locals had seen or heard of, as Mamasapano had seen conflicts between government forces and insurgents in the past decades.

Part of the second district of the province, Mamasapano is one of the 36 municipalities in Maguindanao. It has a total land area of 85.31 square kms (a little more than half the size of Quezon City) and a population of 22,354 as of May 2010.

The town was created via a plebiscite in 1998, when some residents of Shariff Aguak voted for the creation of a separate municipality for them.

It has 14 barangays, including Barangay Tukanalipao where the clash that killed the 44 SAF personnel happened.

Image from the Mamasapano Facebook page

Image from the Mamasapano Facebook page
The town is said to be a "mix of plain lands and swamps." It lies beside the Kabunlan River and is close to the Liguasan Marsh, making the town prone to flooding.

In the May 2013 elections, Mamasapano had 8,300 registered voters. Based on the Commission on Elections (Comelec), only 5,312 of them actually voted.


The Ampatuan clan dominates politics in Mamasapano. The town is under the leadership of Mayor Tahirodin Benzar Ampatuan (a reelectionist mayor) and Vice Mayor Mahir Ampatuan (a former councilor), who both ran under Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in 2013.

PDP-Laban was headed by Vice President Jejomar Binay until he left the group in 2014.

Half of the sitting councilors (4 out of 8) are also Ampatuans, who all ran under the same political party.

At least 4 out of the 6 mayoral candidates and 3 out of 4 vice mayoral candidates in 2013 were Ampatuans. (READ: 74 members of Ampatuan clan running in 2013)

The Ampatuans are implicated in the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, among them, 32 journalists. A number of members of the Ampatuan clan stand accused in the 2009 killing of the wife, relatives, and lawyers of an ally-turned-rival. In Mamasapano, at least 68 are known to have died.


A report released in 2012 by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) gave the town's revenue generation a low score of 2.93 out of 5 due to "weak measures for local revenue generation."

The report shows that of its P52-million total income in 2012, 1.25% of it was locally-sourced, while 98.75% was from external revenue sources (like IRA and other inter-governmental fund transfer).

Mamasapano is mainly agricultural, as the town's land is viable for planting rice and corn. The town is also rich in freshwater resources, making fishery its second main economic activity.

The 2012 DILG report gave the town's economic governance a score of 4.5 out of 5 for extending government support to the agriculture sector. "But greater intervention is necessary," the report said.

Mamasapano obtained a perfect score of 5 in the areas of "freshwater ecosystems management" and "forest ecosystems managent" due to the importance given by the LGUs to these areas.

Residents survey January 28, 2015 the scene in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano Maguindanao where 44 SAF members died and 11 others wounded during a clashed with combined forces of MILF and BIFF.

Residents survey January 28, 2015 the scene in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano Maguindanao where 44 SAF members died and 11 others wounded during a clashed with combined forces of MILF and BIFF.

The DILG report also gave a 4.94 grade in the "entrepreneurship, business and industry promotion" area, though the agency commented that "more needs to be done to institutionalize a business-friendly environment."

A Rappler report described Mamasapano as having been "the focus of special law enforcement and military operations over the past few years."

Ironically, the DILG report gave the town a high 4.63 out of 5 grade in the "peace, security and disaster risk management" area. But it conceded that "much more needs to be done."

5 slain in new clash

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 1): 5 slain in new clash

AS the military deployed troops in Maguindanao after the tragic Mamasapano incident, five more government troops were killed in a battle with the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu island.

The military said fighting erupted after a convoy of the Army’s 35th Infantry Battalion was ambushed by an undetermined Abu Sayyaf rebels at Stio Panding, Barangay Bungkaong in Patikul, Sulu at about 2 pm Thursday. The fighting was still raging at press time.

The wounded troops were identified as Corporal Wilmar Monteo, Sergeant Opiniano Bawik, Corporal Sherwineric Edena, Private Jason Falcasantos and Private Louie Hiloma, who were airlifted to a military hospital for treatment.

Former rebels get more aid

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 28): Former rebels get more aid

Aside from the financial assistance of P5,000 and livelihood programs from the provincial government, former rebels (FRs) are getting more aid this time from the Office of Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process and the Department of Interior and Local Government.

Fifteen former rebels (FRs) from the different cities and municipalities of the province received financial assistance worth P15,000 each during the culmination of the Project Development Seminar for FRs held at the Technology and Livelihood Development Center in Bacolod City, a release from the Provincial Information Office said.

The assistance is a complementary program of the national government to the local government unit’s peace-building efforts.

Peace stakeholders - Board Member Salvador Escalante, DILG Provincial Director Ma. Joy Maredith Madayag, 303rd Infantry Brigade Commander Col. Jon Aying, Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit (Pro-PIDU) Action Officer, Ma. Lina P. Sanogal - told FRs to fully participate in the programs of the government for their own advantage while the latter expressed their gratitude to the assistance given to them.

1,515 lumads leave AgSur villages due to NPA threats

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 28): 1,515 lumads leave AgSur villages due to NPA threats 

Around 222 households or 1,515 individuals to include children left their homes from the different far flung sitios of San Luis, Agusan del Sur and consolidated at Balit Urios Elementary School, Brgy. Balit the same town on January 23, 2015 after being threatened by NPAs' tactical offensives.

The lumads were forced to leave their homes because of the fear that they would be caught in cross fire when the NPAs conduct tactical offensives against the soldiers who are conducting community service to them.

The soldiers of 26th Infantry Battalion together with other stakeholders have been in the area for almost a year conducting various community services through the Community Organizing for Peace and Development program.

Col. Alexander Macario, commander of 401st Infantry (UNITY) Brigade has given orders to the 26th Infantry Battalion to help the local government unit of San Luis for the immediate support to be given to the evacuees.

“We are happy that together with the LGU and all concerned agencies, they are keeping our fellow countrymen safe and providing the necessary support while they are in the evacuation area. We will ensure our people that together with the stakeholders, we will continue our services and help in the speedy resolution of this unfortunate situation,” said Lt. Colonel Rolly Dumawa, commanding officer of the 26th Infantry Battalion.

MGen Oscar Lactao, commander of 4th Infantry Division, enjoined the people of Caraga to appeal to the NPAs to stop the violence and give peace a chance. "We urge them to stop the armed struggle and embrace a peaceful and progressive life with our people,” MGen Lactao added.

Presence of 'unidentified armed groups' in SurSur bared

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 29): Presence of 'unidentified armed groups' in SurSur bared

The presence of an “unidentified armed groups” in the hinterland barangays of, at least, two towns and one city in Surigao del Sur has been bared in a meeting on January 28, 2014 by the Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Committee (JPSCC) chaired by Governor Johnny Pimentel.

Although not contained in the separate briefing presented by Col. Alexander Macario, newly-installed commanding officer of the 401st Infantry Brigade under the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) of the Philippine Army (PA), and P/SSupt. Narciso Verdadero, acting provincial director of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Surigao del Sur, yet it came about during the course of the proceedings.

It was particularly brought out at length by Governor Johnny Pimentel and Vice-Gov. Manuel Alameda, Sr. before the presence of MGen. Oscar Lactao, 4ID commanding general, accompanied by all his top army officials, especially, from the 401st Infantry Brigade together with its battalion commanders, and P/SSupt. Verdadero, who all dropped by the Provincial Governor’s Office (PGO) first for a “courtesy call” before proceeding to the meeting venue of the JPSCC at the Villa Maria Luisa Hotel in this city. 
For his part, Vice-Gov. Alameda disclosed everything he knows about the said group, especially, those operating allegedly in San Agustin town, where his sister, Libertad, is the incumbent mayor.

The vice-governor stressed the armed group, whose members are wielding long, high-powered firearms, was estimated to be at 30 up to 70-strong.

Barobo Mayor Felixberto Urbiztondo, who came in a little earlier to discuss the matter with Gov. Pimentel, raised the same issue on armed group in his municipality.

In the course of the JPSCC meeting proper, Ceciro Bacolod, who was introduced as representative of Bislig City Mayor Librado Navarro, aired the same alarming presence of armed group in their area.

During the press conference,  MGen. Lactao, when asked for comment, said “that has been discussed by yours truly, governor, the vice-governor, the PD (Verdadero) and the brigade commander.”

Moreover, he stressed “So, the brigade commander and the (PNP) provincial director were already tasked by the governor to look at this matter and report to him after three days.”

Meanwhile, Lactao stressed that the plan of action “how they (Macario and Verdadero) will do it” still remains a “secret.”

Gov. Pimentel expressed he badly wanted to address the problem.

Eastmincom heightens security in its AOR following Mamasapano clash

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 29): Eastmincom heightens security in its AOR following Mamasapano clash

Lt. General Aurelio Baladad, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command belittled the probability of an escalation of more violent clashes between the government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front following the series of encounters that left 44  police commandos killed and 12 injured in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao Sunday.

Speaking at the AFP-PNP Press Corps briefing, he said the immediate intervention of the members of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities of the government and the MILF and peace panels of the government and MILF has eased the situation.

“We see all of them talking, so the probability of another encounter is very less, while a possible spill-over to other parts of Mindanao is even lesser,” Baladad said.

He said that despite this development, the military has extended its security awareness and readiness especially in places that experienced the explosions of improvised explosive devices.

Baladad said the probability of more IED explosions as experienced by Bukidnon Province remains present because of reports that the IEDs came from the area of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

“We increase security by setting up checkpoints along the routes, inspecting cargoes from Maguindanao to our areas of responsibility,” he said.

Tabak cites TDPC’s contribution to IPSP promotion

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 27): Tabak cites TDPC’s contribution to IPSP promotion

1st Infantry (Tabak) Division commander Colonel Aminkandra  Undug on Saturday expressed his gratitude to the Tabak Defense Press Corps (TDPC) for its enormous contribution to the promotion of Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) “Bayanihan” of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Speaking during TDPC general assembly and fellowship night held at the Officer’s Club House, Kuta Major Ceasar Sang-an, Barangay Pulacan in this town, Undog said the AFP recognized TPDC’s indispensable role as its partner in ensuring a peaceful, secure and developed country. He also admitted that addressing all internal peace and security concerns cannot be done by the AFP alone.

The TDPC, which is composed of media practitioners from print, broadcast, television, and social media outfits, is helping the Tabak in disseminating its programs, project, accomplishments and pronouncements to the public.

Officers and members of TDPC from Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga Sur met and rubbed elbows Saturday in a party tendered by the 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division.

Though the AFP has acknowledged TDPC’s vital role in disseminating bits of information to the public, it also encourages the group to be always fair and impartial in its reporting.

Undug said media is an important asset in disseminating important news and watchdog of our democracy. “They should always act with impartiality”, he emphasized.

“In reporting news, the media should verify first the authenticity of the news before publication, telecasting and airing so that it would not create doubts in the minds of readers, listeners and viewers,” Undug said.

“News story should be clear and fair … because any story without confirmation and affirmation from the sources will not only create panic in the public but also in the security forces of the country,” he added.

He cited an instance where a media practitioner lost his conscious effort in reporting an ambush incident where a military man was a victim. “Because he failed to get important facts and details about the incident, he misled the family of the victim,” shared the Tabak commander.

Undug narrated a story of farmer who had a dog named “Kittie” that the life of his infant baby from a snake attack by throwing her out of harm’s way. Thinking that the dog killed her daughter because of the blood and meat in its mouth, he stabbed the dog to death without any apparent reason. But when he checked his daughter in her room, she was alive.

“The story taught us a very important lesson. We need to verify first the authenticity of the story before it will be aired and published,” Undug emphasized.  

In the same occasion, TDPC President Ellen Ajijul rendered her accomplishment report for calendar year 2014.

1st CAV new commander vows to sustain gains of predecessors

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 28): 1st CAV new commander vows to sustain gains of predecessors

Lt. Col. Charlemagne Batayola Jr., the new commander of the 1st Cavalry (Tagapanguna) Squadron has expressed his thanks to MGen. Mayoralgo Dela Cruz, commander of the 1st Infantry Mechanized Division, for the trust and confidence given him to lead the unit.

In his message during the change of command ceremony held here over the weekend, Batayola said “as the new commander of the 1st Cavalry Squadron, is a greatest challenge for me for my predecessor has performed his job exceptionally well in his more than two-year stint in the unit.

Batayola is a graduate the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class 1992 and formerly the assistant chief of staff for personnel, G1 of Mechanized Division at Camp O’Donnel, Capas, Tarlac.

“I am very thankful that you have accorded me your full trust and confidence in leading this unit which is near to your heart,” Batayola said to Dela Cruz.

Batayola assured the mechanized division commander that he will keep in his heart as his bible the command guidance, the higher headquarters’ directives and the Army Transformation Roadmap for him to manage the affairs of the unit in an efficient and effective manner based on reform agenda espoused by the leaders of the 1st Cavalry Squadron.

He promised to exert his best efforts as he always does in his previous assignments in order to sustain the gains of his predecessors in the unit. “I will take care of my men. I will preserve the good partnership that this unit has with the local governments, civil societies and people of this region.”

Batayola expressed optimism that with the help of men and women of the unit he can continue to contribute substantially to the fulfillment of their organizational transformation and the improvement of the unit’s services to the stakeholders.

“I will encourage my subordinate commanders to draw the line all the time and we will serve as models for the troops and our people, Batayola said.

Meanwile, Lt. Col. Antonio John Divinagracia, the outgoing commander assured the 1st Cavalry tankers that the unit will have a better commander to lead.

“I assure you that the unit will have a better commander to lead because he is a very good and talented commander. He always excels in our schooling,” Divinagracia said referring to Batayola.

Killers came from 3 directions

From the Philippine Star (Jan 31): Killers came from 3 directions

Members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces load into vehicles Monday, Jan.26, 2015, bodies of 43 Philippine police commandos who were killed Sunday in a fierce battle with Muslim guerrillas after launching an assault in which they may have killed one of southeast Asia's most-wanted terrorists, officials said. AP

MAMASAPANO, Maguindanao, Philippines – Death came from three directions for a band of Special Action Force (SAF) commandos as they struggled to slip out of a remote village here after killing a man believed to be Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, last Sunday.

A SAF member who survived the battle against hundreds of fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) said they were attacked from three directions in an open field near the hideout of Marwan and another terrorist in Barangay Tukanalipao.

The policeman, who asked not to be named, said some of his wounded companions who ran out of ammunition crawled near an irrigation dike, but rebels finished them off with rifle shots to the head.

“We ran out of ammunition so there was no way we could stop them from coming close,” the policeman.

At least two SAF teams were attacked from behind while guarding their designated alternate withdrawal route.

“There was heavy volume of fire from different directions. We were not subdued, we maneuvered for cover but the area was a plain and there was no good spot where we could position ourselves safely,” said the policeman, who asked not to be identified.

The survivor said their defense weakened when they started running out of ammunition.

“I made the sign of the cross and I asked God to forgive me for all my sins. I was ready to die then,” he said.

He said many of his companions were felled by heavy gunfire from as close as six to seven meters.

“It was very dark. The flash of gunfire from the barrels of our guns and their guns can be seen clearly because we were close to each other,” he said.

He said he crawled to a nearby swamp as firing waned and walked away at daybreak until he reached a road where policemen and soldiers helped him.

He said he noticed foreign ceasefire monitors in the scene, helping disengage rebels from Barangay Tukanalipao.

Based on accounts from villagers, community leaders may have innocently alerted the MILF’s 105th Base Command to the presence of the policemen.

A barangay official in Mamasapano had told a local television outfit that he called officials of the MILF unit and told them of the presence of armed men that he thought were rebels.

He was told that the MILF had no tactical maneuver in the area.

Some community elders said they, too, had frantically alerted local Moro commanders of the activities of men in combat uniforms.

“It was dark and we can’t see the patches on their uniform from a distance. We were also scared to go out and check,” one of the village elders said.

The ensuing fighting left 44 SAF commandos killed and a dozen others injured. The MILF said it also lost 11 guerrillas in the “misencounter.”

Villagers also told stories of how BIFF fighters finished off with shots to the head no fewer than 10 wounded policemen.

“Two of the wounded policemen who were executed even managed to strap tourniquets on their legs which were hit by bullets in the initial encounter,” a villager said.

A peasant named Badrudin Nanganlan, 21, and five-year-old Sarah Sampulna Panangulon, were killed in the crossfire.

Nanganlan’s 19-year-old widow, Sarah, told reporters her husband was immediately buried in keeping with Islamic tradition.

The gunfight that lasted for more than 10 hours also left a villager, Said Pasawilan, wounded.

“Villagers were running everywhere. We heard loud automatic gunshots and explosions,” said Ahmida Muda, whose family was forced to evacuate to a safer area.

Saida Esmael, also a resident of Barangay Tukanalipao, said they tried to leave and head to the town proper as the firefight erupted, but were prevented from doing so when exchanges of gunfire intensified.

Esmael Hashim, chairman of Barangay Tukanalipao, said he noticed the arrival of the SAF men and was surprised that none of them came to see him to coordinate.

He said previous police and military operations in their barangay were properly coordinated with community leaders and the local government unit of Mamasapano.

“It was about 4:00 a.m. (Jan. 25) when we heard gunshots near the barangay Islamic center and that was the start of a long encounter,” Hashim said in Filipino.

MILF leader Al-Haj Murad and chief peace negotiator Muhaquer Iqbal said the encounter could have been avoided had the Philippine National Police coordinated its operation with the joint ceasefire committee.

China is building a string of artificial islands to fortify its position in the disputed South China Sea

From the Business Insider (Jan 30): China is building a string of artificial islands to fortify its position in the disputed South China Sea

China disputed reef

A Chinese vessel works on a building project in the Spratly Islands in 2014.

China is constructing five man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea in an apparent effort to secure its sweeping territorial claims in the region, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The largest island is being constructed at the Fiery Cross Reef close to the Spratly Islands, an island chain whose territory is partially claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

US officials estimated that the Chinese construction at Fiery Cross Reef could accommodate an airstrip long enough for most of Beijing's military aircraft. Beijing is also believed to be constructing a small port on the island.
China is also expanding man-made islands on Johnson South Reef, Johnson North Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Gaven Reef around the Spratlys.  

"China appears to be expanding and upgrading military and civilian infrastructure — including radars, satellite communication equipment, antiaircraft and naval guns, helipads and docks — on some of the man-made islands," the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in a staff report from Dec. 2014.
Once the airstrip is operational, the staff report states, the Chinese military would likely use the airstrip as a launching point for aerial defense operations in support of Chinese naval vessels in the southern reaches of the South China Sea.

The airstrip's presence is only likely to further tensions and distrust in the region, which is the site of several complex and overlapping territorial claims:
South China Sea Map_05
Aside from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines already have airstrips on islands within the South China Sea.

The threat of Chinese superiority in the region has driven countries with oftentimes cold relations towards each other in an attempt to counter Beijing's growing reach — Vietnam and the Philippines have recently agreed to increase military ties in the region. 
"We already have joint training and exercises with the US military every year and we are looking forward to hold exercises with the Vietnamese navy," an unnamed Philippine navy officer told Reuters.

Vietnam will be the the Philippines' third strategic partner in the region after the US and Japan
The US is also looking towards Japan to play a larger role in air patrols in the South China Sea. Japanese aircraft currently conduct regular patrols in the East China Sea but the US would like Japan to expand its surveillance flights towards the Spratly Islands

"I think that JSDF (Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces) operations in the South China Sea makes sense in the future," Admiral Robert Thomas, the top US Navy officer in Asia, told Reuters.

China and Japan are currently in the midst of their own maritime disputes over the Senkaku Islands. China has also begun the construction of an island military base close to the disputed territory.

MILF: Press Statement -- Aquino’s mistrust of the MILF caused the Mamasapano fiasco – MCPA

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 31): Press Statement: Aquino’s mistrust of the MILF caused the Mamasapano fiasco – MCPA

President Aquino’s insincerity and treachery in the Moro peace process are all over the bungled PNP Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) operation against Marwan and Usman, FBI-tagged high value terrorists in Southeast Asia, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on 25 January.  He was fully aware that the PNP-SAF major operation dubbed “Oplan Wolverine” will be conducted inside MILF territory and within the perimeter area of three of the MILF Base Commands, yet Aquino deliberately disregards to inform the MILF leadership about it. It was an utter disrespect of the established protocols of the GPH-MILF peace agreement. It was Aquino’s naked treachery on the MILF he calls partner in achieving just and lasting peace in Mindanao.

President Aquino’s insincere peace initiatives and mistrust of the MILF have grave implication to the Moro and non-Moro peoples’ efforts to bring just and lasting peace in Mindanao.  The Mamasapano fiasco foments the general public’s unfair anger, if not hatred, on the MILF. Bias against the Moro people runs high which will seriously affect public support for peace in the south and degrade  the just and legitimate aspiration of the Moro people for genuine self-determination.

The Mamasapano fiasco also weighs down on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now being deliberated in Congress for enactment that will establish the Bangsamoro region in 2016.  His men and allies have become vocal in questioning the MILF authority and de facto power in Maguindanao  and one of the proposed core Bangsamoro territories in the BBL. The fiasco opens opportunities for anti-Moro legislators to further dilute, if not reject, the BBL.

Aquino’s sympathy with the fallen 44 officers and enlisted men of the PNP Special Action Force is hypocrisy!  His call on the Filipino people, including the MILF, to continue supporting the Moro peace process and the BBL is empty and full of lies.

The interfaith people’s organization Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) is in solidarity with the families of the SAF and MILF victims of the botched “Oplan Wolverine”, the Aquino-sanctioned counterterrorism operation of the PNP-SAF.

The MCPA calls on the Moro and non-Moro people, including the police officers and men involved in the  Mamasapano operation to hold their commander-in-chief accountable for this tragedy , and to stand against the Aquino regime and expose its insincere and treacherous peace initiatives. #####

Antonio Liongson
National Spokesperson
CP No.09058248028

MILF: GPH, MILF Peace Panels issue joint statement on Mamasapano incident

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 31): GPH, MILF Peace Panels issue joint statement on Mamasapano incident

GPH, MILF Peace Panels issue joint statement on Mamasapano incident

In a special meeting at Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, the negotiating panels of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front headed by Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal respectively, issued a joint statement on January 29 relative to the tragic Mamasapano incident in Maguindanao on January 25 that resulted to the death of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) and 12 MILF combatants including 3 civilians.

The peace panels opened the meeting by expressing deep sympathy and grief for the loss of lives in that incident at the village of Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
In the said statement, both parties reaffirmed their commitment to the attainment of peace that has long eluded Mindanao. They resolved to strengthen their cooperation and coordination in addressing security concerns in the most effective and appropriate manner, and also in rebuilding trust and public confidence in the peace process.

They also expressed support to the conduct of investigations by the Board of Inquiry of the Philippine national Police and the MILF’s Special Investigative Commission (SIC).
In the same joint statement, both parties commended the members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities of the Government and the MILF for their determination that led to the reinstatement of the ceasefire in the affected areas. Their courageous efforts prevented further loss of life and put to safety those who might have been put in harm’s way had the fighting escalated.

The statement also said, “Standing by their commitment to achieve the objectives of the normalization process, the Parties finalized and signed the Protocol on the Implementation of the Terms of Reference of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in the presence of the Malaysian Facilitator, Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, the Chair of the IDB, Ambassador Haydar Berk, and the members of the International Contact Group from Japan, Republic of Turkey, the United Kingdom, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah, and Community of Sant’Egidio”.

Both parties agreed to extend the mandate of the IMT for another year until March 2016.

For the GPH:
GPH Panel Chair

For the MILF:
MILF Panel Chair

Malaysian Facilitator
- See more at:

MILF: Official Statement Of MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on Mamasapano incident last January 25, 2015

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 31): Official Statement Of MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on Mamasapano incident last January 25, 2015

Hereunder is the Official Statement of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed by MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim relative to the unfortunate incident at Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015:

1. First and foremost, we express and send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who died in the armed encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The emotions of loss and pain are not alien to us Bangsamoro and Mujahideen. Nevertheless, respect and solidarity are due to all, irrespective of which side they belong.

2. Our concern is the truth. There will be a lot of speculations as to what happened and until what happened is established with credibility and integrity, the said incident will weigh down our current efforts to bring peace to our homeland.

3. ln order to give meaning to their deaths, we must resolve not to let something like This happen again. To this end, the MILF is convening a Special investigative Commission (SlC) to be composed of members of the MILF Central Committee and BIAF General Staff who are tasked to investigate the events at Mamasapano, Maguindanao that resulted in the death of members of the MILF and of soldiers of the Philippine Government. The mandate of the SIC is to gather as much reliable information and interview witnesses to establish the truth. The SIC is given instruction to come up with a report to the Central Committee as soon as possible.

4. We hereby reiterate the MILF’s full commitment to the peace process with the Philippine Government. An enduring peace and justice remain to be our primary objective. In this regard, all actions and pronouncements of our political and military units of the MILF should advance and adhere to this primary objective as much as possible and with due regard to the safety and security of our people and communities.

5. The MILF have been in negotiation with the Philippine Government for some time now. During this time both parties have established protocols,ways of proceedings and mechanisms, which support and keep the peace. Adherence to these mechanisms have created a peaceful environment and lessened actual hostilities through the years.
lt is unfortunate but not entirely surprising that when parties do not follow establish protocols, lives are placed in harm's way. We therefore recommit ourselves to follow this process and protocols.

Chairman Ebrahim directed concerned individuals and agencies of the Moro Front for widest dissemination of this statement.

MILF: NCMF Secretary: Let not Mamasapano incident hinders peace

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 31): NCMF Secretary: Let not Mamasapano incident hinders peace

NCMF Secretary: Let not Mamasapano incident hinders peace

The head of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) recently issued an official statement on the Mamasapano incident urging the Filipino people not to be divided by the ill-fated incident confrontation and uphold the quest for peace.

“In this difficult times, we must uphold our quest for peace which eludes us for a long time,” NCMF Secretary Yasmin Busran Lao said. Lao has been a member of the government negotiating panel under the Aquino Administration.

“Let us not be divided by this tragedy. Let us not forget the decisive efforts made by the peacebuilders of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in forging a lasting peace,” she stressed.

The NCMF Secretary reiterated the call of other peace advocates not to allow the incident which claimed lives from both the police officers and rebel forces.

“While the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF are on the final stage of collectively putting an end to the four decade-old problem in Mindanao, this catastrophic incident unfolded causing loss of lives.

Busran-Lao described the Mamasapoano incident, on which various groups call of an impartial investigation, as “tragically saddening.”

The NCMF expressed its “deepest condolences to the bereaved families left by the policemen and members of the MILF whose lives were sacrificed.”

Busran-Lao further said, “It is through this challenging time that we keep on our commitment and pursuit of lasting peace not just in Mindanao but in the entire Philippines.