Sunday, February 1, 2015

‘Don’t blame the military’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 2): ‘Don’t blame the military’

AFP to submit report finding SAF leader at fault

STILL HURTING  A member of the Special Action Force wipes her tears as she and her comrades in the elite police unit attend a dialogue with Interior Secretary Mar Roxas at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, on the deaths of 44 SAF members during fighting last week with Moro rebels in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province.  RAFFY LERMMA

STILL HURTING A member of the Special Action Force wipes her tears as she and her comrades in the elite police unit attend a dialogue with Interior Secretary Mar Roxas at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, on the deaths of 44 SAF members during fighting last week with Moro rebels in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province. RAFFY LERMMA
The Philippine Army was allegedly kept in the dark by the tactical commander of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) in the botched operation on Jan. 25 to arrest two top international terrorists, resulting in the massacre of 44 US-trained police commandos, the Inquirer has learned.

This conclusion will come out in the investigation report of the board of inquiry, convened following the carnage in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, that will be submitted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to President Aquino next week. The AFP conducted its own investigation into why the military reinforcements came too late.

An expert on military operation planning procedure privy to the military investigation said the inquiry had concluded that the debacle was the fault of Philippine National Police Director Getulio Napeñas, the sacked SAF commander who kept the mission a secret.

The AFP inquiry, according to this source, said that several lapses were committed in the conduct of the operations against two “high-value targets”—the Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino aide Basit Usman, with a combined bounty of $9 million on their heads.

The source gave the military version of what happened that fateful day as a result of the absence of coordination between the PNP and the AFP, both headed by President Aquino as Commander in Chief, as questions lingered on who gave final authorization for the mission:

On Jan. 25, about 3 a.m., 392 members of two SAF teams who were heading to Barangay (village) Pidsandawan in Mamasapano town were first stopped in an Army detachment checkpoint and were asked who they were. The two teams were headed by Insp. Ryan Pabalinas and Supt. Raymond Train. “Pulis kami, may lakad lang. (We’re from the police, we have a mission),” said one of the officers. They were then allowed to pass.

At 5 a.m., the 6th Infantry Division headed by Maj. Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan received a text message from Napeñas that Marwan had been killed.

At 6 a.m., gunshots were heard by the Army’s 45th Infantry Battalion about 4 kilometers away from the supposed site of the encounter between the SAF commandos and guerillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The battalion commander then reported this to the brigade and investigated where the shots were coming from.

At about 9 a.m., Pangilinan received a call from Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, about the request for reinforcements from his “mistah” in the Philippine Military Academy, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, who was apparently not informed of the SAF operation. By that time, the team of Pabalinas had been wiped out.

No grid coordinates

The source said it was then that Pangilinan ordered his men to mobilize reinforcements for the embattled SAF commandos. The source said it usually took at least one hour to put together a rescue team because the troops were coming from different military detachments.

The reinforcement group, however, did not know where to proceed, as the SAF did not give grid coordinates. The source said the coordinates were important to prevent a misencounter, as the Moro rebels were also wearing fatigues. The reinforcing teams, who were trained to operate behind enemy lines, were at a loss as to where to look for the hapless SAF commandos.

“It’s like writing news. We also have the five Ws (who, what, where, when, why) and one H (how). If you do not have these, especially in the forest, your troops will be confused,” the source said.

The source said the radio frequency being used by the military was different from the police so there was no way the SAF could radio the military.

‘We are surrounded’

The military figured out the encounter site only after receiving an unknown call from a mobile phone of a member of Train’s team who was able to escape the carnage.

“Sabi ng tumawag, bundok, sa bundok kami ng Barangay Tukanalipao. Napapaligiran ng MILF dala namin 8 dead, 3 wounded and may one missing. Hindi kami makalabas (The caller said ‘we are on the mountain at Barangay Tukanalipao, We are surrounded by the MILF. We are carrying eight dead, three wounded. One of us is missing. We cannot get out’),” the source quoted the caller.

It was only then that the Army reinforcements got under way. The rescue force met one SAF company, which did not enter the marshland, and got the commandos out before the soldiers proceeded to the encounter site.


“Coordination means meeting in person and discussing the peculiarities of the operation. We call it SMESC (situation, mission execution, service support, command and signal). Nothing like that happened,” the source said.

As the reinforcement went to Train’s location, there was no one in the SAF who knew how to direct an artillery to identify target locations.

“There should have been a white phosphorous, or ammunition round that is delivered in order to mark a position. That’s the target reference, the call for fire procedure,” the source said.

Lost commandos

The source also pointed out that there were only two SAF platoons of about 73 men who entered the marshland by foot. This means there were still 319 others who could provide reinforcement.

“So where is their reserve force of 300 plus who were also there? They should be the first reinforcement in that kind of situation. But it appeared they themselves were lost. Did they receive the radio report of their comrades? Nobody is asking what happened to the 300 plus at that time. That number is enough to give their comrades a fighting chance,” the source said.

The group of Inspector Pabalinas was positioned in the corn plantation while the Moro rebels had good positions.

Corn plantation
“In short, they were surrounded in the cornfield. At the outset, they should have taken a vantage position, that’s what’s done in the battlefield. We call it cover and concealment. Before you go to that kind of mission, it’s a mountain, you should first identify your cover and how to conceal (yourself). Why was the enemy in a good position?” the source said.

Body retrieval

That same day, Pangilinan went to Shariff Aguak to personally oversee the retrieval operations. There, he had an altercation with Napeñas who wanted to resume the retrieval of bodies the next day as it was already 7 p.m.

“That angered (Major) General Pangilinan,” the source said. Pangilinan berated Napeñas and ordered his men to continue retrieval until five more SAF bodies were recovered.

‘Don’t blame the Army’

The source likewise said that obviously, there was no planning consideration when the SAF went to the MILF lair. “We call it infiltration and exfiltration. It is necessary to study the terrain.”

The source said that had the mission been coordinated with the military, the outcome would have been different because the military has many contacts in the MILF.

The source said there had been no encounter between the Army and the MILF since 2010, “which means the MILF is faithful to the peace agreement.”

“We in the military respect the decision to give the mission to the PNP. We mourn the deaths of the SAF commandos,” the source said. “But don’t blame the military for the absence of reinforcements. You should understand what really happened on the ground.”

US Embassy on Mamasapano: no US casualties, no help in intel, no drones

From MindaNews (Feb 2): US Embassy on Mamasapano: no US casualties, no help in intel, no drones

“No US casualties, no help on intelligence, no drones.”

This sums up the response of Kurt Hoyer, press attaché and the spokesperson of the United States Embassy in Manila, as more allegations of US involvement in the operations in Mamasapano have surfaced in newspaper reports and social media and various groups have called for an investigation into its the alleged involvement.

“Our involvement was as stated,” Hoyer told MindaNews in a text message over the weekend.

On Monday, a day after a bloody clash between supposedly friendly forces – the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with whom it signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in March last year — US troops in civilian clothes were seen accompanying wounded members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police, into a white helicopter with green stripe that shuttled between the PNP provincial police office in Shariff Aguak town and the Army’s 6th Infantry Battalion in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat town also in Maguindanao.

Two US soldiers in civilian clothes assist in the evacuation of a wounded SAF personnel from the PNP provincial office in Shariff Aguak Maguindanao, to the Army's 6th Infantry Division camp in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh B. Cabrera
Two US soldiers in civilian clothes assist in the evacuation of a wounded SAF personnel from the PNP provincial office in Shariff Aguak Maguindanao, to the Army’s 6th Infantry Division camp in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao on Monday, January 26.. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh B. Cabrera

As of Saturday, the death toll in the tragedy in barangays Tukanalipao and Pidsandawan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao has reached almost 70: 44 SAF personnel, 18 from the MILF, their names given by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal – for a total of 62 combatants. The figures for slain civilians vary from two to six.

Cotabato City-based Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., former Notre Dame University President, posted on Facebook that an informant told him one American soldier was killed and another injured during the operations.

“There were no US casualties,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer also denied a report of the Manila Standard that US military intelligence and drones were used in the Mamasapano operations.

The Standard quoted a police general as saying the US government “provided President Benigno Aquino III with ‘actionable intelligence’ to pin down the precise location” of Marwan,

“Let me be clear. Our involvement was as I stated. At the request of the AFP, US service members serving in JSOTF-P responded to assist in the evacuation of casualties after the firefight in Maguindanao,” Hoyer said.

The presence of US troops on Monday fueled speculations of US participation in the operations to get Marwan, a Malaysian national on the list of the US government’s most wanted terrorists and who was reported killed three years ago in what was media reports described as a “US-backed airstrike” in Jolo, Sulu.

Marwan’s remains, however, were not found in the aftermath of the dawn operation that left at least 15 persons dead.

$5 million + $1 million

The United States’ National Counterterrorism Center in its website said Zulkifli, 49, an engineer trained in the United States, is believed head of the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (MM) allegedly a terror group, and a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command.

“Since August 2003, he has been present in the Philippines, where he is believed to have conducted bomb-making training for the Abu Sayyaf Group,” the NCTC website said.

Zulkifli carries a $5m (220 million pesos) reward for anyone who could provide information leading to his arrest, the NCTC said.

Abdul Basit Usman, described by the NCTC as a Filipino citizen, a “bomb-making expert” with links to the Abu Sayyaf and the JI, carries a million dollar (44 million pesos) reward.


The US government’s denials, notwithstanding, Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate last week filed a resolution asking the Joint Committee on National Defense and Security; Public Order and Safety; and Peace, Unity and Reconciliation to investigate the alleged involvement not only of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima in the Mamasapano operations but also the United States’ alleged involvement.

In a press statement on Sunday, Zarate cited reports from witnesses in Maguindanao said at least one American soldier died during the fighting.

He cited a report from  Jerome Succor Aba, spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro, that they were able to interview a 40-year-old farmer in Brgy. Tukanalipao, Mamasapano who allegedly saw at least “one body of a Caucasian soldier” minutes after clash.

Zarate said he hopes to get the farmer-witness to testify during the investigation.

He recalled that the civilians arrived in the area after troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front withdrew to the Islamic Center in Sitio Inubog, Brgy. Pimbalakan, Mamasapano.

Zarate said the farmer, as well as other civilians who arrived in Pimbalakan narrated seeing a helicopter that “hovered over the bodies to carry ‘specific bodies.’”

Bayan Muna reiterated in its statement that the 1987 Philippine Constitution and the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement, forbid foreign military troops from engaging in direct military operations in the Philippines.

The statement also cited Suara Bangsamorom as saying six Moro civilians were killed during the military operation in Mamasapano, hours before the actual encounter.

NPA still biggest threat to Caraga

From the Philippine Star (Jan 31): NPA still biggest threat to Caraga

Communist rebels, not bandit groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, remain the biggest threat to peace and order in the Caraga region, according to security officials.

At a recent meeting of the Agusan del Norte Peace and Order Council in the aftermath of the slaughter of 44 members of the police Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, 4th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao and Police Regional Office 13 director David Ombao said they remain focused on the campaign against communist rebels.

The two officials, however, said security forces are on heightened alert following the Mamasapano incident.  

They said bus terminals, seaports and airports and vital establishments such as power lines and towers have been secured.

“We will pray and seek our people’s cooperation that there will be no spillover of violence, but we will not be caught unaware,” Lactao said.

MILF official: Turnover of SAF weapons, MILF members up to central committee

From GMA News (Feb 1): MILF official: Turnover of SAF weapons, MILF members up to central committee

A ranking official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said the group is willing to cooperate with the government to find out the truth about the bloody clash in a Maguindanao town that left 44 elite police commandos, 17 MILF fighters, and at least seven civilians dead.

The official stopped short, however, of answering whether the MILD would surrender rebels involved in the firefight.
In an interview with dzBB Sunday, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said he cannot comment on the possible turnover of MILF members to authorities.
“Maraming beses ko na kayong sinagot sa bagay na ito. I don’t know if you can understand… We are cooperating with the government, ano pa bang cooperation na kailangan mo na malaman?” an irked Jaafar asked dzBB anchor Rowena Salvacion.
“Naipaliwanag ko na kanina, nagko-cooperate naman kami in accordance with the mechanism established for that purpose. Pero ‘yung ginigiit niyong tanong, sinabi ko na very clear, wala sa poder ko, wala sa aking authority as individual member of the central committee, as vice chairman of the MILF and vice chairman of the central committee,” he added.
A report aired on "24 Oras" on Sunday night identified MILF commanders Wahid Tundok, Sakaria Goma, Ustdadz Nanan, Abdurahman Upan and Samsudin Pakinda as among the 30 rebels who engaged in a gunfight with the SAF, based on information from one of the parties investigating the incident.
[Video report]
Also tagged as suspects in the clash are Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) commanders Abe Sali Usop, Kadialen, Badrudin Mamad, Toks Akad, Mismari Mamalangkay, Abu Misri, Hasan Indal and Sukarno Sapal. 
The BIFF and the MILF are separate groups.
Discussed with central committee
Earlier in the radio interview, Jaafar was asked if the MILF will turn over the firearms and equipment the rebels reportedly took from members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP SAF) during their encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25.
Jaafar said the issue will have to be discussed by the MILF central committee first. 
“Sa bahagi na ito ay hindi ko masabi [with] finality sapagkat ito ‘yung maging subject ng policy ng central committee. Nakatitiyak kayo na pag-uusapan ito ng central committee ng MILF kung darating sa leadership ng MILF ang ganitong issue,” he replied.
Several members of the House of Representatives and Senate have urged the MILF to turn in members involved in the clash and surrender the SAF members’ seized firearms to prove their sincerity in pursuing the peace process.
The MILF signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. The comprehensive peace pact became the basis for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law pending in Congress.
Mutually agreed mechanisms
Jaafar said the MILF and the government has managed to maintain good relations throughout the lengthy peace negotiations because of “mechanisms” they have mutually agreed upon. 
“Nandiyan ang ceasefire agreement, creation ng ceasefire committee. Mayroong MILF ceasefire committee, GPH ceasefire committee. Nandiyan ang creation ng international monitoring team (IMT) composed of neutral countries kabilang ang Malaysa, Libya, Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, Norway, at mayroon rin pong ADJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) agreement,” he said.
“Napatunayan na po ilang beses in the past  na maganda ang teamwork ng ADJAG, ng GPH (government of the Philippines) at MILF teams,” he said.
The IMT oversees the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and MILF.
'Equal under the law'
In a separate radio interview, Magdalo party-list Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo said he was concerned over Jaafar’s statement that the MILF will have to discuss whether to surrender its members involved in the Mamasapano clash.
“Ako po’y nangangamba sa sinasabi nilang pag-uusapan pa [ng MILF ang turnover]. What does that mean? Hindi pa sila kumbinsido na dapat i-turnover nila ‘yung mga tao nila o wala talaga silang control kaya pag-uusapan pa nila kung anong sasabihin nila or aamin ba sila na ganoon?” he said. 
Acedillo, a former Air Force lieutenant, said the law should be equally applied to everyone.
“Dapat pare-pareho lang [ang rule of law]. Kapag may lumabag sa batas, they must submit themselves to the judicial process,” he said. 
Jaafar said the MILF has a justice mechanism composed of a Sharia court, reconciliation committee, disciplinary board and a military court.
When asked if these mechanisms guarantee that justice will be served for MILF members who took part in the Mamasapano clash, Jaafar said: “‘Yan ang purpose ng pag-establish namin ng apat na management of justice within the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”

Both the government and the MILF have reiterated their commitment to the peace process. Over the weekend, panels from both sides agreed on a protocol for the decommissioning of MILF forces.

Australia gives Philippines two naval landing craft

From GMA News (Feb 1); Australia gives Philippines two naval landing craft

Australia is donating two decommissioned military landing craft to the Philippines after the archipelago struggled with relief efforts following Super Typhoon Haiyan, it was announced Sunday.
The vessels, which were decommissioned in November, will be refurbished with modern safety and navigation equipment before being handed over. 
"I expect the vessels will be refitted and ready for handover in May 2015," Australian Defense Minister Kevin Andrews said in a statement released by his country's embassy. 
The two 44.5-meter craft, which are designed to carry heavy supplies, will be given to the Philippine Navy to help with humanitarian assistance and relief work.
The Philippines struggled because of a shortage of such vessels during relief operations after Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land, which decimated whole towns and villages in November 2013.
The Australian military, including the amphibious vessel HMAS Tobruk, were dispatched to help victims of the storm, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing.
The Philippine military is also considering whether to purchase three other surplus Australian landing craft that were decommissioned in 2012, the embassy added.
The poorly-equipped Philippine military is one of the weakest in the region and the government is looking to foreign allies to help bolster its resources.

Senate, House to create Truth Commission to probe Mamasapano clash

From GMA News (Feb 2): Senate, House to create Truth Commission to probe Mamasapano clash

Some members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are set to file a bill on Monday calling for the creation of a Truth Commission to probe the deaths of 44 elite personnel of the PNP-Special Action Force following a clash with members from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao on January 25.  

"We are going to file this afternoon a bill that will create a Truth Commission that will probe the Mamasapano incident," said Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate committee on peace and reconciliation, at a press conference in the Senate.
Two of Guingona's colleagues — Senators Bam Aquino and Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III — have expressed support for the bill. On the other hand, Representatives Sitti Turabin Hataman, Jorge Banal,and Marcelino Teodoro have also expressed the support for the passage of proposed measure.
On January 25, 44 members of the PNP-SAF were killed during a firefight with the MILF and BIFF. The MILF had announced that a total of 17 of their fighters died in the clash.  
The elite cops' mission was to serve arrest warrant to two suspected terrorists -- Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah leader Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Abdulbasit Usman -- who were confirmed to be in Mamasapano town.

Authorities have yet to officially confirm if Marwan was indeed killed in the operation.

VIDEO | Into the breach: Norwegian peacekeeper recalls how IMT helped end Mamasapano battle

From InterAksyon (Feb 2): VIDEO | Into the breach: Norwegian peacekeeper recalls how IMT helped end Mamasapano battle

William Hovland, the Norwegian operations chief of the International Monitoring Team (image grabbed from News5 video)

As combat raged around them, William Hovland said he and other members of the International Monitoring Team had to crawl their way between pinned down commandos of the police Special Action Force and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Hovlan, the Norwegain operations chief of the IMT, the multinational body tasked to ensure the ceasefire between the government and MILF holds, said they reached the scene of battle around noon of that fateful Sunday, January 25.

But because of problems with mobile phone signals in the area, he said it was only after they had physically placed themselves in between the battling forces were they finally able to get both sides to agree to cease firing.

By then, it was already 3 p.m., he said, almost 12 hours since the SAF mounted the disastrous operation intended to get Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and Filipino Abudl Basit Usman, bomb-making experts with a combined $7-million bounty from the US.

At the end of the day, the death toll was horrendous: 44 SAF commandos, the largest single combat loss for government in recent history, 14 MILF fighters and at least two civilians.

For his efforts, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process has recognized Hovland.

[Video report]

VIDEO, EXCLUSIVE | Woken by gunfire: Wounded MILF fighters recount deadly Mamasapano clash

From InterAksyon (Feb 2): VIDEO, EXCLUSIVE | Woken by gunfire: Wounded MILF fighters recount deadly Mamasapano clash

News5's Mon Gualvez interviews a fighter wounded during the clashes in Mamasapano last Jan. 25, 2015. (image grabbed from News5 video)

Fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who were wounded in the January 25 clashes in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao in which 44 members of the police Special Action died said they were caught by surprise and were left with no choice but to fight back.

News5 was given rare access to the MILF camp in Mamasapano where up to 10 wounded fighters were being treated.

The MILF also suffered 14 dead in the fighting, which broke out during a SAF mission that the government says was intended to get wanted terror suspects Zulkifli Bin Hir, a Malaysian, and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, bomb-making experts with a combined bounty of $7 million from the US government.

“Toto,” one of the wounded fighters, said they were awakened by loud and heavy gunfire early Sunday morning and had no choice but to fire back.

He said he was surprised why there was fighting because there was supposed to be a ceasefire in place.

Toto said he continued fighting after being wounded in the shoulder but was eventually taken off the battlefield after he was hit in the stomach.

Another wounded fighter, “Manuel,” who was wounded in the thigh, said it was the SAF who attacked first, catching them by surprise.

He also denied knowing either Marwan or Usman, pointing out that almost all the residents in their village are related to each other and knew of no one there going by the Malaysian bomber’s alias.

Manuel acknowledged that, although they received the command to disengage around 10 a.m., the fighting had reached fever pitch. Hostilities only ended past 3 p.m. when peacekeepers, accompanied by the military, arrived.

MILF chairman A Haj Murad Ebrahim said the incident has not sapped their will to pursue the peace process and remain confident the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will create a new homeland under an agreement with the government, will be passed.

“Until no final solution to this political problem is reached, this situation will persist,” he stressed.

He also said they are willing to conduct a joint investigation with government into the bloody incident even as they have begun their own internal probe.

[Video report]

In pursuit of Marwan, deaths in the marshland

From MindaNews (Feb 1): In pursuit of Marwan, deaths in the marshland

TUKANALIPAO, Mamasapano, Maguindanao — “Hindi namin namalayan ang pagpasok nila. Nagising kami nang nagputukan na” (We did not notice their entry. We woke up to the sound of gunfire), residents say of what happened here on Sunday, January 25.

Oren Mangulamas said most residents were asleep when at least two platoons of commandos from the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) – nearly 80 officers and men—passed through their village on their way to capture or kill  the Malaysian bomb maker  Zulkifli bin Hir.

“Marwan” or “Mads” as he is known among the Philippine anti-terrorism community, is on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “most wanted terrorist” list.

The US government has offered US$5 million (PhP 220 million) reward for any information that would lead to his capture.

The SAF was also there to arrest Basit Usman, a Filipino citizen described by the United States  National Counter Terrorism Center as a “bomb making expert.”

Mangulamas said the entire village of Tukanalipao was awakened by the sound of gunfire at 4:30 a.m.

“We did not know who they were. We did not recognize their uniform,” he said.

Retrieval of bodies of slain police commandos  in Brgy. Tuka, Mamasapano Maguindanao on Monday morning, January 26. Village officials initiated the negotiation to get the cadavers from the scene of Sunday’s firefight. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera
Retrieval of bodies of slain police commandos in Brgy. Tuka, Mamasapano Maguindanao on Monday morning, January 26. Village officials initiated the negotiation to get the cadavers from the scene of Sunday’s firefight. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera

The municipality of Mamasapano in Maguindanao province is part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the core area of the proposed Bangsamoro region under the peace agreement  between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Based on the roadmap of the two parties,  the Bangsamoro government that would replace the ARMM, is supposed to be installed on June 30, 2016.

At present, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the charter that would govern the future Bangsamoro, is being deliberated by Congress. Under the roadmap, once ratified, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) would take over from the ARMM, until the first set of officers of the Bangsamoro is elected on May 9, 2016 and will take their oath by June 30, 2016.

Military intelligence says Mamasapanot town, which has a population of 22,354 as of May 2010, is the base of the MILF’s 105th Brigade and it is estimated that there are at least 1,000 loose firearms in the hands of rebels and residents.


The Philippine anti-terrorism community has been trying to arrest Marwan since  he was suspected to have been making bombs for the Abu Sayyaf and training local terrorists in building improvised explosive device (IEDs).

The  Philippine Anti-Terrorism Council, presently headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, was able to trace the movements of Marwan after he survived an air strike in Sulu in 2012.

According to military officials, Marwan fled to Lanao del Sur until he was forced to run again with the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade hot on his trail
“Marwan  sought to hide in the camps of  the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mamasapano. It was a matter of expediency,” said Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., who heads the government peace panel’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of  Hostilities (CCCH).

Galvez said the PNP gathered two platoons from Special Action Force (SAF) units across the country and the elite SAF 84th Special Action Company, a seaborne unit from Zamboanga City – at least 80 commandos in all to attack Marwan’s hideout.

The PNP Special Action Force especially its Seaborne Unit is a highly trained anti-terrorist unit. Their members received training from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team and specializes on raids and urban warfare.

What’s happening?
“MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said a group of SAF personnel went to Barangay Pidsandawan, also in Mamasapano town, a village controlled by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Murad was in a meeting with the Central Committee in his base in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao when they learned about the clash.

He sad they were “surprised” because they were not notified that there was a military operation.

Under the ceasefire agreement , police and military are required to coordinate with the MILF if they launch operations in rebel-held areas to avoid misencounters.

Accounts from various military and residents said the SAF strike unit broke into two when they reached Barangay Tukanalipao either late Saturday night or early Sunday.

The SAF Seaborne Unit forded a river to reach Barangay Pidsandawan where the Malaysian bomb maker is believed to be hiding with his alleged wife,  Jeromee Dongon, the former wife of the late Abu Sayyaf leader, Khadafy Janjalani.

Another group of SAF personnel took up positions and served as a blocking force near a footbridge beside the river in Barangay Tunkanalipao while a smaller group remained on the road to guard their vehicles.

It was the SAF blocking force, the 55th Special Action Company, that bore the brunt of the fighting. The smaller SAF attack force also engaged the BIFF numbering 200 fighters.

“The fighting started around 4:30 a.m. on the side of Barangay Pidsandawan. By 6 a.m. our forces from Barangay Tunkanalipao  were also engaged., “ Murad narrated.

Murad said at least 20 of their fighters initially engaged the SAF blocking force but  soon more reinforcements from the MILF 105th Brigade arrived. He said some 100 MILF fighters may have been involved in the fighting.


“The fighting became intense. Sometimes the opposing combatants were only separated by five meters ,” Murad said.

Galvez,  head of the government’s CCCH, confirmed this.

He said they received the same reports of  the intensity of the fighting and how the SAF blocking force was stymied by the terrain: flat terrain of the cornfield and the river with waist-deep waters.

Galvez said some of the MILF fighters were armed with “Barit,” a home-made version of the US-made Barret 50 caliber sniper rifle.

“Despite being locally-made, the rifle was very effective in picking up targets,” he said,

Galvez said the rifle can explain why some of the PNP casualties bore gaping wounds on the head and bodies although he cannot discount the possibility that slain policemen were “finished off.”

“Like in any guerilla war, the MILF fighters took the armor vests of the slain policemen. After that who knows, shoes, pants, uniforms and mobile phones,” he said.

Galvez said 43 of the policemen were killed on the spot in Barangay Tunkanalipao and another died at the hospital. Sixteen policemen were also injured in the day-long clash.

It was the biggest government loss since NPA rebels ambushed an Army unit killing 54 soldiers in San Miguel town, Surigao del Sur.

Murad said  they  also suffered 11 fighters dead with undetermined number of wounded. MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, however,  gave a list of the dead MILF during their meeting with the government peace panel in  Kuala Lumpur on January 29 to February 1. The MILF listed 18 slain guerrillas.

“Not a massacre”
“It was not a massacre. We had casualties too,” Murad said, adding, “we did not attack any government troops. The incident was dictated to us, it was not the MILF that started it.”

“It was self-defense,” Murad later told reporters.

News of the fighting reached the government and MILF CCCH teams who had just accompanied the head of the Independent Decommissioning body to the MILF’s Camp Bushra in Lanao on January 24.

Galvez  said that from Iligan City to Cotabato City, “we were literally flying” as they rushed to the city en route to Maguindanao.

MILF CCCH chief Rashid Lidasan, who relayed to his counterparts  as soon as he was informed early that morning, this “kakaibang” (strange) operations that initially the MILF thought was an operation by the military because of the camouflage uniform used by the SAF operatives.

The CCCH or ceasefire committees of both government and MILF , immediately convened a crisis response team and went to work along with the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The CCCH also contacted military and MILF units to find out who were involved in the fighting.

Galvez said it was only the SAF and no single unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that engaged in the clashes. On the other hand, they learned from their MILF counterparts that members of the MILF’s 105th brigade based in Tukanalipao were involved in the fighting, claiming they were fired upon first by government troopers.

From the IMT headquarters in Cotabato City, the crisis response team then proceeded to Shariff Aguak near Mamasapano arriving at around 11 am Sunday, to meet with Zacaria Goma, commander of the MILF’ 105th Base Command, and Wahid Tundok, commander of the MILF’s 118th base command.


Before the ceasefire, the SAF units had allegedly been subjected into a “pintakasi” as droves of MILF fighters who came to reinforce their comrades, arrived to inflict more harm to the police commandos.

“What laymen do not know is it is very hard to ask fighters to stand down. In the heat of battle, the fighters’ adrenaline and the desire for revenge for fallen comrades are just too high to ask them to lay down their guns,” Galvez said
Galvez said they managed to stop the fighting around 2 pm and start recovering the dead by early Sunday evening.

“Both Tundok and Goma helped us disengage the forces involved in the fighting. They contacted their sub-commanders to disengage them,” Galvez narrated.

For more than ten hours, the SAF commandos fought without any support, medical assistance and air support from neighboring units of the Armed Forces of the Philippiens (AFP) because the operations were not coordinated with the military.

Because they wanted very much to maintain utmost secrecy in their operation against Marwan, the PNP decided to keep out of the loop the Army 6th Infantry Division and the Philippine Air Force in Cotabato City .

The PNP unit also did not inform the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). That would have facilitated their entry in Barangays Tukanalipao and Pidsandawan.

AHJAG is the cooperative mechanism between the government and the MILF to allow law-enforcement units to enter rebel-controlled areas.

Former PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima and former AFP Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista received the Revised Operational Guidelines for the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group from Government chief peace negotiator Merriam Coronel Ferrer in  July 23, 2013.

No coordination, no reinforcements

“How can we send reinforcements when we did not know their mission, their objectives and their location. We do not even have their radio frequencies and mobile phone numbers,”  6ID operation chief Col. Alan Hambala asked.

Hambala said what they did was to station the Army reinforcements at the headquarters of the 1st Mechanized Brigade in Sharif Aguak more than 14 kilometers from barangay Tunkanalipao.

“We  always observe the primacy of the peace process and its mechanisms. That is why we were surprised with Sunday’s PNP SAF attack,” Hambala said.

The SAF did not also receive support from the Philippine Air Force which has two Huey helicopters and a pair of  Siai-Marchetti SF-260 light attack aircraft deployed at Awang Airport in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

“We did not have proper coordinates where the SAF were hiding. We could have flown persuasion flights around the area,” a Philippine Air Force official said.

Some of the military officials also questioned the soundness of the operational plan of the SAF in arresting Marwan.

One Army Scout Ranger official said why the SAF did not deploy their own snipers to counter the rebel snipers.

“Their escape plan sounded shaky. They do not have a Plan B,” he said.

US troops
One startling episode in the Jan. 25 incident is the presence of US soldiers helping in the evacuation of some wounded policemen.

Television footage showed American soldiers in civilian clothes evacuating several wounded policemen from a  white and green helicopter on Monday morning, Jan. 26.

The helicopter is reportedly owned by Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska and contracted by the US military to support various  Department of Defense (DOD) operations in all parts of the world including the Philippines.

Contacted by MindaNews, US embassy spokesperson in Manila Kurt Hoyer said US service men serving in the Joint Special Operations-Task Force Philippines responded upon request from the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to assist in the evacuation of the dead and wounded after the firefight in Mamasapano.”

PNP and military officials said members of the PNP Seaborne unit was able to kill Zulkifli bin Hir but fellow terrorist, Basit Usman, was able to escape.

Police in Manila said the commandos chopped off one of the fingers of Marwan and took a picture of the corpse but without a body many remained skeptical.

“These police commandos are well-trained on extracting DNA,” a military official said referring to the SAF’s Seaborne Unit.

He said the policemen knew that carrying the body of Marwan would be a hindrance since the commandos have to wade across a river to get back to their parked vehicles.

“There are so many ways to extract good DNA. A bone would be a good source, “ the official said.

The official said getting DNA and other proof are essential after Marwan escaped an air strike in Sulu when Philippine Air Force OV10 bomber dropped a huge bomb on his camp in 2012 in what media reports then described as a “US-backed airstrike.”

He said they could not prove that Marwan died in the air strike because there was no DNA proof yet.

From Sulu to Lanao to Maguindanao

Leaving Sulu after the air strike , Marwan reportedly went to Lanao del Sur and was a suspect in the July 2013 bombing at a row of restaurants in Limketkai , Cagayan de Oro killing eight and injuring 48 others.

By this time, he had allegedly teamed up with fellow bomb maker, Usman, and together they reportedly established a base in Mamasapano town under the protection of BIFF.

“It was a matter of expediency, Marwan and Basman trained the BIFF on how to make improvised explosive devise (IED) which they used against the military,’ a military intelligence official said.

“There are reports that they run factories of improvised explosives devices, which they sell to fellow terrorists. They have injured and killed so many people, and they have continue to threaten the safety of our citizens as they roam free,” President Benigno Aquino III said on Jan. 28.

High stakes

The prize for the heads of Marwan and Usman was too steep, however.

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local government suspended the scheduled committee hearings on the BBL at the Senate and in Mindanao on Jan. 26, a day after the Mamasapano bloodbath.

The lower House followed suit with its Ad Hoc Committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, suspending discussions on the security provisions of the BBL.

MILF chair Murad, however, said  the MILF is fully committed to the peace with the Philippine government.

“An enduring peace and justice remain our primary objective, “ Murad said.
Murad formed a Special Investigation Commission to be composed of members from the MILF Central Committee and its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).

He said the committee is tasked gather information and interview witness to know what happened in Mamasapano last Jan. 25.

Murad promised sanctions will be meted on any MILF fighter that may be found for any wrongdoing.

He said MILF commanders Tundok and Goma will not be included in the investigating committee.

“Our concern is the truth. In order to give meaning to their death, we must resolve not to let something like this happen again,” Murad said.

Both the government and MILF peace panels met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and issued a statement on Jan. 31, that they will support the investigations being conducted by the Board of Inquiry of the Philippine National Police and the MILF Special Investigation Commission.

MILF won’t surrender combatants, sets ‘internal probe’

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 2): MILF won’t surrender combatants, sets ‘internal probe’

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will not surrender the combatants involved in the Mamasapano massacre because it has its own disciplinary board and justice system to address any wrongdoing, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said on radio dzBB Sunday.

Jaafar insisted the Mamasapano bloodbath, where 44 members of the Special Action Force were slaughtered, was not a “massacre” and that it was a firefight between two clashing armed groups.

He said a seven-man team had been formed to conduct an “internal probe,” the result of which would be discussed only by the central leadership.

“The seven-man team is just an ad hoc to conduct an investigation. But the result of the probe is for internal purposes only, internal to the MILF leadership,” Jaafar told dzBB.

Jaafar said if a crime is established, those responsible would be placed under military court martial of the MILF.

“We established our own military court in 2013,” Jaafar said, adding that Shariah courts were also established and manned by justices that have acquired their education from the Middle East.

He said the judges were educated in Muslim universities in Egypt; Saudi Arabia; Kuwait, Pakistan and Malaysia.

Jaafar appealed to all sectors to await the results of the MILF probe and that even the MILF officials were barred from making public statements so as not to be accused of speculation.

Although the probe had not been completed, Jaafar cleared his fighters of accusations of murder.

“The encounter was not intentional. And it was not a massacre. A massacre is one-sided, meaning the other party has arms and the victims were unarmed. In this case, all parties involved were armed. The SAF-PNP were armed, the MILF were armed and the other armed groups were armed. Many were killed in the SAF-PNP and many were also killed from the MILF. So there was an encounter. There was a battle, where all parties were armed. So definitely this is not a massacre,” Jaafar said.

Jaafar, also vice chairman of the MILF central committee, refused to say whether or not the firearms, Kevlar vests and personal belongings that were taken from the 44 fallen SAF troopers would be returned.

“These things will be discussed by the central committee or the leadership of the MILF. I ask the media to just await the result of the probe,” said Jaafar, even though he had said earlier that the investigation would be kept internal.

He also refused to name those who would constitute the MILF’s seven-man investigating team.

In the Palace, the President’s spokesman said government troops were prepared to thwart any possible retaliatory attacks from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters following last week’s clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines and all government troops are ready to fight any such plan to retaliate and ensure the safety of our people,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

“The Armed Forces is fully prepared for this,” he added.

While Operation Exodus left 44 elite Special Action Force commandos dead, the government said the mission to arrest or neutralize international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, has been accomplished.

However, many have raised concern that Marwan’s death, while still being verified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, might trigger retaliatory attacks from the BIFF.

AFP spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla Jr. said the military has added more checkpoints and increased visibility in the country’s southern region after the Mamasapano clash.

“Efforts are being exerted to bring normalcy to Maguindanao, especially,” Padilla said.

Capt. Jo-anne Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao, said they are monitoring the movement of BIFF rebels.

Coloma said President Benigno Aquino III is determined to ensure that justice is served for the 44 elite cops, some of whom were killed pointblank and sustained several gunshots to the head.

“The President is fully determined to ensure that justice is served, to ensure that those responsible (for the carnage) are held accountable while pushing for the peace process,” Coloma said.

A spokesman for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), meanwhile, said the disarmament of the MILF would remain “an illusion.”

Absalom Cerveza, spokesman of the MNLF, said whether the MILF could force its members to yield their firearms “remains to be seen.”

Government and MILF negotiators met in Kuala Lumpur last week to sign an agreement on the disarmament process.

But Cerveza said he doubted whether the accord would be followed, since most of the firearms in the possession of its members are privately owned.

“Most of the firearms were bought individually, and whether the MILF could force them to surrender those firearms remains to be seen,” Cerveza said.

Cerveza recalled that during the MNLF disarmament process in 1996, MNLF regulars did not surrender their firearms but were only made to return to camps in the hope the government would undertake the rehabilitation of its members.

Army troops pursue rebels in Talaingod

From the Sun Star-Davo: Army troops pursue rebels in Talaingod

TROOPS belonging to Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) launched Sunday a pursuit operation against suspected members of the New People's Army (NPA) they encountered in Barangay Dagohoy, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

"We are tracking these rebels with the help of the community. Information is coming from them. We will continue to pursue them in their lairs and ensure the protection and security for the people and of the communities," Eastmincom commander Lieutenant General Aurelio Baladad said.

Eastmincom spokesperson Major Ezra Balagtey said the Philippine Army's 68th Infantry Battalion troops were conducting patrol on Km. 31 in Barangay Dagohoy when they crossed path with a number of rebels around 3 p.m. Saturday.

Based on information, the encounter lasted for around 20 minutes before the NPA rebels withdrew and scampered to different areas, leaving some of their baggage.

Balagtey said that their troops recovered landmine paraphernalia, medical kits and subversive documents.

In a separate incident, troops belonging to the 60th Infantry Battalion encountered retreating NPA rebels in Barangay Andap, Laak town in Compostela Valley on Friday morning following an encounter in nearby Barangay Kiokmay, where the firefight lasted for about 30 minutes.

"Fortunately, there were no casualty from the government side and the communist rebels side as well, despite the series of encounter. The government still encouraged the NPA rebels lay down their firearms and return to the folds of the law," Balagtey said.

Baladad said since the lifting of the Suspension of Military Operations last January 19, their office recorded 11 encounters against the rebels.

He said these clashes led to the recovery of three high-powered firearms and discovery of 13 NPA encampments, while nine rebels surrendered.

Soldier killed, 4 wounded in firefight with Abu Sayyaf in Sulu

From GMA News (Feb 1): Soldier killed, 4 wounded in firefight with Abu Sayyaf in Sulu

An Army Scout Ranger was killed and four others were wounded in a gunbattle with the Abu Sayyaf bandit group in Sulu, the military said Sunday evening.
Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs head Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said over Twitter that the firefight with the Abu Sayyaf occurred at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
He said at least one Abu Sayyaf bandit was killed while another was wounded 
The clash came a week after 44 police Special Action Force troopers were killed in a clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mamasapano in Maguindanao. The elite police officers had been sent to arrest two international terrorists in the area.

The government and the MILF, who signed a peace agreement in 2014, are both investigating the clash. Seventeen MILF fighters and at least seven civilians were also killed in the fighting.
"We have brave warriors who continuously fight the terrorists and criminals in the jungles of Sulu. Let us remember and pray for them too," Cabunoc said in a separate tweet.

Marwan’s calls tapped

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 2): Marwan’s calls tapped

General: Wife as ‘tracer’ led to his precise location

SUSPENDED national police chief Alan Purisima and US troops used Marwan’s wife as a “tracer” to pinpoint the precise location of the world’s most wanted terrorist, a police general privy to the ongoing probe of the Mamasapano massacre said Sunday.

The general identified Zulkifli bin Hir’s wife as Joromee Dongon, the widow of Abu Sayyaf founder Khadaffy Janjalani, who was killed in 2006.

“Marwan, a bomb expert from Malaysia and a leader of Jemaah Islamiya, who arrived in the country in 2002, was very fond of his Filipina wife because they became friends first for a long time when Janjalani was still alive,” said the general, who requested anonymity.

He said since 2005, Purisima and his men had been tracking Marwan’s movement.

“PNP chief Purisima capitalized on Marwan’s fondness of his wife and had her calls tapped. Once tapped, the elite Special Action Force (SAF) intelligence group was able to trace Marwan’s incoming and outgoing calls through the nearest local cellular cite,” the source said.

“They then recorded the conversation through a... satellite that was provided by the CIA. The elite SAF team was able to box in the exact location of Marwan,” the source told the Manila Standard.

“Drones and foot soldiers had been deployed and satellite images had been produced after several weeks of stakeout and surveillance,” the source added.

“All this intelligence information gathered was made available by Purisima to the President,” the source said.

Purisima insisted they could no longer wait for a more opportune time than Jan. 25, as phone calls between Marwan and his wife were becoming less frequent, the source said.

“The less frequent calls had Purisima worried that something big was afoot considering that Pope Francis was to arrive for a five-day visit. The security for the Pope was intensified while the operational plans to get Marwan were being mapped out,” the source said.

“Therefore, even if PNP chief Purisima was still under suspension, the President had no choice but to let him in on the top secret mission since he was the one in possession of the intel and the Americans, despite their significant contribution, could not actively and openly participate anyway,” the source said.

“Purisima made it a point to make the President agree that he should be on top of the operations, albeit incognito, and all the rest, including Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director Gerardo Espina should be kept out of the loop,” the source said.

The source said the President found a way to justify Purisima’s involvement by claiming that Purisima, despite his suspension due to graft and corruption charges, was still part of the chain of command since Espina was made only an OIC and not “acting PNP chief.”

“The President, who was aware of the repercussions of the decisions to make Purisima handle the covert operations, made it a point not to allow Espina to take over the job description of the PNP chief,” the source said.

“As OIC, Espina remains out of the chain of command and Purisima remains the de facto PNP chief. The President made him so,” the police general said.

At least 30 elite SAF troopers were designated as the strike or assault force, the source said.

Another group of 37 SAF commandos was deployed as a “blocking force” to allow the safe retreat of the assault force.

“The strike force got Marwan and there was debate whether or not to bring the terrorist’s body. They decided to just cut off Marwan’s finger for DNA testing. Eight of the 30 members of the assault team were killed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters while 36 of the 37 members of the blocking force were massacred by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. There was a lone survivor,” the police general said.

‘US soldier among dead’

From the Manila Times (Feb 1): ‘US soldier among dead’

Human rights group claims body of American retrieved from clash site

A “blue-eyed” Caucasian believed to be an American soldier was reportedly among those killed in the deadly gunbattle between elite policemen and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

Suara Bangsamoro, a Muslim human rights group, quoted witnesses as saying that at least one “white” soldier was recovered after the duel. It said the witness, a 40-year-old farmer, was even able to touch the nose of the dead serviceman.

Suara spokesman Jerome Succor Aba said they were able to interview the farmer in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano. The witness said he saw the body of the American minutes after the encounter that led to the deaths of at least 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Aba declined to reveal the name of the witness for security reasons.

“They (civilian residents of Barangay Tukanalipao) were the first ones to arrive in one of the two areas where the encounter happened,” he said in a report carried by Pinoy Weekly Online.

Aba added that civilians arrived in the area after troops of the MILF withdrew to the Islamic Center in Sitio Inubog, Barangay Pembalkan, also in Mamasapano.

On Sunday, however, an official who is privy to ongoing investigation by the Board of Inquiry designated to probe the incident belied claims that an American was among those killed in the massacre.

“They could be dreaming. I was there for four days and no such story surfaced.

Civilians were the first to arrive in the area. Don’t you think not one of them would have thought of taking a photo or a video of any American there? That is not true,” the source, a ranking police officer, told The Manila Times.

The SAF operation was believed guided by US troops who reportedly provided vital intelligence to the elite police unit. The US military was reported to have deployed a drone that allowed American Special Forces to monitor in real time the situation on the ground and allegedly provided Filipino commandos with information about the hideout of Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, leader of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia or the Malaysian Mujahideen Movement allied with Jemaah Islamiyah.

It was unknown if President Benigno Aquino 3rd was aware of the US military role in the hunt for Zulkifli, who was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and Washington offered $5 million bounty for his capture—dead or alive.

US troops were also spotted in Maguindanao evacuating wounded SAF commandos from Mamasapano town. No security officials have come up in the open to talk about the role of US military in the clandestine operation.

The MILF said 18 of its members were killed and over a dozen wounded in the fighting that government and the former rebel group called a “misencounter.”

Meanwhile, the farmer as well as other civilians who arrived in the area said they saw one particular helicopter, among others that shortly arrived in the area, hover over the bodies to carry “specific casualties.”

The witnesses were not able to identify to which specific military units the bodies of the supposed US troops belonged.

The US Embassy in Manila had said the American soldiers in Mamasapano were there to “assist in evacuating the dead and wounded” and were not directly involved in the operation, it was reported.

AFP-NPA clash in Davao del Norte

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb1): AFP-NPA clash in Davao del Norte

An undetermined number of communist insurgents were believed either killed or wounded when a fierce gunbattle erupted between government forces and heavily armed New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Southern Philippines, it was reported yesterday.

In a statement received by Manila Bulletin from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command (AFP-EastMincom), it was learned that fighting erupted in the nearby border of Northeastern, Northern and Southern Mindanao regions, particularly in the vicinity of Kilometer 30 in Barangay Dagohoy, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

It said the gunbattle took place at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Initial report stated that combat maneuvering troops belonging to the Army’s 68th Infantry Battalion (68th IB) encountered more than 30 NPAs under guerilla-Front Committee55 of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) — NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC).

The heavy firefight lasted for about 20 minutes, it said.

No one was hurt among the soldiers.

Troops recovered various subversive documents, bomb-making materials including electrical wires  and assorted medical paraphernalia.

Combat maneuvering troops of the 68th IB are now in wide pursuit operations of the NPA’s who left traces of blood in their route of withdrawal, the EastMincom report stated.

Last January 30, Army troops of the 60th Infantry Battalion also clashed with NPA, armed wing of the CPP, and seized an enemy encampment  in Baranggay Andap, Laak Compostela valley Province.

The NPA’s encountered by the troops had been monitored to have planned another extortion activity in the area, EastMincom report said.

Maj. Gen. Eduardo M. Año, commanding general of the 10th Infantry “Agila”  Division (10th ID), asserted stepping up law enforcement operations to deter lawless armed elements like the CPP-NPA bandits from conducting terroristic attacks.

“We will not allow these lawless armed elements from sowing fear in the communities,” he said.

For the month of January this year, 10 NPA encampments have been seized under law enforcement operations launched by 10th ID.

At least nine former rebels have already surrendered and more are expected to lay down their firearms and return to the mainstream society under the government’s local integration program, he added.

US not involved in SAF operation, only in retrieval of bodies – Palace

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 2): US not involved in SAF operation, only in retrieval of bodies – Palace

The United States was not involved in the covert government operation against two terror suspects in Maguindanao that left 44 police commandos dead, Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

“Wala pong katotohanan yan (There is no truth to that),” Coloma said in a radio interview when asked if the police operation was aided by the US government.

It was the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) that carried out the mission, Coloma said. The US had a role in the retrieval of the dead and wounded after the bloody clash between government forces and armed rebels in Maguindanao, he said.

“Pero yung mismong operasyon na yun, yung pag-execute nun, wala tayong hiniling na tulong dyan (But in the actual operation, in executing the mission, we did not seek US assistance), the Malacanang official said.

Some lawmakers have called for a swift and transparent inquiry into the bloody clash between government forces and armed rebels in Maguindanao, including the alleged role of the United States in the botched operation.

Reports said the Americans shared intelligence data on the whereabouts of the two terror suspects with multi-million-dollar prices on their heads in Maguindanao. After the Maguindanao clash, US soldiers were also seen responding to the local military’s request to evacuate the dead and wounded.

The SAF troopers clashed with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) forces while pursuing terror suspect Zulkipli Bin Hir of Malaysia, also known as Marwan, and his Filipino protegé, Abdul Basit Usman, in Maguidanao. The mission reportedly succeeded in killing Marwan but ended with the death of 44 policemen.

Last Friday, President Aquino pledged that the government will exert efforts to pursue truth and justice in the Maguindanao incident, saying he feels the pain of the families of the slain cops. Aquino told the grieving families that a better planned operation has been readied to hunt down Usman, who escaped during the clash.

A police board of inquiry has been formed to investigate the Maguindanao incident and determine those responsible, Aquino added.

“We will do our utmost to gain justice for all those who perished and for the loved ones they left behind,” added the President who sported a black armband during the necrological service for the slain SAF troopers at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.


Coloma also said government forces are ready for possible retaliatory attacks by rogue Muslim rebels following the reported death of a foreign terror suspect during a police operation in Maguindanao, Malacañang assured on Sunday.

Coloma Jr. said security forces would continue to strengthen the country’s defense and protect the people from any security threat.

Zulkipli Bin Hir, also known as Marwan, was reportedly neutralized by the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in an operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last week. The anti-terror raid however ended tragically when 44 policemen were killed in an ensuing firefight with around 700 armed rebels reportedly coddling Marwan.

“Handa po ang Sandatahang Lakas at lahat ng puwersa ng pamahalaan para labanan po ang ganyang balak at tiyakin ang kaligtasan ng ating mga mamamayan [The Armed Forces and other government forces are ready to thwart such threats and ensure the safety of our people],” Coloma said over government radio.

President Aquino earlier ordered authorities to prepare a more effective plan to apprehend Abdul Basit Usman, the other terror suspect who escaped the Maguindanao encounter last January 25.

“I am a man of my word. Capturing Basit Usman is number one on our list of priorities,” the President said in Filipino during the memorial service for the slain policemen at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. “We will prove that the law truly prevails in the Philippines. I assure you, we will get Usman,” he added.

War in Mindanao affects all Filipinos – MILF

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 2): War in Mindanao affects all Filipinos – MILF

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) emphasized yesterday that the war in Mindanao is affecting people all around the country, and called for cooperation in neutralizing any damage from the deadly clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that claimed the lives of 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Forces (PNP-SAF) commandos.

MILF vice chairman for Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar said the “war in Mindanao affects us all, citizens in Luzon, citizens in the Visayas and citizens in Mindanao.”

“We are all affected, so it is only right that we help each other to end this (violence),” he said in an interview over radio DZBB.

Jaafar, a member of the MILF Central Committee (CC), gave as example the tragic incident in Mamasapano, saying those who died were not only from Central Mindanao, but also from Western Mindanao, South Cotabato, Luzon, and the Visayas.

Jaafar also gave an assurance that on the part of the MILF, they have among others, a Shari’ah Court and a military disciplinary court that would dispense justice on its own officials and members who may be found to have been involved in the massacre that happened seven days.


Meanwhile,  as the Suara Bangsamoro, a Muslim human rights and party list group, cautioned the government against filing cases against members of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) involved in the fighting.

Amirah Ali Lidasan of the Suara Bangsamoro expressed fears that the filing of cases would result in massive manhunt that could lead to human rights violations.

She said “previous anti-terror manhunts (launched by the government) had innocent Moro men falsely identified, tortured and forced to admit involvement (in crimes they did not commit).”


Jaafar also said the MILF, itself, is affected by the bashing it has been getting from media and other leaders.

Jaafar added that some MILF leaders have even stopped watching television and listening to the radio because of this.

“Minumura kami (Invectives are being hurled at us),” he said, as he lamented that some journalists have become too emotional over the Mamasapano issue. “That is a violation of media ethics.”

“Emotions should not prevail,” the MILF leader said. He added the media’s function is very important as the government and his group tries to end the problem in Mindanao.

Why has it come to this? That is not fair, that is violation of ethics in media,” Jaafar said, stressing he knows from where he is speaking of being a former broadcaster, himself, who trained internationally.

“Why is this being allowed by the networks,” he lamented.

Jaafar said media should give accurate information, educate the people, and help disseminate issues of national concern.

“There is a very big task placed on our shoulders, in our hands in ending the war in Mindanao. Let us strive for this and negotiate (for a) political settlement,” the MILF leader said.


This developed as Muslim lawmakers sitting in the 75-man adhoc panel on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) appealed to their colleagues and concerned stakeholders not to give up on the peace measure and on peace process following the House leadership’s admission that the support for the BBL has been “eroded” by the Maguindanao massacre of police commandos.

Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman, vice chairman of the adhoc panel, and his sister-in-law, AMIN partylist Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, strongly urged Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. not to give in to calls to suspend the House discussions on the BBL, with hopes that Bangsamoro juridical entity would be created under the leadership of President Aquino.

“With the incidents, I think the more that we should push the BBL because I believe the only alternative is to go through peace process. If that is the case, are we saying that we are going for the next administration, for another process? Because we only have more than a year left,” Hataman-Salliman said in an interview.

Turabin-Hataman, wife of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman, expressed optimism that Congress would be able to pass the BBL by first quarter of 2015 for lasting peace and progress in the strife-torn region.

Independent commission

Another lawmaker, Bayan Muna Rep. Nery Colmenares, said an independent commission proposed by Senator Teofisto Guingona III should take the lead in probing the incident, instead of the PNP Board of Inquiry.

Colmenares said the independent body will guarantee no whitewash even as it will also be tasked to determine US involvement in the operations to capture notorious Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin HIr alias Marwan.

“The PNP Board of Inquiry, composed of PNP generals, is not expected to objectively investigate the killing of the 44 SAF personnel considering that they will investigate not just the involvement of US forces but also Pres. Benigno Aquino III and PNP Chief Alan Purisima who are their superiors,” warned Colmenares.

Together with Rep. Carlos Zarate, Colmenares also took notice of reports linking US operatives to the bloody police operation to arrest Marwan. “Reports from witnesses in Maguindanao said that an American soldier died during the fighting,” said Rep. Carlos Zarate. The US government has denied that it is involved in the operation. (See separate story on Page 1)


MAGDALO party-list Rep. Ashley Acedillo said the recent signing of the protocol on the implementation of the decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) arms and forces in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia cannot be considered as MILF’s expression of sincerity to forge peace with the government.

He insisted that the MILF leadership should surrender to the government its members who were involved in the massacre of 44 police commandos.

“Napakadali na committed sila sa pagpirma lang ng papel. But the harder thing to do for them that they must do is to surrender or return all the firearms, equipment, uniforms and personal things ng mga namatay nating SAF troopers. Pangalawa, i-surrender nila and submit to justice iyung MILF members who were responsible doon sa Mamasapano massacre,” Acedillo said in a radio interview.

“These are the real commitments on the part of the MILF that they should do to show that they are continually committed to the peace process. Hindi iyung pagpirma- pirma ng kung anong dokumento.

Napakadaling gawin niyan at magbigkas ng kung anong salita,” he said.

Last Thursday, government peace panel head Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal signed the protocol agreement, which tasks the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) to oversee the decommissioning of the MILF weapons and forces