Friday, March 6, 2015

Abu Sayyaf behind teachers' abduction in Zamboanga

From ABS-CBN (Mar 7): Abu Sayyaf behind teachers' abduction in Zamboanga

[Video report: Authorities identify suspects in kidnapping of two teachers in Zamboanga)

The suspects in the abduction of two public school teachers in the coastal town of Talusan in Zamboanga Sibugay last Thursday have been identified as members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Reynadit Bagonoc Silvano, 34, and her brother Russel Bagonoc, 22, were on board their service motorcycle on the way to Tuburan Elementary School when they were waylaid by six men, also on board two motorcycles, in Barangay Moalboal Thursday morning.

The victims were dragged and forcibly brought by the suspects to a motorized pump boat that sped off toward an unknown direction.

Police later recovered the motorcycles of the victims and the suspects near Moalboal Elementary School, about 100 meters away from the shore.

The suspects' motorcycles had no license plates and were believed to be stolen vehicles.

Police who were tipped off by witnesses identified three of the suspects as local residents: Naim Sabdani, and his brothers Mansul and Amadan.

Tracking police forces located the house of the suspects, which was about 200 meters away from where the motorcycles were recovered.

Kapdul Hajiula, sister of the suspects, was apprehended and brought to the Talusan police station for investigation.

She confessed that her three brothers and the three other suspects are all members of the Abu Sayyaf operating in the provinces of Basilan and Sulu.

One of three other suspects was later identified as Edimar Isnain.

Sr. Insp. Allan Castillo, public information officer of Police Regional Office 9, said police and military personnel have been dispatched in the municipality to prevent the abductors from sneaking their victims out of the province.

Does the MILF really have ties with terrorists?

From Rappler (Mar 7): Does the MILF really have ties with terrorists?

A report by Indonesia-based think tank Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict sheds light on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's alleged terrorist links

Does the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) maintain ties with terrorists?

This was a question that Senate Majority Leader Alan Cayetano had pounded on at the Senate probe on the Mamasapano clash after wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, was located and eventually killed in a known MILF bailiwick.

Cayetano even went as far as blaming the MILF for the Mamasapano clash, asking why MILF territories were becoming "a haven for terrorists in Asia."

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal denied that the MILF coddled Marwan who, he said, sought refuge in the territory of its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Chief Peace Adviser Teresita Deles also defended the MILF, stressing that while the MILF did have "flirtations" with the once feared Jemaah Islamiyah, the organization has already vanquished ties with terrorists. (READ: ARMM Gov holds back tears, defends Moros)

Findings of a comprehensive report by Indonesia-based think tank Institute for Policy Analysis for Conflict (IPAC) released on Thursday, March 5, made the same assertions as Deles and Iqbal – that while certain members of the MILF had provided refuge to terrorists, the MILF as an organization had expelled terrorists as early as 2005 when they entered into formal peace talks with the government.

The report chronicled Marwan's career from his beginnings in Malaysia to his involvement in the Ambon conflict in Indonesia, and how he found his way into the corners of the Mindanao conflict.

Marwan 'suspicious' of MILF

In an interview with Rappler Talk, IPAC Director Sidney Jones said it is not accurate to say that the organization continues to maintain ties with terrorists.

"I don't think it is correct because I think what we saw repeatedly was that Marwan and the people around him were actually very worried about staying with the MILF because they believed they would be betrayed by the MILF," Jones said.

She added: "There's a question of how much leaders could have tried harder to find out whether there were members of the MILF who were providing refuge but I think the overall message was clear that these individuals were not welcome. Marwan himself did not want to be with the MILF because he was afraid that if he was with them, he would be turned in."

After fleeing to Mindanao from Indonesia, Marwan joined a small group of jihadists that included Bali bombers Umar Patek and Dulmatin who turned out to be staying in the Philippines as well. Marwan was initially under the protection of Ismail Sulaiman alias Abu Hashim, an MILF commander in Pikit, North Cotabato, but he was eager to leave because he got bored and frustrated that Abu Hashim would not let him join firefights.

Marwan and his small group were protected by Mugasid Delna alias Abu Badrin, a commander of the MILF's Special Elite Force and the organization's then main liaison with foreign jihadists. Abu Badrin had been a close friend of Umar Patek on the Afghan border.

The report said the Pawas group's contact with the outside world was only limited to certain individuals, including then leader of the MILF's 105th Base Command Ameril Umbra Kato and his commander Abdul Basit Usman. Umbra Kato broke away from the MILF after it entered into peace talks with the government and formed the BIFF. Usman joined him.

Through Kato's men, the Pawas group was able to make contact with the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf Group. The report said:

In May 2003 a few senior JI members, including Zulkanaen, had met (Khadaffy) Janjalani, Isnilon Hapilon and Abu Solaiman in Jolo to discuss JI-ASG collaboration. Zulkarnaen, according to one person present, urged that ASG move to Mindanao so they could be protected by JI members in Jabal Quba. Janjalani agreed but Raddulan Sahiron objected, on the grounds that he did not trust some of the MILF whom he believed would sell their own friends to the government in exchange for cash rewards.

Their fears were not unfounded.

When the Pawas group and the ASG contingent went back to Datu Piang, Maguindanao, they asked for Usman's help to scout for possible places to stay near Kato's area. But every time they moved to a new place, they came under attack from the Philippine army.

The attacks proved to be difficult for Marwan, who suffered panic attacks. The report said he once panicked so badly that he started shooting at his own friends, though no one got hurt. (READ: Marwan not 'world class terrorist,' says report)

Despite their concerns, the Pawas group still decided to stay in Maguindanao and set up a camp in Talayan town in July 2005. But just after settling down, they were attacked from both land and air for over a month, making them realize that the area was no longer safe for them. According to the IPAC report:

Janjalani and Patek realised Mindanao was no longer safe. The fact that ground troops could reach their camp in Talayan meant that the MILF had abandoned them – the military could have only reached Talayan through MILF territory. The MILF had indeed agreed to help Philippine authorities through the mechanism known as the Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), designed to “isolate and interdict” criminals, kidnap-for-ransom groups and rogue elements suspected of hiding in MILF areas. In September 2005, the Pawas group left for Jolo.

The Pawas group left for Jolo in September 2005 but Marwan was left behind in Pikit, again under Abu Hashim's protection. He eventually moved to Jolo in July 2007 after a few scares that he would be caught. It was the news that one of his friends, JI member Usamah, had been shot dead by his own wife's relative that convinced him to leave.

At around this time, Dulmatin and Umar Patek had already left Jolo. This caused authorities to set their sights on him, "driven in part" by the $5 million bounty on Marwan's head.

Afterwards, Marwan was forced to leave Jolo after the ASG blamed him for the death of senior Abu Sayyaf commander Doc Abu. Operations against him intensified after 2010, and in one of the operations, authorities thought they had killed Marwan but killed Doc Abu instead. (READ: Marwan's ties that bind: Ren-ren Dongon)

Marwan was detected in Lanao del Sur, where he was reportedly involved in several bombings. He moved back to Maguindanao in 2013 under Kato's protection. By that time, the BIFF, led by Kato, had already splintered from the MILF.

The police Special Action Force and the military would go on to conduct at least 9 operations against Marwan. It was "Operation Exodus" in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that killed him – but at the cost of at least 65 lives – 44 SAF troopers, 18 MILF combatants, and at least 3 civilians. (READ: Why SAF didn't trust military)

During the Senate hearings, it was revealed that Marwan was hiding in an area controlled by the BIFF but surrounded by an MILF-controlled area.

The MILF claimed the SAF violated ceasefire mechanisms by failing to coordinate the operation. The SAF, meanwhile, has accused the MILF of overkill.

[Video interview: Rappler Talk: The Marwan manhunt and its impact on the peace process   (Sydney Jones)]

How to move forward?

In the report, IPAC questioned the wisdom behind conducting a counter-terrorism operation while a peace process that is already almost 20 years in the making was already in its advanced stages.

This is coupled with the fact that the IPAC report shows that Marwan was not the master bomber and world-class terrorist that he was made out to be.

Jones said the only way to move forward is to strengthen coordinating mechanisms between the MILF and the government through the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), and not to abrogate the peace process.

"Working through the AHJAG would have been one way to go forward. If the SAF did not want to go through AHJAG since they were afraid Marwan's whereabouts would leak, then they would have think through – what would have happened if he had gotten away one more time?" Jones asked.

"Was it still not important not to think about the timing of all of this and the fact that we are were coming to a critical point where we could go over the hump and finally get an agreement through the Philippine Congress? I think coordination is critical," she added.

The passage of a proposed law creating a new autonomous region in the South has been imperiled by the Mamasapano clash as lawmakers questioned the sincerity of the MILF in the process.

Jones said it would be a "quadruple tragedy" if the peace process would be put to waste.

With the threat of ISIS also a concern globally, Jones said the peace process becomes more imperative.

"Terrorism is not going away in the Philippines," Jones said. " It's going to be centered probably in areas that are in or near MILF majority so you will have splinter groups like this. You will have the ASG or parts of Sulu probably joining the new Bangsamoro substate."

"You will face the possibility that there will continue to be extremists that the new government will have to deal with and the only way to address that is to have very clear coordinating mechanisms to ensure that these rogue elements aren't allowed to function."
Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict: Killing Marwan in Mindanao

Abu Sayyaf frees marine cop Zakiah after eight months

From the Star Online (Mar 7): Abu Sayyaf frees marine cop Zakiah after eight months

 Kons Zakiah (left) and Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman at a press conference at the chief minister’s residence in Sandakan

Kons Zakiah (left) and Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman at a press conference at the chief minister’s residence in Sandakan

KOTA KINABALU: Marine police constable Zakiah Aleip, who was abducted by Abu Sayyaf militants in Pulau Mabul, Semporna in July last year, has been released.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said Kons Zakiah was released by his kidnappers at about 2.30pm on Friday, and was sent to Sulu at about 11pm on the same day.

“Our team of police managed to get him out of Indanan in Sulu and he arrived in Sandakan at about 7.30am on Saturday,” Jalaluddin said.

An hour later, Kons Zakiah was brought to meet Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman at his house at Kampung Sungai Kayu in Sandakan.
Musa said he had informed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak of the policeman’s release.

The release was made possible through continuous negotiations with his captors, Musa added.

Kons Zakiah was abducted after gunmen attacked a marine police unit Pulau Mabul at around 11.10pm on July 12.

His colleague Kpl Ab Rajah Jamuan, 32, was killed in the attack.

Zakiah is believed to have been held in the Abu Sayyaf’s jungle hideout in Jolo island in the southern Philippines.

MILF: MILF will not surrender their members involved in Mamasapano clash

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 6): MILF will not surrender their members involved in Mamasapano clash

MILF will not surrender their members involved in Mamasapano clash

On February 3, Tuesday, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said that they will not surrender their members involved in the Mamasapano clash where 44 members of the elite PNP-Special Action Force, 18 MILF combatants and 5 civilians perished, as surrendering them is not part of the ceasefire agreement signed between the GPH and MILF peace panels.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Chief Negotiator stressed in an interview that the MILF should not be blamed for the deaths of police commandos during the armed encounter.

"Hindi ho kami ang may kasalanan. Pumasok sila walang coordination, full-battle gear, nagkaroon ng engkwentro... and then after that, kami po ang sisisihin?",  he added.
Iqbal also called on the public to look at the "big picture" regarding the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

"Itong BBL, susi po ito sa kapayapaan, susi po ito sa development and progress sa Mindanao," (BBL is the key towards peace and development in Mindanao), Iqbal further said.

Earlier, the Moro Front warned that a diluted BBL would result to complications as it will not resolve the Mindanao Question.

MILF: Davao Peace Advocates to observe National Day of Healing for Peace and Unity

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 5): Davao Peace Advocates to observe National Day of Healing for Peace and Unity

Davao Peace Advocates to observe National Day of Healing for Peace and Unity

Peace Advocates in Davao City will hold peace advocacy activities in observance of the National Day of Healing for Peace and Unity on March 6. The organizers enjoin the constituents of the city to join them in their calling for “All out Peace.”

The organizers said they will start the daylong activities with the listening to the call for Al Fajr (dawn) prayer at 4:30AM at the Mosque near Almendras Gym.
It will be followed by “Lakaw Kalinaw,” a “walk in faith” from the Mosque to Monument of Peace and Unity fronting the Sangguniang Panlunsod Building where they can share a light breakfast dubbed “Pamahaw sa Kalinaw”.

By 6:00 AM, there will be “Misa Kalinaw” at the San Pedro Cathedral along San Pedro Street near the City Hall.

This will be followed by “Tawag Kalinaw” at the Peace and Unity Monument at 7:30AM where they will prepare for the “Lakaw sa Kababihan alang sa Kalinaw,” a unity walk from the Freedom Park toward the People’s Park.

At around 11 in the morning at the Freedom Park, the peace advocates will hold the public launch of #Hear Mindanao, #Gong for Peace, #Honk for Peace, and #Bell for Peace.

This is to amplify their calling for the public support for the “All out Peace” in Mindanao.

From 9 to 11 in the morning, a “Peacelikula” featuring the film “War is a Tender Thing” by Film Director Adjani Arumpac.

By 4:30 PM, bikers will be assembled at the Rizal Park for a “Wheels for Peace,” a peace caravan that will traverse Bajada, Dakudao, Boulevard, Ecoland, Sandawa and Matina Town Square (MTS).

Songs for peace from local artists will be heard at the “Musikalinaw” program starting 7 in the evening at the MTS.

The Senate declared March 6 as the National Day of Healing for Peace and Unity "to remember those who perished in Mamasapano as well as the thousands of lives lost from decades of armed conflict."

MILF: PCID reiterates its support for the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 5): PCID reiterates its support for the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law

PCID reiterates its support for the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law

The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) reiterates its support for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law - urging the legislators and officials to continue with its review.

In its statement on the Mamasapano incident, the PCID exhort all advocates of peace and democracy to call for sobriety and temperance in this period fraught with emotion and sentiment.

The Mamasapano encounter claimed lives of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) policemen, 18 Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and some civilians.

“We likewise extend our condolences and sympathies to the other victims of the deadly firefight between the PNP and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters/Moro Islamic Liberation Front that rocked the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao,” the PCID said.

“The disastrous encounter had resulted not only in the tragic deaths and casualties from both  sides, including the displacement of families forced to flee their homes, but have shaken the trust and confidence reposed in the ongoing peace process.”

The PCID, a group of Muslim peace advocates, pointed out that the Mamasapano debacle and the recent bombings in other areas in Mindanao “unveil the urgency of addressing the myriad of issues underpinning the Bangsamoro problem.”

“These critical issues, if left unresolved, could tear asunder the tenuous peace hardily wrought through years of fractious negotiations.  We fervently pray that this terrible incident will not derail the ongoing peace process.”

“Further, violence begets violence in a never ending cycle. Only peaceful resolution of conflict cuts this pernicious cycle,” stressed in the statement.

“We know that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) cannot be the panacea to the complicated and deeply-rooted problem in the region. But we firmly believe that the BBL is the transformative medium that sets in place the vital foundation for establishing sustainable peace and inclusive development to a much-marginalized and severely neglected sector of the Philippine society.”

The PCID urged the citizens to “pray for lasting peace, commit to an abiding respect for human life and uphold the supremacy of the rule of law.”

MILF: Senate declares March 6 as National Day of Healing for Unity and Peace

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 5): Senate declares March 6 as National Day of Healing for Unity and Peace

The Senate adopted a resolution declaring March 6, 2015 as a National Day of Healing for Unity and Peace "to remember those who perished in Mamasapano as well as the thousands of lives lost from decades of armed conflict."
In its Press Release dated March 3, the Upper Chamber said that the Senate Resolution No. 1204 was authored by Senators Teofisto Guingona III, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Aquilino Pimentel III.

The resolution encourages the Filipino People to stand for justice and stay the course of peace.

Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said that the resolution is also an expression of the Senate’s desire to honor and give justice to all victims of the Mindanao conflict, and its support for the ongoing peace process which aims to finally end hostilities in the region.

The leader of the national legislators further said, “We must not allow peace to be the latest casualty of this event. Now and more than ever, we must not stray away from the path of peace."

The resolution stated, "This unfortunate incident has likewise caused a national divide threatening to polarize the country and its peace-loving peoples, with some sections issuing condemnation, hasty judgment and espousing bloody retaliation."

"Civil society groups, peace movements and communities across the country have started to gather as peace advocates calling for unity and peace. There is an imperative and urgent need to pause and re-assess our common aspirations to bring peaceful solutions to our nation's problems," the resolution said.

Various groups drumbeat their call for the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which they believe as a formula to end the decades of conflict in Southern Philippines.
Amidst the waning support of some lawmakers to the basic law following the Mamasapano incident, peace advocates insistently urge the Congress to continue their deliberation on the BBL.

The Bangsamoro people in various gatherings expressed their desire for the basic law to be implemented.

BIFF putting up united front with other groups

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Mar 7): BIFF putting up united front with other groups

The military offensive unleashed in Mindanao has triggered a budding alliance among armed groups left out of the peace talks with the government, an official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said yesterday.

MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said the emergence of the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM) in Central Mindanao is an indication of the realignment of armed groups targeted by an ongoing military offensive.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), though painted as a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that has forged a peace agreement with the government, will now fight side by side with JIM against the military, Fontanilla said.

As part of tradition, every Muslim owns a gun and will defend his community if attacked, he said.

“Only women, children and elderly go to evacuation centers; able-bodied men will join the fight,” he said.

Fontanilla said JIM is among several armed groups operating in Mindanao and the failure of the government to reach out to them drove them to form tactical alliances with other groups and tribal communities that are also a force to reckon with.

The selective peace talks with the MILF, which according to Fontanilla are actually a divide and rule tactic by the government, are now taking their toll with the emergence of a united front in Mindanao.

“A united front is now emerging, BIFF, JIM and other groups will join the fight if the military will continue its offensive,” he said.

Because of strong blood ties, the MILF will not fight against their brothers and relatives, and in a worst-case scenario, they might even join the fray to protect their communities.

Fontanilla, however, said the MNLF would not join the new alliance because it has already renounced armed struggle in attaining their political objective.

The MNLF forged a peace agreement with the government in 1996.

“The MNLF will just be a passive observer but it will also protect their communities if attacked,” Fontanilla warned.

Malacañang said government is ready to confront the JIM as the offensive against the BIFF and the Abu Sayyaf continued.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. on Thursday said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was doing its duty to monitor the activities of different armed groups.

He added the military was continuously coordinating with the MILF to check the movements of different armed groups in their strongholds in Mindanao.

The ongoing offensives and operations by the military against the BIFF that are being carried out in areas known to the MILF now also target the JIM.

Coloma said the JIM would pose a challenge to the peace process, the reason solidarity or unity of all stakeholders is important to push it forward.

The military offensives, however, have displaced thousands of civilians in Central Mindanao.

Although tension has waned in some towns where the military and Muslim rebels are locked in a face-off for a week now, evacuees are reluctant to return to the homes they hastily abandoned for fear of getting caught in the crossfire.

The provincial board of Maguindanao declared 36 towns under a state of calamity to hasten delivery of relief and rehabilitation services to thousands of displaced villagers in squalid evacuation centers.

Lynette Estandarte, chief budget officer of Maguindanao, said about 90 percent of evacuees affected by the ongoing military operations rely on farming as their main source of income.

“They were forced to leave their farms unattended for fear of an outbreak of hostilities between the BIFF and pursuing military forces,” Estandarte said.

“Tension in some areas has started to deescalate, but the evacuees are reluctant to return home for security reasons,” she added.

The Department of Health (DOH) said they have not recorded any disease outbreaks in the evacuation centers for civilians displaced by the fighting in Maguindanao.

DOH spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy gave assurance that the department has sent teams of experts to look into the health conditions of evacuees.

On the other hand, Department of Education regional director Allan Farnazo appealed to the military to protect the schoolchildren in their operations against the BIFF.

Farnazo also appealed to the BIFF to be sensitive to the rights of the students.

“We urged both the warring parties to avoid the students to be casualties of your wars. Don’t bring your gun battle near the schools,” he said.

Farnazo urged the military to avoid using the schools in Pikit town as operation bases or command centers to avoid being attacked by the BIFF.

They should also consider public schools as “zones of peace,” he added.

Despite security concerns, investments are up in the region, according to officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which includes Maguindanao.

According to the ARMM regional investment board, two companies based in the island town of Panglima Sugala in Tawi-Tawi – the Tawi-Tawian Petroleum Trading Corp. and Chan C Mining Inc. – registered a total of P863 million worth of new projects in the first quarter of this year.

Tawi-Tawian Petroleum is into importation and distribution of petroleum products while Chan C Mining is engaged in mining and quarrying of nickel ore for export to China.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said investors’ confidence in the region is still high.

Policeman abducted in Sabah by Abu Sayyaf released

From GMA News (Mar 7): Policeman abducted in Sabah by Abu Sayyaf released

A marine policeman abducted last year by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen has been released, a Malaysian news site reported Saturday.

Marine police constable Zakiah Aleip was abducted by gunmen in Semporna last July, The Star Online reported Saturday.

Zakiah had been believed to be in an Abu Sayyaf jungle hideout in Jolo as of last January, and was reportedly suffering from malaria.

Zakiah was abducted July 12 last year, following an attack on a Marine Police unit at Pulau Mabul off Semporna district.

His colleague Kpl Ab Rajah Jamuan was killed during the incident.

GMA News Online sought comment from military public information office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, but he said they are still verifying.

More details to follow.

Philippine Navy’s Makassar-class vessels construction update

From Ang Malaya (Mar 6): Philippine Navy’s Makassar-class vessels construction update

“The SSV (strategic sealift vessel) is on schedule and completion for the first copy is in May 2016 while the second one is slated for May 2017,” Philippine Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Jesus C. Millan told the government news agency.

Indonesian PT PAL (Persero) is currently constructing the first Makassar-class Landing Platform Dock ordered by Philippine government.

Once delivered, the Makassar vessels will be utilized as Navy’s SSV carrying out roles of a floating command center, military transport vessel, and respond during disasters and calamities.

These sealift vessels are capable of housing landing craft utility/mechanized, Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) and attack helicopters. Each vessel can carry up to 500 troops plus a hundred vessel crew.

Leader of new Mindanao armed group has post-graduate degree from Egypt

From GMA News (Mar 5): Leader of new Mindanao armed group has post-graduate degree from Egypt

The new armed group to emerge in Mindanao is led by a longtime Moro rebel who met several financiers in Egypt, where he reportedly obtained a post-graduate degree in one of Cairo's learning institutions.

Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, the spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the Justice for Islamic Movement, is headed by by Mohammad Ali Tambako, a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Tambako allegedly obtained a master's degree in islamic studies from one of Egypt's learning institutions, Kakilala told GMA News Online in a text message.

Kakilala said it was in Cairo where he met individuals who would finance the BIFF.
He, however, could not confirm if the new breakaway group is now being supported by foreign sources.
"As of now, we have not established, pero dati kasi, si Ali Tambako, when he was in BIFF, siya 'yung kumukuha ng funds," Kakilala said.

The JIM is a splinter group of the BIFF, which in turn broke away from the MILF. The MILF has an existing peace agreement with the government.

Both the BIFF and the JIM are considered lawless elements by the government.

The MILF also started as a breakaway faction of the MNLF.
Kakilala said the military classifies the new group as a lawless armed group, and no different from the BIFF.
"Same old threat," he said.
JIM was founded in November 2013 and reportedly has 70 members , who are involved in manufacturing improvised explosive devices. 
Kakilala said that it was Tambako's group that was coddling bomb maker Basit Usman, a member of the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group
He said that the number of the group's followers could have increased as Usman "also [had] his own followers."

The military is in the middle of an all-out offensive versus the BIFF.
Kakilala, however, said that the AFP has operations against both the BIFF and JIM.

‘Pelicans’ detach to the Philippines

From Jax Air News (Mar 4): ‘Pelicans’ detach to the Philippines

VP-45 “Pelicans” Combat Aircrew 4 stand with members of the Philippine Air Force and Navy.

Photo courtesy of VP-45
VP-45 “Pelicans” Combat Aircrew 4 stand with members of the Philippine Air Force and Navy.
The “Pelicans” of VP-45 recently completed the first detachment of their 2015 deployment to Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines.  From Feb. 1 - 21, the Pelicans mission supported 7th Fleet objectives around the clock to strengthen maritime partnerships while conducting routine patrols across the 7th Fleet area of responsibility.
Members of Combat Aircrews (CACs) 4 and 9, along with maintenance and support personnel, executed more than 180 flight hours over the course of three weeks in support of theater operations by providing real-time intelligence of the maritime domain.
The Pelicans also had the opportunity to provide a familiarization flight to members of the Philippine Air Force and Navy. The bilateral patrol mission conducted over the waters off of Luzon Island allowed the P-8A aircrew to showcase their platform’s capabilities in both the littoral and open-ocean environments.  
CAC 4 Patrol Plane Commander Lt. Matthew Pool, demonstrated the flight characteristics of the P-8A Poseidon during both the high-altitude reconnaissance mission and the low-altitude patrol regimes. Tactical Coordinator Lt. Justin Rogers exhibited the aircraft’s multi-mission sensors through the various subsystems and crew workstations. 
“It was a remarkable opportunity to work alongside the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Sharing this aircraft’s capabilities with our allies only strengthens our bonds,” said Pool.
Additionally, the Pelicans hosted a site visit for members of the New Zealand Air Force, who were visiting Clark Air Base to explore its infrastructure for potential joint operations. The tour included a visit to the base facilities and a static display of the P-8A.
Afterward, the officers hosted a dinner at a local restaurant where they enjoyed sharing stories, operational history and discussed the desire for future bilateral training opportunities. 

Another BIFF camp falls, 4 members captured in Maguindanao - Army

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 7): Another BIFF camp falls, 4 members captured in Maguindanao - Army

The military here announced Saturday the capture of another camp of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the arrest of four members.

Capt. Joann Petinglay, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said the camp in Barangays Dabinayan and Liab, both in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, was the third camp that fell into government hands in three days.

Two BIFF camps in Mamasapano and Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao were captured, on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

She identified the four arrested BIFF members as Aladin Panaydan, 22; Daud Balogat, 23; Ebrahim Oraw, 40; and Abdul Madalidaw, 33; all residents of Barangay Dabinayan, Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

She said the operating troops of Task Force Central confiscated from the suspects a caliber .45 pistol with one magazine and six rounds of ammunition; a caliber .45 sub-machine gun, improvised explosive device (IED) paraphernalia, four mobile phones, bomb making ingredients and assorted documents.

Petinglay said Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th ID chief and commander of Task Force Central, strictly directed infantrymen to ensure the rules of engagement during the entire operation and that troops uphold the rights of captured BIFF members even if they are enemies of the state.

She added the four BIFF members, one of whom was wounded, were given medical attention and turned over to the Maguindanao police detention cell for filing of appropriate charges.

At least 15 BIFF members were killed, three camps captured and three soldiers wounded in the week-long military campaign to neutralize the BIFF believed to be coddling Filipino bomb expert Basit Usman and five foreign terrorists.

About 45,000 civilians were also displaced in Maguindanao's 11 towns.

AAR chief says woman an integral part of his unit

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6): AAR chief says woman an integral part of his unit

As the nation celebrates Women's Month this March, the Nueva Ecija-based Army Artillery Regiment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has announced that lady personnel of the unit have played a key role in ensuring that the AAR remains efficient and combat-ready through the years.

“Women in the artillery are not only witnesses of the successful campaigns won-over by the AFP in the past years, but also, they were a part of it," AAR commander Brig. Gen. Leandro A. Loyao III said.

"They are either behind the scenes performing administrative duties in the garrison or commanding the tactical units as battery commanders in the field,” he added.

At present, the AAR has four female officers designated as battery commanders -- one in Luzon, one in the Visayas and two in Mindanao artillery units.

Other two junior and two field grade female officers are performing battalion and regiment staff duties, respectively, with the 22 enlisted women on clerical and administrative tasks.

“Respect begets respect. Violence against women is a criminal offense. Practice by heart all the values you learned during your training and you will never go wrong. I am expecting that you will be an epitome of a true artilyero, both a good and successful soldier,” Loyao said.

The AAR, a gender-responsive unit, is one of the major combat support units of the Philippine Army which has been giving opportunities to women soldiers to command a tactical unit in the field.

Php39.8-M allocated for overhaul of C-130 engine assembly

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6): Php39.8-M allocated for overhaul of C-130 engine assembly

In line with efforts to ensure that all its aircraft are airworthy and mission capable at all times, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has allocated Php 39,849,975 for the overhaul of the engine assembly of one of its Lockheed C-130H "Hercules" cargo aircraft.

The PAF is known to operate three C-130 planes in its inventory.

Another two are scheduled to be deliver by next year.

Pre-bid conference is slated for March 11 at 11 a.m., PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

While submission and bid opening is on March 24, on the same venue at 9 a.m.

Prospective bidders should have an experience in similar project within the last five years.

Soldiers playing dead kill Abu Sayyaf sub-leader, wound his two sons in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6): Soldiers playing dead kill Abu Sayyaf sub-leader, wound his two sons in Sulu

Army soldiers pretending to be dead killed an Abu Sayyaf Group sub-leader and wounded his two sons who tried to steal the troops' firearms following last Wednesday’s landmine explosion that left three troopers killed in Patikul, Sulu, the military confirmed Friday.

The slain terrorist leader was identified as Juhurim Hussein.

Not knowing that some of the troopers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion were only playing possum, he picked up the weapons of the lying soldiers and was leaving in a hurry when the soldiers who survived an earlier blast of an improvised explosive device (IED) opened fire, killing him on the spot.

Hussein's two sons, who were with him at the time, were wounded, one of them seriously, the military said.

The terror group planted the IED in Barangay Pansul, Patikul, Sulu and detonated it when a convoy of trucks from the 32nd Infantry Battalion passed.

The troops fought back despite being caught by surprise, forcing the terrorists to withdraw.

After the fighting, Hussein decided to go back to the area, thinking the soldiers were all killed. But he was wrong because some of the troops who were only playing dead opened fire, hitting him fatally.

The report said his two sons were wounded when they tried to recover the body of their father.

The killing of Hussein and the wounding of his two sons were confirmed by their relatives and friends in Jolo, the capital town of the island province of Sulu.

Government forces in Sulu have intensified their operations against some 300 Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the province, killing 37 members of the terror group the past two weeks.

At least 78 terrorists were also wounded during the same period.

Government forces suffered four killed and 44 wounded in action.

Trooper killed in Zamboanga Del Sur clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6): Trooper killed in Zamboanga Del Sur clash

A trooper from the 10th Infantry Battalion was killed following a clash with a still undetermined number of rebels at Sitio Sabangan, Barangay Dumalinao, Bayog town, Zamboanga Del Sur last March 4.

Reports forwarded Friday by Capt. Franco Suelto, 1st Infantry Divsion, said the encounter took place 7 a.m.

He added that a platoon from the 10th Infantry Battalion was conducting routine security patrol when they encountered a New People's Army (NPA) group allegedly belonging to the remnants of Section Committee Feliciano Alpha.

An hour long gun-battle ensued resulting to discovery of temporary encampment and recovery of subversive documents.  

Suelto said a soldier was killed in the fighting while the NPAs retreated after sustaining an undetermined number of casualties.

The name of the soldier is withheld prior notification of his next-of-kin.

Another platoon reinforced the engaged troops and the soldiers continue the pursuit operations of the NPA bandits.

“The NPA location is deep in the forested areas of the provincial boundary between Zamboanga Del Sur and Zamboanga Del Norte.  This is a clear indication that they are encamping in unhabitable areas because they already loss the support of the local populace in their traditional areas due to continuous 'Bayanihan' (peace and development) activities. The NPAs in Zamboanga del Sur are now tired and facing hardship on continuous evasion of military troops,” Suelto said.

Eastern Mindanao Command anti-rebel drive gaining ground

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6): Eastern Mindanao Command anti-rebel drive gaining ground

The Eastern Mindanao Command on Friday announced that its campaign against the New People's Army (NPA) is gaining momentum as it recorded 39 encounters with the rebel force since the lifting of the unilateral suspension of military operations last Jan. 19.

Killed in those encounters where 16 NPA fighters which also resulted in the recovery of 34 firearms.

Operations also caused the displacement of the NPAs from 33 of their encampment.

"While we are pursuing these bandits in their lair, in partnership with the different Local Government Units, our door is open for those who want to surrender. For this year, we have a total of 27 surrenderees which we are processing for their enrolment to the Comprehensive Localized Integration Program," said Eastern Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad.

Likewise, the Eastern Mindanao Command, through its subordinate units, conducted 27 Medical Missions in its area of operation benefiting about 500, mostly Indigenous people.

The Eastern Mindanao Command has also facilitated livelihood assistance program in South Cotabato and Sarangani while assisting other formerly organized grass roots cooperatives in Davao Sur.

Further, the army engineers implemented farm to market rehabilitation projects in Patil, Kapalong town, Davao Norte.

Units under 1003rd Brigade are also assisting in the road construction of the road network connecting Davao Del Norte and Bukidnon.

"Our troops are also involved in the different socio-economic endeavors to resolve issues that breed insurgency in the countryside. And while doing so our troops adhere to the Respect of Human Rights and Rule of Law" Baladad said.

AFP thanks DBM for modernization funds

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 7): AFP thanks DBM for modernization funds
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has expressed gratitude to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for allocating funds for its ongoing modernization program.

"This is a welcome development that would truly enhance the AFP's capacity and capability in order to effectively accomplish our mission areas such as in internal security operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, territorial defense operations, peacekeeping operations, and international defense and security engagements," newly-appointed AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said in a message to the PNA.

The DBM earlier said that AFP Modernization Program will receive a budget of Php20 billion from the allotment of the AFP General Headquarters as well as Php10 billion from the 2015 Unprogrammed Funds.

The Army, Navy, Air Force and AFP General Headquarters were allotted with a total of Php95.8 billion.

“Creating an environment where there is just and lasting peace, security, and the prevalence of the rule of law is an integral part of our thrust to create inclusive growth,” it added.

Cafgu and ex-rebel shot by NPA in separate incidents

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 6): Cafgu and ex-rebel shot by NPA in separate incidents

A GOVERNMENT militiaman was killed while a former rebel was wounded when they were shot by alleged members of the New People’s Army in Laak, Compostela Valley and Paquibato District on Thursday.

Cafgu member Romelito B. Jumang-it was shot to death by suspected NPA member while he was tending to his farm in Purok Panulawan, Barangay Malabog Paquibato District at 3:15 p.m.

The victim sustained gunshot wound on his head resulting to his immediate death. His cadaver now lies in Villa Funeraria in Panabo City.

Meanwhile, Rogelito Gaparan, 40, resident of Purok 2-A Poblacion in Laak, was shot by an alleged communist guerilla while he was talking to his wife in the balcony of their house.

According to the report, Gaparan was a former rebel and team leader of Pulang Bagani Command 3 for almost 16 years. He surrendered to the 67th Infantry Battalion last June 3, 2014 in Don Martin Marundon, Mati, Davao Oriental.

The victim sustained gunshot wound on his right chest was brought to the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum.

Moro group marks anniversary of American massacre of Sulu natives

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 6): Moro group marks anniversary of American massacre of Sulu natives
KAWAGIB, the Moro human rights group, commemorated the 109th anniversary of the Bud Dajo Massacre yesterday.

Bai Ali Indayla, secretary general of Kagawib, said that “in commemoration of the Bud Dajo massacre, we pay tribute to the martyrs of the Moro struggle for self-determination.”

Based on the reports, around 1,600 Tausugs, including women, children, and elderly were massacred by the US troops led by Gen. Pershing on March 6, 1906 in the mountain (Bud) of Dajo, Jolo Sulu.

The report added that the United States wanted to overpower the Moro people to control its lands and resources.

Kawagib also condemns the counterinsurgency program of the government which is “all-out offensive” against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Indayla claimed that the underlying reasons of the ongoing US War on Terror and the recent all-out offensives in Central Mindanao is not aimed at ending terrorism but justifying the presences of the US troops and its unjust war to control the remaining resources in the Moro ancestral domain.

“We condemn and hold the US-Aquino regime accountable for the massive human rights violations of the Moro civilians and for perpetrating historical social injustices against Moro people,” Indayla said. “No to all-out war. Pursue just and Lasting peace.”

The Moro group also conducted an indignation rally at the Freedom park yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Kawagib along with the Bayan and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines-Davao launched the ‘Rice for Peace-Food not Bomb,’ a relief and fact-finding missions for the victims of wars in Central Mindanao.

BP. Hamuel Tequis of UCCP-Davao said they aim to provide immediate food, medical and psychological aid to the evacuees; gather information about the militarization, present the current situation in Central Mindanao for public information; and call for an end to the indiscriminate militarization in Central Mindanao.

Marwan not 'world-class terrorist,' says report

From Rappler (Mar 6): Marwan not 'world-class terrorist,' says report

The bomb maker, whose arrest claimed the lives of 44 police commandos, is actually just 'a little snake who has been blown up into a dragon,' says the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict

He was “a little snake who has been blown up into a dragon."

With a $5-million bounty on his head, Zulkifli bin hir, better known as Marwan - the target of Oplan Exodus, was portrayed in the media as an international bomb expert, with unverified reports claiming that he may have left behind 300 bomb makers after he was killed.

No less than dismissed police Special Action Force (SAF) chief Getulio Napeñas called him "the most notorious bomb expert not just here in Southeast Asia but also in the entire world" during the Senate probe on the Mamasapano clash.

A report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, however, debunks common knowledge about Marwan's reputation as a world-class terrorist. The institute is headed by Sidney Jones, who used to be with the International Crisis Group and has done various research projects on security in Mindanao.

"Killing Marwan in Mindanao" was based on documentary sources and interviews from 5 Indonesians who knew Marwan in Indonesia and/or the Philippines. The sources all requested for anynomity.

As the political fallout from the Mamasapano clash put the future of the peace process in jeopardy, the report raised questions on whether the consequences of the January 25 operation should have been "more systematically" taken into account before it was executed.

It traced Marwan's career from his beginnings in Indonesia to Afghanistan, his involvement in the Ambon Conflict in Indonesia, and how he weaved his way into conflict areas in Mindanao until he was killed in the Mamasapano clash that also claimed the lives of 44 elite cops, 18 rebels and at least 3 civlians.

Contrary to how he was portrayed in the media, Marwan was “a little snake who has been blown up into a dragon,” according to one of Marwan's Indonesian associates as quoted in the report.

Marwan was never a member of the once feared Jemaah Islamiyah, according to the report. While he was a senior member of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, which had ties with the JI, he was never its leader. (EXCLUSIVE: Marwan's ties that bind: Aljebir Adzhar aka Embel)

Napeñas, in the February 9 Senate hearing, referred to Marwan as one of the "technical masterminds behind the 2002 Bali bombing." The report disputed this and stressed that he had "no role whatsoever" in the bombings and he was already in the Philippines when these took place.

He was neither a leader in Mindanao nor did he have special bomb-making skills. In fact, Marwan's expertise was more on sharp shooting. Marwan was even scared of bombs, according to the report:

"When his friends in Pawas were learning bomb construction, Marwan often stayed in his house; he told his friends the bombs scared him. He did not take part very often in weapons training either because he was already relatively skilled. He spent much of his time surfing the Internet with his laptop. The camp had a generator, so there was no problem with electricity.

Marwan was known in the Pawas camp as a gun collector, with an M16, Shotgun 12A, Winchester 22 and Armalite 15, acessories such as an M9 bayonet and a Glock bayonet knife sent by his elder brother, Rachmat from Califorina."

Why Marwan's reputation blew up

There are more 4 main factors that could have contributed to how "the image became bigger than the man," the report said.

After fleeing to the Philippines, Marwan became part of a small group of foreign jihadis who operated in Mindanao that included Jemaah Islamiyah members and Bali bombers Umar Patek and Dulmatin, who fled to the Philippines after the bombings.

"Marwan's stature may have been a reflection of theirs," the report said.

The group was forced to flee central Mindanao for Jolo after the MILF leadership severed its ties with jihadis. Umar Patek and Dulmatin eventually left for Indonesia but Marwan was left behind.

Marwan may have also been mistaken for another Malaysian, Zulkifli Marzuki, who was JI's secretary and had dealings with the al-Qaeda through his links to Hambali – the only Indonesian in Guantanamo prison. Some intelligence information attributed to Marwan may have been referring to Marzuki. In fact, the authors of the report said they themselves confused the two Zulkiflis in a 2003 report for the International Crisis Group.

Another factor is Marwan's ability to evade arrest. Before he was killed in Mamasapano, the police and the military hatched at least 9 operations against Marwan from 2010 to 2015. (READ: Why SAF didn't trust the military)

As his reputation became more notorious, authorities – both in the Philippines and the US – deemed it necessary to employ "extraordinary measures" to arrest him, as shown by the size of the SAF Force that was organized to arrest him.

Was it worth it?

During the eulogy for the 44 fallen SAF members on January 30, SAF's Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño asked: "Is it worth it, one international terrorist equivalent to 44 SAF troopers?"

He said he it was worth it because more lives were saved when Marwan was killed.

Regardless of how important Marwan really was, the report questioned the wisdom of undertaking a counter-terrorism operation in the midst of a peace process that was already in its advanced stages.

The report noted that even when government operations forced Bali bombers Umar Patek and Dulmatin to flee to Jolo from central Mindanao before going back to Indonesia, it did not stop violence in Mindanao as shown by the Maguindanao Massacre in 2009 and the Zamboanga siege in 2013.

"Even with rock-solid information about the Malaysian’s location, President Aquino, SAF members, and others involved in the operation should have carefully considered the costs and benefits of going after him without informing the MILF, just as the Bangasamoro Basic Law was finally coming up for debate," the report said.

"If he had escaped yet again, there would be another chance to capture him. It is not clear there will be another chance for peace if this one collapses," it added.

Challenge to MILF

The report said the value of the Rewards for Justice program should also be examined as "huge bounties placed on the heads of foreign jihadis have helped to burnish their reputations as world-class terrorists, perhaps out of proportion to their actual roles."

The MILF, which signed a peace deal with the government in 2014, must also do its part, the report said.

"The MILF also needs to consider its moves. Its leaders see themselves now as the aggrieved party, blindsided by a counter-terrorism operation that no one told them was coming. But if inquiries find that any of the trapped forces of the 55th company were executed after they were wounded, then the MILF fighters responsible have violated basic principles of humanitarian law and do need to be held accountable."

Read the full report below:

2,000 MILF combatants set to register as voters

From Rappler (Mar 6): 2,000 MILF combatants set to register as voters

'It signifies that the MILF really is preparing for the transition, toward an engagement that is really democratic,' says MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal

TRANSITION. Fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in formation as they wait for the signing of Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province, southern Manila, Philippines, 15 October 2012. File photo by EPA/STR

TRANSITION. Fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in formation as they wait for the signing of Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province, southern Manila, Philippines, 15 October 2012. File photo by EPA/STR
The Commission on Elections is set to hold a special voters' registration at rebel stronghold Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao, on Saturday, March 7.
Around 2000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants – led by the MILF central committee – are expected to register as voters, said MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
"It signifies that the MILF really is preparing for the transition, toward an engagement that is really democratic," Iqbal said.
"We are preparing for a scenario where we would no longer need the use of arms – from bullets to ballots, as they say," he added.
Although the MILF signed a peace deal with the government in 2014, the group maintains that it will continue to identify as a revolutionary organization until the accord is fully implemented.
Under the peace deal, the MILF agreed to decommission its firearms in exchange for the creation of the Bangsamoro government, an enhanced autonomous region with more teeth than the current one.
The decommissioning process would be staggered – a specific number of arms would be turned over as political commitments are achieved, including the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress and the subsequent plebiscite.
However, the passage of the BBL, which would serve as the legal basis for the new autonomous government, is in danger after the Mamasapano clash, where elite police troopers died in the hands of armed Muslim groups, including MILF members. The bill continues to face constitutional questions amid a tight deadline.
Despite the setbacks, Iqbal said the MILF is stil hopeful that Congress would turn around once emotions over the clash – which killed 44 elite cops, 18 MILF combatants, and at least 3 civilians – have settled down.
In April 2014, the MILF formed the United Bangsamoro Justice Party in preparation of its foray into mainstream politics.
MILF chair Murad Ebrahim said the party will only field candidates for regional posts, according to a Mindanews report.