Friday, March 20, 2015

3 soldiers wounded in clash between gov’t troops, NPA rebels in Davao del Sur

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 21): 3 soldiers wounded in clash between gov’t troops, NPA rebels in Davao del Sur

MATANAO, Davao del Sur–At least three soldiers, including a junior officer, were injured when a clash broke out between government troops and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Sitio Lamnibong in Barangay Colonsabak here Friday, the police said Saturday.

Senior Supt. Michael John Dubria, provincial police director, identified the wounded soldiers by their ranks and last names only as a Lt. Garcia, a Sergeant Gonzaga and a Private First Class Sotela.

He said the soldiers from the 39th Infantry Battalion were conducting foot patrol in the area following reports that armed men had been sighted there the past few days.

The clash that started 1:39 p.m. lasted for 20 minutes, according to Dubria.

Chief Insp. Elmer Cabuslay, chief of the Matanao police, said the wounded soldiers were airlifted to the military hospital in Panacan, Davao City after they were extracted from the clash site.

Lt. Col. Apollo Lamaton, 39th IB commander, said the operation was continuing and that they suspected the rebels suffered casualties as well.

The Colonsabak clash came after suspected NPA rebels burned a backhoe owned by private contractor JHL Construction, which has been working on a P50-million irrigation project in Barangay San Jose here.

Lamaton said they had tightened monitoring of the NPA movement here, especially so that the rebel group’s founding anniversary nears.

“It is our experience that the rebels increase their activities when their anniversary nears,” Lamaton said.

On March 10, 2014, two policemen were killed while three others were wounded when NPA rebels attacked the police station here.

MILF to drop Sabah claim – Sulu sultanate

From the Manila Times (Mar 21): MILF to drop Sabah claim – Sulu sultanate

THE Sultanate of Sulu will not support passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which aims to create a new autonomous region in Mindanao, because it believes that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would drop the sultanate’s Sabah claim in exchange for Malaysia’s support for the creation of a Bangsamoro government.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the Sultanate of Sulu, told The Manila Times on Friday that the sultanate views with “cautious pessimism” the Bangsamoro law because of the “ambiguous objective” of the proposed measure.

Idjirani said  once the Bangsamoro government is in place, the MILF will initiate dropping of the Sabah claim.

“The MILF would find legal means how to formally drop the Sabah claim because ancestrally [Sabah is not its property]. [Sabah] is the property of the people of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga Peninsula, and Palawan. [The MILF] will drop [the] Sabah [claim] because [its leaders]  are not interested in it, and they owe Malaysia a debt of gratitude,” he explained.

“It’s not the Congress of the Philippines that would drop the Sabah claim but the assembly of the MILF… in favor of Malaysia,” the sultanate’s spokesman said.

Malaysia acts as international mediator between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF for the creation of a Bangsamoro government to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Idjirani said they and other stakeholders were not consulted despite desire of the sultanate to be involved in attaining complete peace in Mindanao in southern Philippines.

“If both parties wanted to attain lasting peace in Mindanao, they should also include other [concerned parties]  like the Christians and the indigenous people,” he added.

 Last year, Esmail Kiram 2nd renewed his family’s call on the government to pursue the claim to Sabah, now part of Malaysia.

The Sultanate of Sulu urged the Aquino administration  to support its claim to North Borneo (Sabah) as the government’s  historic and moral obligations.

In 2013, then-Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd sent some 200 of his armed followers to Lahad Datu, Sabah, to assert their claim over the island, resulting in the deaths of more than 50 people and imprisonment of several others by Malaysian authorities.

The Sultanate of Sulu has been claiming that, based on historical facts, Sabah belongs to it and it was only leased to Malaysia’s British North Borneo Company in 1878.

2 rebels captured in Negros

From the Philippine Star (Mar 20): 2 rebels captured in Negros

Two suspected New People’s Army guerrillas were arrested following a 15-minute firefight with government security forces in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental Wednesday.

Felipe Bolo, 34, and Conrado Sison, 19, were arrested by members of the Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion and 6th Special Action Battalion of the police’s Special Action Force, the military said in a press statement yesterday.

The suspects were turned over to the San Carlos police for checkup and inquest, Major Ray Tiongson, chief of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division public affairs office, said.

Reports said the members of the government security forces were patrolling in
Barangay Cod-cod when they encountered with a band of insurgents at around 7:30 a.m.

Police, Army deny cops surrounded by MILF in Maguidanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Police, Army deny cops surrounded by MILF in Maguidanao

Military and police officials in Maguindanao on Friday denied on line reports that a team of police commandos entered a camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Maguindanao and were surrounded by MILF.

"There was no truth to that, our policemen were not surrounded," Senior Supt. Rodelio Jocson, Maguindanao police chief told reporters.

Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chair of the government Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the GP-MILF peace panel, also denied reports policemen were ordered by the MILF to raise their hands as they were surrounded.

Jocson said a team of Maguindanao PNP, including Special Action Force (SAF) went to an area in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao on Wednesday to verify reports of the presence of "high value" targets.

"It was well coordinated with the 106th base command of the MILF," Jocson said. His statement was corroborated by Gen. Galvez who also said that his counterpart in the MILF was dully informed.

Army intelligence operatives said bomb maker Basit Usman and another terrorist, Malaysian Amin Baco alias Jihad were hiding in the area.

"There was no report about policemen being surrounded, there was no order from MILF for the policemen to raise hands," Jocson said.

"Not a single shot was fired from either side because the entry of policemen was well coordinated with the MILF," the Maguindanao police chief said.

The PNP elite force operated on January 25 in Mamasapano Maguindanao which resulted in the death of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.

Forty-four commandos, 17 MILF and three civilians were killed in the encounter that followed after Marwan was neutralized.

NPA member surrenders to 74IB PA

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): NPA member surrenders to 74IB PA

CAMP GEN MATEO CAPINPIN, Tanay, Rizal -- A member of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Quezon province surrendered to the 74th Infantry Brigade (IB)of the Philippine Army (PA) and availed of the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP), AFP Guns for Peace, and 74IB Balik Pamayanan (Back to society) Program.

The 2nd Infantry Division, in a statement, said Nelmar D. Cortez, a.k.a Ronnie, voluntarily surrendered to the folds of the government on March 15, 2015 at 11 a.m. at Cawayan 1 Village in the municipality of San Francisco, Quezon province.

Accordingly, Ka Ronnie who is an NPA member of SPN Unknown, GU2 SQ-BP , also surrendered one Caliber 45, one Caliber 38 revolver and two magazines with 12 rounds of live ammunition for caliber 45 to the troops of 74IB headed by Lieutenant Coronel Consolito A. Yecla .

Presently, Ka Ronnie is under the protection of 74IB for his security and fast facilitation of benefits and financial assistance in order for him to start a new and peaceful life.

Ka Ronnie is just one among other rebels who adopted to withdraw their armed struggle for them to be with their families and loved ones.

Ceasefire mechanism body probing alleged MILF camp in Iligan

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Ceasefire mechanism body probing alleged MILF camp in Iligan

Government of the Philippines-Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (GPH-CCCH) Head of Secretariat Major Carlos T. Sol on Friday said the committee is now validating report that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has set up a training camp in Iligan City.

“I confirm that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, through the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, has forwarded to the CCCH its recommendation with regard to the dismantling of an alleged training facility by the MILF near the boundary of Sitio Limonsodan in Barangay Waterfalls of Rogongon, Iligan City. We received the official transmittal today and are currently conducting validation procedures,” said Sol.

The CCCH was created to monitor the implementation of the long-standing ceasefire between the GPH and the MILF. The body is also tasked to resolve ceasefire violation complaints in order to prevent conflict escalation and ceasefire breakdown.

The Commander of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade Colonel Gilbert Gapay, said he crafted the recommendation due to a complaint filed by Deodato S. Abugan Sr., a chieftain of the Higaonon tribe, which cited the continued recruitment and the conduct of military-like training exercises by the MILF.

Lanao del Norte-based 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion made the alleged pictures of the training camp public, which is not among the several MILF camps recognized under the peace agreement with the government.

Sol also corrected reports that members of the 105th Base Command of the MILF, the unit allegedly involved in the clash with the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces in Mamasapano last January, were in the area. The alleged camp of the 103rd Base Command is in Lanao while the 105th Base Command is in Maguindanao, a different province.

“We assure everyone, especially those in Iligan and neighboring towns, that we will do our utmost to resolve this complaint at the soonest time possible. We appreciate the public’s vigilance and we urge everyone to continue helping us. The ceasefire with the MILF has been holding. We want it to continue doing so,” added Sol.

Suspects in burning of trucks in Bukidnon charged

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Suspects in burning of trucks in Bukidnon charged
CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan De Oro City –- Three suspects in the burning of trucks along the Davao-Bukidnon highway are now facing a string of cases filed with the court in Bukidnon, the military said on Friday.

Lt. Patrick Martinez of the Army’s Public Affairs Division here, said that Henry P. Omandam a.k.a Empoy, 19, Vergel Pitogo a.k.a Marmar, 23, and John Rey O. Flores, 16, were charged with illegal possession of firearms and unlawful possession of high explosives and ammunition.

The three were suspected to be among the group that burned the seven trucks, most of them transporting commodities, bound for Davao and Cagayan De Oro City, last March 8 along the Davao-Bukidnon highway.

Aside from illegal possession of firearms and unlawful possession of high explosives, the suspects were also charged with frustrated murder in connection with the ambuscade of responding law enforcers where seven police officers were wounded.

Martinez said that elements of the joint military and police collared the suspects in the farming village of Palacapao in Quezon, Bukidnon on the same day when the seven trucks were torched in the area by about 50 armed men believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

He said that residents in the area informed the military and police of the presence of the suspects in Palacapao, which prompted the elements of the military and police to conduct a joint operation that resulted in the arrest of the suspects.

Martinez said that the local Philippine National Police (PNP) in Quezon, Bukidnon has filed the charges against the three suspects in the municipal trial court in Quezon.

Army camp joins Women’s Month celebration

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Army camp joins Women’s Month celebration

CAMP MELCHOR DELA CRUZ, Gamu, Isabela -- The 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army (5ID, PA) based in this town has joined the nation in celebrating Women’s Month.

Major General Lysander Suerte, commanding general of 5ID, led the men and women in the camp in a fun run recently commemorating Women’s Month held inside the camp’s major roads.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Juana, Desisyon Mo ay Mahalaga sa Kinabukasan ng Bawat Isa, Ikaw Na!".

The fun run is one way of saluting the great contribution of women in nation building and in maintaining internal peace and security.

Women soldiers are now part of the strong army and other branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

At least 100 men and women soldiers join the fun run led by the commanding general.

Meanwhile, the Isabela Police Provincial Office (IPPO) also expressed its support to Women’s Month celebration.

Police Inspector Frances Littaua led the policewomen during one of the IPPO’s flag raising ceremony.

The IPPO also ordered its police stations to hang tarpaulins in their respective stations carrying the theme in support to Women’s Month while the IPPO also hanged tarpaulin in the gate of the police camp.

Army camp forms emergency response company

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Army camp forms emergency response company

CAMP MELCHOR DELA CRUZ, GAMU, Isabela -- The 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army’s Civil Military Operations (5ID-CMO) battalion, has formed an emergency response company to respond to emergencies in times of calamities.

The emergency response company will be a permanent rescue unit of Camp Melchor dela Cruz that will respond in times of calamities within its area of operations.

Sergeant Edwin Fernandez, an enlisted personnel of 5ID’s CMO, said the emergency rescue company is composed of two units with 57 Army soldiers.

Fernandez said soldiers who are assigned at the CMO’s emergency response company are now undergoing intensive training on rescue operations particularly on application of first aid and basic life support.

The selected soldiers are being trained by the camp’s medical officers and nurses inside the Camp Melchor Station hospital.

The emergency response company is headed by Army Captain Ferdinand Gabriel.

The 5ID has provided complete modern rescue equipment and accessories like life vests, ring floater, rubber boats, chain saws, axes, bolt cutters, rescue ropes, rescue helmets and other rescue accessories to effectively carry out their rescue, retrieval and evacuation operations.

Tension remains high in Maguindanao but local and Army officials plan IDPs return

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Tension remains high in Maguindanao but local and Army officials plan IDPs return

While no major skirmishes between the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the last four days, tension remains high in Maguindanao's interior villages, local officials said on Friday.

Since Feb. 25, the military recorded 22 encounters.

Intelligence reports showed the outlawed armed group was reported to be re-grouping and planning to re-engage government forces.

In a peace and order council meeting, Maguindanao officials, led by Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, agreed to form committees that would determine if the internally displaced persons can now return to their places of origin after the Army shall have cleared their communities.

Brig. Gen. Manolito Orense, deputy 6th Infantry Division commander, said the massive law enforcement operations against the BIFF forced it to disintegrate into smaller groups to avoid detection. The Army is checking reports the BIFF have mingled with the evacuees.

More than 120,000 civilians have been displaced by the armed conflict that also affected 13 towns.

Orense said the military, like the civilians, wanted the law enforcement operations terminated soonest but as long as the threat remains eminent, the Army will continue pursuing the bandits.

“The Army and Marine units now present in those barangays cannot just simply leave without putting up security mechanisms mean to prevent the return of these armed lawless groups,” Orense said during the PPOC meeting.

Mangudadatu said the special committee could help the local government to decide whether the IDPs could return or not as of yet.

He said the committee would be composed of officials of affected local government units, the police, the religious communities, the military and barangay captains

Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., chairman of the government’s ceasefire committee dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said they could even involve the MILF in the assessment process in keeping with existing security protocols between the group and the GPH peace panel.

Alleged MILF training camp discovered in Iligan

From ABS-CBN (Mar 20): Alleged MILF training camp discovered in Iligan

[Video report: Photos of alleged MILF camp]

The Philippine military wants an alleged training facility of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Iligan, Lanao del Norte closed.

This comes after the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade received complaints that the MILF was recruiting members of the Higaonon and Maranao tribes to join them in the said training camp.

Tribe leaders said their men were first invited by the MILF in May 2014. Another recruitment activity took place this January, they said.

Col. Gilbert Gapay, the brigade commander, said they have endorsed the tribe leaders’ complaints to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).

Gapay said the MILF must not conduct training and recruitment activities under the mechanism of the peace process.

CCCH Chairperson Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez said they will go to the site to verify the complaint.

WATCH: Navy SEALs, dancing inmates in 'Uptown Funk

Posted to ABS-CBN (Mar 20): WATCH: Navy SEALs, dancing inmates in 'Uptown Funk

Cebu Provincial Government shared Mary Catherine DelaSerna Codilla's video.
CPDRC Inmates with US Navy Seals.

Mary Catherine DelaSerna Codilla with Cpdrc Inmates
Had the rarest opportunity to share the dance floor with the enigmatic Cebu Dancing Inmates and two of the US Navy Seals for their private show! Feeling incredi...bly inspired and blessed from the three days me and my group spent filming in CPDRC. Made me realize so much and I treasure each smile, laughter and meaningful conversation there :'>
MANILA - Two U.S. Navy SEALs showed they could keep up with the Cebu Dancing Inmates in a private show in Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center.

In the video uploaded by Mary Catherine Codilla on Facebook, the Navy SEALs and the Dancing Inmates grooved to the tune of ''Uptown Funk.''
The foreigners, amazed by the talent of the Cebu Dancing Inmates, took a selfie with them after the show.

MILF completes report on Mamasapano clash

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 19): MILF completes report on Mamasapano clash

... Rebels who violated war code face Shariah law penalty; surviving SAF men used dead commandos as shields

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has finished its investigation on the Mamasapano fighting that left 44 police commandos dead, with a recommendation to punish their members who were involved in the encounter.

Von Al Haq, chief of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that the probe’s executive summary was ready for MILF chair Ebrahim Murad’s signature.  Afterwards, the MILF will submit it to the International Monitoring Team led by Malaysia.

Al Haq said the findings would explain why some of the 44 slain Special Action Force members sustained close range gunshot wounds:  they were used by their comrades as shields at the height of the fighting on January 25 in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

“Our findings indicated that we did not fire the first shot. We even lost two fighters when SAF members opened fire at them while crossing the bridge,” he said.

Al Haq also said their report stated that the triggerman in the video that went viral on the internet, which showed a wounded policeman being shot at close range, was not their member.

Al Haq described the video as against their regulation and Islamic Law.

He said their members who were involved in the encounter would be punished based on their violations of the MILF’s BIAF code of conduct and in accordance with the Shariah Law.

The MILF also stated in their report that they suffered only 17, not 18 fatalities.

Al Haq refused to give further details of their findings.

Aside from 44 policemen and 17 rebels dead, five civilians were also killed in the gun battle that stalled Congress’ deliberation on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would give an expanded autonomy to areas dominated by the MILF.

‘Mamasapano was no massacre’

From Tempo (Mar 20): ‘Mamasapano was no massacre’
A member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel believes that branding the Mamasapano incident as a massacre is a disservice to the gallantry of 44 police commandos “who fought a bloody war.”

Hadji Abdullah Camlian took issue with the Senate finding, saying that the word “massacre” applies only to unarmed victims.
“In my view, the term ‘massacre’ is if you kill people, murder people (who are unarmed) and have no way to fight back, you kill them in group, or whatsoever, that is massacre,” said Camlian at the sidelines of the commemoration of the 47th anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre on Corregidor Island on Wednesday.

Camlian cited the definition of massacre by the Cambridge Dictionaries as “the killing of a large number of people, esp. people who are not involved in any fighting or have no way of defending themselves.”

He said the SAF men came to Mamasapano in full battle gear, ready to fight and knew what they were getting into.

Trapped and outnumbered, the commandos died fighting with only one survivor.

“You removed their (SAF men) being heroes, you removed their being gallant fighters,” said Camlian. “They fought a bloody war, they fought, bravery was there, then you say it is a massacre, that means they were unarmed.”

Camlian led a group of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters who trained in military and guerilla warfare on Jampiras island in Malaysia.

“Masasayang ‘yong mga medals, the honor bestowed upon these people. They were not massacred, they fought a gallant fight,” said the MILF negotiator. “And I salute them for their bravery, we salute them for their sense of duty to honor the country. But as I said, to call that incident a massacre, that is a misnomer.”

Camlian said the genuine massacres were committed against the Moros in the Jabidah Massacre, the Manili Massacre, the Pata Massacres, Bud Daho Massacre because the victims were not armed and had no way to defend themselves.

Saying the SAF 44 were massacred, is “a misrepresentation of their gallantry, who died fighting war, it is martyrdom.”

Camlian said the commandos “did not chicken out. If they chickened out, then maybe they were massacred. But they did not chicken out, they fought.”

The Mamasapano incident was not the first time, according to Camlian.

He recalled that the PNP’s predecessor, the Philippine Constabulary (PC), had an elite group called the “Nenita Unit” which was sent to the Korean War in the 1950s.

“They were so proud with their accomplishments that when they came home they were sent to capture or neutralize Kamlon and his men in Jolo, Sulu. Kamlon wiped them out, with only one survivor. But there was no national uproar then,” he said.

Camlian was referring to Hadji Kamlon, a World War II guerilla hero who led a rebellion from 1948 to 1955.

The MILF peace panel member said when recruits joined the Armed Forces (PNP) or the Philippine National Police (PNP), they know what they are going to face.

“One of your feet is already in the hole (grave). And your family must realize that. Otherwise, if your family is not willing that you might die in the line of duty, you should not allow a family member to join the security forces of the government,” said Camlian.

“Unfortunately, in war you either kill somebody, or be killed. That is the law of war,” he added.

Camlian was reacting to the Senate draft report presented by Senator Grace Poe Llamanzares describing the Jan. 25 incident as a massacre.

Marwan was bolstering defenses before Mamasapano clash – video footage

From GMA News (Mar 19): Marwan was bolstering defenses before Mamasapano clash – video footage

[Video report: Video ni Marwan]

 Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, killed in a police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January,  was in the process of bolstering his defenses a few weeks before Oplan Exodus, video footage suggests.
According to a report on GMA's “24 Oras” program on Thursday, this information is from a conversation in video footage which showed Marwan chatting with Filipino bomb maker Basit Usman and another man.
The report said that, in the video, Marwan was negotiating with Usman to get him forty rounds of ammunition.
They also mentioned a certain barangay in Datu Piang, Maguindanao which was a known Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters-controlled area.
Marwan was killed in the covert police mission on Jan. 25. More than 60 others, including 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, were killed in a firefight as members of the SAF were leaving the area.
Usman, meanwhile, was able to escape and is currently on the run from an Armed Forces of the Philippines all-out offensive against the BIFF, which has been hiding him.

Captured JIM leader admits Mamasapano involvement

From the Sun Star-Davao (Mar 20): Captured JIM leader admits Mamasapano involvement

Army and police forces escort handcuffed Mohammad Ali Tambako, the leader of a Muslim rebel group in the south who has been linked to bombings and a beheading and accused of protecting two terror suspects wanted by the United States, shortly upon arrival at Villamor Air Base at suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines Monday, March 16, 2015. (AP photo)

The military said Mohammad Ali Tambako, the arrested leader of the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM), has admitted taking part in the January 25 Mamasapano encounter that killed 44 police commandos.

Tambako, who is facing murder charges, was captured in General Santos City last Sunday.

Major General Eduardo Ano said Tambako and five of his men hid in the city after the incident in Maguindanao.

He said General Santos and nearby areas are known sanctuaries of lawless elements from Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

Tambako, who formed the group JIM with about 70 armed fighters last year, has been suspected by the military of giving refuge in his southern stronghold to top Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, long-wanted Filipino bombing suspect Abdul Basit Usman and five other foreign terrorists who specialize in bomb-making.

Tambako is a former member of the BIFF. The group expelled him last year after his men beheaded a farmer in an attack on a Christian community in the south.

Also facing murder charges are Tambako's members Mesharie Edio Gayak, Datukan Sato Sabiwang, Ali Valley Ludisima, Ibrahim Manap Kapina, and Abusahma Badrudin Guiamil.

The rebel leader and his companions are detained at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Villagers return SAF 44 tactical gear

From the Philippine Star (Mar 19): Villagers return SAF 44 tactical gear

Photo shows SAF night vision goggles, monoculars and other equipment turned over by Mamasapano residents to the military. STAR/John Unson

Tactical equipment belonging to the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) policemen killed by Muslim rebels in Mamasapano last Jan. 25 were collected from some villagers by troops from the Army’s 601st Brigade.

The collected equipment included five night vision goggles, three laser target pointers, two night fighting devices, two night vision monoculars, three handheld Harris radios, a laser designator, two gas masks, a Kevlar helmet, one set vest, a pair of combat boots, camouflage pants and two gun protective cases.

The tactical equipment and other items were turned over by Col. Melquiades Feliciano, commander of the 601st Brigade, to the regional Philippine National Police (PNP) last Tuesday.

Local officials from Mamasapano, Shariff Saidona, Datu Saudi and Shariff Aguak towns said the villagers found the equipment at the site where the 44 SAF police commandos were killed during the clashes with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The policemen were part of the SAF team on a mission to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir and other targets.

The mission went haywire when they figured in separate firefights with the MILF and BIFF as they were about to withdraw from the area.

“The villagers that found those items in the scenes of the encounters agreed to return them after having been assured they would not be persecuted or harassed for keeping them for a while,” a municipal councilor said.

Feliciano said there were non-government organizations involved in various projects complementing the government-MILF peace overture, which helped collect the equipment of the slain SAF members.

“Credit would have to go to them too,” Feliciano said.

The MILF had earlier returned 16 of the firearms its fighters reportedly took from the slain policemen in barangays Pidsandawan, Tukanalipao and Inog-og.

MILF members face sanctions but won't be surrendered to govt —Murad

From GMA News (Mar 19): MILF members face sanctions but won't be surrendered to govt —Murad

(Updated 9:15 p.m.) Some members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were found to have committed certain violations for their involvement in the Mamasapano incident that killed more than 60 people including 44 police commandos in late January, MILF chairman Al Haj Murad told GMA News on Thursday.
Murad, however, said that the concerned MILF members would not be surrendered to the government's justice system but would instead be sanctioned under the group's own regulations and Shariah Law.

“We cannot subject our people to the criminal system in the government because gaya ng sabi ko we are still revolutionaries. So we will investigate them as far as mechanism ng provision ng ceasefire agreement," Murad said in a report on "24 Oras."

"Any violation of the ceasefire, then both parties will impose sanctions on their own forces,” he added.

Murad didn't specify the alleged violations of MILF members in the Mamasapano incident.

The MILF has completed its own investigation on the deadly Mamasapano clash where over 60 people, including 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, were killed. The clash occurred despite the peace deal signed by the government and the MILF in March last year.

The MILF will submit its report to the International Monitoring Team but a copy will also be sent to the government peace panel.

GMA News Online sought the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police for comment but has yet to receive a reply as of posting time.

17 dead from MILF

The results of the MILF investigation indicated that 17 of their members were killed in the hours-long encounter, one less from information previously released.

The probe also covered the killing of a wounded SAF commando, as seen on a video that went viral on the Internet, which Murad said was against the regulations of their group as well as the Islamic Law.

Murad, however, said based on their investigation, the shooter was not a member of the MILF.

“'Yung videong makikita ninyo, it's done very late in the afternoon. Our troops withdrew from the area 2 o'clock in the afternoon. After our withdrawal, mayroong mga ibang armadong grupo na pumasok sa area,” he said.

Murad also said the SAF also committed war crimes when four people sleeping inside a mosque and an eight-year-old child were shot.

First fatalities

He also cited findings that they didn't open fire during the clash, adding that the first fatalities in the incident came from their ranks.

“They (MILF members) were crossing the river, 'yung wooden bridge. Instantly while crossing the river they were fired upon. Instant doon dalawa ang namatay,” he said.

This was contrary to the findings of the PNP Board of Inquiry, which said members of an armed group first shot at the SAF members.

The MILF investigation also said that the clash happened in close distance, explaining why some SAF officers were shot in close range.

Dead bodies as shields?

As to why some SAF fatalities had multiple gunshot wounds, Murad said their investigation found out that the bodies were used as shield by their fellow SAF members during the clash.

“'Yung mga namatay sa SAF parang ginamit 'yung mga kasaman na buhay pa na parang covering. Doon sila nagtatago while there was an exchange of fire kaya 'yung patay na, tinatamaan pa rin because nagagamit na parang shield,” he said.

This was, however, denied by a SAF survivor, who said there was no need for them to use their fallen comrades as shields since they were all wearing bulletproof vests.

Gov’t to launch massive info, educational campaign on BBL

From the Philippine News Agency n(Mar 20): Gov’t to launch massive info, educational campaign on BBL

The government will launch a massive and intense information and education campaign to convince more Filipinos, especially the high number of the undecided, to understand and support the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law(BBL).

Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said that while 44% of Filipinos said they disagreed with the BBL, a high percentage--36%--also said they are undecided on their position in the survey conducted by polling firm Pulse Asia from March 1-7 among 1,200 respondents nationwide.

"It means that many have not made up their minds and would benefit from an intensified information, education, and communications program (IEC) on the BBL," Deles explained.

She said an intense information blitz may also sway part of the 44% to support the draft law.

Lack of support comes from lack of information

"I wonder how many of them have read the BBL," asked Deles when asked to comment on the survey result that 44% of Filipinos disagree with the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL. "Knowing that many of them most likely lack information or are misinformed, then we still have a chance to significantly decrease that number with an IEC on BBL."

"No doubt about it, the 44% also reflects the result of the serious misinformation which has been spread regarding the BBL," she added. "Maraming mga maling impormasyon ang kumalat, (Too much misinformation was spread) -- wrong information on the peace process, the negotiating panels, and of course on the BBL, so we already expected that there will be a higher number on those who will disagree."

In the weeks following the tragic results of a law enforcement operation by the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25, 2015, that left at least 67 dead, the peace process being pursued by the Aquino Administration with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF came under heavy criticism.

Survey conducted after nation reeled from Mamasapano

The peace adviser said that the January 25 incident left the nation reeling.

"It was a very difficult time for the country, with the grief that we all felt over the deaths of so many in one incident. And it provided the much-awaited opportunity for many to pursue their interests against the BBL or the Aquino Administration, political or otherwise."

The peace adviser pointed out that although the difference between those who agreed, 21%, and those who disagreed, 44%, to the passage of BBL is significant, the numbers still offer hope for the peace process, especially the 36% who remain undecided.

Deles said she believes many who disagreed with the BBL will change their minds and support the Bangsamoro if they are to know and understand the BBL and the good it will bring to fellow Filipinos and the country.

"Tayong mga Pilipino kasi ay likas na mapagmalasakit at matulungin sa kapwa. Basta alam nating tama, tutulong at tutulong tayo sa mga naaapi at nangangailangan (Filipinos are naturally kind-hearted and like helping other people. As long as we know it is right, we will help the downtrodden and the needy)," she said.

"Making our people see the truth from the many lies that have been told about the peace process is a challenge that we are confident we will overcome. If we were able to successfully achieve a high 88% awareness on the BBL before the Mamasapano incident happened, we will certainly work hard to achieve as much, if not more, than that with a well-informed public who support the BBL."

Deles said that this can also be true of the 62% from Mindanao who disagree with the passage of the BBL.

"I think that fear borne out of misinformation has something to do with it. Even before the Mamasapano incident, there were already rumors being spread around of prohibitions against certain practices of Christians, etc., that will be imposed, or that the take-over by the MILF of local government rule once the Bangsamoro is established. These are falsehoods that our people are working hard to correct."

The peace adviser also said that the number does not reflect the true sentiments of the Bangsamoro who comprise approximately 18% only of the 17.8 million population of the whole Mindanao region. "The voices of communities who are most affected by the ravages of conflict remain strong in their call for peace.

PA to get 28 upgraded M-113s

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): PA to get 28 upgraded M-113s

Some 28 upgraded M-113 "Bradley" armored fighting vehicles will arrive this coming May and July intended for the Philippine Army (PA).

This was confirmed by PA spokesman Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato in a text message to the PNA.

"Eighteen will be delivered by May 11 and the remaining 10 will handed over (by the supplier) on July 11," he added.

Fourteen of the M-113s will be configured as fire support vehicles, four as infantry fighting vehicles, six as armored personnel carriers, another four as armored recovery units.

The M-113s will be supplied by Israeli defense manufacturer Elbit Systems Ltd.

The contract, which is worth Php882 million, was signed last June 22.

Upgrades include installation of 25 mm unmanned turrets, 12.7 mm remote controlled weapon stations (RCWS) and fire control systems (FCS) for 90 mm turrets.

The PA operates around 343 AFVs (armored fighting vehicles) and APCs.

Around 85 percent of these AFVs are on green status (fully mission capable) while another 10 percent are on yellow status (undergoing repair) and five percent are on red (beyond repair)

Some 150 of these are the United Kingdom-built GKN "Simba" with the remaining AFVs consisting of US designed V-150 and V-200 APCs, M-113 "Bradley", Turkish made ACV-300s and British Scorpion CVRTs.

These vehicles give the PA its armor capability and are organized into a 14-vehicle mechanized infantry companion for deployment with regular units.

DSWD provides assistance to families in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao --Soliman

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): DSWD provides assistance to families in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao --Soliman
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said Friday it is continuing to provide assistance to families affected by the military offensives in Maguindanao and some other areas in Mindanao.

In a press briefing held Friday at the DSWD Central Office in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, DSWD Secretary Corazon J. Soliman said the assistance is being provided to the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in the form of food packs and non-food items.

“The DSWD has provided them assistance worth PhP24,577,690, which was distributed through the DSWD-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and in coordination with the local government units of the affected families,” she said.

According to Soliman, the distribution of assistance is also being made in partnership with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)-Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP).

She said that relief supplies were also given to the evacuees in 75 evacuation centers.

A total of 26,959 families or 131,775 persons have been affected by the continuing armed conflict in the area. Morethan 19,000 families are inside evacuation centers while some have returned home.

The 75 evacuation centers can be found in Mamasapano, Pagalungan, Datu Salibo, Shariff Saydona, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Raja Buayan, Datu Hoffer, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Guindulungan, Talayan, Talitay, Datu Anggal, Maguindanao, and Pikit, North Cotabato.

The DSWd chief said that also given assistance were families affected in the clash between New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and the Philippine Army in Bitaugan, Surigao del Sur.

A total of PhP52,290 worth of assistance was provided to IDPs in Surigao del Sur, PhP4,421,600 in North Cotabato, and PhP20,103,800 in Maguindanao.

Soliman said that aside from the food and non-food items distributed, the department had also given burial and financial assistance to the families of civilians hurt or killed in the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident.

“Immediately the day after Jan. 25 when that happened (referring to the clash), on Jan. 26 to 27, we immediately gave different forms of assistance to the families of the civilians killed, including the eight-year-old girl and her family, and other civilians brought in the hospitals, aside from distributing food packs,” the DSWD chief said.

She added that so far, about PhP1,221,440 worth of assistance was provided by the DSWD to the families of the slain 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) commandos.

She said that such assistance was given in different forms depending on what were the most identified needs of the families, including food packs, burial assistance and livelihood package.

Such assistance was in addition to what the families have received from the PNP, the President's Social Funds, livelihood package from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and housing assistance from the National Housing Authority (NHA).

Lawmakers deny money change hands to assure passage of BBL

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Lawmakers deny money change hands to assure passage of BBL

The House leadership and even opposition lawmakers on Friday vehemently denied the reported Php 200 million 'Malaysian money' being given to each senator and congressman to pass the highly controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. led lawmakers in stressing that "there was no such thing (payoff)” in exchange of passing the BBL.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, a staunch critic of the Aquino government from the House minority bloc and a Mindanaoan, also shrugged off the alleged payoff.

"It only further muddles the already muddled peace process, which is now taking the brunt of the Mamasapano fall-out," Zarate, a member of the left-leaning Makabayan bloc, said.

Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez, a leader of the House Visayan bloc and a stalwart of the ruling Liberal Party said: "No need to waste time for rumors like that."

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo “Rodito” Albano III, a senior member of the House Minority bloc, also denied the allegation.

"No amount of political pressure will influence us legislators from passing or not passing the BBL," Albano said.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Bolet Banal said he was surprised with the reported allegation.

"Well, I am interested to find out who came out with that spectacular analysis based on a " series of text messages " at baka pwede i-nominate sa PCIJ [Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism]," said Banal.

AFP aids BJMP in transporting 17 ASG bandits to Manila

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): AFP aids BJMP in transporting 17 ASG bandits to Manila

The Armed Forces of the Philippines announced that it has provided a Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" cargo aircraft and security personnel to facilitate the transfer of 17 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) detainees in Zamboanga City to Manila on Friday.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said that the aircraft and security personnel were requested by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in line with its efforts to remove possible security threats in their Zamboanga City detention facility.

An attempt to sprint out the detainees were foiled by authorities early this year.

The 17 ASGs were flown due to reports that they will be freed from their Zamboanga City detention facility by their fellow brigands who are still-at-large.

Cabunoc said that detained bandits, upon arrival at Villamor Air Base, Pasay City Friday, were quickly transported to more secured BJMP detention facility in Taguig City.

Most of the 17 ASGs flown to Manila are facing kidnapping, murder, frustrated murder and other criminal charges.

Cabunoc said that the AFP is not anticipating any security threats in Metro Manila with the arrival of the 17 brigands as they are now being held in more heavily guarded facility with tighter security protocols.

Campaign vs. rebels effective: army officer

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 19): Campaign vs. rebels effective: army officer

THE MILITARY claimed it’s gaining good ground in the implementation of Integrated Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan based on the number of NPA surenderees for the first quarter of the year.
Maj. Gen. Eduardo Ano, commander of 10th Infantry Division, said that since January of the year they continued their peace and development outreach program in all barangays in the region. The division recorded a total of 27 NPA surrenderees in the first three months.
They also recorded 25 clashes against the communist guerillas which claimed the lives of 14 rebels, resulted to the recovery of 19 high-powered firearms and eight low powered firearms, and the disbandment of 30 NPA encampments.
Under the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) area, the 10th ID recorded 39 NPA encounters resulting to the recovery of 56 firearms in the first quarter. During that time, 29 rebels surrendered and 13 arrested in hot-pursuit operations.
Three NPAs allegedly involved in torching seven heavy equipment units were arrested by troops under the 403rd Infantry Brigade in Palacapao, Quezon, Bukidnon on March 15.

OPAPP hopes to convince the 'misinformed' to support BBL

From Rappler (Mar 20): OPAPP hopes to convince the 'misinformed' to support BBL

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process is eyeing the 36% of Filipinos still undecided about the Bangsamoro Basic Law

PEACE RALLY. Muslims from Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga and Pangasinan bannered by the 1-Bangsamoro group, converged at the Mendiola Peace Arch on February 20 to push for the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

PEACE RALLY. Muslims from Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga and Pangasinan bannered by the 1-Bangsamoro group, converged at the Mendiola Peace Arch on February 20 to push for the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is set to launch a "massive and intense" information campaign in a bid to change public sentiment over the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The announcement comes a day after Pulse Asia released a survey revealing that 4 in 10 Filipinos oppose the passage of the bill, which seeks to create a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao with greater political and fiscal powers.
The primary target of the campaign will be the 36% of Filipinos who remain undecided about the measure, OPAPP said in a statement.
"It means that many have not made up their minds and would benefit from an intensified information, education, and communications program on the BBL," Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles said.
Deles said they also hope to change the minds of the 44% who rejected the bill. The statement did not identify how the information and education campaign will be conducted.
The survey found that 62% of Mindanao residents opposed the passage of the bill – the highest among all regions. Under the current proposal, the BBL would have to be ratified by residents in the core of the Bangsamoro before the new autonomous government can be formed.
Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer earlier blamed the results of the survey on the "misinformation" that had been spread about the proposed law. (READ: Coronel hits 'top two trending lies' on the Bangsamoro)
A product of the peace accord between the government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the BBL seeks to entrench a possibly expanded autonomous government that is parliamentary in form, replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
But the chances of passing the law became dim in the aftermath of the political fallout that resulted from the bloodbath in Mamasapano, Maguindanao – a known MILF bailiwick – on January 25.
The police operation to arrest wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir (Marwan) and Abdul Basit Usman came at the expense of the lives of 44 elite cops, 18 Moro rebels, and 5 civilians. (READ: Mamamasapano: Time on target)
After simultaneous investigations on the incident, questions over why President Benigno Aquino III allowed then suspended police chief Alan Purisima to be involved in the planning and operation have persisted. It has also caused lawmakers to question the sincerity of the MILF in the peace process. (READ: 'First sin' belongs to MILF – Senate report)
Still hopeful
But Deles remained hopeful they can turn the tide around.
Deles noted that the population of the proposed Bangsamoro region only comprises 18% of the 17.8 million population of Mindanao.
"I think that fear borne out of misinformation has something to do with it. Even before the Mamasapano incident, there were already rumors being spread around of prohibitions against certain practices of Christians, etc, that will be imposed, or that the take-over by the MILF of local government rule once the Bangsamoro is established. These are falsehoods that our people are working hard to correct."
The Pulse Asia survey found that 88% of Filipinos are aware of the proposed law. The survey was conducted on March 1 to 7, a month after the Mamasapano clash.
Even before the Mamasapano clash, the ad hoc committee on Bangsamoro in the House of Representatives conducted over 40 consultations in Mindanao, as well as select areas in Luzon and the Visayas.
Congress had hoped to put the law into a vote in March before the summer break, but the Mamasapano clash pushed deliberations back. The latest timeline to pass the law is in June.

Mamasapano: Time on Target

From Rappler (Mar 20): Mamasapano: Time on Target

It is difficult to accept that some failure to coordinate can lead to the blood of 44 policemen splashed across a cornfield south of the country

WHERE THEY FELL. The cornfields of Tukanalipao. Photo by Patricia Evangelista / Rappler

WHERE THEY FELL. The cornfields of Tukanalipao. Photo by Patricia Evangelista / Rappler

It started going wrong before dawn.

They came in the dark, dropping out of vans and trucks at the far end of the Tukanalipao highway. They marched through the wet fields, cutting through scarecrow stalks, humping grenade launchers and assault rifles and belts of ammunition slung across the ceramic plates of tactical vests, 300 bullets to a man.

There was a quarter moon overhead. The enemy was asleep. Their commander had told them that there could be enemies everywhere, but they would own the night.

They were the 84th Seaborne, the elite of the elite, the bulletproof boys of the Special Action Force trained by Uncle Sam. They had fought in urban hellholes, had seen mortars fall out of the sky, had survived prison breaks and alleged coups, and long weeks of lying behind sandbags watching the horizon.

They had days of practice in Zamboanga, but Zamboanga wasn’t Maguindanao. The small town of Mamasapano was rebel country, and the fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were not the only men who slept that night. The MILF’s breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), roamed the far end of the marshes. There were private armies, and M16s in the houses of farmers who had learned the hard way that justice comes from the barrel of the gun.

The enemy, when roused, could number in the thousands, and there were only 38 Seaborne crossing rivers whose GPS had just failed.

It took 6 hours, carrying equipment through muddy rivers and long stretches of flatland. They asked their guides to take over when navigation failed, but the guides got lost in the dark. They were late, an hour, two hours, and then they had to leave men behind at the last river.

When they finally arrived at their target in the village of Pidsandawan, they were 25 men and several radios short. Dawn was coming. They were running out of time.
They could have walked away, then and there, the same as they did in other missions. But Operation Exodus had no abort criteria.

At 4 in the morning of January 25, 2015, 13 men from the 84th Seaborne moved in to neutralize a bomb maker named Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Marwan. It was impossible to hit 3 targets at once, so the two other targets, Abdul Basit Usman, and Amin Baco, alias Jihad, were left alone in favor of Marwan.

At 4:20 am Marwan was dead. They cut off his finger. They took their pictures. And then the firing started. Mortars fell, snipers took position, the gunfire raged like thunder as the men of the BIFF jumped into the fray. The 84th, lightly equipped, trained for operations with support bases ready to assist, were overwhelmed. They fired back.

When the sun rose, the enemy owned the day.

Death penalty

“Why is it,” demands Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, "that when the PNP or AFP fail to coordinate, they are punished with the death penalty?”

Coordination is an innocuous word. Its associations are inoffensive, the crack of its consonants do not pulse with necessity. It is a process, an exchange, an attempt at integration. It is not a word that leaps from privilege speeches into primetime newscasts, unlike “terrorist” or “hero.”

Certainly it is difficult to accept that some failure to coordinate can lead to the blood of 44 policemen splashed across a cornfield in the country's south. There must be some other reason behind the deaths of 67 people, some evil afoot, some grave and fundamental trouble beyond basic incompetence that can explain the horror of one Sunday in January. People are dead. Children are orphaned. Wives are now widows. It is easier to speak of traitors and patriots and the betrayal of Moro brothers. We must die for the sake of peace. We must be willing to kill in the name of justice. We are one nation, under God. If we broke the ceasefire, if we failed to coordinate, it is not our fault. We do not negotiate with terrorists.

Cayetano points a finger at MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.

“Why is it that when it comes to our military and police, when they enter your area, your answer is always, ‘No coordination?’”

Cry havoc, brothers. Let slip the dogs of war.

The new strategy

The plan was called Exodus. The targets were high-value terrorists. The contents of the intelligence packet – built with the assistance of the United States – included a location in a remote area of Mamasapano.

Mamasapano offered a series of complications. Protocols under a ceasefire agreement signed between the MILF and the government required prior coordination before armed operations in MILF bailiwicks.

In their assessment, the SAF marked the MILF as enemy troops. The operation was planned for 2 am, while locals were asleep. The SAF were to have the advantage of night vision goggles.

A map was drawn up, dividing the route into waypoints. The 84th Seaborne would compose the main effort, 38 commandos whose duty was to neutralize the 3 targets. The 55th SAC would be their blocking force stationed behind them. Three other teams – the 41st, the 42nd, and the 45th – would be dispersed at waypoints along the route, ready to link up with the main effort as they exited Mamasapano. It was, as the police described it, a way-in, way-out, by-foot, night-only infiltration.

This was not the first operation in pursuit of Marwan. Nine operations had been attempted since 2010. Five were aborted. Another 4 had failed.

This time, for Exodus, a new element was added to the operational plan. It was a coordination strategy that timed the release of information about the operation to the moment of the main effort’s arrival at the target area.

Nobody outside the SAF planners would know, not even the current police director.
The former SAF director gave the coordination strategy a name.

He called it “time on target."

Coddlers of terrorists

Getulio Napeñas, 55, is a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1982. By his own accounting he has two master's degrees and a Level 7 Executive Diploma on Strategic Leadership from the United Kingdom. He has undergone the Special Action Force Ranger Course, followed by the Urban Counter Revolutionary Warfare Course, and has taken specialized intelligence courses in London and Arizona. He also read aloud every course he attended under the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program of the US State Department – Integrating Counter-terrorism Strategies at the National Level, Police Leader’s Role in Combating Terrorism, Senior Level Crisis Management and Vital Installation Security.

“I can look at anyone, and I mean anyone,” he tells the Senate, “and tell him face to face that I worked my way up the ladder not because of my connections but because of my performance, perseverance, dedication, credibility and dignity and integrity.”

Napeñas, whose head with its bowl-cut bob jerks as he reads from his speech, does not trust the armed forces. He attributes aborted operations in pursuit of Marwan to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Police say he “speculated that sensitive information and operational information” were “deliberately leaked” during major operations, had “lamented” that high value targets were “being coddled by the MILF, whose members had a lot of contacts within the AFP.”

Napeñas was already clear that he believed the MILF to be an enemy force. It appeared he considered the possibility members of the AFP were the enemy as well.

Prior warning to the AFP, Napeñas told the Senate, would mean “compromising the operations again.”

Napeñas’ time-on-target (TOT) is new coordinating parlance for both the PNP and the AFP. It is not part of any established protocol, and has had no application in previous field operations. According to the BOI, based on interviews with involved SAF personnel, their understanding of time on target coordination was shaky at best.

Napeñas said he was not alone in approving the strategy. He said he presented his “new concept of operations” to President Benigno Aquino III at a meeting attended by former PNP chief Alan Purisima.

“Based on the records,” said a report by the PNP Board of Inquiry, “Oplan Exodus was approved by the President and implemented by suspended CPNP Purisima and other suspended PNP officers, to the exclusion of the Officer-in-Charge of the Philippine National Police Leonardo Espina.”

The best of friends

To understand Mamasapano means understanding the odd strength of the President’s loyalty to Alan Purisima. Purisima is the old friend, the shooting buddy, the large man with the cherubic face who protected the young Aquino from the bloody coups of the 1980s. On the day Alan Purisima was charged with graft in 2014, he was the director of the Philippine National Police, and the only 4-star general in the service.

When the complaints first went public, the President said Purisima was neither luxurious nor greedy. When Purisima offered to resign more than a week after the Mamasapano encounter, the President said it hurt to accept his resignation.

“Nothing,” Aquino once said, “can compare to our friendship.”

It was Purisima who had been briefed about Napeñas’ new operational plan, who had escorted Napeñas to the Palace to brief the President, who had continued to “listen” and “advise” and “suggest”– all while he was on preventive suspension at the orders of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Six weeks after he discovered the failure of Operation Plan Exodus, Benigno Aquino III, President of the Republic, Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, stood on a podium and informed the nation that he had no responsibility over the deaths of 67.

Even before a public investigation had concluded, the President offered a culprit, one Getulio Napeñas, who was relieved of duty the day after Mamasapano.

The accusations the President levelled against Napeñas were immense. Failure to plan. Failure to coordinate. Failure to abort. Failure to report the situation truthfully and well. Failure, most of all, to follow the direct orders of his commander-in-chief.

“Maybe the most generous way of looking at it is that there’s a lot of wishful thinking from Napeñas as opposed to reality. But it’s clear to me – he misled me. Now, what is my responsibility at this point in time? There’s a saying, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.’”


Yet it is not the first time during Operation Exodus that the President played the fool. He believed Napeñas and Purisima when they presented a plan that did not consider terrain, timing, and ground support. He believed the veracity of mission updates sent by Purisima throughout January 25. He believed that excluding the legal head of the PNP in favor of his good friend was proper procedure. He believed, and continues to believe, that he has no responsibility as the President of the Republic.

When his beliefs were questioned, he said he was misled and deceived. The plan, he said, appeared “thorough” when he approved it.

“Oplan Exodus can never be executed effectively because it was defective from the very beginning,” read the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) report. “Troop movement was mismanaged, troops failed to occupy their positions, there was lack of effective communication between the operating troops, command and control was ineffective, and foremost, there was no coordination with the AFP and peace mechanism entities.

It is not clear who approved time on target coordination.

Aquino said he ordered Napeñas to coordinate with the AFP.

Napeñas said Purisima ordered him not to coordinate.

Purisima said his directives were advice, not orders.

On January 25, 2015, because of a new coordination strategy that may or may not have been approved, and a plan that may or may not have been complete, the commandos of the Special Action Force were ordered to execute a mission without a commitment of support from the armed forces.

They entered an armed enclave without understanding the terrain, without advice from the ceasefire committee, without the knowledge of both local and national police chiefs, and under the supervision of a suspended police general and a President who turned off his phone as troopers walked to their death.

The 24-hour exception

SCENE OF THE CLASH. The cornfield in Barangay Tukanalipao, where elite cops clashed with rebel forces. Photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler
SCENE OF THE CLASH. The cornfield in Barangay Tukanalipao, where elite cops clashed with rebel forces. Photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler

Operation Plan Exodus may not have had abort criteria, but there were two mitigating actions built into the plan in case of heavy fire – artillery support from the AFP and an immediate ceasefire by the peace panel.

Two mechanisms were part of the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities: the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) and the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).

Each mechanism has government (GPH) and MILF components. The joint AHJAG coordinates between government forces and the MILF to facilitate law enforcement operations. The joint CCCH responds to hostile and armed confrontation. Its mandate is to prevent and de-escalate conflict.

The protocols were an attempt to avoid armed men from shooting first and asking questions later. The questions were to be answered before they were asked, the allies named before the guns spat fire.

Among the many debates during the Senate inquiry was Napeñas’ insistence that the SAF did not violate ceasefire mechanisms put in place after the beginning of peace process negotiations.

Napeñas quoted the 2002 Joint Communiqué signed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by the MILF and the Philippine government.

“Except for operations against high priority targets,” read the agreement, “the AHJAG is required to inform the GPH and the MILF CCCH at least 24 hours prior to the conduct of the AFP or PNP operations” to allow for the evacuation of civilians and to avoid armed encounters.

It is on the 24-hour clause that Napeñas bases his choice to use TOT coordination.
“There is a exception in this part, Your Honor, that this is a high value target being pursued by the Special Action Force, sir, at this time.”

Napeñas was correct there was an exception, but failed to note that the clause “the AHJAG is required to inform the GPH and MILF CCCH” did not refer to the police or armed forces. The 24-hour exception allows the GPH-AHJAG, in cases of law enforcement operations with high value targets, to determine how much time, if at all, will be given to the GPH-CCCH and MILF-CCCH to prepare.

Had Napeñas chosen to read the revised implementing rules signed on July 23, 2013 by AFP Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista, Purisima, and Peace Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer – an agreement that “provides for the amendment of all policies and other guidelines” – he would have discovered the specific demand the communiqué makes on all government forces.

Phase 1, which covers the preparation period before law enforcement operations, requires that “GPH forces” – the police and armed forces – to “communicate to the GPH-AHJAG of an impending law enforcement operation at least 24 hours prior.”
There are no exceptions to this clause.

The encounter at the cornfield

Mama Dagadas woke to gunfire past 4 in the morning of January 25. He picked up his M16 and left for a clearing behind a stand of coconut trees. He was not in any particular hurry. The clearing, situated behind a cornfield below the Tukanalipao footbridge, was the meeting place for the MILF living in Tukanalipao, whose operating procedure was to gather at the sound of gunfire.

Dagadas had joined the MILF when he was 20, along with almost every young man he knew. He was a tall, spare man with a long face, the son of a farmer who had made it to 6th grade and had no further ambition beyond pulling in the next harvest. He was married at 36, and was the father of a 3-year-old boy named Maher.

The rebels came, one by one, cousins and friends. There had been gunfire, and gunfire meant they had to gather and wait for the commander to cut across the town proper, cross the footbridge, walk across the cornfields and tell them what to do.

What they did not know was that in front of them, under the corn, waited the 55th Special Action Force. The 55th had been attempting to reach their assigned waypoint when they heard gunfire from Pidsandawan. They took over the cornfields at the bottom of the Tukanalipao footbridge to protect the 84th’s exit.

It was a location that provided concealment, not cover.

Napeñas radioed an order for the 55th to stand their ground and engage the enemy.

"If you identify them as the enemy and if they armed, do not let them come close. Engage."

About a dozen fighters from the 105th Base Command of the MILF were crossing the footbridge to the cornfield when two of their men were shot down.

“That was when we joined in,” Dagadas said.

PO2 Christopher Lalan, lone survivor of the 55th Special Action Company, said it was the MILF who shot first.

It was 5:20 in the morning. By 5:30, the SAF were pinned down by an enemy that “peppered them with heavy gun-fire, rocket-propelled grenade, and M203 grenades from different directions.”

Mama Dagadas may or may not have killed before, but he certainly tried his best that Sunday morning, when he crouched at dawn among the coconut trees and shot at the enemy hiding in the cornfields of Tukanalipao, Mamapasano, Maguindanao.

“We couldn't see the people there because there were corn plants,” he said. “They were under the corn. We didn't know who we were fighting. We hadn't seen them yet.”

The encounter lasted hours. Reinforcements arrived from the BIFF. Bullets ran out. Radios failed. Ordnance refused to fire. The last to send a message, SAF radioman Senior Inspector Ryan Pabalinas, died with 16 gunshot wounds to the body.

It ended at one in the afternoon. The 55th SAF had gone silent.

The war room

In the coordination matrix Napeñas presented to the Senate, time on target notification would rest on himself as SAF Director.

The operational plan for Exodus marked 4 parties that required immediate notification at TOT – the AFP’s 6th Infantry Division (6th ID), the 1st Mechanized Brigade (1st MIB), the AJHAG and the CCCH.

Following Napeñas definition of time on target, notifications should have been released at 4 am, immediately after the 84th Seaborne reached Marwan’s hut in Pidsandawan.

Of the 4 parties in the coordination matrix, the SAF informed 3, more than a full hour after time on target.

The 6th ID’s Commander, Major General Edgardo Pangilinan, was sent a message at 5:06 am. He saw it at 6 am.

The 1st MIB’s Commander, Colonel Gener Del Rosario, was sent a message at 5:20 am. He saw it at 6:19 am.

The GPH-AHJAG Chair, Brigadier General Manolito Orense, received a phone call from Napeñas at 5:38 am.

The CCCH were not notified.

The first messages were variations on the same theme: the PNP-SAF was entering Mamasapano to serve warrants of arrest to high value targets with the support of the Maguindanao Provincial Police Office.

“For your info, on January 25, 2015 at about 0230H, PNP-SAF supported by MagPPO PRO ARMM shall be conducting LEO and serve WA against HVTS in Mamasapano, Mag.”

The messages said that coordination “was also done” with the 6th ID, the 45th IB and the 1st Mech.

In the next hour, the commanding officers under the Western Mindanao Command, while fielding calls from their own superiors, attempted to confirm the details of what they initially understood was a coordinated law enforcement operation.

The results painted a picture.

The Commander of the 601st Infantry Battalion said he had “no knowledge.”

The Police Director of the Maguindanao Police Provincial Office said “negative.”

The Commander of the 6th ID said he had just seen a text message, but knew nothing more.

The Commander of the 1st Mechanized Brigade checked his phone and found an earlier text message.

The Commander of the 45th Infantry Battalion responded with “no coordination.”

The earliest actual contact Napeñas made with the parties in the coordination matrix was 5:38 am, when Orense answered Napeñas’ call.

By then, the 36 troopers of the 55th SAC had already engaged the enemy. Only one would survive.

'Ceasefire them'

It was the MILF who warned the CCCH at 6:38 am. The message was sent to CCCH-GPH Chair Brigadier General Carlito Galvez and Major Carlos Sol, Head of Secretariat of the Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities. Both were still in Iligan on a decommissioning mission.

“Salam bro,” the message from MILF-CCCH Chair Rashid Ladiasan. “Firefight erupted between the AFP and the 105BC at Tukanalipao, Mamasapano. The AFP troops moved in without any coordination and this is difficult to control to avoid encounters between our forces when there is no coordination. This is clearly disregarding and violating the ceasefire. Now with that situation the only option is to ceasefire otherwise it will escalate further.”

For half an hour they made the calls. 1st Mech. The 601st Brigade. The 6th ID. All units near Mamasapano.

The AFP said they had no engaged units. Nobody knew, said Sol. There was no sense of anything, no suspicion.

By 7:30 am, they were told it was the SAF.
 Sol received a call from Police Superintendent Odelio Jocson, Police Director of the Maguindanao Provincial Police.
“He asked me, ‘Bok, did you hear what’s happening in Mamasapano?’ I said, “I heard there was shooting between army and the 105th.’

Jocson told Sol that it wasn’t the army. It was SAF.

“I said, ‘Sir what’s that, is that yours? Is that coordinated?’

He said, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m in Manila, but Bok, just help them. Just ceasefire them.”

“That was a Sunday,” remembers Sol. “Our people were Catholic, they were in Church. I had them pulled out from the churches. One of my people was in the grotto attending Mass. It took a while to contact him, when we got to him, he said, “'Sir, I’m in church, I’ll just finish.’ I told him to get out.”

'32 KIA'

Carlos Sol was born and raised in Cotabato. His father was a soldier. His brother was a soldier. Sol himself was an infantryman from the 27th IB, a big man with a lived-in face whose relationship with the MILF survived even after their discovery that he was an army intelligence operative. Sol was the man both sides trusted, whose worth as a negotiator had been proven again and again.

That morning in January 25, while he and Galvez were racing back to Maguindanao, Sol was fielding calls from contacts in the MILF. The base commands were confused. Commander Bravo was getting ready to attack in Lanao. Basilan was asking if the peace process was over. The rebels thought war had broken out.

Sol had very few answers. What was important, Sol said, was for the CCCH to get between the two parties and physically separate them. In close encounters, it was nearly impossible. Sol arrived too late to join the crisis team attempting to enter the site.

Galvez went to the Tactical Command Post, Sol went to Tukanalipao to monitor the situation.

“The crisis team attempted to get in the middle, but they couldn’t penetrate,” Sol said. “The shooting was intense. So if you saw the ceasefire crisis team, they were there, hiding behind the bananas, even if they knew the bullets were going through. The psychology was that, ‘We have to go in.’”

He got a message at 3:30 in the afternoon. His boys – the ceasefire committee team – had penetrated the area. The report was 32 dead.

Sol called Galvez.

“Sir, 32, 32 are KIA. How many are we looking for?”

“General Napeñas is here,” said Galvez.
“Sir, 32 KIA. How many troopers are we looking for?”

Napeñas answered, “32, Bok.”

“Okay sir, accounted. We won’t look for anyone anymore. We’ll just organize a retrieval team.”

“He didn’t say anything else,” remembers Sol. “He didn’t correct me.”

At 5:20 in the afternoon, while Sol and the CCCH were organizing the retrieval of the corpses of the 55th SAC in Tukanalipao, there was a phone call from General Galvez.
“Check with the boys,” he said. “They say there’s one more platoon.”

“How many are there left sir?”

“They say there’s more,” Galvez said. “I don’t know how many more.”

It was 13 hours since time on target. The bodies were already being collected.

It was the first time Galvez, Sol, or anyone in the AFP were told that there was another SAF team in Mamasapano – the 84th Seaborne, still fighting for their lives under heavy fire.

It would be 11:30 in the evening when the 84th would finally be rescued from a running gun battle that lasted more than 17 hours.

Danger close

The operational plan for Operation Exodus offered two mitigating actions in case of heavy fire – artillery support from the AFP, and an immediate ceasefire headed by the CCCH.

Both demanded specific and prior coordination.

Although the PNP’s BOI report concedes the efforts of the CCCH to enforce the ceasefire, the armed forces is held responsible for the choice to withhold indirect fire.
“Such support,” read the report, “was not delivered when needed.”

The Directive on the Deployment of the Howitzer, issued by the Army Artillery Regiment, lists 3 elements necessary before the firing of artillery: the deployment of forward observers, direct communication with the field artillery battery, and the identification of enemy forces from friendly forces.

The last direct communication with the 55th SAC was at 7 am.

At 7:30 am, according to testimony to the BOI, the PNP requested for artillery fire and offered coordinates. Commander Gener Del Rosario of the 1st MIB asked the PNP for the locations of engaged troops, armed men, forward and tail elements, as well as civilians.

The questions could not be answered.

At 8:39 am, Napeñas sent Del Rosario his answer.

“Gener, good am. This is the location, many enemies GC 688663. Request indirect fire. There are no civilians since earlier.”

At the time, a single civilian was already embedded with the SAF troop – Badruddin Langalan, a farmer in his early-20s who had crossed the Tukanalipao bridge at dawn to charge his cell phone. The SAF had snatched him from his bicycle and tied his arms behind him to ensure operational security.

On the Senate floor, AFP Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang defended the choice to withhold fire.

“We need to know where the enemy is, where the troops are, and we need a forward observer so that when we drop the bomb, we know what the impact will be on the enemy. It’s happened in the past that even if we knew where the enemy was, even when we knew where our troops were, there was still friendly fire.”

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said it was a risk that should have been taken.

“To my mind,” he told the Senate, “there is the concept of ‘fire on my location.’ We’re being overrun, they will finish us off. We will take our chances that you fire on our position because at least there is a chance that we won’t be hit and you’ll hit the enemy. It’s better than you not firing, because we will all die here.”

The blast radius of a 105 mm high explosive round shot from a 105 mm howitzer is 50 meters in all directions. Had the commander of the 6th Infantry Division of the AFP decided to fire on the grid coordinate sent by Napeñas at 8:39 am, a coordinate that may or may not have moved in the almost two hours since it was sent to him by Pabalinas, every man, woman and child within 100 meters would have died in the blast, including lone survivor PO2 Christopher Robert Lalan, who lived to tell the tale.

'We could have saved them'

It is 10 in the evening. The building has emptied. A single security guard sits slumped on a couch in the lobby. Major Carlos Sol is using his coffee cup, a teaspoon and a pen to illustrate the ground conditions in Mamasapano on January 25.

He moves the coffee cup. This is Tukanalipao, he says.

He lays the pen horizontally, behind the cup.

“This is the road.”

The teaspoon goes in front of the cup, perpendicular to the pen.

“This is the bridge.”

He points to the cup.

“This the community. Even when the trucks came, the people knew the SAF were there, but they didn’t know who they were. It’s the MILF’s SOP for all of them to cross the bridge. They have an area here, behind the cornfield, where they withdraw to establish a defensive position because they’re avoiding the forces here. The automatic reaction for the MILF is not to engage, but avoid. They didn’t even know there were people in that cornfield.”

Sol is willing to understand time on target coordination. He is even willing to understand fears that telling the CCCH would compromise operational security. What he does not understand is why they were not told when it mattered.

“When they were able to take down Marwan that means the mission is already compromised. There was a firefight in that area of Pidsandawan, their presence was already compromised, operational security was no longer significant as far as compromise is concerned.”

The 84th had neutralized Marwan at 4:15 am.

“At the time, the 55th SAC had no casualty yet,” said Sol. “There was lead-time. But the SAF hid it.”

The fighting in Tukanalipao between the MILF and the 55th SAC blocking force began at 5:20 am.

“If they told us at 4:30, even 4:35 or let’s say 4:40, if they told that there are troops in Pidsandawan and they had gotten Marwan, they were withdrawing through Tukanalipao, we could have called up the MILF CCCH.”

Sol believes that in the hour between time on target and the gunfire in Tukanalipao, the CCCH could have stepped in to avert the crisis. It had been done before, on many occasions, including an operation 3 weeks after Mamasapano, when the AFP went after the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. The CCCH gave warning the same morning of the operation. The army passed through a route within sight of the MILF. There was no encounter.

To coordinate after guns blaze has a price – time. It takes at least 6 hours to enforce a ceasefire after an encounter begins. It was a luxury the 55th SAC did not have.

“We could have called the MILF. We could have told them, ‘You have troops in Tukanalipao, there’s government force withdrawing from Tukanalipao, tell your people to open a passageway so they can pass.’ It could have saved them!”

“Them” is the 55th SAC.

Time on Target

Had the SAF troopers been ready for the terrain, they wouldn’t have miscalculated the travel time. Had they managed to occupy their positions, they wouldn’t have been forced to engage in daylight. Had the President involved the chief of the PNP instead of a suspended director, approval for TOT could have been stopped. Had Napeñas trusted the high command of the armed forces, they could have embedded their own forward observers and radio operators into the SAF platoons and prepared for artillery fire.

Had Purisima’s reports been accurate instead of reassuring, the President could have ordered urgent action. Had the planners had even a rudimentary understanding of the coordinating protocols of the peace process, the AHJAG could have been ready for an encounter without alerting the MILF. Had Napeñas coordinated at time on target, the CCCH could have attempted to keep the MILF away from the 55th SAC.

It is difficult to accept that some failure to coordinate can lead to the blood of 44 policemen splashed across a cornfield south of the country. The Senate calls it a massacre. The MILF call it a misencounter. The President says it wasn’t his fault.

The facts are these: policemen are dead, wives have been widowed, children have been orphaned and the peace process is a casualty. In total, 67 Filipinos were killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, including an 8-year-old child named Sarah who cowered in her backyard before dawn on January 25.

Perhaps some of them would have lived had there been coordination. But coordination is an innocuous word. Its associations are inoffensive, the crack of its consonants do not pulse with necessity. Coordination doesn’t kill, but perhaps ego can.