Sunday, March 29, 2015

NPA claims 10,000 armed combatants

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 30): NPA claims 10,000 armed combatants

The communist New People’s Army now has more than 10,000 armed combatants in 71 provinces and 800 municipalities, according to the spokesman of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao.

Jorge Madlos, also known as Ka Oris, made the statement on Sunday to mark the NPA’s 46th anniversary.

46th anniversary. About 100 female warriors stand at attention
during ceremonies marking the National People’s Army’s 46th
anniversary in Surigao del Sur. Alvin Guanzon
He said the NPA was born on March 29, 1969, with only one guerrilla front in Tarlac.

But now the group had 110 guerrilla fronts in the whole country.

“These do not include the hundreds of thousands of Militia men and women or Milisyang Bayan and other support civilian groups,” Madlos said.

“Millions of mass and civilian supporters and sympathizers support secretly while some openly support the cause to address massive injustices and the massive human rights violations all over the country.”

Madlos made his statement even as the left-leaning Alyansang Makabayan said President Benigno Aquino III’s strategy against the NPA was a stotal failure while he was moving heaven and earth to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Group secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said Aquino was not serious about foreign a peace agreement with the NPA, which he said continued to wage war against the government.

“Aquino’s peace rhetoric is selective and in the service of a narrow political agenda,” Reyes said.

Madlos claimed that the NPA now had 47 guerrilla fronts in Mindanao alone compared with only one in 1971.

“These NPA guerrilla fronts are present in more than 200 cities and municipalities, 19 provinces and 2,300 barangays in Mindanao alone and growing” Madlos said.

He said the NPA launched 400 tactical offensives in Mindanao in 2014 compared with 250 in 2010, 530 in 2011 and more than 400 in 2011 and 2012.

He said NPA rebels captured 11 prisoners of war last year but all were treated fairly and humanely.

“They were all fairly and humanely treated and all their rights were observed, and they were all eventually released,” Madlos said.

Ka Ariel Montero, spokesman of the North-Eastern Mindanao Regional Command, claimed that in the Caraga Region alone the NPA rebels were able to make nine tactical offensives in 2014, confiscating 27 high-powered firearms and 50 pieces of hand guns and killing 190 reactionary forces and wounding 120 soldiers and militias.

“Because of our victories in the Caraga Region, the AFP has deployed seven army battalions in the entire Caraga Region, two combat battalions of the PNP and deployed more than 90 [militias],” Montero said.

2 troopers hurt as Army clashes with suspected rebels in Capiz

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): 2 troopers hurt as Army clashes with suspected rebels in Capiz

Two members of the 61st Infantry Battalion were wounded during a clash with suspected New People's Army (NPA) fighters at Barangay Tacayan, Tapaz town, Capiz Sunday morning.

Major Ray Tiongson, 3rd Infantry Division spokesman, said the incident took place 6 a.m.

He added that the 61st Infantry Battalion was conducting peace and development activities in the locality when fired upon by 10 armed rebels.

The exchange of gunfire lasted for five minutes and resulted in the wounding of Cpl. Niel Lagat and Pvt. Raymund De Juan.

The wounded soldiers were immediately airlifted and brought to Camp Peralta Station Hospital in Jamindan, Capiz and are now in stable condition.

Tiongson said that some rebels were wounded in the encounter and this was confirmed by blood trails in the NPAs' withdrawal route.

AFP concludes month-long offensive against BIFF

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 29): AFP concludes month-long offensive against BIFF

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) concluded on Monday the month-long military offensive focused against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao which resulted in the neutralization of more than 50 percent of the brigands' strength.

"Effective today (March 30), the all-out offensive against the BIFF would be ended. After the relentless operations against the BIFF, we have achieved our objectives, including the neutralization of more than 50 percent of their ranks, the capture of bomb factories, and the seizure of their enclaves or safe havens in different Maguindanao localities," AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said.

Operations against the BIFF started last Feb. 25 when the bandits started encroaching on civilian communities in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

"We have accounted for 139 enemies killed, 53 wounded and 12 captured. They are now splintered into small groups to evade the pursuing soldiers. They are defeated in the battlefield by our gallant soldiers, marines and policemen," Catapang said.

In the same effort, 10 troopers were killed and another 31 wounded.

"With the cooperation extended by the local government officials, residents and even our partners in peace, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the BIFF remnants have nowhere to hide," the AFP chief stressed.

Despite the cessation of focused military offensive against the bandit group, Catapang assured the public that the military continuously pursue them in their temporary hideouts inside the Liguasan marshlands and even in the mountainous areas.

"We are now entering the new phase of our operation which is peace and development. I want to emphasize that still, we will continuously deploy forces to secure communities and deny the BIFF entry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao. We will continue to hunt down the terrorists like Basit Usman and his cohorts who are now hiding outside the conflict areas," he added.

Starting this Monday, Catapang said that the AFPwill coordinate with the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the province of Maguindanao for the safe return of the residents back to their homes.

"It is very important to note that from as high as 120,000 evacuees last month, they are now down to about 90,000 people who have remained in various evacuation centers and houses of relatives. We understand the physical and emotional challenges experienced by the non-combatants who were among those who were adversely affected by the armed conflict with the BIFF," Catapang pointed out.

"Now that we have driven out the armed BIFF members and the small group of terrorists led by Basit Usman, we will focus our attention in rebuilding the affected communities. We will help the LGUs, other government agencies, and the national government as a whole in delivering public services to the people. We will support the implementation of development projects that are intended to spur the economic activities in these areas," he stressed.

President Benigno S. Aquino III has initially approved the release of PhP67 million that would be used for various socio-economic interventions for the people of Maguindanao, including the Bridge for Peace in Barangay Tukanalipao, Schools for Peace and Roads for Peace that will benefit the people.

Catapang said they are now calling on everyone to help the people in the affected communities to go back to their normal lives and support their pursuit for lasting peace.

He added that the AFP would like to see "Maguindanao as a highly-developed area where people enjoy peace, progress and prosperity that we all want for the whole of Mindanao and the entire nation."

"Rest assured that your Armed Forces of the Philippines will remain as your partners for peace and development. We will never abandon our constitutional mandate of protecting the people from any armed aggression," the AFP chief said.

NPA says ‘lack of coordination’ led to attack on Agusan governor

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 29): NPA says ‘lack of coordination’ led to attack on Agusan governor
On the celebration of its 46th anniversary, the New People’s Army (NPA) claimed responsibility for the attack on the convoy of Agusan del Norte governor Maria Angelica Amante-Matba in Nasipit town on Thursday.

In a statement, Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao Region, said communist guerrillas under the NPA-Western Norte-Agusan Sur Command opened fire at the six-vehicle convoy not knowing the governor was there.

Juanito then apologized for the incident blaming lack of coordination for the attack on civilians.

“We earnestly express our regret to this event. It should have been circumvented should there have been prior coordination by the governor’s party with the responsible revolutionary cadres in the said territory,” the spokesperson said.

The military earlier reported that the convoy was going to the turnover of a school in the village of Camagong when they were waylaid and fired upon by members of the NPA.

A policeman was wounded in the attack and was rushed to a hospital in Butuan City.

Juanito said, “Six-convoy vehicles of Gov. Amante entered along with armed escorts in Kamagong area despite an ongoing operation by 29th IB troop and PNP-Nasipit personnel in the boundary of Carmen and Nasipit towns.”

He reminded politicians to avoid bringing armed escorts in areas identified as territories of the communist movement.

“We would just reiterate our notice to politicians and personalities entering our base areas … to refrain from bringing their arms, and if carrying such be necessary, to coordinate with the respective personnel in the territory so that a proper permit would be issued,” Juanito’s statement said.

He added, “It is also appropriate for them upon entry to investigate beforehand whether combat operations of AFP and PNP are ongoing in order to evade from being unnecessarily caught in the crossfire once an armed encounter takes place.”

Peace advocates have been calling on the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) to resume peace negotiations to address the root causes of the conflict that has caused numerous casualties and damage to properties.

In the Hague Joint Declaration in 1992, both parties agreed to tackle substantive agenda including human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

In March 1998, both parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

The government and the NDF have already formulated their drafts for the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser) but have not made progress since the talks collapsed.

The NDF is asserting that the government should release political prisoners and NDF consultants that were captured by government forces as agreed upon by the previously signed agreements to jumpstart the stalled talks.

The NPA led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, which is fighting a guerrilla war for more than four decades, is known for sustaining one of the longest running communist rebellions in Asia.

Malaysia readies offshore military bases as Mindanao peace process shudders

From GMA News (Mar 29): Malaysia readies offshore military bases as Mindanao peace process shudders

Malaysia is preparing offshore military bases to intercept potential refugees from Mindanao in the event of a breakdown of the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Malaysian news site reported Sunday.

The military bases in the Sulu Sea are to be operational by April and are meant to address a potential influx of “hundreds of thousands” of displaced southern Filipinos, The Star Online reported.
“If the peace process can’t go through in June then it means war. Twelve years of talks and because of one incident, they will have war,” it quoted defense minister
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein as saying.

The report said Hishammuddin was referring to the Jan. 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, which left 44 Special Action Force troopers and some MILF fighters and civilians dead.

Also, Hishammuddin said security forces were also preparing for the possibility of the displaced people trying to escape a war.

“If we have a wall of offshore bases, we may have a chance to stop the exodus of people,” he said, adding that Malaysia had to take precautionary measures should the tension spill over to Sabah.

PAF's S-211 to get environmental control system upgrade

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 29): PAF's S-211 to get environmental control system upgrade

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has allocated PhP39,614,257.57 for the acquisition of spares needed for the upgrading of the environmental control system of one of its SIAI-Marchetti S-211 jet aircraft.

The environmental control system provides air supply, thermal control and cabin pressurization for the crew and passengers.

Avionics cooling, smoke detection, and fire suppression are also commonly considered part of an aircraft's environmental control system.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled for March 30 at 11 the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City. On the other hand, bid opening and submission is scheduled for April 14 at 9 a.m. at the same venue.

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

The PAF operates three to five S-211s and uses it for air defense and attack missions.

NPA leader arrested in Bicol

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Mar 29): NPA leader arrested in Bicol

Government security forces arrested an alleged leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Matnog, Sorsogon last Friday.

The arrest of Arsenio Guellas, who uses the aliases Ka Gapa and Ka Insoy, came as the Armed Forces of the Philippines braced for possible attacks by the Communist Party of the Philippines, which is celebrating its 46th founding anniversary today. The NPA is the CPP’s armed wing.

Guellas was said to be the commanding officer of the NPA’s provincial operational command in Sorsogon.

The military has been on alert since noon yesterday until tomorrow to thwart possible attacks by the rebels.

Aside from being an NPA leader, the military tagged Guellas as a member of the executive committee of the Bicol regional party command of the CPP.

“Guellas was arrested at the house of a certain Ricky Gardo in Barangay Ginablan Occidental at about 11:40 a.m.,” AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

A caliber .45 pistol and bullets, a magazine for an Ingram machine pistol and an improvised explosive device were seized by the Army and police troops from Guellas.
Cabunoc said Guellas faces murder and frustrated murder charges.

The Maritime Top Line: Defense Budgets in the Pacific Littoral

From the LawFare Blog (Mar 28): The Maritime Top Line: Defense Budgets in the Pacific Littoral

In recent years, analysts have devoted much attention to the fact that China continues to increase its defense spending by double-digit percentages annually. They have also focused on fiscal constraints in the United States, and how these may impact Washington’s ability to sustain its presence in East Asia. Less well documented, however, is what these trends have meant for other countries in the region. With a rising superpower rapidly expanding its defense capabilities, we might expect its neighbors to follow suit. But is this actually happening? This issue of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative investigates.

Richard Heydarian argues that the Philippines has begun a defense overhaul under President Benigno Aquino III, implementing a 2012 act to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The aim of this initiative is to develop Manila’s minimum deterrence capability, and to improve its maritime domain awareness in the waters in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)—a priority that became especially urgent after Manila was ejected by China from the Scarborough Shoal in 2012. The Philippines’ defense spending increased from $1.24 billion in 2004 to $2.3 billion in 2009 and $3.47 billion in 2013. As a percentage of GDP, however, it hovers around just 2.5 percent. But Aquino has also taken steps to ensure that these funds are being used to beef up Manila’s maritime capabilities, and has seriously pursued peace negotiations with leading rebel groups. The Philippines’ Air Force and its rather paltry Navy have been the beneficiaries of these bumps, but establishing minimum deterrence at sea will still be a major challenge for Manila.

Vietnam has boosted its defense budget more than any other country in South East Asia, note Murray Hiebert and Phuong Nguyen, with a 113 percent increase between 2004 and 2013. Hanoi still spends just two percent of GDP on defense, however. A major turning point for Vietnam came when the Central Committee of the Communist Party released a maritime strategy, making its sovereignty and economic claims at sea major national security priorities. As in the Philippines, the Air Force and the Navy have benefitted the most from these modernization efforts. For many of its big-ticket aircraft and vessels, Vietnam has turned to Russia, with whom it maintains close defense ties dating back to the Cold War. In something of a realignment, however, Vietnam increasingly sees its security interests as tied to those of the United States and Japan, as a consequence of China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea. Washington has provided a maritime security assistance aid package to Hanoi, and both the United States and Japan are furnishing it with vessels. As is the case in the Philippines, however, a key question is whether Vietnam will be able to absorb this aid and make good use of its new acquisitions.

Further to the north, defense budgets are more static. Despite mounting pressure around the Senkaku Islands, Japan’s defense spending has remained relatively fixed, as Michael Green demonstrates. Japan has historically had a self-imposed, informal defense spending limit of approximately one percent of GDP, and despite passing a record FY 2015 defense budget, this cap remains in place. As a percentage of government spending, defense is just 2.5 percent, and Tokyo also has placed a cap on how much it can spend over the five-year period 2014-2018. Despite these limits, Tokyo has clearly reoriented its defense spending to prioritize so-called “grey zone” contingencies—conflicts that lie somewhere between peace and full-scale war, like the Senkakus. This has meant modest cuts to the Ground Self Defense Forces budget and modest increases to the Air and Maritime Self Defense Forces budgets. Procurement patterns in the JASDF and JMSDF underscore the grey zone mission even more clearly, with new purchases such as Global Hawk UAVs, a bulk purchase of P-1 maritime patrol aircraft, 30 new amphibious assault vessels, and a continued emphasis on Tokyo’s Aegis destroyer capability. Even the JGSDF is being reoriented towards a maritime mission, with far fewer tank purchases and a new unit modeled on the U.S. Marines. Look for several more indications this spring and summer that Shinzo Abe’s government is prioritizing the maritime mission, despite the fact that topline numbers won’t budge.

Taiwan faces a rising military juggernaut just across the Strait, but Taipei’s spending has also languished, and stands at just around two percent of GDP. As Bonnie Glaser and Anastasia Mark note, this is despite the fact that ROC President Ma Ying-Jeou pledged to spend no less than three percent. Significantly improved Cross-Strait relations mean that many in Taiwan do not regard China as a proximate military threat, and Taipei has prioritized social spending. Taiwan is also transitioning to an all-volunteer military, which is a costly endeavor. Yet recent projections suggest that if Taiwan was left to defend itself from an attack by the mainland, it might only be able to hold out for one month’s time, and the United States is the only country willing to sell Taiwan major arms. With a presidential election rapidly approaching, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has pledged to increase defense spending if returned to power. But when the DPP was last in power, defense spending actually fell. Regardless of which party wins the election, Taiwan can’t be expected to keep pace with China’s spending. But, Glaser and Mark argue, if it wants the United States to continue to provide for its defense, it must make an earnest effort to do the same.

All four of the countries examined see China’s growing maritime capabilities as a threat to some degree. In the case of Taiwan and Japan, this has resulted in a reorientation toward the maritime domain, with both attempting to make similar budgets go farther without actually increasing spending due to domestic constraints. In Vietnam and the Philippines, in contrast, defense spending has been overhauled, as both play games of catch up with their air forces, navies, and coast guards. Will Taiwan and Japan’s domestic constraints on higher spending be eroded in the coming years as China’s military reach continues to grow? This is certainly possible, but either way, these four budgets remind us that to understand littoral states’ spending priorities in maritime Asia, we must look deeper than the top line.

Raps vs soldiers eyed for setting up camps in villages

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 30): Raps vs soldiers eyed for setting up camps in villages

A HUMAN rights group is planning to file complaints against military officials for the alleged human rights violations they committed in Compostela Valley.
Hanimay Suazo, Exodus for Justice and Peace convenor, said her groups and other organizations are bringing the complaints before the United Nations and other for a in relation to the fact-finding mission that they conducted in Compostela Valley several days ago.
“In an effort to pursue the prosecution of the military authorities, copies of the fact-finding mission report will also be furnished to the local government of Compostela, Regional Peace and Order Council, United Nations and other international forums,” Suazo said.
Based on the result of the mission, members of the the 66th and 67th Infantry Battalion were found building camps in the villages of Ngan and Panansalan in Compostela town.
“There were four incidents of military encampment on four different communities of Sitio Mambusao, Sitio Bango, Sitio Kantigbao of Brgy. Ngan, and Sitio Trukat of Brgy. Panansalan, that affects 1,448 residents,” said Suazo.
She said the soldiers were found using the schools as their camps and that “this has been the systematic approach of Oplan Bayanihan.”
“If this encampment will not be stopped there will be more victims of human rights violation as what it has resulted at this present,” she said.
On the other hand, Lt. Vergel Lacambra, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division, denied the allegation.
“Military encampment in barangay halls and schools is not allowed,” Lacambra said, adding that soldiers do not set up camps in communities unless they are requested by the communities themselves.
Lacambra dared the groups to prove their accusation by submitting their evidence before his office.

1 killed, another hurt as NPA grenade exploded in South Cotabato

Fro the Philippine News Agency (Mar 29): 1 killed, another hurt as NPA grenade exploded in South Cotabato

A militiaman was killed while another one was wounded when a grenade stuffed in a sack bearing a New People's Army (NPA) 46th anniversary greetings exploded in Barangay Poblacion, T'boli town, South Cotabato at 6:45 a.m. Sunday.

Capt. Rey Balibagoso, 1002nd Infantry Brigade public affairs officer, said the militiamen are members of the Spring Detachment deployed in Barangay Poblacion.

He declined to name the victims pending notification of their next-of-kin.

Balibagoso said the two militiamen were patrolling along the barangay road when they spotted the sack with the rebel anniversary greetings. As they were removing it, the grenade exploded, killing one of them on the spot and severely wounding the other.

"The attack was not command-detonated, and could have easily victimized any individual or barangay official passing on the public road," Balibagoso said.

"This incident again manifests the violent nature of the communists. The terror attack was carried out even as the people of South Cotabato begin to commemorate the Holy Week this Palm Sunday. The lawless armed elements always celebrate their anniversary with more killings and terror acts, as they measure success by the degree of suffering inflicted on our people," he added.

Philippines hits back at China over South China Sea

From Rappler (Mar 29): Philippines hits back at China over South China Sea

The Philippines has recently been among the most vocal in criticizing China's development of isolated outcroppings in the waters into large facilities capable of hosting bases and even airstrips

SUBJECT OF PROTESTS. A photo obtained by Rappler shows the status of reclamation activities in Keenan (Chigua) Reef in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as of December 12, 2014.

SUBJECT OF PROTESTS. A photo obtained by Rappler shows the status of reclamation activities in Keenan (Chigua) Reef in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as of December 12, 2014.

The Philippines on Saturday, March 28, shot back at Beijing's criticism of its activities in the South China Sea, saying they were "in no way comparable to China's massive reclamation activities" in the waters.

It also said accusations that Manila was being "hypocritical" would not distract people from Beijing's own actions which were raising regional tensions.

The statement by foreign affairs department spokesman Charles Jose was the latest volley in an increasingly tense war of words over the sea, parts of which are claimed by both countries as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

"The Philippines' possible undertaking of necessary maintenance and repairs on its existing facilities in the West Philippine in no way comparable to China's massive reclamation activities which not only violate international law...but also unnecessarily raise tensions," the statement said.

"West Philippine Sea" is the term Manila uses for the South China Sea where Filipino troops and civilians occupy some islands.

The Philippines has recently been among the most vocal in criticizing China's development of isolated outcroppings in the waters into large facilities capable of hosting bases and even airstrips. (READ: Photos show China's 'massive' reclamation in West PH Sea)

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines would resume its own construction of facilities in the sea, prompting Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying to denounce his remarks on Friday, March 27.

"This does not only violate China's territorial sovereignty but also reveals (the Philippines') hypocritical nature," she said.

In response, the Philippines said: "China's recent statement...should not distract us from the real issues in the South China Sea which are China's illegitimate 'nine-dash line' claim and China's unilateral and aggressive behavior in asserting that claim as exemplified by its massive and unrestrained 'reclamation."

Reacting to the controversy, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III affirmed his support for Del Rosario, Presidential Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Saturday. (READ: Philippines submits 3,000-page rebuttal vs China)
Valte also said that any repairs of Philippine facilities would not violate a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea sealed between China and Southeast Asian countries in 2002.
The non-binding accord is intended to avoid raising tensions in the disputed territory.
Valte also stressed that the Philippines had made its position clear in a challenge it had filed before a United Nations tribunal in March 2014 to declare as illegal what Manila said was China's claim to 70% of the sea.
The Philippines has also filed numerous diplomatic protests against what it calls China efforts to assert its claims to the territory shown in a "nine-dash line" in several Chinese maps. (READ: CLOSE-UP PHOTOS: China's artificial islands in West PH Sea)
The UN tribunal is due to rule early next year on Manila's challenge to Beijing's claims.

'Should we disregard history, hard work on Bangsamoro law?'

From Rappler (Mar 28): 'Should we disregard history, hard work on Bangsamoro law?'

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal tells graduates of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan that the youth will reap the fruits of the peace process

'SPEAK UP ABOUT PEACE.' Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal speaks to graduates of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. Screenshot from Youtube

'SPEAK UP ABOUT PEACE.' Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal speaks to graduates of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. Screenshot from Youtube

Three major wars, 4 presidents, 11 government peace negotiators, more than 100 signed documents, and 17 years of "negotiations and problem solving."

For Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, these numbers reflect the hard work of both the government and the MILF to reach a final peace agreement that will culminate in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

But the botched Mamasapano operation has put the law’s future hanging in the balance.

"Is this too short a period, an easy engagement, that many people – including some legislators – can easily call for a new negotiation?" Iqbal asked in his speech before the graduating class of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (XU) on Thursday, March 26.

"Should we disregard history and the long and hard work into crafting the BBL? These are tough questions which every Filipino and Bangsamoro must answer in the next few days."

Iqbal, together with presidential peace adviser Teresita Quintos Deles and government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, received university awards from XU during the 2015 Baccalaureate Mass and University Convocation on Thursday.

In light of the Mamasapano incident, students were initially divided on their school’s decision to confer an Honorary Doctorate to Deles, and the Fr William F Masterson SJ Award to Iqbal and Ferrer.

Youth's role in the peace process

Iqbal was aware of the apprehension, but made no mention of the January 25 incident in his acceptance speech.

On January 25, 392 commandos of the Philippine National Police's Special Action Force conducted an operation to arrest two high-value targets, alleged bomb makers Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan, and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

The operation resulted in a bloody clash between SAF troopers and rebel forces that killed Marwan, but also claimed the lives of 44 SAF troopers, 18 MILF members, and 5 civilians. (READ: TIMELINE: Mamasapano clash)

Instead, Iqbal spoke to graduates on Thursday about his personal journey when he began immersing himself in the milieu of the 1970s: "the Bangsamoro question."

He also talked about the context of the armed conflict in Mindanao, and the start of the peace process in 1997, when the Ramos government signed a "general cessation of hostilities" with the MILF. (READ: TIMELINE: The long road to the Bangsamoro region)

The signing took place, coincidentally, in Cagayan de Oro City where XU is now located. 

"Frankly speaking, peace is not an easy endeavor. The truth is that it is easy to make war than to make peace. In war, one party can start war, but in peacemaking, it requires both parties to agree to talk," he said.

He urged the graduates to speak up, ask questions about the peace process, and propose solutions.

"Come to think of it, my dear graduates, it is you, the youth and the young of today, who will reap the fruits of peace in the future....The future is yours. You have a stake in it," he added.

NPA forces on the decline --AFP

From the Philippine News Agenc (Mar 29): NPA forces on the decline --AFP

As the New People's Army (NPA) celebrated its 46th founding anniversary Sunday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said that the number of the rebel force is now on the decline as the development projects of the government are now gaining momentum in the countryside.

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

The latter is the initiative wherein the military aims to beat the rebels by developing depressed countryside communities in a bid to remove a mass base for the NPAs.

As of this posting, the rebel strength all over the country is placed at 4,000.

Kakilala also said that "Bayanihan" is greatly aided by ongoing AFP efforts to hunt, track down, and capture or neutralize known leaders and supporters of the rebel group.

AFP: All-out offensive vs BIFF ends today

From Rappler (Mar 30): AFP: All-out offensive vs BIFF ends today

But military presence will continue for the implementation the P67-million 'socio-economic intervention' projects approved by President Benigno Aquino III

NEXT PHASE: AFP chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr announces to end of all-out offensive vs the BIFF to make way for the next phase of military operations

NEXT PHASE: AFP chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr announces to end of all-out offensive vs the BIFF to make way for the next phase of military operations

The military announced it is ending its all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and will make way for the return of residents back to their homes. 

"Effective today, March 30, the all-out offensive against the BIFF would be ended," Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said early Monday morning, March 30.
Catapang said the military has "defeated" the BIFF, whose members are now supposedly hiding in the Liguasan marshlands and even in the mountainous areas.
He said the troops killed a total of 139 BIFF members or more than 50% of the ranks of the BIFF. Theyy also captured bomb factories and seized their encampments. 

Military presence will continue

Military presence, however, will continue in Maguindanao and neighboring Cotabato where up to 120,000 residents were displaced by military operations.
Catapang announced a P67 million allocation approved by President Benigno Aquino III for "socio-economic" interventions in the war-torn areas.

"We are now entering the new phase of our operation which is peace and development. I want to emphasize that still, we will continuously deploy forces to secure communities and deny the BIFF entry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao. We will continue to hunt down the terrorists like Basit  Usman and his cohorts who are now hiding outside the conflict areas," Catapang said.
The BIFF is a breakaway group of the dominant Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the government last year. The peace process however was derailed after the bloody January 25 police operation in an MILF territory in Maguindanao.
The all-out offensive was launched after the tragedy. The military is accusing the BIFF of coddling terrorists who survived the January 25 operation. 

MILF field commander: No sanctions yet over Mamasapano

From Rappler (Mar 29): MILF field commander: No sanctions yet over Mamasapano

'Why they will suspend us where in fact we are not involved in the incident?'

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

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

A senior rebel field commander, whose unit reportedly was involved the January 25 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that left 44 police commandos dead, said Sunday, March 29, there has so far been no sanctions given by their leaders in connection with the incident.

Earlier, MILF first vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar said two of their units, the 105th and 118th Base Commands, are facing disciplinary action for failing to monitor the entry of Malaysian-born terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino associate, Basit Usman, into Mamasapano.

Jaafar also said that based on their 37-page investigation report, the two units failed to monitor and report the entry of Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) commandos into Tukanalipao village.

But Wahid Tundok, commander of 118th Base Command, said since the MILF report on the Mamasapano incident was released last week there has been no disciplinary action given to them by their leaders.

"It cannot happen. Why they will suspend us where in fact we are not involved in the incident?" Tundok said.

Tundok said it was even their chairman, Ibrahim Murad, who told him they have nothing to do with the incident.

He said they were unaware of the presence of Marwan in Tukanalipao.

"We are bound to strictly follow Islamic laws and we believe we have not violated any laws," Tundok said.

He said there were no members from their central committee who went to them to talk about the suspension.

Tundok, however, did not mention if his group will accept or not their suspension order, if it is given to them.

SAF commandos infiltrated into Moro rebel-controlled Mamasapano early on January 25 to capture Marwan, Usman, and Malaysian-born terrorist Amin Baco.

They killed Marwan in his hut in Tukanalipao while Usman and Baco escaped.

44 SAF commandos, 17 MILF guerrillas and 3 civilians were killed in a gun battle that lasted for 12 hours.

Talks with Reds casualty of Mamasapano, too

From Rappler (Mar 29): Talks with Reds casualty of Mamasapano, too

The government puts on hold the appointment of retired general Emmanuel Bautista as the new chief negotiator with the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines

The New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), turned 46 on Sunday, March 29, as hopes dim for the resumption of talks to end Asia's longest running insurgency.

Talks with the Philippine Left has become the other casualty – aside from the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – of the botched police operation that killed international terrorist Zulkifli bin hir or “Marwan” but also 67 Filipinos, among them 44 elite cops. (READ: Cardinal Quevedo: Junking BBL a 'total disaster')
“There were initial signs that were positive. But ever since Mamasapano, tumigil na naman (It stopped again). They (CPP) made declarations again against President Aquino and on the need to wait for the next administration,” Alex Padilla, the government's chief negotiator with the CPP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), told Rappler in a phone interview Sunday. 
Bautista appointment on hold
Rappler learned the government also put on hold the appointment of retired Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista as the replacement of Padilla, who assumed as Philhealth chief following the collapse of talks in February 2013. (READ: Ex-AFP chief eyed as chief negotiator with NDF)
A source, who refused to be named, said: “It’s a useless appointment. Why appoint someone new and raise the hopes when wala naman sigurong mangyayari (nothing will likely happen)." 
"If there's actual chance to have talks, that’s the time you need his appointment," the source added.
Peace talks with the MILF and the NDF both looked promising as of late last year. MalacaƱang was looking forward to Congress passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will implement peace agreements with the dominant muslim group MILF.

The CPP wanted to resume talks, too. Bautista, who was on top of security operations for the January papal visit, was supposed to meet in February his NDFP counterparts as confidence building measure. (READ: CPP confirms talks with PH government)
But Mamasapano happened on January 25.

The February meeting that was supposed to discuss possible agreements for the coming elections did not happen.

The CPP's attitude towards Aquino in the aftermath of Mamasapano has left the peace panel doubtful of the other camp’s sincerity, leading them to withhold Bautista’s appointment.

CPP slams Aquino's coverup

The CPP slammed President Aquino’s “cover-up” that is supposedly meant to exculpate himself and the US military of any culpability in the bloodiest operation in police history – the worst crisis to hit his administration so far.

Aquino received widespread criticism for breaking the chain of command when he allowed suspended police chief Director General Alan Purisima to continue his participation in the manhunt for Marwan while OIC police chief Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II were kept out of the loop. 

“The CPP has not really changed its tenor. It’s the pronouncements sometimes of the NDFP people na parang naiiba (that has changed),” said Padilla. (READ: Joma wants peace, the ground doesn't – Padilla)

In an acknowledgment that there's no more time for a peace agreement within Aquino's term, Padilla said he is hopeful talks can resume after the 2016 elections.
"I really believe the insurgency cannot be finished through military means alone. The other side can never win through a revolution. Therefore, somewere along the line, we have to talk. Maybe not now. Maybe [in the] next administaation," Padilla said.
Informal talks continue
But informal talks with point persons – not the peace panel representatives – continue. The source said Bautista, who now serves as executive director of the Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice, and Peace, remains active in coming up with possible arrangements for the 2016 elections. 

The arrest last year of tagged CPP leaders  Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma is believed to have motivated the CPP to resume talks with the government. (READ: Hope springs eternal for talks with Reds)
While they call for the release of the Tiamzons and several other CPP personalities in detention, the government is also interested in the reduction of violent clashes between the NPA and government troops.
The NPA strength is down from 25,000 fully armed rebels during its peak in the 80s to less than 4,000 today, based on military statistics. Despite the reduced number of communist guerillas, violent clashes still erupt often in remaining strongholds particularly in Northern Mindanao and, to some degree, in the Bicol region.

C-295: First brand-new transport aircraft acquired by PHL in almost 40 years

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 29): C-295: First brand-new transport aircraft acquired by PHL in almost 40 years

For the first time in almost 40 years, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) will be formally accepting into service a brand-new, purposely-built transport aircraft Monday.

This is the Airbus Military C-295 medium lift transport aircraft which arrived in the country last March 22.

PAF spokesperson Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya said that the aircraft will be formally handed over to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and 220th Airlift Wing commander Brig. Gen. Jose Mirandilla by Airbus Military representatives.

The ceremonies include handover of all pertinent aircraft documents which include the maintenance and operating manual.

Canaya said that the last time the PAF acquired brand-new transport planes was in the 1980s when it acquired three Fokker F-27 "Friendship" aircraft from the Netherlands.

"The additional C-295s will enhance the overall capability of the PAF in providing airlift requirements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations," he added.

Lift requirements of the PAF is presently being carried out by three Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" and three F-27s.

The PAF has an existing order for three C-295s at Airbus Military.

The contract, worth PhP5.29 billion, was signed last year.

Training for the first batch composed of four PAF pilots and 24 maintenance crew was done in Seville, Spain and was completed last March 10.

"Succeeding training for pilots will continue this year in anticipation of the delivery of two more C-295s," Canaya said.

The first C-295 arrived at the former Clark Air Base in Pampanga in the afternoon of March 22.

Its arrival was five months earlier than the scheduled August delivery date.

Canaya said the C-295 is categorized as medium lift aircraft equivalent to the Fokker F-27 aircraft being maintained by the 220th Airlift Wing. The C-295s have rear ramp door similar to that of the C-130s for easier access and loading/unloading of passengers and cargoes.

"Thus, it can augment in the type missions performed by the C-130s for lesser payload requirements," the PAF spokesperson said.

He added that the C-295s can carry as much as 71 passengers, 50 paratroops, 24 stretchers with five to seven attendants or up to about 20,000 pounds of cargoes.

It is capable of short field landing and takeoff.

"The two other C-295 are expected in 2016 but earlier delivery is a possibility," Canaya said.

Canaya said the aircraft departed last March 16 from Seville, Spain where it was assembled.

It was flown into the country by civilian pilots and crew of Airbus Military.

Airbus won the Department of National Defense medium lift aircraft program by tendering a bid for PhP5.29-billion for three aircraft last year.

This is considerably lower than the PhP5.3-billion stipulated in the contract.

Palace: Peace summit seeks more voices on BBL

From Rappler (Mar 29): Palace: Peace summit seeks more voices on BBL

The summit will allow Filipinos to view the Mindanao peace process 'through the prism of stakeholders – all stakeholders involved,' the Palace says

PEACE RALLY. Muslims from Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Pangasinan converge at the Mendiola Peace Arch to push for the Bangsamoro Basic Law. File photo by George P Moya/Rappler

PEACE RALLY. Muslims from Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Pangasinan converge at the Mendiola Peace Arch to push for the Bangsamoro Basic Law. File photo by George P Moya/Rappler

MalacaƱang on Sunday, March 29, defended its upcoming National Peace Summit as a way to hear more voices on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a landmark in the peace process in the southern Philippines.

“The National Peace Summit is not in any way going to supplant the legislative process. But in recognizing that there is a constituency for peace, we would like to provide a space for stakeholders other than those who have been speaking out very recently, to also share their voice and to share their discourse in an objective and in a deliberative process without emotions,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said over state-run Radyo ng Bayan dzRB.

He said the summit will allow Filipinos to view the peace process “through the prism of stakeholders – all stakeholders involved.”

The government, he added, is leaving the summit's details to its independent convenors.

Lacierda was responding to criticisms that the National Peace Summit is a “ploy” to gain support for the BBL. (READ: Palace downplays apprehensions over BBL, citizens' council)

The BBL aims to create an autonomous Muslim region more powerful than the one in place, to end a 4-decade Muslim secessionist movement.

This proposed law is facing a major roadblock after a botched police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, killed 44 members of an elite police force, 18 Muslim rebels, and 5 civilians. Done a month after the bloodbath, a Pulse Asia survey shows 62% of Mindanao residents oppose the BBL.

Aquino said he wants to address the public's doubts about the BBL. On Friday, March 27, Aquino said he invited “citizen leaders known for their wisdom and integrity” to form a council to convene the National Peace Summit.

The President named the following as members of the council: Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr, businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See and Malta Howard Dee, and founder of Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.

Gov't militia killed, one hurt, in South Cotabato landmine attack

From Rappler (Mar 29): Gov't militia killed, one hurt, in South Cotabato landmine attack

State militias were patrolling in Tboli town when a landmine exploded, a military official says

A government militia was killed while another was wounded Sunday, March 29, in a landmine attack by suspected leftist rebels in a South Cotabato town as the communist group celebrated their anniversary, a military official said.

Lt. Col Ronald Jess Alcudia, commander of 27th Infantry Battalion, said state militias were patrolling the outskirts of the Tboli town proper when a landmine exploded in their path.

Alcudia said one of the militias saw a banner of New People's Army (NPA) left on one of the side of the road, and when he picked it up the explosion occured.

The blast caused by a boobytrap, according to Alcudia, left one of their village patrollers dead and another wounded.

The incident occurred as the NPA celebrated its 46th anniversary. The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging a guerrilla campaign in the countryside for more than 4 decades.

Military estimates place the NPA strength at more than 5,000 men scattered in more than 60 guerrilla fronts throughout the country.

Peace talks between the government and the leftists bogged down in 2004 after the United States included the NPA and its parent body in its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

PH offers to dilute claim to Sabah to win Malaysia's support in UN case vs China

From InterAksyon (Mar 29): PH offers to dilute claim to Sabah to win Malaysia's support in UN case vs China

Key portion of the 1878 agreement where Sulu Sultan Jamalul Alam Kiram leased North Borneo to the Hong Kong-based British North Borneo Co. of Baron Gustavos von Overbeck and Alfred Dent for 5,000 Malaysian dollars a year.

In exchange for Malaysia’s support for its case against China before the United Nations, the Philippines has offered to reconsider a 2009 protest against Malaysia - a move that an expert says effectively downgrades its claim on Sabah. 

The quid pro quo was contained in a note verbale the Department of Foreign Affairs handed to a representative of the Malaysian Embassy last week, a week after the visit of Malaysian Defense Minister Dato  Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

The note verbale, a copy of which was obtained by VERA Files, referred to the May 6, 2009 joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in which Malaysia claimed an extended continental shelf (350 nautical miles from baseline) that was clearly projected from Sabah.

The Philippines, in an Aug. 4, 2009 note to the UN Secretary General, protested the joint submission because it effectively declared Sabah to be a Malaysian territory.

The Philippines claims ownership of Sabah, which is at present occupied by Malaysia, based on the title of the Sultan of Sulu who ceded proprietary rights over the 76,115-square-kilometer land to the Philippines in 1962.

PH 'reviewing' 2009 protest vs. KL

In last week’s note verbale, however, the DFA informed the Malaysian government that it is “reviewing” its 2009 protest and its action would depend on Malaysia’s response to Manila’s two requests related to the South China Sea conflicting territorial claims:

• The first request is for Malaysia to “confirm” that its claim of an extended continental shelf is “entirely from the mainland coast of Malaysia, and not from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands.”

• The DFA also requested Malaysia to confirm that it “does not claim entitlement to maritime areas beyond 12 nautical miles from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands it claims.”

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a state is entitled to 12-nautical-mile territorial sea over which it exercises sovereignty.

Malaysia, like the Philippines, claims parts of the Spratly islands in the South China Sea which is being claimed almost wholly by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. Brunei is another claimant to some parts of the Spratlys.

There are some parts in the Spratlys where the 200 NM Exclusive Economic  Zones of the Philippines and Malaysia overlap.

The DFA didn’t issue any statement when VERA Files sought its comment on the note verbale and its implications.

DFA source disagrees that claim to Sabah 'will be prejudiced'

Former Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja Jr. said the Philippine claim to Sabah will be “prejudiced” if Malaysia accedes to DFA’s request.

“We are in effect withdrawing our objection to Malaysia’s claim of ownership to Sabah,” he said.

A DFA official who requested anonymity, said, however, the Philippine claim to Sabah would remain intact even if Manila withdraws its 2009 objection to Malaysia’s submission to the U.N.

Baja countered, “Even if we are not formally dropping the Sabah claim, it (the withdrawal of the protest) can be used as evidence against our claim.”

A DFA source said officials involved in the case against China before the UN Arbitral Court said if Malaysia confirms it doesn’t claim beyond 12 nautical miles from any maritime features in the Spratlys Islands it claims, the Philippine case will be strengthened because one of Manila’s demands for relief from the UN court is to declare that certain features, such as rocks, do not generate maritime entitlement beyond 12 nautical miles.

This would clarify that the 12 nautical miles surrounding among others, the Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc (Chinese name: Huangyan Island), are part of the Philippines 200-nautical-mile Economic Exclusive Zone.

The Philippines suit, which primarily sought to nullify China’s all-encompassing nine-dash line map invalid, also wants the U.N. court to rule that submerged features within and beyond 200 nautical miles of the Philippines are not part of China’s continental shelf. This would make China’s occupation of these features a violation of UNCLOS.

A diplomatic source said Malaysia may find the Philippine request “too hard to handle” because it has adopted the policy of “playing it safe”—expressing concern on China aggressiveness in the disputed waters while maintaining good relations with the economic superpower.

“A maritime entitlement of only 12 nautical miles for their reefs, as the essence of the Philippines request, will not be in the interest of Malaysia. Besides, Malaysia will not risk its close economic ties with China, its biggest trading partner,” the source said.

The source said China also protested the 2009 Malaysia-Vietnam submission to the U.N. So even if the Philippines withdrew its objection, the Chinese protest would stand, the source said.

The CLCS would not proceed on the Philippines’ withdrawal of its protest unless and until the Chinese 9-dash line claim is rendered invalid.

Supplemental argument to China 

Also last week, the Philippines submitted a supplemental argument in answer to China’s position paper on the Spratlys territorial claim. The UN is expected to hand down its decision in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has denounced the massive reclamation of China on its occupied reefs.

Baja said the Philippine position on Sabah is much stronger than its Spratly islands claim.

Economically, the timber and mineral-rich Sabah is much more valuable than Spratlys, he added.

There are more than 600,000 Filipinos in Sabah, most of them considered by Malaysia as illegal residents and are often subject to harassment.

Sabah (North Borneo) originally belonged to the Sultan of Brunei, who gave it to Sultan of Sulu Salah ud-Din Karamat Bakhtiar in 1658 as a reward for helping quell a rebellion. In 1878, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Alam Kiram leased North Borneo to the Hong Kong-based British North Borneo Co. of Baron Gustavos von Overbeck and Alfred Dent for 5,000 Malaysian dollars a year.

In 1946, Overbeck and Dent, without permission from the Sultan, transferred the territory to the British government when the company ceased operations.

On Sept. 11, 1962, Sultan of Sulu Mohammad Esmail Kiram ceded to the Philippine government full sovereignty, title and dominion over the territory. President Diosdado Macapagal filed the Philippines' claim over Sabah with the United Nations.

In 1963, the British government, again without permission from the Sultan of Sulu, transferred Sabah to the newly formed Federation of Malaysia.

Malaysia is currently the broker in the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the creation of a  Bangsamoro, an autonomous political entity in the southern part of the Philippines.—with additional reports by Ellen Tordesillas

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

BIFF commander Abesali killed, Karialan's son wounded in clash with soldiers in Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Mar 29): BIFF commander Abesali killed, Karialan's son wounded in clash with soldiers in Maguindanao

BIFF commander Kagi Karialan, chief of staff of the BIFF, lectures to ground troops, with a black, ISIS-like flag beside him. The military said a son of Karialan was among those wounded in pitched fighting with government troops on Sunday afternoon, in a clash that also killed a BIFF leader, Yusof Abesali alias Bisaya. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Heavy fighting Sunday between government troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters ended with three fatalities for the BIFF, among them a commander; and four wounded, including the son of another ranking leader, the military said.

Reports reaching Manila said Sunday afternoon’s firefight in Sitio Nanas, Barangay Pamaluan, Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao also claimed the lives of three soldiers, with three others wounded.

The first firefight occurred around 3 p.m. in Barangay Malangob, Datu Unsay town and the second one was in Barangay Pamalian, according to Colonel Melquiades Feliciano, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade.

The clash in Pamalian involved the group of BIFF commander Kagi Karialan and fellow commander Yusof Abesali alias Bisaya.
Abesali was among the terrorists killed, said the military; while a son of Karialan was wounded.

An intelligence officer who requested anonymity told that between them, Karialan and Abesali had over 70 fully armed terrorists. "Our troops encountered them, resulting in three terrorists killed; one of them was identified as Commander Yusof Abesali alias Bisaya. Four others were wounded and one of them was identified as a son of Karialan.”

The government forces on the ground “are certain” the dead leader was Abesali, added the source.

Sunday is the last day of a 3-day suspension of military operations (SOMO) declared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to allow the safe graduation rites in areas affected by fighting in Maguindanao.

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division will resume Monday its all-out offensive against the BIFF, which the military claims is coddling Filipino bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman.

Usman, who reportedly escaped when Special Action Force men came to get him and Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan last January 25, was said to have fled along with 5 “foreign-looking” terrorists with the BIFF's help; one of the five was Malaysian Amin Baco alias Jihad.

Usman and Baco eluded the police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, and 44 of the SAF men were killed by the BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the 10-hour gunfight.

16 killed as AFP-BIFF fighting resumes in Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Mar 30): 16 killed as AFP-BIFF fighting resumes in Maguindanao

At least 12 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), including its commander, and four soldiers were killed and scores wounded as clashes resumed between the military and the BIFF in Maguindanao, Captain Jo-Ann Petniglay, public affairs chief of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said Monday.

“Sixteen people were killed including four Army soldiers and one notorious BIFF commander in the series of firefight against the splintered elements of the BIFF in Maguindanao on Sunday,” Petinglay said in a statement.

Elements of the 6th Scout Ranger Company led by Capt. Blas Alsiyao first encountered the BIFF under sub-leader named Commander Bungos in Barangay Malangog, Datu Unsay around 9:30 a.m.

The BIFF camp was captured by the elite forces after about an hour of heavy clash. Petinglay said the bandits fled with their casualties.

At around 9:50 a.m., soldiers from the 34th Infantry Battalion encountered a small group of BIFF led by a certain Commander Bisaya in Barangay Pamalian, Shariff Saydona. 

Prompt reinforcements outmaneuvered the BIFF, killing Bisaya. Eleven other bandits were also wounded in the hour-long firefight.

On the government side, two soldiers were wounded and evacuated by the medical team of the 601st Infantry Brigade on board a KM451 military ambulance.

While the ambulance was approaching Barangay Elian in Datu Saudi Ampatuan at around 1 p.m., another small group of the BIFF fired at the convoy hitting the driver of the vehicle.

The medical team immediately fired back while bringing their wounded to a safer area.

More troops were sent to reinforce and extricate the troops and the medical personnel, who were only brought to safety around 4 p.m.

Soldier killed, 3 others wounded in Army-BIFF clash

From MindaNews (Mar 29): Soldier killed, 3 others wounded in Army-BIFF clash

DATU UNSAY, Maguindanao – A soldier was killed and three others were wounded when government forces clashed with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in two areas in Maguindanao Sunday, the Army here said.

The clash erupted on the third day of the three-day suspension of military operations to give way to graduation ceremonies in Maguindanao’s 13 municipalities affected by Army law enforcement operations against BIFF.

Colonel Meldquiades Feliciano, 601st Infantry Brigade commander, said three BIFF guerrillas were wounded when a firefight erupted at 9:20 a.m. in Barangay Malangob, Datu Unsay, Maguindanao.

“Our troops were on patrol in Barnagay Malangob when they were fired upon by BIFF forces,” Feliciano said, adding that another encounter also occurred in adjacent Barangay Pamalian, Shariff Saydona, also in Maguindanao.

The BIFF admitted it suffered three wounded fighters in the Shariff Saydona encounter.

7 rebels killed in fresh clashes in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Mar 29): 7 rebels killed in fresh clashes in Southern Philippines

The Philippine military said it killed at least 7 BIFF rebels, including a commander, in a clash Sunday in Maguindanao province in the restive Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao. 

Security officials said the fighting erupted in the towns of Datu Unsay and Shariff Saydona after troops caught up with two groups of BIFF gunmen. One soldier was reported killed in the clash in Datu Unsay. 

Troops were battling the BIFF or Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters the past weeks now after the military ordered an all-out offensive against the small group it blamed for the spate of bombings and deadly attacks on soldiers in the region. 

Officials said several more soldiers and rebels were wounded in the clashes. It was unknown if troops recovered any of the slain rebels, but most of the military reports were based on intelligence provided by villagers in those towns. 

The BIFF has broken away with the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front which signed a peace deal with Manila last year, and continues to fight for an independent Muslim state in Mindanao.