Thursday, December 24, 2015

Attacks pose new challenge to relief work–NDRRMC

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 25): Attacks pose new challenge to relief work–NDRRMC

IN THE wake of Typhoon “Nona,” disaster officials are facing a new challenge: securing the safety of humanitarian workers from rebel attacks.

The task was brought up on Wednesday during an assessment meeting of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) response cluster on relief efforts for Nona at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Over the past week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines witnessed two attacks by suspected communist New People’s Army members on relief delivery vehicles in Northern Samar, killing one soldier and injuring five.

“This is the first time we’ve encountered such atrocities in our humanitarian operations,” said Social Welfare Assistant Secretary Vilma Cabrera, who presided over the meeting.

The humanitarian workers present during the meeting wore black arm bands to express their indignation over the attacks.

“Our request or advice to our partners, if you are going down to the [typhoon-affected] areas, please inform the NDRRMC of your intended destinations… to ensure your safety and security,” Cabrera said.

Other challenges identified in the aftermath of Nona include: urgent repair of damaged houses and health facilities and restoration of power supplies; immediate assistance for farmers, especially in Central Luzon and Mindoro; ease in the delivery of aid to island municipalities; more shelter materials such as iron sheets, tarpaulins, hammers,
umbrella nails, saws and nipa shingles; and speed up of the transportation of relief items from Metro Manila and from regional hubs to affected areas.

“In all the areas affected, the repair of damaged houses is the foremost requirement of families. They prefer to receive iron sheets, tarpaulins and roof shingles for repairs, instead of food packs,” Cabrera said.

“We also need urgent repair of health facilities. Services need to continue,” she said.
Cabrera said the agency has also received feedback from eastern Visayas that there are no suppliers of tarpaulins in Tacloban and Ormoc in Leyte, and Calbayog in Samar.

“We need help to identify, access suppliers in nearest areas. Maybe from Sorsogon, instead of all the way from Manila,” Cabrera said.

Fulfill ceasefire commitment, Eastmincom tells NPA

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 25): Fulfill ceasefire commitment, Eastmincom tells NPA

DAVAO CITY – After the series of attacks made by the communists New People’s Army (NPA) in the areas of in Surigao del Sur, Bukidnon and Paquibato District despite its previous declaration of ceasefire, the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) made a call to the rebels “to abide by their ceasefire declaration to allow the peace-loving communities to celebrate Christmas and enjoy the holidays.”

ceasefire, CPP-NPA, AFP
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the CPP-NPA have declared a truce to make way for the observance of Christmas. However, due to the military harassment in areas of Surigao del Sur, Bukidnon, and Paquibato, Eastmincom made a call to the NPAs to abide by their ceasefire declaration.  (Photo from

Eastmincom said two of their detachments and a community security patrol base were harassed by the NPA rebels on Wednesday, December 23, the first day of the NPA’s declared ceasefire.

In a statement sent to the media, Captain Alberto Caber, chief information officer of Eastmincom said the rebels on Wednesday harassed a military detachment in Barangay Bitaugan, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur; another detachment in Barangay White Kulaman, Bukidnon; and attacked army troopers who were on community security patrol in Barangay Suminao, Paquibato.

“These attacks happened as the AFP’s Eastmincom suspended its deliberate offensive operations in adherence to the 12-day Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO),” Caber said.
Despite the atrocities, Eastmincom assured the public that it will continue to support law enforcement and peace and development activities.

“I sincerely call on the remaining NPA members to abandon the armed struggle, rejoin mainstream society and live a peaceful life with their families,” said Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Eastmincom commander, in a message in the same statement to the media.

The December 23 harassment in Paquibato District resulted to a 15-minute gunfight, Captain Rhyan Batchar, chief information officer of 10th Infantry (Agila) Division said in a separate statement.

A team of CAFGU Active Auxiliaries (CAAs) from the Bacsarpa Detachment of the 72nd Infantry Battalion were attacked by a group of NPAs belonging to Pulang Bagani Company (PBC) 1 around 9:30 in the evening of December 23 at Sitio Pala, Sumimao.

Batchar said the CAAs were securing the road at Sitio for the passage of soldiers of the 69th Infantry Battalion onboard one KM450, which augmented Bacsarpa Detachment after several armed NPAs were sighted consolidating near the said detachment.

“While the said CAAs were on their way back to their detachment, a group of NPAs attacked them, triggering a 15-minute firefight. No CAA member was hurt during the incident while the NPAs immediately fled.”

“This incident reflects on the sincerity of the NPA to abide even with their very own declaration. This may also manifest that the CPP has no control over its armed elements on the ground,” said Major General Rafael Valencia, commander of 10th ID.

Valencia added that the 10th ID will continue to abide with the government’s SOMO to pave the way for Filipino families to celebrate the solemnity of the Christmas season but shall remain alert on any possible terroristic actions that the NPAs will conduct.

NDF: 6 more guerrilla fronts formed in Mindanao

Posted to the often pro-CPP Davao Today (Dec 24): NDF: 6 more guerrilla fronts formed in Mindanao

Davao City: The National Democratic Front said the revolution has continued to advance in the island of Mindanao despite the government’s deployment of 60 percent of its armed forces here.

The NDF is the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines which is celebrating its 47th year on Saturday.

The CPP’s “protracted peoples’ war” is touted as the longest-running insurgency in Asia.

Ka Oris, spokesperson of NDF Mindanao in a statement said, the government’s counterinsurgency operation Oplan Bayanihan (OPB) has deployed “60 battalion or 60 percent of its military troops in Mindanao.” Sixty percent of its total military positions are deployed in the areas of New Peoples’ Army (NPA), Ka Oris said.

“Wala pay apil ang mga PNP, CAFGU ug ubang para-militar sama sa BULIF, Alamara, Gantangan, Bagani, Magahat, pundok ni Calpet ug uban pa.  Gilunsad niini ang labing bangis ug hugaw nga mga teroristang taktika ug pamaagi aron lang gyud malisang ang katawhan ug moundang sa armado ug dili-armadong pagsukol (Aside from that there is the Philippine National Police, Citizens Armed Geographical Unit and other paramilitary groups like the BULIF, Alamara, Gantangan, Bagani, Magahat, Calpet’s group and others. It launched fierce and dirty terrorist tactics to attack the people and to counter the armed and non-armed opposition),” he said.

From 40 guerrilla fronts during the first year of the Aquino administration in 2010, the NDF said the NPA forces have expanded to 46 guerilla fronts scattered in five regions.

The NDF said “not one” front was dismantled.

NDF said out of the 200 cities and municipalities where they operate from, they operated in 1,850 villages then in 2010, and have grown today to 2,500 villages.

“A third of these areas are consolidated areas while several more areas were under the organs of political power or people’s democratic government on the level of barrio and some are city or town levels,” Ka Oris said.

The mass base of the New People’s Army has now grown to 200,000 from 130,000 in 2010. Ka Oris said their mass base provides for easy maneuvering of NPA troops in the countrysides, a steady base for Party and NPA fighter recruits, and will help in launching people’s campaigns.

Ka Oris said the increase in NPA formations has also led to the increase in the number of tactical offensives carried out in Mindanao.

He said there was a yearly increase in tactical offensives: from 250 in 2010, 350 in 2011, 400 in 2012, almost 400 in each year of 2013 and 2014, and almost 500 this year.

Ka Oris cited some of their biggest military actions including the raid against the private army of Monkayo town mayor Joselito Brillantes, Jr on April 2014 where the NPA seized 74 firearms.

Other successful operations according to Ka Oris include the raid inside the PNP headquarters in Tigbao, Zamboanga del Sur, Don Victoriano, Misamis Occidental, and Alegria, Surigao del Norte; the raid against Earth Savers Security in Butuan City; raid against the Army’s Community Organizing for Peace and Development in Gingoog City, Tandag City, and San Fernando in Bukidnong; the raid against Army-Cafgu detachment in BInicalan, San Luis, Agusan Del Sur; in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, and Banay-banay in Davao Oriental; and the punishment against three giant mining companies in Taganito, Claver, Surigao del Norte and the plantation in of Del Monte Phils in Bukidnon.

The NDF also claimed that the NPA has killed an equivalent of a battalion of the Army troopers in Mindanao this year.

“Wala pay labot ang mga samdon, samtang sa bahin sa NPA dunay pipila lang (We have not yet included those who were injured, while on the part of the NPAs there are only a few),” said Ka Oris.
Oris said the NPA also captured 61 prisoners of war under the Aquino administration in Mindanao alone.

However, the Army’s Eastern Mindanao Commander Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero has previously dismissed the NPA’s cause as irrelevant citing development efforts of the government in the countryside.

Peace advocates have been calling on the government and the NDF to resume formal peace talks.

“May this season of hope inspire both parties to break down the dividing wall of hostility  and engage in principled negotiations to end the decades-old armed conflict in the country,” said he Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform in a statement Thursday.

Christmas in the hills for troops

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 25): Christmas in the hills for troops

“[Spending] Christmas and New Year in the hills again,” a soldier-Facebook user, identified only as Kurt Wade, posted.

Wade said he missed the sight of Christmas lights and church bells as he has been spending the past few days away from home.

“The sound of gun fire is deafening already,” he added.

Another soldier-Facebook user identified as Pedro Nacalub said in Al Barka, Basilan, the
explosion from artillery shelling “made it look like New Year.”

Col. Rolando Bautista, commander of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade in Basilan, told the Inquirer that soldiers tasked with running after Abu Sayyaf bandits would not be having their Christmas break.

“We have to sacrifice our Christmas break so we can perform our mission,” Bautista said.

Maj. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, Western Mindanao Command, said those in the frontline in Basilan and Sulu may have to make sacrifices for the good of the people.

Chief Supt. Miguel Antonio, chief of the Western Mindanao Police Office, said he also told his men not to go on Christmas break.

No evidence of IS recruitment in South–AFP

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 25): No evidence of IS recruitment in South–AFP

The military is insisting there is no conclusive evidence that the terrorist Islamic State (IS) existed in Mindanao even as it admitted that a Malaysian jihadist had recently been killed in Basilan.

Earlier, at least two Mindanao politicians claimed that people associated with the dreaded IS, which was behind the recent terror attacks in Paris and Beirut to name a few, have been conducting recruitment drives in their areas. Alarm spread after soldiers reportedly recovered black IS flags after an encounter with armed men in nearby Sultan Kudarat last month.

In the past, Islamic extremists operating in Mindanao have been identified to be part of the Abu Sayyaf, a group linked to the terror network al-Qaida, which had claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack in New York. The al-Qaida, whose founder Osama bin Laden was killed by United States Navy commandos in Pakistan in 2011, is said to have some differences with the newer IS.

Maj. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, told reporters here on Tuesday they were very careful in associating the Abu Sayyaf with the IS or Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) “because we don’t have conclusive evidence that these ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) members are IS.”

“We cannot even say alleged IS or Isis, we are very careful about this,” dela Cruz said, in reaction to a video posted on the Internet wherein a man—speaking in Filipino—called on Muslims to join them in fighting the kafir (non-Muslims).

Brig. Gen. Allan Arrojado, commander of the Army’s 501st Infantry Brigade, said he, too, would not confirm that IS had reached Sulu, where the extremist Abu Sayyaf also operates.

“I don’t see one (an IS group) and I will not confirm any because it will only enhance their propaganda,” he said.

Despite the denials of the military, however, former Ungkaya Pukan Mayor Joel Maturan said he knew for a fact that there was IS recruitment going on in Basilan.

“I kept my silence after I was criticized for making it public…I know this group is still small,” he said.

Last month, Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. said he could confirm the recruitment activities of a group being linked to the IS in his area.

“I was told about this and the information was confirmed with the death of armed men in Palimbang, three of whom were from Cotabato City,” Guiani said.

MILF fears military buildup can be used vs Moro rebels

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 25): MILF fears military buildup can be used vs Moro rebels
THE MORO Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday rued that the Philippines’ military buildup could eventually be used against insurgents if the Mindanao conflict remained unresolved.

On its official website, the MILF expressed support for the Aquino administration’s efforts to increase the defense capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to guard the country against external threats, singling out China’s expansionism in the South China Sea.

This country must strengthen itself. And it must fight off any aggression from without,” the MILF said. “However, the sad part of this military buildup is that if the armed mess in Mindanao is not resolved, these war materials, including the supersonic jet fighters, will be used against the Moro insurgents.”

The MILF said the military’s new materiel had been used in fighting legitimate targets like the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan and Sulu, but the operations had affected civilians.

It is time for “filibustering” lawmakers to do “some soul-searching” and reflect on the possible repercussions of the non-passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would allow Moros to govern themselves under the supervision of the central government, the group said.

The BBL faced rough sailing in a previously supportive Congress after the MILF was blamed for the deaths of 44 police commandos deployed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, in January to take down Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.”

In its statement, the MILF warned that the non-passage of the BBL would “feed on the appetite of so-called radicals and terrorists,” which would worsen the country’s internal security problems.

“A sizeable portion of the AFP will be deployed in Mindanao or elsewhere to contain the threat within. Consequently, instead of focusing on external defense, the AFP will also be forced to fight an internal war,” the MILF said.

“If these conflicts intensify on both fronts, what will happen to this country? We do not want to paint a grim scenario. Let us just hope that nothing of this sort will ever come our way,” it added.

The Aquino administration has spent over P100 billion in the past six years to improve the country’s defense capability, one of the weakest in the world.

For decades, the military was focused on fighting communist insurgents and secessionist groups until China’s aggression amid a maritime dispute in the Spratlys Islands highlighted the need for the AFP to build a so-called “minimum credible defense capability.”

In the 2016 national budget, however, defense and security sector still has the lowest budget allocation among all the departments with P129.1 billion, or 4.3 percent, of the total P3.002 trillion budget.

AFP captures biggest NPA camp in Mindanao

From Tempo (Dec 24): AFP captures biggest NPA camp in Mindanao

The Armed Forces (AFP) yesterday announced the capture of the biggest camp of the New People’s Army (NPA) in northeastern Mindanao following five days of sporadic fighting that ended Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Randolph Rojas, commanding officer of the Army’s 36th Infantry Batallion, said the camp is believed to be the site of the anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA this weekend.

The three-hectare NPA encampment is located at an elevated portion of Maitum in Surigao del Sur, according to Rojas.

It consists of outposts, listening posts, makeshift huts and kitchen and mini-communal farm.
Seized from the camp were war materials, including anti-government documents with high intelligence value.

Troopers also captured 21 improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“We also found several bloodstains within this area,” said Rojas in an exclusive interview with Manila Bulletin at Camp Bancasi here.

Rojas said one soldier, identified as Cpl. Julius Peritos, was wounded during the operation. He added the NPAs suffered undetermined number of casualties.

The camp, which can accommodate 60 persons, belongs to guerilla-Front Committee 30 of the CPP-NPA Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee under certain “Kumander Puma.”

“This seized NPA camp was established three months ago and was only monitored when highland villagers reported to us,” he said.

Meanwhile, 120 families, mostly belonging to the Manobo tribe, fled their homes during the firefight. They are now being attended to by the military and local government unit in Tandag City.

Rojas said the presence of government security forces in the province is to aimed at protecting the highland community villagers from harassment by the NPA.

“The presence of our troops in the area is also to step up our peace and development program in all far-flung communities,” said Col. Rey Pasco, commanding officer of the Army’s 4th Civil Military Operations (4th CMO).

Military operations have ceased effective yesterday, according to Pasco.

MNLF nabbed for drugs

From Tempo (Dec 23): MNLF nabbed for drugs

A member of the Moro National Liberation Front and his female companion were arrested by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency during a buy-bust operation in Cotabato City.

Undersecretary Arturo G. Cacdac Jr., PDEA Director General, identified the suspects as Jerry Pinsik Ember, 43, MNLF member; and Norhaina Lumanggal Adzal, 30, both residents of Barangay Limbo, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

The suspects were arrested at around 11 a.m. last Friday in Barangay San Pablo, Malagapas, Rosary Heights 10, Cotabato City.

BIFF kills 11 in Maguindanao, S. Kudarat on Christmas eve

From Rappler (Dec 24): BIFF kills 11 in Maguindanao, S. Kudarat on Christmas eve

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, owns up to the attacks as part of their Jihad or holy war

CHRISTMAS ATTACKS. Troops of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters,claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Isis and Iraq (ISIS) killed 11 people in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat after it launched attacks on Christmas Eve.

CHRISTMAS ATTACKS. Troops of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters,claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Isis and Iraq (ISIS) killed 11 people in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat after it launched attacks on Christmas Eve.

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – Eleven people were killed on Christmas eve as rebels claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) launched synchronized attacks in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

Lt Col. Ricky Bunayog, commanding officer of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, said BIFF troops, led by a certain Kumander Sukarno Sapal, attacked their detachment in Sitio Manilong, Barangay Banaba in Maguindanao at around 3 am Thursday, December 24. This resulted in a 3-hour gunfight.

Bunayog said other BIFF troops then separately attacked the nearby villages of Paitan, Sagasa and Takal in Esperanza town in the neighboring province of Sultan Kudarat.

In Barangay Paitan, two male farmers – aged 25 and 52 – were killed when the rebels passed by the farm yard. Rebel troops, Bunayog said, also hostaged civilians to escape the military chasing them.

In Sitio Sabaduan, Barangay Kauran in Ampatuan town, 5 farmers were killed when rebels captured them while working in the fields.

“They were shot one by one point blank after they were captured. Our information from the ground [is that] they brought their slain comrades during the retreat, some of their weapons’ accessories were also left," Bunayog said, adding that his battalion killed 4 rebels.

BIFF, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, owned up to the attacks as part of their Jihad or holy war.

Spokesperson Abu Misry Mama, however, insisted they did not kill civilian farmers as the military claimed, only members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit or paramilitary assigned in the area.

Meanwhile, police Chief Inspector Alma Almeda Ladera of Datu Abdullah Sangki town said they are on heightened alert due to tensions in the areas.

“We monitored some residents have evacuated but we have no data yet on exact numbers, we remain vigilant and we’re closely coordinating with local officials,” she said.

OPAPP complied with the COA recommendation—Palace

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 23): OPAPP complied with the COA recommendation—Palace 

MalacaƱang said Tuesday that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has complied with the recommendations of the Commission on Audit concerning the lease of vehicles.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the recommendation included securing approval from the Department of Budget and Management for vehicle rentals.

In a recent audit report, COA questioned OPAPP’s use of P45 million worth of car rental services in 2014.

Undersecretary and OPAPP Executive Director Luisito G. Montalbo said In a statement that they have “complied with and received DBM approval on September 15, 2015.”

Montalbo pointed out that COA did not disallow the rentals as it even confirmed the OPAPP’s compliance with an executive order that required “ad hoc agencies with specific tasks to perform” to merely rent, and not outright purchase vehicles, for their operational use.

Coloma said the vehicles were used for the monitoring of implementation of various projects including the P7.2 billion Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or Peaceful and Resilient Communities (PAMANA) program, covering 48 provinces across the country. (OPAPP)

Moro farmers' coop get hauler trucks from PaMaNa program in ARMM

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 24): Moro farmers' coop get hauler trucks from PaMaNa program in ARMM

Thirteen cargo trucks were distributed Wednesday by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DAF-ARMM) to farmers’ cooperatives under a government peace process programs, officials said today.

With the assistance, farmers are expected to at least improve income, especially in marketing aspects of their produce.

Beneficiaries of the post harvest equipment were former combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Sulu and Lanao del Sur who formed farmers’ cooperative and engaged in productive farming following the signing of the GPH-MNLF peace agreement in 1996.

The cooperatives are listed and accredited by the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA-ARMM).

Each hauler truck costs between PHP500,000 to PHP850,000, according to ARMM Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia.

All the 13 hauler trucks amounted to about PHP6 million, according to Alamia. She said the project was part of the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayaman (PaMaNa) program of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and is implemented by DAF-ARMM.

Aside from hauler trucks, sons and daughters of MNLF former combatants also received cash assistance for their scholarship, also coming from PaMaNa program.

Last week, DAF-ARMM also distributed over PHP7.5 million worth of projects, comprising of farm equipment and livestock for livelihood, to cooperatives in Maguindanao province.

Alamia led the distribution of 16 farm equipment and 400 heads of livestock to farmer beneficiaries in ceremonies held at the ARMM compound here.

The farm equipment – composed of mobile rice mill, rice thresher, and corn sheller – are estimated to be worth over PHP3.7 million while the livestock – comprising of cows, carabaos, and goats – are estimated at PHP3.8 million.Beneficiaries of the program took turns in extending appreciation to the efforts of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman and other government officials.

The PAMANA program is an initiative of the national government to achieve peace and development in conflict-affected areas.

On the other hand, the Agri-Pinoy Rice program is one of the banner initiatives of the DA targeting rice farmers aimed at uplifting the lives of Filipino farmers.

11 dead as BIFF attacks farmers in Maguindanao-Sultan Kudarat borders; Army, PNP launch manhunt

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 24): 11 dead as BIFF attacks farmers in Maguindanao-Sultan Kudarat borders; Army, PNP launch manhunt

Military and police forces have launched massive manhunt against a band of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who attacked several villages in the borders of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat Thursday dawn, which left 11 persons dead, an Army colonel today said.

Lt. Colonel Ricky Bunayog, 33rd Infantry Battalion commander, said seven of the fatalities were farmers and four were BIFF members who were killed during military pursuit operations.

Bunayog said heavily armed BIFF fighters stormed an Army and CAFGU detachment in Sitio Manilong, Barangay Banaba in Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao at 3 a.m., triggering a three-hour fire fight.

Bunayog said the attackers were led by BIFF Commander Sukarno Sapal.

Abu Misry Mama, speaking for the BIFF, owned up to the hostilities. He said it was triggered by a long standing land ownership dispute involving two groups of farmers in adjoining villages located in the provincial boundary.

While government forces and CAFGU were engaging the attackers in a fierce fire fight, another band of 30 BIFF bandits attacked nearby villages of Paitan, Sagasa and Takal in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat. These villages are situated in the borders with Maguindanao.

Two male farmers, aged 25 and 52, were killed by fleeing bandits. They chanced upon the farmers spraying chemicals to their rice fields.

A mother and her son were briefly held by the armed men and used as human shields when elements of the 33rd IB chased the fleeing bandits. They were later released unharmed, Bunayog said.

In Barangay Kauran in Ampatuan town, also in Maguindanao, the BIFF killed five farmers who were last seen heading to their rice fields.

The Army said gunfire were heard in the village of Kauran and residents were told to stay home but five farmers proceeded to their farms before sunrise. Their dead bodies were recovered at about noon.

Quoting civilians, Bunayog said the five farmers were captured by the bandits and executed one by one.

Pursuing government forces found four BIFF fighters with their firearms in their escape route. Bunayog believed more bandits were either injured or hurt due to bloodstain in its escape routes.

Chief Inspector Alma Ladera, Datu Abdullah Sangki town police chief, said several civilians have fled to safer grounds and refused to return home while gun fire are still heard in the village center.

Last month, five persons from both sides were killed when two warring farmers engaged in running gun battle triggered by long standing land dispute.

Authorities believed today's fighting was an off shoot of last month's skirmishes.

Authorities in Abdulla Sangki town have been trying to settle the conflict. As part of the mediation, a team of soldiers from 33rd IB were deployed in the contested farm land.

PNP declares 'SOPO' for holiday season

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 24): PNP declares 'SOPO' for holiday season

With the Yuletide Season now in full swing, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ricardo A. Marquez declared a "suspension of offensive police operations" (SOPO) against the New People's Army starting midnight on Wednesday until the midnight of January 1, 2016.

"As part of the yearly tradition, the SOPO is observed and respected by all units and personnel of the PNP that refrain the troops from initiating offensive police operations against the NPA," Marquez added.

However, the PNP chief clarified that SOPO does not cover normal law enforcement operations including the serving of warrants of arrest.

Recognizing the inherent right to self-defense, the PNP chief said all units still remain on-guard and maintain a high state of operational readiness to respond to any hostile actions.

In line with this, the PNP assured extra precautionary and preemptive measures in order to avoid NPA attacks on vital installations and police stations like the incident in Barangay New Eden, Pangantucan, Bukidnon on Dec. 12 where personnel from Pangantucan Municipal Police Station were ambushed while responding.

“So as not to jeopardize the spirit of the Presidential Directive, however, all police units must exercise caution and restraint in the conduct of movements and activities which may be viewed as provocative acts against the NPA,” Marquez added.

The PNP will continue to conduct active defensive measures such as security patrols to protect all PNP camps, stations, vital installations and civilian communities; route security, and strengthening of defensive positions.

Earlier, police units also conducted gun muzzle taping, in line with the PNP's intensified efforts against illegal discharge of firearms this holiday season.