Friday, January 29, 2016

8ID troops seize firearms, overrun enemy camp in Samar

Posted to the Samar News (Dec 14): 8ID troops seize firearms, overrun enemy camp in Samar

87th Infantry Battalion recovered items

Recovered high-powered firearms, landmines, personal belongings, generator set and subversive documents from the NPAs during the encounter of 87th Infantry Battalion with NPA rebels at Brgy Antol, Calbiga, Samar on December 11, 2015.

December 14, 2015

CAMP LUKBAN, Catbalogan CityTroops of 87th Infantry (Hinirang) Battalion, 8th Infantry (Stormtroopers) Division, Philippine Army seized high powered firearms and several war materiel in an NPA encampment in the hinterlands of Calbiga, Samar in the afternoon of December 11, 2015 after almost an hour of firefight with 40 NPA rebels.

According to Lt. Colonel George M. Domingo, Commanding Officer of 87th Infantry Battalion, his troops were able to overrun the NPA encampment, thanks to the information given by concerned civilians in the said barangay who are tired of the extortion and intimidation of the NPAs.

The said NPA encampment has 30 makeshift huts, two kitchens, three "bulwagan" (halls) that can accommodate 50 persons. Recovered from the scene of encounter are the following: one (1) M60 General Purpose Machine Gun with 90 rounds ammunition; one (1) M653 rifle (Baby Armalite); two (2) pieces Claymore-type landmines; one (1) Flat screen TV (32”); one (1) set Cignal cable transceiver; one (1) generator set; one (1) chainsaw; several medical equipment and medicines, assorted foodstuffs and subversive documents.

The rebels suffered undetermined number of casualties as evidenced by the bloodstains in their route of withdrawal while two soldiers were wounded during the encounter. Troops are still in the area tracking down the withdrawing rebels as of press time.

Lt. Col Domingo said, “The successful operation was the fruit of the ongoing partnership between the 87IB and the Local Government Units of Pinabacdao and Calbiga, Samar headed by their respective Local Chief Executives and the local populace in safeguarding their communities.”

Meanwhile, Maj Gen Jet B. Velarmino, Commander of the 8th Infantry Division extended his gratitude to the civilians who provided the information that led to the successful seizure of the said NPA encampment and recovery of war materiel. This encounter gave a big blow to the NPA rebels who will be celebrating the CPP anniversary this coming December 26, 2015.

He further added that the landmines recovered from the NPA encampment is in violation of the provisions under the Geneva Convention on the use of landmines in armed conflict. Velarmino also said that the 8ID, under his leadership, will stop at nothing to attain the illusive peace and development in this part of the region. Velarmino made an appeal again to our rebel brothers, who are being victimized by their leaders, that now is the time to return to the folds of the law and help put a stop to these senseless killings among fellow Filipinos.

US envoy: Sea disputes not covered by EDCA

From GMA News (Jan 29): US envoy: Sea disputes not covered by EDCA

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg on Friday clarified that the disputes in the South China Sea are not covered by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). "EDCA isn't directly related to the South China Sea issues.

It's about the United States helping its ally, the Philippines, as it goes about building a minimum credible defense," Goldberg said in an interview on GMA's News To Go on Friday.

Goldberg added: "It's not aimed at any country or the disagreements in the South China Sea." In case of a "shooting war" due to the sea disputes, the envoy said that the US will be ready to abide by the Mutual Defense Treaty that it signed with the Philippines in 1951.

"The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States. President Obama, when he was here, said that the treaty is ironclad. We take seriously our responsibilities, our obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty," Goldberg said.

He, however, said that the US is not anticipating a "shooting war" due to the sea disputes.

"That is a hypothetical situation. You have to know what the circumstances are," he said.

During the interview, Goldberg said that the US is opposed to the visit of outgoing Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou to Itu Aba, an island in the disputed waters.

He said that the visit is not a "positive development." "We don't see the utility of these kinds of actions, which are unilateral and which tend to inflame the situation rather than calm it," he said.

Goldberg also reiterated the US' stand against China's construction activities in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Goldberg clarified that "no new bases" will be built by the US under EDCA.

He said that US facilities will be constructed on "co-located" facilities. He explained that the presence of US facilities within Philippine armed forces camps will be built only in agreed locations.

He also clarified that the construction of the US facilities will "be done in a way that is agreed upon by both sides."

Tighter security for Panagbenga, PMA homecoming

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 29): Tighter security for Panagbenga, PMA homecoming

Baguio City – Tighter security measures will be in place to ensure the safety of local and foreign tourists who will join the month-long Baguio Flower Festival or “Panagbenga” which opens on Monday as well as those attending the annual homecoming of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

Senior Superintendent George Daskeo, officer in charge of the Baguio City Police Office (BCPO) said that aside from organic personnel of the BCPO, there will be an augmentation of 300 police trainees from the Philippine National Police (PNP) training school and volunteer peacekeeping forces.

The 21st Panagbenga festival opens on Feb. 1 with the grand street dancing and float parade scheduled on February 27 and 28 respectively.

The city government has issued an Administrative Order suspending classes in elementary and high school during opening day and to include the college level on February 27, to allow the students to participate.
“We have just concluded our security preparation which was attended by the Police Regional Office-Cordillera and the PMA Alumni association,” Daskeo said.

MILF: Sharing of personal insights from the peace negotiations by Mohagher Iqbal

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 27): Sharing of personal insights from the peace negotiations by Mohagher Iqbal

If one wants to enjoy life, never spend it as a negotiator. Negotiation is never fun. It isn’t easy, as it is generally a trait that has to be developed rather than an inherited trait.

Frankly, I did not desire to be a negotiator, much more as head of the MILF negotiating team. For several years, there were more lawyers in the team than those of the other professions. I find it more challenging, nay more difficult, dealing with lawyers, than those of the other members. But without a lawyer in the team, I don’t know if we can reach this far in the negotiation. Lawyers are indispensable part of the endeavour.

There are times that emotions run high in the course of negotiations. I consider this as the most difficult thing in any negotiation. Uncontrolled emotions will wreck the engagement and destroy goodwill among men. But once one succeeded to make sure that he/she strips himself/herself of the emotion and deal with the facts, then we see opportunities more objectively, and the engagements thus become more and more productive. This is due to the fact also that parties are more anxious to agree than to disagree. Disagreement is never generally considered an achievement.

People or groups negotiate because they are in disagreement over certain matters. But those who learned to disagree without being disagreeable have discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation. Both sides have a lot of this in the course of our more than 17 years of harsh, hard, and protracted negotiation.

It is the nature of man to fear the unknown. Fear of the dark is not only common among children, but sometimes, even adults are not immune to it. But this fear is not fear of darkness itself, but fear of possible or imagined dangers concealed by darkness.

Fear is not absent in negotiation, especially when those of the opposite side include prominent or brilliant personalities. But the late American President John F. Kennedy had this advice: ““Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I confessed that there are far more bitter memories of the negotiation than the good ones. In fact, we cannot reckon all these bad memories, but the good ones can be counted in our fingers.

I used to act as acting chair of the MILF peace panel from the years 1999 to 2000. While government troops were already pounding the fringes of Camp Abubakar with mortars and artillery and ground troops closing in, a government negotiator (I do not want to name name) still insisted that they had no plan to enter it. The rest is part of the narrative already.

Yes, it is true that in negotiation, like in war and in love, everything is fair. But to do it in such a crafty or ingenious way is not so pretty to be appreciated.

There is no doubt that the hardest part of the negotiation happened from 2012 up to 2014. It started with former Dean and now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Marvic Leonen. While both Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and I cannot claim all the credits for the successes in the engagements --- maybe just a modest part of it --- but it is a fact that those crowning achievements took place during our stewardships of the respective peace panels. In these defining, nay tumultuous, moments, I find her as steady and as committed to overcome all the trials, tribulations and obstacles along the way to pave the way for the signing of the four Annexes of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), the Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters, and finally the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). I salute her and all the other members of the GPH and MILF Peace Panels for this feat of a lifetime. I also share this success with the other members of the MILF Peace Panel and Secretariat, and all those part of our negotiating team or delegation. I also acknowledged the great roles of Malaysia, as third party facilitator, and the international community in making this peace process successful.

More importantly, the guidance and wisdom of the MILF Leadership, especially Chairman Alhaj Murad Ebrahim, and above all the Will of the Almighty God, allowed us to steer the negotiations through to its end.

My only concern is that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which translated the political documents, the FAB and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), into a legal document, is still pending in Congress. Chances are high that it will not pass at all.

Finally, let me express my deep appreciation and gratitude to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) and the European Union for making this compilation possible. In particular, I thank former CHD Country Representative, Ali Salem, and Atty. Bong Montesa, CHD Senior Programme Officer, former EU Ambassador to the Philippines, HE Guy Ledoux, and current EU Ambassador to the Philippines, HE Franz Jessen. This is indeed a great effort.
Thank you and have a good day!
A short message read by Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF Peace Panel and Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), during the launching of the “Journey to the Bangsamoro: A Compilation of all signed agreements from the GPH-MILF Peace Process,” at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel, on January 25, 2016.

MILF: Moro youth conducts school-based advocacy on peace process and Bangsamoro Government in Lanao del Sur

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 30): Moro youth conducts school-based advocacy on peace process and Bangsamoro Government in Lanao del Sur

Moro youth conducts school-based advocacy on peace process and Bangsamoro Government in Lanao del Sur

A Moro youth group held a school-based information drive on the Government of the Philippines (GPH)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace process and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Lanao del Sur Province.

The Lanao-based Coalition of Moro Youth Movement (CMYM), held the symposium at Lanao del Sur province: Kapatagan National High School at Poblacion, Kapatagan, last Tuesday (Jan. 26); Madamba National High Shool at Upper Madamba on Jan. 17; Tubaran Proper national High School in Tubaran, Tangkal on Jan. 13; Datu Mohamad Ali Cahar National High Schoolat the municipality of Bayang on Jan. 11;  and Nanagun High School in Brgy. Nanagun, Lumbayanague on Jan. 10.

Aside from the peace process and the proposed Bangsamoro Government, the audiences comprised of students, teachers and community members also learned the history of the Bangsamoro people and Human Rights.

Atty. Arol Alam Padati, and Atty Najib Taib explained the BBL and clarified issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Among the speakers were Ariel Amerol, Esmael Elopa and Cairodin Unda.

CMYM President Marjanie M. Mimbantas explained the purpose of the advocacy and the goals of the youth organization.

It has been the strategy of the youth group to cluster teachers and students from neighbouring schools in one venue. CMYM expect the teachers to re-echo the learnings they get from the advocacy.

Active youth volunteers namely Jawad, Saad, Lunch, Roxie Johar Khalid, Areej, Naj, Haynee have been supportive on the advocacy.

The Coalition of Moro Youth Movement aims to have CHANGE for the betterment of the society at large. It gives greater role to the YOUTH.

Saalica Macadatar, a teacher at Kapatagan National High School, commended the efforts of the organizers saying the knowledge they learned from the advocacy is important.
“There is a need for more people to learn about the Bangsamoro government, so that more people will help in building a brighter future of the Bangsamoro youth,” she said.

The organizers and the audiences hope that the 17 years GPH-MILF peace talks will not be wasted. They call on the Philippine Congress to put the promise of the government in its peace agreement with the Bangsamoro people into reality by passing the BBL without dilution.

In 2014, the Philippine Government and MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a peace deal that provides the creation of autonomous Bangsamoro government through the passage of proposed law.

MILF: KDFI holds Orientation on Socio Economic Development Program for Bangsamoro CSOs

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 29): KDFI holds Orientation on Socio Economic Development Program for Bangsamoro CSOs

KDFI holds Orientation on Socio Economic Development Program  for Bangsamoro CSOs

The Kalilintad Development Foundation, Inc. (KDFI conducted orientation on Socio-Economic Development Program for members of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on January 23, 2016 at KDFI Peace Center, Urban, San Emmanuel, Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat.

The participants came from the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato. Two officials from each organization were invited to attend the orientation but many participated due to the importance of the topic on economic programs.

Mr. Akmad T. Agao of North Cotabato emphasized the importance of Bangsamoro self-governance but there is a need for perseverance given the status of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in congress.

The program formally started with a recital of some verses of the Noble  Qur’an by Abdulkahir Sandalan.

KDFI Dir. Moidjoddin K. Talusob mentioned the sequence of the program; gave orientation to CSO’s associated with KDFI.

He expressed his thanks and gratitude to Ustadz Daud Madaliday, Daguma Provincial Community Leader and Ustadz Taha Baladsikan, UBJP Executive Director of Tacurong City and Agao of North Cotabato including the participants.

Talusob reminded everybody to never disregard the higher objective of the Bangsamoro people for right to self-determination.

The participants were delighted with the presence of Kadaffy Sinulinding who studied economics in Malaysia for long years. He related the core agenda of the program. His topics on “CSO’s Social Solidarity and Livelihood Enterprises Development inspired more the participants.

His said that economic development in the Bangsamoro is one of the answers to the Bangsamoro problem, but people’s organizations need to capacitate themselves to become business entrepreneurs. He explains further the CSO as group of people that has the capability to stand and survive through self-reliance.

MILF: Tawi-tawi receives BTC-JICA’s Quick Impact Projects

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 29): Tawi-tawi receives BTC-JICA’s Quick Impact Projects

Tawi-tawi receives BTC-JICA’s Quick Impact Projects

The province of Tawi-tawi are among the recipients of Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) implemented through the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro (CCDP-B),  a confidence building program of  the Bangsamoro Transition Commission Socio-Economic Office (BTC-SEO) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for  Bangsamoro communities.

Its implementation has been closely monitored by the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), the development agency of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and a local consultant Philkoei International, Inc. based in Makati City.

Last January 20, a solar dryer with warehouse was turned-over to Pasiagan, Bongao, and the following day, January 21, a multipurpose hall building was also awarded to the community of Baldatal Islam, Sapa-Sapa. Tawi-Tawi.

Engineer Muhajirin T. Ali, CCDP-B Project Director and guest speaker during the turnover ceremony in Pasiagan community, said, “In twenty sites of quick impact projects, the Pasiagan community chose this solar dryer and warehouse based on their needs, others have selected two-classroom school building and the rest are multipurpose building according to their necessity.”

Engr. Ali added that if this project will be handled and manage properly by residents, the donor agency will not hesitate to provide more development projects.

He said that QIPs implemented in Moro communities is just only a project from the JICA. Projects that will come from the Bangsamoro government once established is another thing. “Once the Bangsamoro government will be established and runs its affairs, it is expected to provide more developments in our communities,” Ali pointed out.

For the JICA’s message to the two sites in Tawi-tawi, Kasan Usop Jr, QIP project officer read the statement of Naoyuki Ochiai, Head and Chief Leader, JICA-CPO.
JICA is hoping that through the facilities built in the area; more opportunities will come to contribute socio-economic developments for peacebuilding in the communities.

“In spite of the unknown fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), “JICA has been consistent in its commitment to support the Bangsamoro people while the BBL is facing difficulties in the House of Representatives and Senate for its passage”, JICA Chief Leader Ochiai said in his statement read by Kasan, Jr.

“August 25 of last year, former JICA President Dr Akihiko Tanaka committed to MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim that JICA shall continuously provide its assistance to the Bangsamoro people and the Mindanao region with or without the BBL”, Ochiai said in his statement.

BDA Executive Director Dr Mohammad Yacob was also present during the ceremony along with his staff. He told to the community residents that the quick impact projects were the results of a conversation between MILF Chieftain Al Haj Murad and Dr Tanaka before the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on August 27, 2014 at Malacañan Palace to implement a kind of projects where dividends of peace and its positive impact to socio-economic needs of the villagers can be felt immediately by communities.

During the turnover ceremony, officials of local government unit, MILF members, community leaders had extended their thanks to the MILF Central Committee, BTC, JICA, BDA and all stakeholders who have contributed to the success of the projects.
Meanwhile, Nomaire Mustapha Project Coordinator for Public Service Delivery of the CCDP-B, said that there were 11 quick impact projects already turned-over to the Bangsamoro communities as of this writing.

The remaining 9 QIP sites, he said, that soon to be turned-over to communities from February to March 2016 are in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat; Glan, Sarangani; Patikul, Talipao and Panglima Estino in Sulu;  Masiu and Buadipuso Buntong in Lanao del Sur; Tangkal and Munai for Lanao del Norte.

MILF: “Book of hope” is closed for BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 28): “Book of hope” is closed for BBL

Photo courtesy FB of Aying Aziz

Photo courtesy FB of Aying Aziz

In a fitting description of the proposed BBL and what eventually befell it, House Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong (2nd D, Lanao del Sur) said in a privilege speech yesterday (Jan 27) that he is already “closing the book of hope for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

With only 3 remaining sessions before Congress goes on a long recess beginning February 6, Balindong admitted that the “House of Representatives has collectively failed the Bangsamoro people.”

On Jan 21, it was reported in some national dailies that the BBL would be put to a vote on Wednesday (Jan 27).

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the 75-member ad hoc committee on the BBL, was reported to have set the date for the voting that did not happen.

Balindong criticized his peers for denying the Muslims of their birthright. “ I see it in the process unfolding before us …. I feel it in the sheer lack of quorum which is obviously a deliberate tactic to filibuster and lose much needed time to pass the BBL.”

As of Wednesday evening, the period of amendment has not yet commenced as some congressmen has yet to avail themselves of the turno en contra, a period in which pro and anti solons deliver speeches.

An expert on the legislative process said that the House can set aside the turno en contra if it so will to expedite the process. Speeches can just be attached in the records of the deliberations.

The 3-term congressman from Lanao assailed the “tyranny of the majority” which has effectively “killed the (peace) process” and “foreclosed all possible peaceful, legal and constitutional avenues for peace.”

Balindong expressed his fear that extremists can now easily exploit the situation.
“What we have not done is a perfect recipe for radicalization,” he said.

Balindong was seen leaving the plenary sessions immediately after he spoke. He was followed by Rep. Tupay Loong (1st D, Sulu) and Rep. Bai Sandra Sema (1st D, Maguindanao with Cotabato City) in what many interpreted as protest and frustration over the deliberate delay in the passage of the BBL.

On the part of the Senate, the BBL was never discussed since it resumed session on Jan 18.

Either the principal sponsor of SB 2894 or the scheduled interpellator was absent during the past six session days.

PNP: P7-M Marwan bounty claimed

From the Philippine Star (Jan 30): PNP: P7-M Marwan bounty claimed

The Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday confirmed that the P7-million bounty for slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, has been claimed by an informant. STAR/File photo

The Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday confirmed that the P7-million bounty for slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, has been claimed by an informant.

PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has released the bounty to the unnamed source who provided information on the whereabouts of Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Mayor declined to give additional details, saying the PNP has guaranteed the tipster’s safety.

Mayor said the informant will only be getting the bounty released by the Philippine government and will not include the bounty promised by the US government.

Marwan was a Malaysian bomb maker with a $5-million bounty from the US government. He was the high value target, along with Basit Usman, of the operation of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano on Jan. 25 last year.

Mayor said the combined reward promised by the US and Philippine governments would add up to an estimated P200 million.   

The informant reportedly supplied the intelligence packet for the capture of Marwan under Oplan Exodus.

Forty-four members of the PNP-SAF were killed during the operation to arrest Marwan and Usman in a remote village in Mamasapano.

The raiding team killed Marwan while Usman escaped but was later killed in another encounter.

The slain police commandos figured in firefights with Muslim rebels and armed villagers in the area. A total of 44 policemen, 18 rebels and five civilians were killed.

A year after the incident, the PNP said the grant of reward is still being processed at the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command.

The PNP stressed the lawmen that participated in the raid would not be allowed to receive any portion of the reward.

Lessons learned

Congress, with the Senate and the House of Representatives conducting separate inquiries, has investigated the Mamasapano incident.

The Senate reopened the probe last Wednesday to thresh out some issues raised by Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.

The House has yet to come out with its report into the incident.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the chairmen of the two House committees that conducted the joint investigation into the incident have promised to release their report before Congress adjourns on Feb. 5.

Belmonte also said it was possible that the House report would have some differences with that of the Senate and the PNP’s Board of Inquiry.

“We can’t hope for a precision statement, some of them are judgment, the opinions would show different directions, so I think it’s virtually impossible that everybody agrees on everything,” Belmonte said.

The senators, who were heavily criticized for conducting another hearing on the incident when there was nothing new that came out, said police and military officials were still passing blame for the botched operation.

Malacañang, however, gave assurance that lessons have been learned after Mamasapano as senators sought an end to the blame game between the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines over the non-coordination of efforts to capture Marwan.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the reopening of the Senate investigation into the incident turned out to be a good development for the government as the role of former SAF commander Getulio Napeñas was detailed and clarified along with the changes that must be made to avoid a repeat of what happened.

Coloma also said that one of the important lessons learned from the incident was the need for the PNP and the AFP to have proper coordination in the conduct of operations.

Based on current developments, Coloma said he had observed the police and military had strengthened their cooperation so a tragic incident like Mamasapano would not happen again.

Coloma said during the more than seven hours of hearing, the PNP and the AFP had also been forthright in talking about the incident, just like in investigations conducted earlier.

He said President Aquino clearly ordered Napeñas and then PNP chief Alan Purisima to make the necessary coordination before the execution of Oplan Exodus to ensure the safety of SAF operatives.

However, Purisima and Napeñas, Coloma pointed out, did not follow Aquino’s instructions.

Enrile, who sought the new hearing on the incident, said Aquino “compartmented” the operation that led to the carnage and he was not able to do anything to save the SAF operatives when they were being attacked.

Coloma said Aquino had always acted responsibly and faced squarely all matters pertaining to the Mamasapano incident.

He added Enrile’s claims were disproved during the hearing because it was clear that the President was misinformed, as he was not given the right information during the operation.

Coloma said there was no stand down order that supposedly stopped SAF operatives from fighting or the military from providing aid.

During the hearing, police and military officials, including Napeñas himself, said the SAF troopers were asked to hold their positions as Purisima was talking with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas to stop attacking the police commandos.

“It also came out that General Napeñas acted solo on important portions of their
operation, such as the determination of abort option and contingency planning,” he said.

Aside from disobeying Aquino’s order to coordinate with the AFP, Coloma said it was revealed during the Senate hearing that the operation could have been aborted given the conditions on the ground, but this was not done.

PNP chief Director General Ricardo Marquez said the plan was defective from the beginning in the absence of contingency measures.

Military officials also told the Senate hearing that Napeñas did not coordinate with them.

US aided SAF raiders only

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 30): US aided SAF raiders only

No help came for pinned troopers

U.S. AID  US forces use their helicopter to airlift  Philippine police commandos wounded in a clash with Moro rebels from the Shariff Aguak Provincial Police command to a hospital in Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat.  FERDINAND CABRERA/Contributor

U.S. AID US forces use their helicopter to airlift Philippine police commandos wounded in a clash with Moro rebels from the Shariff Aguak Provincial Police command to a hospital in Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat. FERDINAND CABRERA/Contributor
The United States provided real-time intelligence to the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) counterterrorism operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, a year ago but the assistance focused on the commando group carrying DNA from the slain target of the operation, leaving a larger group of troopers to be massacred by Moro rebels.

Former SAF Director Getulio Napeñas spoke about the US involvement in “Oplan Exodus,” the covert SAF operation to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in closed-door sessions of the Senate investigation of the Mamasapano clash in February last year.

READ: Napeñas admits US hand in intelligence sharing during Mamasapano operation

The committee report on the Mamasapano investigation confirmed the US involvement, but did not disclose the American failure to help the 55th Special Action Company (SAC), the blocking force that was pinned down by Moro rebels on a cornfield after the mission backfired.

The Inquirer obtained a copy of the transcript of the minutes of the joint committee investigation’s closed-door sessions on Feb. 12, 16, 17, 23 and 24, 2015. Sixteen senators approved the release of the transcript on Wednesday, after a hearing called on the request of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.

During the executive sessions, Napeñas testified that the Americans from Joint Task Force Philippines monitored the movements of the 84th SAC, the strike force that killed Marwan in a raid on the terrorist’s hut in Pidsandawan village, Mamasapano, early on Jan. 25, 2015.

The commandos cut off the right index finger of Marwan for DNA testing after shooting him dead and shot their way out of the village.

Napeñas said the Americans monitored the 84th SAC using an “intelligence surveillance reconnaissance aircraft”—a drone—that provided real-time information on the location of the commandos, enabling Philippine troops to find and rescue them.

But the Americans provided no such help to locate the 55th SAC, which frantically called for reinforcement by radio and cell phones as it battled guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and gunmen from the village.

Unfamiliar with Mamasapano, the 55th SAC could not relay its location to the command post in Shariff Aguak and was wiped out in a gun battle that lasted almost the whole day.

Forty-four SAF commandos—35 from the 55th SAC and nine from the 84th SAC—were killed in the clash. Only one member of the 55th SAC escaped.

Seventeen MILF rebels and three civilians were also killed in the clash.

The deaths of the 44 commandos became the worst political crisis of President Aquino, bringing down his ratings to their lowest since he came to office in 2010.

It also set back the peace process between the government and the MILF, with Congress delaying passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that would complete a peace agreement signed in 2014.

Napeñas told the senators that the Americans monitored the 84th SAC from the start of the operation at 4:30 a.m. up to the rescue of its members at 11 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2015.

READ: US drone watched Mamasapano debacle

The commandos were found and led out of Mamasapano by the 61st Division Reconnaissance Company of the Philippine Army led by two fresh graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, Lts. Gabriel C. Bannoya Jr. and Jeymark Y. Mateo, Napeñas said.

“It was focused on the 84th,” Napeñas said, referring to the drone.

“The location of the 55th was forwarded through radio, the grid coordinate, and this was plotted on a big map to determine their location,” Napeñas replied when asked by Sen. Ralph Recto if the drone was also deployed to locate the pinned-down SAC.

When Sen. Nancy Binay asked him why he did not ask the Americans to deploy the drone to find the 55th SAC, Napeñas spoke about cameras far apart but could not explain them.

“I don’t know exactly how,” he said.

The minutes of the closed-door sessions indicated that the senators agreed that the Americans did not care about the 55th SAC and were concerned only with the 84th, which carried Marwan’s severed finger.

Napeñas identified one of the Americans at the SAF command post as Al Latz.
He said the 84th SAC, also called Seaborne, was trained by the Americans. He said Latz once described the 84th SAC as “the best in the SAF.”

The United States offered $5 million for the capture of Marwan, who was linked to the two nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002 that killed 202 people, among them Americans.

US role legal

At the hearing on Wednesday, Enrile said the government must explain why it allowed the Americans to be involved in the operation to get Marwan, which was a law enforcement matter.

Some senators, however, said on Friday that they believed the US role was legal.
Sen. Sonny Angara said what the Constitution forbids is the presence of foreign troops and foreign military bases in the absence of a treaty.

“Technical assistance and training from the US, as revealed during the last hearing, seem to be within legal boundaries,” Angara said in a text message to the Inquirer.

He said aspects of the US participation in the Mamasapano operation that could affect national security should not be disclosed.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III said he was satisfied “to a certain extent” with the explanation of the US role in the SAF mission.

But he, too, said some aspects of the US role should not be disclosed.

There are some intel matters that should not be made public,” he said.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, interviewed on GMA-7’s “News to Go” program on Friday, confirmed that the United States provided assistance to the Philippines for the operation to get Marwan.

Goldberg said the US assistance came under the United States and the Philippines’ “legal framework.” He did not elaborate.

In his testimony at the Senate on Wednesday, Napeñas said the Philippines and the United States cooperated in the fight against terrorism.

The SAF is the PNP’s counterterrorism unit and the United States cooperated with the SAF because terrorism is the top priority of the US Special Operations Command, Napeñas said.

He said the United States also provided humanitarian assistance to the SAF operation through medical evacuation after the clash and conducted DNA testing to confirm the identity of Marwan.

Goldberg declined to confirm whether the United States deployed a drone for the SAF operation.

With BBL dead, Palace to pursue peace process

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 30): With BBL dead, Palace to pursue peace process

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. FILE PHOTO

Even with Congress sounding the death knell on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Malacañang on Friday said the Aquino administration would still forge ahead with the peace process.

Whatever the final fate of the proposed BBL, government was determined to support the peace process and encourage all stakeholders to give peace a chance,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

The BBL was a centerpiece program of the Aquino administration.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. separately said on Thursday it was “unlikely” that the draft measure would be passed by next week.

With the election campaign heating up, the House of Representatives has grappled with a lack of quorum while the Senate has yet to tackle a substitute bill on Bangsamoro autonomy filed by opposition Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Asked how the Aquino administration could still move ahead with the peace process, chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told the Inquirer in a text message that adjustments on the timetable set by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro could be done.

Ferrer also said that the next administration, which will take over on June 30, can also either unilaterally abrogate the agreement or renegotiate with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Inquirer tried by failed to reach MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.

As to the possibility that MILF rebels might show disappointment by resuming their secessionist war, Ferrer emphasized the need for strengthening the ceasefire mechanisms.

“We’ll have to help them stay the course and keep their ranks in check. We’ll need to keep our ceasefire and Ahjag (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) mechanisms strong and effective, and continue with the other normalization programs,” Ferrer said.

Dialogue with stakeholders will continue, Coloma added, “because it is for everyone’s sake that the Aquino administration pursued the peace process.”

“We also recall that President Aquino had already said that even if the peace process will not be fully completed now, he believes that it can be continued because the momentum for peace is difficult to stop. We have the support of many nations, which have participated in our peace process. They will be told of the importance of continuing with the peace process,” Coloma said.

Sulu princess tagged ‘terrorist’ in Malaysia

From the Manila Times (Jan 29): Sulu princess tagged ‘terrorist’ in Malaysia

SULU Princess Jacel Kiram said Malaysia is one of her favorite countries to visit. But as much as she wanted to see the country again, she has to restrain herself for now for her safety.

Jacel Kiram recently hit the headlines in Kuala Lumpur for having a “selfie” photo with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Vice President Narul Izzah Anwar, daughter of former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

The photo was taken on November 9, 2015 and was picked up by Malaysian newspapers, with officials castigating Anwar for mingling with a “terrorist.”

Jacel Kiram is the daughter of Jamalul Kiram III, a former self-proclaimed Sultan of the Sulu Sultanate who reportedly ordered the sending of about 200 armed men to take over Lahad Datu, Sabah, in March 2013.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Anwar “has relations with the recent Sulu terrorist” and hurt the feel-ings of Malaysians.

“Nakakalungkot lang kasi mukhang hindi na ako makakapunta doon. ’Pag terorista doon, ’di ba pinapa-tay na agad? Wala nang due process [It saddens me because it seems that I can no longer go to Malay-sia. They kill terrorist there right away, right? There is no due process],” she said.

Jacel Kiram noted that the Filipino community in Malaysia did not even defend her.

The meeting of the two took place at an event in Manila, hosted by the Council on Philippine Affairs, Asian Institute for Democracy, Office of the City Mayor of Manila and the Office of the Vice President of the Philippines.

The meeting was in support of the United Nation Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s position for Anwar Ibrahim’s immediately release.

Jacel Kiram said she did not expect the controversial encounter and opted not to discuss the issues in Sabah “because we will never reach an agreement.”

In an earlier statement made after the public and government outrage, Narul Izzah said she was “deeply regretful” over the photo that hurt the Malaysian community.

The Sabah legislative assembly ordered Nurul Izzah not to return to Manila after the controversy.

Jacel Kiram is now running for senator in the May 2016 elections to push for the Philippines’ claim to Sabah.

She said the government has seemingly lost its interest in the resource-rich island and makes a priority the fight for the sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Despite her poor survey ratings, Jacel Kiram is optimistic that Filipino voters will eventually realize the need to have a Moro representative in the Senate.

There has been no Moro voice in the Senate for two decades now after Mamintal A.J. Tamano and Santanina Rasul.

US ambassador: Mamasapano not an American operation

From the Philippine Star (Jan 29): US ambassador: Mamasapano not an American operation 

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said that the reopening of the Mamasapano investigation in the Senate earlier this week was just a "repeat" of the previous hearings on the incident. File photo

The United States maintained that it did not carry out Oplan Exodus, the operation that led to the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in an encounter with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last year.

"This was a Philippine-designed and carried out operation. This is not an American operation," US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said in an interview with radio dzMM. He also denied that there was an American casualty in the operation.

Goldberg added that the if ever the US gave support to the operation, it is a part of its Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines.

The US ambassador, however, did not elaborate the details of the participation of the US in the operation to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

"There is cooperation and I think most Filipinos support that and it's done in a way that is at the request of and in conjunction with the Philippine Armed Forces and government," Goldberg said.

Goldberg admitted that the US forces have assisted the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police, including the SAF, in its efforts against international terrorism.

"We have provided intelligence... We have done training and we have done some quipping. We admit that's what we do," the US ambassador said.

The Senate joint committee report on the Mamasapano operation, which was released last year, confirmed that the US was involved in the mission.

RELATED: Wikileaks shows US funded Mamasapano operation - solon

Bayan taunts US ambassador on Mamasapano, expulsion from Bolivia

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 29): Bayan taunts US ambassador on Mamasapano, expulsion from Bolivia
US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. AFP FILE PHOTO

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. AFP FILE PHOTO

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makayaban (Bayan) on Friday hit US ambassador Philip Goldberg for his statements on the Mamasapano incident, saying it is not the first time that the envoy involved himself in a country’s local operations.

“Goldberg is one to speak of legal framework. He was previously expelled from Bolivia also for interfering in that country’s internal affairs,” Bayan spokesperson Nato Reyes said in a text message to media.

It was in 2008 when Bolivian President Evo Morales declared Goldberg “persona non grata” from his country. Morales accused Goldberg of “conspiring against democracy and seeking the division of Bolivia.”

READ: New US envoy acceptable to PH, says Del Rosario

Goldberg, in a television interview, said the support America offered during the controversial Mamasapano operation was “within the legal framework” of the Philippines and the United States.

It was earlier revealed that the US provided intelligence and humanitarian and medical evacuation during the botched covert operation, which succeeded in killing international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan) but resulted in the deaths of more than 60 people.

READ: US involvement questioned

“The US JSOTFP’s (Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines’) direct participation in a combat operation, in a domestic police operation in Mamasapano, is not covered by any existing agreement, contrary to what Amb. Goldberg is claiming,” Reyes said.

“The VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) and the [Philippine] constitution do not allow such direct involvement. What happened in Mamasapano was illegal and [a] violation of our sovereignty,” he added.

Reyes said the US cannot “invoke” its “war on terror” to violate Philippine laws.
“In Mamasapano, Filipino lives were sacrificed because of the US obsession to get Marwan. The US was not concerned at all with the chain of command, the peace process, civilian casualties, and the resulting carnage. All they wanted was confirmation of Marwan’s death,” he explained.

“That is why we can never let a foreign government take the lead in any domestic operation. Their interests are not identical to ours,” he said.

The role of the US in the Mamasapano operation has long been questioned by critics of the US and the Aquino administration.

While Goldberg has insisted that the US was not involved in the planning and execution of the operation, testimonies during Senate hearings assert that the US provided real-time intelligence support, training and equipment to the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF).

The US was also responsible for the identification of Marwan through DNA testing.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile asked why the US provided intelligence on a “purely police matter.” He added that the VFA only covers military cooperation between the two countries.

“This is something that the government must explain, why they have allowed a police matter to include US participation. I’m not saying that I’m correct, but this has to be looked into,” Enrile said during the last hearing. CDG

READ: Bayan seeks FBI’s help to uncover US role in Mamasapano

On January 25, 2015, 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) were killed in the hunt for Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir, aka “Marwan,” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province. Their mission may have succeeded, but one year later families of the slain SAF44 and affected civilians today continue to seek justice from a government which allegedly broke chain of command and poorly handled the mission. Visit the INQUIRER tribute site at

MILF's Iqbal: 'If one wants to enjoy life, never spend it as a negotiator'

From InterAksyon (Jan 29): MILF's Iqbal: 'If one wants to enjoy life, never spend it as a negotiator'

Center for Humanitarian Dialogue Philippines senior program manager Camilo Montesa, Government peace negotiating panel chairperson Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, European Union Ambassador Franz Jessen, and MILF peace negotiating panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal at the book launch of Journey to the Bangsamoro. Photographed by Tricia Aquino,

"If one wants to enjoy life, never spend it as a negotiator."

This was how Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace negotiating panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal opened his speech at the launch of "Journey to the Bangsamoro", a compilation of three books about the history of the peace process between the Philippine government and the MILF, on Monday at the Shangri-la Hotel in Makati City.

The EU, with the MILF and the center for Humanitarian Dialogue, launched the publication together.

'Not easy'

"Negotiation is never fun. It isn't easy," Iqbal said. "I confess that there are far more bitter memories of the negotiations than the good ones ... The good ones can be counted on our fingers."

The two sides had been working on the peace process for over 17 years, in negotiations that had been disrupted by the rise of the hostile breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in 2011; the storming of Lahad Datu, Sabah, by followers of the late Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III in 2013; and the standoff in Zamboanga City between members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and government troops in the same year.

Iqbal also recalled a time when, as acting chair of the MILF peace panel from 1999 to 2000, he witnessed government troops opening fire on "the fringes" of Camp Abubakar, even as a government negotiator insisted that there was no plan to enter the MILF's camp.

But, perhaps, the most infamous of them all was the battle in Mamasapano, which unraveled exactly a year ago, where 44 commandos of the police's Special Action Force (SAF), 18 MILF fighters, and five civilians were killed in SAF's pursuit of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and two local cohorts.

GPH peace negotiating panel chairperson Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, on the other hand, acknowledged that critics might frown upon the choice to launch "Journey to the Bangsamoro" on the first anniversary of the Mamasapano debacle.

Affirm commitment to end the conflict

But for those involved in the peace process, she said, "Today is the best day to affirm the commitment of both parties to end the conflict and achieve the needed social, economic, and political reform that will sustain the peace and bring about happier beginnings and endings in the lives of the people."

She pointed out that it was also on January 25, two years ago, that the last annex that sealed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed: the one on normalization, and the addendum on Bangsamoro waters.

It was difficult to find an "inclusive and pragmatic solution" that addressed the concerns of the Bangsamoro as well as the diverse needs of the affected population.

"The talks were characterized by hard bargaining," Ferrer said. Add to that the complications of the aforementioned events, particularly Mamasapano.

Battle of Mamasapano

"That it happened after the agreement indicates that, if negotiations are difficult, more so the implementation, as we have seen in different parts of the world that have gone through the same politically negotiated agreements," she said. "But ... the fact that we were able to achieve agreement despite all the previous disruptive events also manifests that difficulties are not insurmountable. With determination and support from many sectors, these difficulties may cause setbacks, yes, but not the collapse of a generally healthy process."

Unfortunately, Iqbal acknowledged, the culmination of all that effort – the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) – would be forgotten in the final days of President Benigno Aquino III's administration.

"Chances are high that it will not pass at all," Iqbal said. "If it will not pass in these three days, I don't think it will ever pass at all."

Ferrer said the congressional hearings on the BBL had to give way to the hearings on the Mamasapano tragedy, and the involvement of the MILF in the fight affected public perception negatively.

45 public hearings

Nevertheless, both chambers had already conducted 45 public hearings at the committee level on the BBL. They had also spent "millions in taxpayers' money", as well as numerous session days, on the same.

"Legislators who say that the bill is being rushed have all the opportunity to correct whatever perceived flaws they have on the draft law, since these are all within their powers," she said. "But they cannot accomplish the task if they are not inside the session hall during the deliberations."

She pointed out that Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles was in talks with the MNLF in Jeddah to see how elements of the peace agreement with the MNLF which had not been fully implemented could "find realization in the BBL."

"So at no other time in the history of these difficulties, this conflict, have we found this right moment for the convergence of both the MNLF and MILF," Ferrer said.

Peaceful transformation

She warned that not passing the BBL would mean "scuttling" an initiative where the MNLF and the MILF could work together "for peaceful transformation of the region under the Bangsamoro government."

The BBL would have settled the government's conflict with the MILF, allowing government troops to deal more effectively with "other groups" in the region, as well as the dispute over the West Philippine Sea.

"If we lose another year, or even more, in bringing about the turnaround in Muslim Mindanao, we set back the socioeconomic programs, the reconciliation measures, and the decommissioning of weapons and combatants of the MILF and other armed groups. We might lose the hearts and minds of many of the people there, especially the youth, and increase the risk of radicalization," Ferrer added.

"And that's the one we want to arrest by making sure that moderation prevails. And that's what the MILF has shown us: the kind of moderate leadership and a moderate path that will allow them to achieve the historical aspirations," she underscored.

Peace and stability vital for EU

European Union Ambassador Franz Jessen stressed that peace and stability in Mindanao is vital for the EU, given that it affects the decisions made by businessmen who would want to invest in the Philippines.

Despite the seriousness of the subject, Iqbal and Ferrer were able to exchange pleasantries, with the latter calling him "ever the poker-faced negotiator, the hardest one to read among the members of the panel" who carried his team "through the joys and travails" of the journey.

For his part, Iqbal called his counterpart "steely" and "committed to overcome all the trials, tribulations, and obstacles along the way."

Radicals may ride on death of BBL, says House leader

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 28): Radicals may ride on death of BBL, says House leader

Mindanao solons in the House of Representatives lamented the failure of Congress to pass the proposed Bangsamoro basic law (BBL), raising fears the death of the bill would only fuel the radicalization of the Islamic faith.

Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong on Thursday led a press conference with Maguindanao and Cotabato City Rep. Bai Sandra Sema and Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong.

Balindong, who represents Lanao del Sur, said “there is no more room for hope in my heart” and that he has “closed all hopes for peace.”

“What will take place after this, I cannot say; history will be our judge,” Balindong said.

He said Congress’ failure to pass the BBL, now called the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Area of Responsibility, may fuel the radical secessionist movement in Mindanao, especially at the wake of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“The non-approval of the BBL would be a good recipe for radicalization. If we speak of radicals and militants, they usually thrive on situations like this. If the BBL is not approved, then they will try to ride on the situation,” Balindong said.

He compared the influence of ISIS to electricity, which cannot be seen but can certainly be felt.

“We don’t see now the ISIS, or how they are organized, of if there are ISIS in our areas. But you can feel their presence,” Balindong said of the reported influence of the radical group in Mindanao.

Balindong said it will now take a miraculous political will to pass the BBL just before Congress takes its break on Feb. 5.

“Maybe political will can take the place of [a] miracle. If there’s a political will, it could happen,” Balindong said.

“But I certainly don’t believe in miracles,” he added.

For his part, Loong, a former commander in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), said the failure in passing the BBL may only fuel the ongoing secessionist movement led by the MNLF and its breakaway group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and another splinter group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“To be honest, there is still a certain war, although we are discussing this Bangsamoro basic law, there are certain armed elements fighting. The BIFF and the MNLF is the biggest group fighting against government,” Loong said.

“I’m afraid this would result again into a certain war, because we cannot control the people fighting for peace, fighting for justice and for their own interests,” Loong added.

Loong said he would leave it up to the next administration to take up the cause for a more politically autonomous Bangsamoro region.

Balindong, who is finishing his last term, said he would leave it to the next batch of lawmakers to take up the Bangsamoro cause.

But he said he could not be sure if the next administration would be as sincere in pursuing peace as the Aquino government.

Balindong lamented the death of the BBL which took 17 years of negotiations to come to a peace agreement with the MILF.

“I’m not saying wala akong tiwala sa (I have no faith in the) next administration… We’re not sure if the next administration would adopt the policy of the present administration,” Balindong said.

Loong said if reelected he would refile the bill in Congress.

In a privilege speech Wednesday night, Balindong cited the lack of quorum and the Mamasapano incident for causing the failure of Congress to pass the administration’s pet piece of legislation.

READ: House leader gives up hope on BBL passage: We failed next generation

Balindong said his colleagues seemed not eager in passing the bill because they skip sessions. He also said his fellow congressmen and women are the ones who express bias and hatred against their Muslim counterparts.

He also said the Jan. 25, 2015 Mamasapano incident, a botched antiterror raid where 67 persons died in a firefight between the Special Action Force (SAF) policemen and MILF, derailed the prompt passage of the bill.

In the same press conference, Balindong reiterated his statement, saying some representatives seemed to have “vested interests” in opposing the BBL.

“There are colleagues who have a mindset against the Muslims, maybe because of vested interests in our area. When we started hearings on the BBL, maganda ang takbo namin (the flow went well). There was optimism all around. Pero towards the end, lalo na (especially) when the Mamasapano (happened), nag-iba situation (the situation changed),” Balindong said.

“We would not identify the people who display bias, but this is a mindset. We cannot deny that,” he added.

The BBL seeks to implement the government peace deal with the MILF in creating a more politically autonomous Bangsamoro region.

While her two colleagues were passionate about their statements, Sulu Rep. Sema has only a few words to explain her disappointment.

Sema, the wife of MNLF Chairman of the Central Commitee Muslimin Sema, seemed to be holding back tears.

“I did not prepare my speech. I’m sad, disappointed and frustrated,” Sema only said.

Court denies Palparan’s plea for bail, again

From the pro-CPPNDF online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Jan 29): Court denies Palparan’s plea for bail, again

palparan 2

Retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan failed to get the court to grant him temporary release.

A Bulacan court denied retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr.’s motion for reconsideration for his motion to bail from kidnapping and serious illegal detention cases filed against him in relation to the disappearance of two students of the University of the Philippines (UP) in 2006.

 In a decision dated Jan. 22, Bulacan Regional Trial Branch 15 Judge Alexander Tamayo said Palparan’s motion for the court to reconsider its Dec. 14 ruling did not present anything new or compelling grounds and “merely lifted from the summary findings of the court in evaluating the weight of the evidence presented for purposed of bail.”

Tamayo said that the prosecution had presented strong evidence on the charges against him, and that it is now up to Palparan to refute them.

He added that for purposes of bail, Palparan’s testimony alone cannot overturn the strong evidence presented by the prosecution.

  On Nov. 5 last year, Palparan took the witness stand and said that they “cleared” villages that were “infested” with New People’s Army members as part of the government counterinsurgency program.

He admitted that the clearing operations included physically disappearing the “infestation.”

 The next trial date is set on Feb. 4.

Military camp to rise in Zamboanga City

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Jan 29): Military camp to rise in Zamboanga City

THE Department of National Defense (DND) has allocated P50 million for the construction of a military facility in the Zamboanga siege area.

The military facility is to be constructed in the village of Rio Hondo that will take charge of the security measures in the villages and the neighboring areas.

The village of Rio Hondo along with Mariki, Sta. Barbara, and Sta. Catalina have been dubbed as "ground zero" area as it was the center of the fighting between the government forces and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members during the 21-day September 2013 siege.

Ground zero means the central point in an area of fast change or intense activity, according to the Merriam-Webster.

Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said the National Government has already finalized the acquisition of the Mindeva property in the village of Rio Hondo where the military base will be constructed.

Salazar said the property cost of P50 million will be funded by the National Government through the DND in coordination with the Department of Public Works and Highways.

She said the groundbreaking ceremony will take place soon with DND Undersecretary Alexander Pama, who is also the executive director for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) leading the rites.

The military facility forms part of the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction plan intended to improve the overall environment of the communities affected by the siege.

Abu Sayyaf tagged in Sulu videoke bar blast

From the Philippine Star (Jan 29): Abu Sayyaf tagged in Sulu videoke bar blast

No one was reported injured from the videoke bar blast in Jolo, Sulu. Google Earth

Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits slipped in an improvised bomb into a videoke bar which exploded Thursday night in a village in Jolo, Sulu, according to security official.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu (JTGS), said the blast only damaged the videoke bar which belonged to former Talipao town vice mayor Mijan Hashim in Barangay Bus-bus. No one was reported injured from the blast.

Police investigation disclosed that two unidentified men entered the establishment with a baggage but hurriedly left on board a motorcycle.

Arrojado said employees of the videoke bar could not identify the suspects who left the baggage inside which contained improvised explosive device (IED).

Authorities believed the IED was remotely detonated through a mobile phone.

Responding personnel of the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team recovered from the blast site debris of cellphone and electrical wire believed to be parts of the IED.

The explosion occurred despite heightened security following a bomb attempt on the patrol car of the 6th Maneuver Platoon of the police’s Provincial Public Safety Company (PPSC) Wednesday at Kasalamatan Street, Barangay San Raymundo.

Military also foiled another bomb plot in the downtown of Isabela City, Basilan Wednesday when intelligence units tracked suspected bombers trying to slip off IED near the cathedral.

The suspects on board a motorcycle were forced to abandon the IED near a bazaar and escaped.
Responding police and military EOD teams defused the bomb concealed in a cooking pot.

Meet the small-town mayor risking her life to fight for peace in rural Philippines

From Quartz (Jan 28): Meet the small-town mayor risking her life to fight for peace in rural Philippines

A teenage recruit of the New Peoples Army (NPA), back in 2004. (Reuters)

A half-built concrete road connects the little town of Matuguinao with the outside world. It cuts through the rugged hills and lush rainforest of Samar, the easternmost island of the Philippines, where infrastructure is scarce and 45% of the population lives in poverty.

Before the road opened in 2011, the only way Matuguinao’s 6000 inhabitants could reach the nearest neighboring town Gandara was by boat.

An army checkpoint a few miles inland bears evidence of the importance of this road, built with the help of the military. It leads to one of the last strongholds of the National People’s Army (NPA), a 47-year-old communist guerilla organization—long forgotten by the rest of the world.

One afternoon this summer, Melissa Dela Cruz, the mayor of Matuguinao, was having a busy day. About four barangay captains—or village chiefs—all of them women, were gathered at her wooden house, which also functions as her office. They were representing about 100 people from far-flung villages who had arrived in Mataguinao the night before, fleeing gun fighting between the NPA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“In Matuguinao we have natural calamity and man-made calamity,” Dela Cruz told Quartz, rather humorously. “Living things are dying, plants and people.” Man-made calamity here is endless, but warring government forces and communist guerrillas both claim to be doing what’s best for the region’s civilians.

Dela Cruz was born in Matuguinao but left the town as a teenager to pursue university studies in Cebu City, the country’s second largest, where she graduated in accountancy and law. In 2010, her father, then-mayor of Mataguinao, was assassinated while campaigning for a second-term. So Melissa decided to resign from her job, go home and run in her father’s place.

“I try to treat the NPA and the military as partners,” she says of her role today.

“The military has a right to defend institutional order, and I have to trust in the intervention of our government. But the NPA helps to maintain peace and order in the far-flung barangays. They keep crime under control and help the people a lot.”
Created in 1969 as an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the NPA once saw itself as a sort of successor of the “original” people’s army —the Hukbalahap, a resistance group against the Japanese occupation during World War II. This “new” people’s army sought to overthrow through armed struggle the US-backed dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, in a favor of a socialist state.

In the 1990s, the NPA lost much of its foreign aid and support. There are now only about 3,000 NPA cadres in the country, according to latest military figures—far from its estimated peak of 25,000 in the 1980s. Still, the NPA survived, and continues to thrive in the thick jungle of Samar.
Two-thirds of Samar’s 1.8 million population live off subsistence fishing and agriculture, with almost half living in poverty—the country’s average is 25%, according to 2014 data from the Philippine National Anti-Poverty Commision.

Samar is also ground zero for East Asia’s famous typhoons, such as Haiyan, which in 2013 displaced almost a million people in the Philippines, with Samar bearing the brunt of destruction. Such weather-related challenges pose difficulties for the region to attract much-needed private investments.

This opens a vacuum ready to be filled by armed groups, which provide protection against petty crime, such as cattle rustling or domestic violence. In Samar, the NPA fills a quasi-governmental role. “When typhoon Ruby hit us in 2014, the NPA helped us to rebuild our houses,” Melissa says.

Captain Andrew Linao of the Philippines Army sees it slightly differently. “The NPA is very much embedded in the communities, and that’s why it’s difficult to defeat them,” Linao tells Quartz. “Very often members of the village councils are relatives of NPA cadres, or NPA themselves.”

Captain Linao confirmed to Quartz that the 8th Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which ostensibly controls these hinterlands of Samar, is currently trying to gain territory in Matuguinao; hence, the gunfight in the villages. For this and other spates of violence and intimidation, locals are unhappy with the Army.
“The NPA is not the root of our problems,” Melinda Díaz, the leader of one of the evacuated barangays, tells Quartz. “The problem is the military which accuses us of supporting them. They go to our houses, demand we answer questions we don’t know the answer to, or drag us to their barracks.”

“For decades people here have endured many abuses by the military officers in the name of fighting the NPA. Trust won’t be built overnight,” says Dela Cruz.

Despite a new military program called Oplan Bayanihan designed to build support networks in villages, the outlook is not good. In March, Dela Cruz’s strongest local political ally, Alfredo Díaz, was gunned down by a paramilitary group allegedly connected with the army. A few months later, guerilla NPA fighters shot dead a sleeping two-year-old while attempting to kill someone else in town.

“I am aware that my destiny might be just as my father’s,” says Melissa. “But the barangay leaders relied on me to take his place.” And what she and her constituents demand now is nothing more than a conflict-free space in which to build their lives.

“We don’t care about either of the sides,” she says. “They fight; they are enemies. We just want to be left at peace."

Authorities eye extortion in Maguindanao bus bombing attempt

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 29): Authorities eye extortion in Maguindanao bus bombing attempt

Authorities eye extortion as the motive in the foiled bombing attempt of a bus unit plying the Cotabato City-Gen. Santos City Thursday afternoon in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

Prior to the bombing attempt, the bus firm, Husky Bus Company, has received extortion demand from a certain Abu Saddab who heads the group called “ISM,” according to Carlo Manalo, the bus firm’s Cotabato station head.

Manalo said he does not know what “ISM” means but said the group has been asking PHP2 million monthly protection money so the firm’s units will be spared from bombings.

Manalo said he received the demand through text messages an hour after the bombing attempt in Shariff Aguak Thursday morning.

He said the sender sent more messages, threatening to blow up any of its buses near a bridge so it will fall into the river or ambush its units using rifle grenades or set off improvised bombs loaded with 60 mm mortars with two kilos of cut nails inside the bus.

The bus firm’s officer said he reported everything to the local police in Cotabato City and Maguindanao.

Chief Inspector Camerlo Mungkas, Maguindanao police provincial office spokesperson, said civilians at the bus terminal noticed a grey back pack left unattended in one of the terminal benches at about 12:45 p.m.

Mungkas said police were alerted and cordoned off the area until Army bomb experts arrived and successful deactivate the IED.

Col. Lito Sobejana, military’s 601st Infantry Brigade commander, said bomb experts recovered a 60 mm mortar with an attached MK-2 fragmentation grenade, a container with gasoline and black explosive powder with a mobile phone.

Further investigation showed the mobile phone has several missed calls, indicating the bomber tried, but failed, to set off the IED.

Sobejana, quoting witnesses, said a man with a grey backpack boarded the bus in Cotabato City and alighted at Shariff Aguak public terminal at the town’s public market.

He said the man was last seen standing as the Husky bus left for Isulan, Sultan Kudarat en route to Gen. Santos City.

No one has claimed responsibility in the attempt.

Chief Inspector Mungkas has appealed to the public, especially to commuters, to alert the local police any suspicious item in the bus or anyone acting suspiciously.

He also appealed to the bus management to avoid pick-up passengers in between terminals as precautionary measures. He also suggested to bus inspectors and conductors to check all baggages that passengers carry with them.

Husky Bus Company, the lone bus firm plying the Cotabato-Maguindanao-Gen. Santos route has been subjected to several bombings in the past which authorities blamed on extortion gangs.