Thursday, June 22, 2017

WATCH | BIFF ends school occupation in Cotabato village but fresh fighting reported

From InterAksyon (Jun 22): WATCH | BIFF ends school occupation in Cotabato village but fresh fighting reported

Military armored vehicles patrol the national highway in North Cotabato on Wednesday, hours after BIFF members occupied a school and were reported to have taken hostages as they fled. DENNIS ARCON, INTERAKSYON

Tension continues to prevail over Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato hours after an attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who were also reported as having taken some hostages as they retreated.

Past 2 p.m. Wednesday (June 21), tension flared anew after the BIFF again figured in an encounter with soldiers, this time in a remote village in Midsayap town.

The military has gone on full alert in the entire North Cotabato, with military armored vehicles seen patrolling major roads, especially near the entry and exit points of Cotabato City.

According to a report by 6th ID Spokesperson Capt. Arvin Encinas, at least 50 armed BIFF members attacked Barangay Malagakit at 5 a.m. Wednesday. The attackers are under Kumander Abunawas, OB 10, Abu Saide and Sala, all sub-leaders of Kumander Bunggos.

Still unconfirmed reports said 15 civilians were still being held by the BIFF at the Malagakit Elementary School.

Some 100 families fled the fighting and took refuge at the Municipal Plaza.

One Cafgu member was wounded in the attack.

Despite the violence, the national highway remains passable, the military said.

BIFF withdraws

Earlier, the military said, BIFF members who occupied a village school in Pigcawayan town early Wednesday morning have withdrawn with no reports of casualties.

“It’s already resolved,” Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told reporters. “They’ve withdrawn, they are no longer there. The school area is again safe.”

However, Padilla also said the military was investigating whether five civilians were still being held by the militants, adding no children had been taken hostage.

Earlier, a spokesman for the gunmen said they had taken civilians to a safe place after a gunfight erupted with troops and did not intend to hold them.

Chief Inspector Reylan Mamon, Pigcawayan police chief, earlier said villagers had been trapped by the clash that erupted when the gunmen occupied the school around 5:45 a.m.

The BIFF, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front almost a decade go, is one of the armed groups in Mindanao that government claims have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Mindanao has been under martial law since May 23, when fighting broke out in Marawi City between government forces and extremist gunmen from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, who have been joined by a number of foreign terrorists.


Military: Islamist fighters in Marawi hemmed within 1 sq-km enclave

From InterAksyon (Jun 22): Military: Islamist fighters in Marawi hemmed within 1 sq-km enclave

air strike blast Marawi

Debris and fire is seen after an OV-10 Bronco aircraft released a bomb, during an airstrike, as government forces continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City, Philippines June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Islamist militants holed up in a southern Philippines town have been cornered and their firepower is flagging, the military said on Thursday, as the five-week battle for control of Marawi City raged on.

Joint Task Force Marawi spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said on Thursday the number of militants holding out in Marawi had dwindled to “a little over 100”.

Lt. Col. Christopher Tampus said: “Their area has been reduced to 1 km square only.” Tampus’ troops are blocking escape routes across bridges spanning a river to the west of the militants.

“Our forces are coming from the east and the north and we are blocking the three bridges,” he said.

Tampus told reporters that the militants were still using snipers who were firing from “strategic nests” in schools and mosques, and homemade bombs were hampering the progress of Philippine troops as they advanced house by house.

He said he had seen at least five civilians dressed in black who appeared to have been forced to stand in the street as human shields.

Despite signs that the insurgents are now on the back foot, Southeast Asian governments are worried that the siege could be just the prelude to further violence as the ultra-radical Islamic State group tries to establish a foothold in their region.

Jolted by the May 23 attack on Marawi, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have launched joint patrols to control the movement of militants across their archipelagic region and their foreign ministers gathered in Manila on Thursday for talks.

Malaysia is worried that militants who are flushed out of Marawi City by the fighting may try to cross from the Philippines to its eastern state of Sabah.

“We fear that they may enter the country disguised as illegal immigrants or foreign fishermen,” said Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) chief Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid, according to state news agency Bernama.

It said Esscom had drawn up a “wanted” list that included two militants who spearheaded the attempt to capture Marawi.

They are Abu Sayyaf group leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was proclaimed by Islamic State last year as its “emir” of Southeast Asia, and Abdullah Maute, whose followers accounted for a large number of the estimated 400-500 fighters who overran part of the town, killing Christians and taking dozens of civilians hostage.

The fighting in Marawi broke out on May 23.

According to official estimates late on Wednesday, 369 people have been killed during the month of hostilities, three-quarters of them militants. The number of security forces and civilians killed stood at 67 and 26, respectively.

Counting the dead in Marawi: of 384, at least 50 civilian deaths confirmed

From MindaNews (Jun 21): Counting the dead in Marawi: of 384, at least 50 civilian deaths confirmed 

The death toll in the month-long clashes between government forces and the Maute Group has risen to 384, at least 50 of them civilians. This, as the Marawi Crisis entered Day 30 on Wednesday, June 21,

At the Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacanang on Wednesday, Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said 268 terrorists, 66 government forces and 26 civilians had been killed, for a total of 360. Add to that 24 evacuees who died in hospitals, according to Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial, and the grand total as of June 21 is 384.

Of 384, however, only 110 dead bodies have been accounted for: 66 government forces (63 soldiers, three police officers), the 24 evacuees who died in hospitals in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte and 20 of the 26 civilians allegedly “killed by the terrorists” whose dead bodies were brought to the Capin Funeral Homes in Iligan City between May 27 and June 9.

Cemetery workers place the last of the 11 coffins containing the bodies of still unidentified victims in the Marawi City siege in their final resting place at the cemetery in Barangay Dalipuga, Iligan City. The interment was attended mainly by local government employees and the media. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

Nine of the bodies had been claimed by relatives while the remaining 11 were buried at the San Roque Cemetery in Barangay Dalipuga also in Iligan on June 15, after they were processed (including taking of tissue samplings for DNA matching) and tagged by the Philippine National Police’s Scene of the Crime Operatives.

Wounded In Action; terrorists killed

The number of soldiers wounded in action is no longer mentioned during press briefings. But on June 14, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, in a statement denying reports they had ordered the bombing of mosques, said, “that’s the reason why I had more than 50 KIAs (killed in action) and 297 WIAs (wounded in action) because of our extremely restrictive rules of engagements. He said mosques are “no fire areas.”

President Rodrigo Duterte pins medals and gives away phones and Armscor Caliber .45 pistols to 79 more soldiers wounded in action (WIA) in the fight against the Maute Group in Marawi City at the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital on Tuesday June 20, 2017. Each soldier wounded in action also receives a P100,000 check and P10,000 cash. On June 11, Duterte also pinned medals on 84 WIA in Marawi in the same hospital. MindaNews photo by FROILAN O. GALLARDO

In the early days of the still ongoing war, the military spokespersons — Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla in Manila and Lt. Col. Jo-Ar-Herrera in Marawi — would mention the number of terrorists killed, in two categories: “confirmed by body count” and “confirmed by eyewitness” accounts, e.g. 42 body count, the rest based on eyewitness accounts.

On the second week of the clashes, the military spokespersons stopped mentioning categories, just numbers.

The last “body count” of slain terrorists was on May 31, when the military reported 89 terrorists killed, 42 of them “confirmed by body count” and 47 “confirmed by eye witnesses.”

There is no way of confirming exactly how many terrorists have been killed since May 23. The 268 slain terrorists reported as of June 21, is a number claimed by the military.

Trapped / Hostaged

On June 9, as air strikes against the Maute Group in Marawi’s conflict zone intensified, the Provincial Crisis Management Committee (PCMC) spent Day 18 of the Marawi Crisis meeting with agencies to prepare for the retrieval of the dead in the conflict zone once the military declares these areas cleared.

Volunteer rescuers were also gathered to attend a crash course on retrieving dead bodies, conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Philippine Red Cross.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, PCMC Coordinator and member of the Secretariat, told MindaNews then that while conducting rescue operations to save lives remains the priority, “we are also conscious of the fact that the fighting has dragged on for a long time and as the day passes by, we have to contend with the reality that the chances of survival especially of those who have been injured decreases.”

Sinarimbo said there is a need to “calibrate our preparation as we may need to deploy for retrieval, which is why we are also training our rescue teams.”

No, this is not Aleppo. This is Marawi City, Sunday morning, 04 June 2017. A member of the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring, and Assistance Center of the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor assists an elderly woman leave the conflict zone, one of 134 trapped civilians rescued Sunday morning during a four-hour “humanitarian pause.” Photo courtesy of BANGSAMORO NEWS

PCMC spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong told MindaNews on June 19 that they reckon “300 to 600” civilians remain trapped within the conflict zone. This is apart from the estimated 100 civilians held hostage by the Maute Group, including Fr. Teresito Soganub, Vicar General of the Prelature of Marawi.

Adiong expressed fears at least 100 dead bodies are in various stages of decomposition within the conflict zone, based on accounts of survivors and rescue volunteers.

Retrieval of dead bodies cannot be done unless the military declares the area cleared.

Preparing for the worst

A week earlier, on June 12, Adiong told a press briefing in Marawi: “I guess we need to ready ourselves for the worst once this (Baanggolo) bridge is opened,” as he noted that photographs shared online have given the public glimpses of the destruction in the conflict zone located in the city’s center, and accounts of rescuers who were able to enter the “hostile area” on June 4 as well as survivors indicate there are many dead bodies lying on the ground, some of them in an advanced stage of decomposition.

Adiong narrated that during the flag-raising ceremony on June 12, a police officer narrated that one of his friends received a text message that a trapped family in Barangay Raya Madaya had sent word their child has died of hunger and that they and their Christian employees have been eating their blanket for survival.

Other survivors narrated eating raw noodles until their supply ran out, some turned to eating leaves and many relied on rain for water.

The remains of a slain civilian along Gomisa Avenue leading to Banggolo district on June 4, 2017. awaits retrieval. Photo courtesy of Amerol Ariel

Samira Gutoc of the Ranao Rescue Team, told ABS-CBN News’ Headstart last Monday that residents trapped in the conflict zone for 28 days have been without access to food “in the areas of Marinaut, the coommercial area, the Banggolo plaza, Cabili — these are areas where people are eating we don’t know, God knows what they are eating. Some have reported blankets, they are eating from little drops of water from somewhere so its like I don’t know if it’s Africa I am looking at or yung movies na pinapanood natin.. it’s so real.”

She said some have resorted to eating boxes and leaves.

She explained is “double burden” for the Maranaos because of the ongoing Ramadan, the month-long fasting. “Some of them would observe fasting but at night when they can eat, there’s nothing to eat because there’s no commercial establishment (that is open). So we’re asking the Philippine Army, government and the Maute Group to let the food in, especially also in the evacuation centers in the first district of Lanao del Sur.

Gutoc contested the figure on slain civilians in the conflict zone. “We don’t agree that numbers are at just 20 as reported by media,” Gutoc said, adding that as early as Day 1, “one our volunteers saw a summary execution by the MG (Maute Group) guy.”

She said a volunteer whose nine-month old child died likely from suffocation when the city jail was burning on Day 1, May 23, reported seeing cadavers there.

“Every day, if you count three people die times 28 days,” that’s a huge number, Gutoc said, adding “we’re not talking three in recent days.”

Gutoc narrated how a son whose family was trapped in the conflict zone, dug up a shallow grave to bury his ailing father “who died in front of his eyes.”

Under normal circumstances, Maranaos bury their dead before sundown or within 24 hours, following rituals that include cleaning the corpse and wrapping it in white shroud.

Volunteer rescuers had earlier said some remains had been preyed upon by animals and maggots.

Militants urge CHR to probe abuses during martial law

From MindaNews (Jun 22): Militants urge CHR to probe abuses during martial law

Different militant groups have called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate alleged human rights violations committed during martial law in seven provinces in Mindanao.

In a press conference Thursday, Sheena Duazo, secretary-general of the Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, said around 100 militants will hold a protest on Friday, exactly one month since President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s declaration of martial law, to urge the CHR to visit the hinterland communities where the alleged violations carried out by the military against farmers and Lumads took place.

She said their group also received reports, which included among others, threats and harassments, illegal arrest, arson, strafing, extrajudicial killings, forced evacuation, and frustrated killings in North Cotabato, Bukidnon, Davao oriental, Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, Davao del Norte, and Davao City.

Duazo said they are ready to present all reports of the human rights violations during the rally that will be participated by multi-sectoral groups, including Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Pasaka-SMR.

“They have to investigate. It’s their job to go to the communities and investigate. It should not be the affected residents who should go to their office. We will keep on pressing them to investigate in the communities and recommend charges against the erring soldiers,” she said.

Duazo said they demand that those military and paramilitary members be held liable for their abuses.

The progressive groups have renewed their calls for Duterte to withdraw his declaration of martial law and order the military to stop the use of aerial bombs they claimed have displaced around 1,700 individuals in North Cotabato and Bukidnon.

Karapatan-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Jay Apiag maintained that the martial law is “not the solution” to address terrorism in Mindanao because it has resulted in the displacement of civilian families who are caught in the crossfire.

He debunked the claims of the government that no human rights were violated under martial law, even as Duterte assured that the martial law will be “least of your worry” for the law-abiding citizens.

Apiag claimed that the number of political killings has gone up to 35 under the Duterte administration, of which five were recorded within the first month of the 60-day martial law.

He said families are also exposed to other forms of human rights violations such as threat, harassment and intimidation.

Apiag blamed the increase in the number of political killings to martial law that Duterte declared on May 23 when clashes broke out between military forces and members of the Maute Group in Marawi City.

He alleged that the declaration of martial law gives the soldiers the “license” to commit even more abuses against the Lumads and farmers who are the primary victims of the aerial bombings and military operations in the hinterlands.

“It is very clear that the martial law is being used by the military to perpetrate human rights violations. The human rights violation is worsening now. Even before martial law the violations were already increasing, what more now that they have the license to do so,” he said.

Duazo noted that these human rights violations should be enough reason for the President to withdraw his martial law.

Cosain Naga Jr., spokesperson of Kawagib, a Moro human rights group, said their community in Maguindanao has suffered from incessant aerial bombings carried out by the military.

He said the President must order the military to refrain from using aerial bombs because these are destroying both lives and properties of the Moro people.

Resumption of 5th round of GRP-NDF talks seen in 2-3 months

From MindaNews (Jun 22): Resumption of 5th round of GRP-NDF talks seen in 2-3 months

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is looking at the possibility resuming the stalled fifth round of peace talks between the government (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) either in August or September 2017.

Last weekend, both parties agreed, in order “to encourage the continuation of peace talks, to refrain from undertaking offensives against their respective forces in Mindanao to allow government troops to fight the Maute Group in the embattled Marawi City.

But in a statement Wednesday, the CPP has reiterated its demand to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to lift the all-out war policy he issued in February 2017 and the martial law in Mindanao that was declared on May 23.

The CPP said it “anticipates the fifth round of peace negotiations to resume in around two or three months” giving the reciprocal groups and committees of both panels sufficient time to thresh out the draft agreements on social and economics reforms and constitutional reforms.

It said the communists acknowledged the statement of GRP negotiating panel chair Silvestre Bello III on June 17, reiterating the commitment of the government to proceed with the peace talks.

“The commitment of the GRP expressed therein to proceed with peace negotiations with the NDFP is a welcome development and is well appreciated by the revolutionary forces,” the CPP said.

The NDFP announced it is recommending to the CPP to order the New People’s Army (NPA) to abstain from carrying out offensives against the government forces last Saturday, which was immediately reciprocated by the GRP.

“Action on the NDFP recommendation can be undertaken once conditions for it exist concretely,” it said.

Bello said both parties’ declaration to abstain from engaging their respective forces would “pave way for the eventual signing of a mutually agreed bilateral ceasefire agreement and agreements on social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and end of hostilities and disposition of forces towards a just and lasting peace.”

The CPP also acknowledged the GRP’s adherence to all previously signed agreements, most especially to the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), in which the communists said is “a critical element in peace talks which enables NDFP negotiators and personnel to freely travel and participate in talks without threat of arrest or reprisal.”

It reiterated that the NDFP stands firmly against “terrorism and terrorist acts which intimidate, terrorize, harm and murder civilians solely or mainly.”

The NDFP has even offered help to the government in fighting the terrorists.

During the Mindanao Hour on June 8, 2017 in Davao City, Abella said potential cooperation is unlikely if the communists continue to insist on the President to lift martial law and all-out war policy.

“To show that the CPP-NPA-NDF is truly in pursuit of peaceful coexistence, they must stand against a common enemy without conditions… The Duterte administration would rather pursue that path of genuine dialogue to build the nation worthy of its citizens,” he said.

Pigcawayan clashes left 8 killed, 10 wounded

From MindaNews (Jun 22): Pigcawayan clashes left 8 killed, 10 wounded

Eight were killed while 10 others were wounded at the height of the armed clashes between government troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Wednesday, combined reports from the Cotabato Police Provincial Office (CPPO) and the Philippine Army said.

The CPPO reported two killed – Abraham Cutay, a trainee of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and Towan Dading Esmael, 61, a farmer from Barangay Malagakit.

The Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, on the other hand, said six BIFF members were killed.

Soldiers rush to Barangay Simsiman in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato to reinforce troops fighting the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Photo courtesy of VALERIE ANN P. LAMBO

Capt. Napoleon Alcarioto, 602IB spokesman, said that of those wounded, two were CAFGU members identified as Angel Berona and Resty Segundera, and the eight others were BIFF members.

Berona and Segundera suffered only minor injuries and were already released from the hospital, according to Alcarioto.

Lt. Col. Angelo Lutera, commander of the 34th Infantry Battalion, said that as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, they already occupied Malagakit Elementary School, which was used by the BIFF as base after they raided the village and nearby Barangay Simsiman, both in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato.

Despite this, Lutera said they have not yet given the displaced families the “go signal” to return to their houses due to ongoing clearing operations in the area.

Lutera, in a radio interview Thursday over the Catholic-run DXND, said they are still searching for bombs the BIFF may have planted in their attempt to prevent troopers from pursuing them in their escape.

The attackers withdrew towards the marshland in Maguindanao, he said.

Data from the local government units of Pigcawayan and Midsayap show that at least 1,762 evacuees remain in several evacuation centers as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

Pigcawayan municipal administrator Jezler Garcesa said that of the 1,370 evacuees, 736 remain at the Pigcawayan National High School, 404 at the multi-purpose hall of Barangay Central Panatan, and 230 at the covered court in Barangay Bulucaon.

Karl Ballentes, Midsayap public information officer, said at least 392 evacuees remain in evacuation centers in Barangays Palongoguen, Gayonga, and Lagumbingan.

Citizens, OFWs write ‘Letters of Hope’ for troops, Marawi evacuees

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 22): Citizens, OFWs write ‘Letters of Hope’ for troops, Marawi evacuees

People from other regions and those living overseas can now reach out to government troops as well as displaced residents of Marawi through “letters of hope.”

The campaign was started by a group of private individuals in Luzon in coordination with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (ARMM) Cabinet Secretary Khal Mambuay-Campong.

“Actually, this idea started when a doctor who visited Marawi City launched a donation drive for garments and thank you notes to the soldiers in the city fighting the local terror groups,” Sec. Campong said.

Assisted by her colleagues from Luzon, Sec. Campong initiated the delivery of the letters not only to soldiers but also to civilians affected by the month-long fighting between government troops and local terror groups.

Official data from ARMM’s Crisis Management Committee, as of June 15, showed a total of 252,282 individuals, or 51,651 families, were displaced by the crisis and are now in evacuation centers, or are staying with their relatives.

Rinz Araneta, a teacher from PAREF Woodrose School in Ayala Alabang in Metro Manila, said her group has seen the positive impact of this campaign to the soldiers thus extending the campaign to include civilians, especially those most affected by the crisis.

The campaign also allows sending messages of hope through the email address:

“As our letters make their way to our noble soldiers, let us also extend this spirit of love and oneness to those severely affected by this war – our displaced brothers and sisters,” Araneta said. “Let us send them letters that express love, that give hope, that show, or maybe, even just attempt at understanding.”

She explained that a page with a heartfelt message can motivate the victims.

The Education department’s provincial office in Cavite also issued a memorandum requesting all the schools to encourage teachers and students to send letters to the victims.

“It is an expression of motivation and hope. We, the people of Marawi, need the prayers and words of hope,” said Campong, who is a native of Marawi City.

She said those who are interested in sending letters to children and parents in Marawi City can send through Araneta’s e-mail address, or through drop-off points at Quezon City Science High School and at Veritas Catholic School in Paranaque. She noted that many individuals have expressed their interest in delivering the letters.

In the first week of July, the group of Sec. Campong and Araneta will distribute the collected letters to the evacuation centers in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.

Philippine troops hunt down BIFF militants

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 22): Philippine troops hunt down BIFF militants

Government forces continue to hunt down some 200 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who attacked military posts and schools in the southern Philippine town of Pigcawayan as military offensive agains the jihadist group tied to ISIS entered its second day, officials said Thursday.

Officials said at least 2 pro-government militias were killed in the fighting and troops safely secured about 5 dozen civilians trapped in their village. They said many BIFF militants were killed, but Abu Misry Mama, a spokesman for the jihadist group, said one one was “martyred” and two others injured in the fighting that began June 21.

Security forces also cleared the villages of Malagakit and Simsiman from the raiders and officials have identified BIFF leaders Commander Abunawas, OB10, Abu Saide, Sala and Agila as behind the attack, and accused the militants of taking civilians and using them as shield from pursing soldiers.

Officials said more troops were sent to pursue the BIFF which pledged support to the Islamic State.

The BIFF raid coincided with the on-going battle between local ISIS fighters and security forces in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur province. But a military spokesman, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, was quick to say that the BIFF attack was not connected to the Marawi crisis, now entering its second month.

It was unclear how the BIFF managed to launch attacks without being detected by the police and military in the town and during the state of martial law imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte in the region in an effort to quell the ISIS rebellion in Marawi and other parts of the Mindanao. Security officials would not say if there was failure in intelligence gathering or lapses in security in the province.

Trilateral maritime patrols to boost business confidence in ARMM

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 22): Trilateral maritime patrols to boost business confidence in ARMM

The establishment of the trilateral maritime patrol (TMP) arrangement between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines early this week will boost business confidence in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), according to lawyer Ishak Mastura, chairman of the ARMM’s Regional Board of Investment.

“This (TMP) is an important development for the ARMM because people from our island provinces have been doing cross-border trade since time immemorial and even before there were borders to cross,” Mastura said.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman also welcomed the TMP, saying it would ensure security for traders in the Muslim region who are doing business in Malaysia and Indonesia. “This development will shore up trade and commerce in these areas,” he said, adding, “this will also help small-scale enterprises in the region.”

Gov. Hataman said traders in ARMM have been doing businesses in these neighboring areas for centuries through barter trading. He said tighter security measures in the Sulu Sea would also help as the regional government is pushing for the revival of barter trading to curb smuggling activities in southern Philippines.

“The incidents of piracy and lawlessness in the Sulu Sea did not prevent traditional cross-border trade but international transshipment was affected by it. By conducting trilateral border patrols we believe that transshipment, wherein bigger volumes of cargoes are safely moved among the three countries, can make a comeback,” said Mastura.

The departments of Defense of the three nations have agreed to step-up security measures in the roughly one million square-kilometer tri-border area in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. This tri-border area is among the major trade routes in Southeast Asia.

The area is a favorite fishing ground of commercial fishery operators, specifically those into tuna and sardines operations. This route is also used by Indonesian suppliers of coal for power plants in Mindanao and in the transshipment of major goods between Sabah in Malaysia and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

The TMP was agreed upon following a spike in hijacking in the last quarter of 2016, where local terrorist Abu Sayyaf group attacked international vessels and kidnapped sailors. To date, there are still five Vietnamese sailors that are in the hands of the bandits.

Brigadier General Custodio Parcon, commander of the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi, who also oversees the operations of the Maritime Command Center in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi under the Joint Task Force IndoMalPhil, said the initiative is also aimed at combating the present threat of jihadist groups, which use this route in setting up cells in the three neighboring countries.

Communication network vs terror threats to be set up

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): Communication network vs terror threats to be set up

Task Force Buglas, the newly-formed anti-terrorism body of the provincial government of Negros Occidental, will set up a communication network to boost its initiatives against terror threats.

Ma. Lina Sanogal, provincial planning head and task force executive director, said in a report on Tuesday the body would discuss next week the proposal to establish a communication network.

Sanogal joined Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., task force chair, and other Capitol department heads as well as officials of the Philippine Army, Philippine National Police,and other law enforcement agencies during the task force’s first meeting on Monday.

She said there was a need to assist communities in the province to know how to respond when they encounter information about a possible threat.

“We will come up with a list of things we need to procure to improve our communication facilities and to have mobility,” Sanogal said, adding that the budget can be sourced from the Peace and Order Fund.

Moreover, Sanogal said Task Force Buglas would also hold a planning-workshop to specify the functions of each task group.

These include the task group for anti-criminality spearheaded by the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office; internal security, Philippine Army; and coast watch, Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine National Police Maritime Group.

The Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office is in-charge of humanitarian assistance and disaster response; Provincial Environmental Management Office, environmental protection; and Public Information Office Office of the Governor, communications.
Marañon Jr. ordered the creation of Task Force Buglas last June 8.

The governor’s Executive Order stated: “Islamic extremism is emerging as a major threat to peace and security in the country, especially in Mindanao, as recently experienced in Marawi City.”
Thus, the need to prevent violent extremism from happening in Negros Occidental, being an island accessible to travelers from Mindanao, is a priority, Marañon said.

"There is a need to prepare for this threat and the proper response in times of crisis to prevent extremism from inflicting excessive damage to our communities,” he added.

29 suspected Abu bandits nabbed

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): 29 suspected Abu bandits nabbed

Troops belonging to the Joint Task Force Sulu announced on Wednesday the arrest of 29 suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members in a raid in the province of Sulu.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said the suspects were arrested around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul municipality.

Sobejana said that four of the 29 suspects were positively identified as member of the ASG by victims witnesses of kidnapping incidents.

Sobejana disclosed they have been receiving reports that those involved in the kidnappings and other atrocities were hiding in Baranga Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu.

He said among the kidnapping incident they were involved was that of Denery Tan, nine, who was kidnapped on June 6 in Barangay San Raymundo, Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits freed Tan on Monday in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, after the victim’s family reportedly paid PhP200,000 ransom.

Sobejana said the raid was carried out a day after government forces have figured in a firefight with suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul.

“There was no exchange of fire that occurred during the raid,” Sobejana said citing the suspects did not resisted.

BIFF still holding hostage 15 civilians in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): BIFF still holding hostage 15 civilians in North Cotabato

PIGCAWAYAN, North Cotabato -– Fifteen civilians remained in the hands of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and used them as “human shields” by responding government troops after the bandits harassed a militia camp Wednesday dawn.

Capt. Nap Alcarioto, spokesperson of the 602nd Infantry Brigade based in Carmen, North Cotabato, said the BIFF are still holding out at Malagakit Elementary School with the civilians.

Capt. Arvn Encinas, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said fighting in Barangay Malagakit is still going on as of 6:30 p.m.

”The Army could not assault the school because there were civilians inside,” Encinas said.

Chief Inspector Reylan Mamon, Pigcawayan town police chief, said undetermined number of families were trapped in their respective homes who were awakened at 5 a.m. when the bandits and government forces started trading bullets.

He said Muslim religious leaders have been tapped to negotiate for the release of hostages that the BIFF used as human shields against elements of the 34th Infantry Battalion.

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr, speaking for police regional office, said the number of evacuees rose to more than 850 persons from three adjoining villages of Malagakit, Simsiman and Banucago.

Two militiamen, identified as Angel Verona and Resty Segundera, were wounded when firefight broke out at about 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Encinas could not say if the BIFF sustained casualties during the day-long sporadic exchange of bullets by the attackers and joint elements of 34th IB and Pigcawayan PNP.

More checkpoints have been set up along the Cotabato-Pigcawayan highway.

Abu Misri Mama, speaking for the BIFF, said his group which pledged allegiance to ISIS launched the attack against armed BPAT members and CAFGU “because they are our enemies.”

"The civilians are safe, we will release them later,” Mama said in radio interview.

Multi-sectoral contingency plan up vs terrorism

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Multi-sectoral contingency plan up vs terrorism

COTABATO CITY -- The City Peace and Order Council (CPOC) here has laid down a multi-sectoral contingency plan to address threats of terrorism.

The contingency plan came about after the sighting on Wednesday of some 100 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) traversing the peripheries of nearby Kabuntalan, Maguindanao, on their way to Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, where they attacked and occupied three remote villages for several hours.

A daylong gun battle ensued between government forces and BILFF militants following the incident.

Prior to the Pigcawayan attack, Poblacion 9 Barangay Chairman Jonas Mohamad here reported to local authorities about the presence of the BIFF rebels aboard 10 motorized bancas traversing Kakar River that separates his village and Kabuntalan town.

“The rebels were proceeding to Pigcawayan town using the river when sighted by my co-villagers,” Mohamad said.

River patrols by government forces were fortified to block any rebel groups that might use the same route in reinforcing or withdrawing from their Pigcawayan position.

“I would just like to tell Cotabateños not to worry as our security forces are in place and ready at all times,” Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani – Sayadi, concurrent CPOC chair, told newsmen prior to the conduct of the 2nd quarter CPOC meeting held on Wednesday afternoon at the South Seas Mall Convention Hall here.

Apart from the local police force, the city is also currently secured by the presence of the Army’s Sixth Infantry Division headquarters in adjacent Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao and its Special Forces Battalion stationed in the heart of the city.

Recently, the city government has also activated the service some 1,000 city village watchmen as force multipliers in defending peace and order in their respective communities.

The mayor said the contingency plan involves the participation of the local power firm, the city water district and the business sector, among others.

“The contingency plan was devised so that the various sectors would know what to do in times of trouble,” Sayadi said.

She reiterated in assuring the public that the city has “sufficient” government forces to parry any future attacks that might be launched by criminal elements here.

“Be vigilant but remain calm,” the mayor said.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf 'medics' arrested in Zamboanga

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Suspected Abu Sayyaf 'medics' arrested in Zamboanga

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday arrested two alleged “medics” of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) at a pharmacy in the province of Zamboanga del Sur.

Chief Supt. Billy Beltran, Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) director, identified the suspects as Jadzrie Harad Saabdula, 50; and, Jamal Kalib Jamil, 18. Both are from Sulu.

Saabdula, who is a nurse of Banguingui (former Tongkil town) Municipal Hospital, is the brother of slain Abu Sayyaf leader Nadzmi Saabdula alias Commander Global.

Saabdula was one of the top three Abu Sayyaf leaders killed in a standoff during a botched jail break in March 2005 at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.

The other two slain ASG leaders were Ghalib Andang alias Commander Robot and Alhamser Limbong alias Commander Kosovo.

Beltran said the two suspects were arrested while they were purchasing bulk of assorted medicines at a pharmacy in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur.

Among the medicines they purchased included antibiotics, antibacterial, pain relievers and other types of post-traumatic medicines.

Beltran said it is believed the medicines they purchased will be used to treat “their wounded associates.”

“All of their personal effects and the medicines purchased are preserved for proper disposition,” the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Police Office said in its report to PRO-9 headquarters.

The police and military authorities have tightened security to monitor and arrest members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-inspired Maute group fleeing from Marawi City.

The fighting continues as government troops continue to press on the Maute group members, who laid siege in Marawi City.

The fighting broke out on June 23 after the Maute group members went berserk and occupied several establishments in Marawi City when government troops raided the hideout of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Hapilon, who pledged allegiance to the ISIS, is being protected by the Maute group in Marawi City.

Caraga police, military strengthen checkpoints

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Caraga police, military strengthen checkpoints

Police and military have stepped up security in Caraga Region’s border towns to prevent the possible entry of suspected Maute group members.

Authorities said the heightened security along entry and exit points are being implemented following reports of apprehension of several members of the terrorist group in other parts of Mindanao.

In Carmen town, Agusan del Norte, which borders Caraga and Region 10, police and military are strengthening patrol and routine checks on motorists to prevent the possible entry of wanted terrorist personalities, said Police Senior Inspector Merben S. Cabonera, the town’s police chief.

Law enforcement agencies expected Maute members to flee to other regions of Mindanao and even as far as the Visayas because of the pressure exerted by government security forces in Marawi City, Insp. Cabonera said.

He said government security forces aim to pin, constrain and pursue fleeing Maute members to certain manageable areas.

On the eastern part, Sibagat town, a border municipality between Butuan City and Agusan del Norte, police and military checkpoints are implementing similar measures, said Police Insp. Geronimo T. Carvominal, the town’s deputy chief of police.

Carvominal said the local police are being assisted by the Army’s 8th Special Forces Company led by Captain Bryan Jasper R. Bayrante.

11 Abu Sayyaf bandits surrender in Basilan

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): 11 Abu Sayyaf bandits surrender in Basilan

Eleven bandits, including a sub-leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), have surrendered amid intensified combat operations in the province of Basilan, the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) announced on Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom chief, said the group of ASG sub-leader Ibrahim Malat Sulayman surrendered on Wednesday to the Joint Task Force Basilan.

Sulayman is a native of Macalang, Al-Barka, Basilan province.

Galvez said Sulayman and his followers have turned over 11 firearms in a surrender rites held at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the municipal hall of Sumisip.

Sulayman's companions were identified as Salimbawa Ahlil Tanjal alias Salim Toong Masud; Salasni Ambing Mahawan alias Ado Emmong; Ahmad Abbi alias Bolkia; Mar-ie Cabulut Indama; Muhammad Kalung-Hassan; Salman Hawkasa; Husael Fernandez; Roy Mendoza Cabiangan; Ebtor Asano; and, Madja Palinta.

They are followers of Basilan-based ASG leaders Nurhassan Jamiri and Furuji Indama.

“With the continuing pressure employed by the troops on the ground, we are confident that more Abu Sayyaf members will be compelled to cross the line. This feat will convince us even more to intensify our offensives against the remaining fighters,” Galvez said.

Sulayman and his companions were turned over to the local government of Sumisip, Basilan for proper disposition.

“We further recognize the assistance extended by the local government of Basilan to support the all-out military campaign of the Joint Task Force Basilan under Colonel Juvymax Uy,” Galvez said.

There were already a total of 96 Abu Sayyaf bandits who surrendered since January, this year, here in Western Mindanao.

Of the total, 54 surrendered in Basilan; 19 in Sulu; 21 in Tawi-Tawi; and, two in Zamboanga City.

“This is, by far, a breakthrough having so many surrendered hard-core ASG members in just a short span of time. We will continue to put pressure until the last bandit will be taken down,” Galvez added.

Military pursuit of 'Maasin' NPA raiders ongoing

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Military pursuit of 'Maasin' NPA raiders ongoing

Members of the 61st Infantry Battalion are still relentlessly searching for the members of the New People's Army who raided the Maasin town police station last Sunday.

Lt. Col. Sisenando A. Magbalot, Jr., 61st IB commander,in an interview Thursday, said these rebels were just running in the mountainous area of Leon where they encountered them last Tuesday specifically in Barangay Lampaya.

Two days after the encounter, Magbalot said the area was currently peaceful.

But Magbalot said there was a possibility that these rebels were still within the area and noted there would be a "big chance" that they would have another encounter with the rebels one of these days.

In a previous interview with Magbalot, he said they had been receiving information from the civilians that the NPAs were just within the area of Leon, so his troops are taking actions to it.

Meanwhile, Magbalot said that the other municipal police stations in the province of Iloilo were already told to "harden their installations" of personnel to secure their areas for another possible raid of rebels.

With the recent relieve of the director of Iloilo Police Provincial Office (IPPO) and the police chief of the Maasin town, Magbalot said that "everybody is now reacting."

Senior Superintendent Marlon Tayaba, previously assigned as Public Safety Batallion Commander at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), took over the position of former IPPO director Sr. Supt. Harold Tuzon while Maasin Police Station chief, Senior Inspector Ray Cordero was replaced by Senior Inspector Kent Jerek Capadosa.

Police create TF Pigcawayan

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Police create TF Pigcawayan

The police have set up Task Force Pigcawayan following the attack by an estimated 300 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato Wednesday, killing a civilian and displaced hundreds of families, officials said Thursday.

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr., Police Regional Office – Region 12 (PRO-12) spokesperson, said the task force’s command post was set up at the police regional headquarters here after BIFF fighters attacked three villages in Pigcawayan town on Wednesday.

“The BIFF members harassed the residents of Barangay Malagakit, Simsiman and Banucagon, Pigcawayan, Cotabato as they forcibly entered and destroyed several houses of the residents and occupied the Malagakit Elementary School there,” he said.

“This led to an exchange of gunfire between the armed group and government forces in the area,” Galgo said.

Galgo also said the elements of the 34th Infantry Battalion immediately responded to the incident and engaged the enemies.
Task Force Pigcawayan is chaired by Senior Supt. Leonardo Suan, PRO-12 director for operations.

The Cotabato Provincial Police Office was also directed to create its own task group to directly supervise and monitor the incident, Suan said.

Galgo said the Regional Public Safety Battalion augmented the Pigcawayan municipal police station for the conduct of intensified checkpoint operations and to help avoid a spillover of the incident.

Around 1,400 individuals from 312 families have sought refuge in various evacuation centers in Pigcawayan, said Jezler Garcesa, spokesperson of the crisis management committee of the Pigcawayan local government unit.

Citing a local police report Thursday, Garcesa said a civilian, Towan Dading Esmael, 61, died during the firefight in the village of Malagakit on Wednesday.

Garcesa said that classes in 14 schools in the interior villages of the town were suspended to ensure the safety of students.

He said the gun fight between the BIFF and the government troops have subsided Thursday, as the bandits have retreated to the marshland.

Galgo said that two members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit, namely Angel Verona and Resty Segundera, were also wounded in the firefight.

Galgo urged the public to cooperate with authorities, especially in passing through checkpoints, as these are measures designed to ensure the safety of civilians.

He also called on the public to be vigilant and report to authorities suspicious individuals or groups for proper action by authorities.

The BIFF broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) due to ideological differences.

The MILF is now a “peace partner” of the government following the signing of a final peace agreement in 2014, after decades of negotiations.

New BBL ready for submission to Duterte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): New BBL ready for submission to Duterte

The 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is set to submit on June 28 the new version of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.

The submission comes three months after President Duterte has created the expanded BTC to draft the new version of the BBL, which is the legal foundation for the creation of a new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region here in Mindanao.

“The new BBL is in steps with legal and constitutional reform as directed by the President. It already harmonized the two peace agreements (1996 Final Peace Agreement and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro). It also incorporated new provisions taken from the suggestions of Congress in the past BBL,” BTC Commissioner Jose Lorena said on Thursday.

Lorena described the new BBL as an enhance version of the previous one that failed to pass Congress due to the Mamasapano incident in January 2015.

“This is an enhance version, and also in the context of the proposed constitutional move to change for a federal system,” Lorena said.

“It is also inclusive because the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is part of the BTC,” he added referring to three BTC commissioners who represent the MNLF.

The creation of the BTC is part of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The BBL is needed to repeal the current organic law, Republic Act 9054, to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to Bangsamoro Autonomous Region with a parliamentary form of government.

The BTC formally started their session on March 6 and ended on June 16.

“We only have five plenary sessions, of two to three days, but our working committees were working double time,” Lorena said.

The MILF said in a statement on Thursday that the original date of the submission of the new BBL draft was June 16 “but the President was still on leave reportedly due to the Marawi City crisis, which he had to attend to hands-on.”

“The submission will take place right at the presidential palace in Manila with no less than the President himself receiving the official copy of the BBL,” it said, noting that the event will also jive with the celebration of the Eid’l Fit’r, marking the end of Ramadan.

BTC Commissioner Ibrahim Ali, who is also a member of the MILF central committee, said that the “passage into law of the BBL will greatly give those pushing for the peaceful resolution of the conflict the moral high ground over those who are advocating for the use of force including those using ‘terrorism’ to solve this conflict.”

“Right now, the MILF is finding a hard time in combating the harsh and radical stance of the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom fighter), Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group,” Ali said.

“Their advocacy is very attractive to the youth and those frustrated over the failure of government to deliver the BBL,” he added.

Both Lorena and Ali are optimistic that the enhanced version of the BBL will pass legal scrutiny of both houses of Congress.

Sibalom police monitoring NPA sightings

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Sibalom police monitoring NPA sightings

SAN JOSE De BUENAVISTA, Antique - The Sibalom Municipal Police Station is now monitoring sightings of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in a remote village.

Sibalom Municipal Police Station officer in charge Inspector Clark Philip S. Dinco said in an interview on Thursday that because of the reported presence of armed men in the village, they were appealing to barangay officials and the community folks to coordinate with them and provide the necessary information.

He said that they were conducting strict patrolling in the municipality as they were on heightened full alert status in view of the recent raid and encounter of the government troops with the NPA in Iloilo province.

Dinco said there was no Muslim community in Sibalom, thus, any suspicion of presence of Maute terrorists was not much of a concern.

New cop chief in Northern Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): New cop chief in Northern Mindanao

Police Chief Superintendent Timoteo Pacleb, PMA Class 1986, was installed as the new police regional director in Northen Mindanao Thursday here.

Pacleb replaced police regional director Chief Superintendent Agripino Javier, of PMA Class 1985, who retired at the compulsory age of 56.

Police Director General Roland Dela Rosa came to Cagayan De Oro City Thursday to personally officiate the turnover ceremony at the police regional command here.

The turnover ceremony was witnessed by local officials and top police officials of PMA Class 1985 and 1986.

During the turnover ceremony, Dela Rosa urged the rank and file of the police regional command to extend full support to the new police regional director in Northern Mindanao.

He said that Pacleb, the former chief of the police intelligence group in Camp Crame, was appropriate for the new assignment considering the need to enhance the intelligence operations in the region due to the presence of terror groups in the neighboring province.

The police regional command in Northern Mindanao covers the provinces of Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Lanao Del Norte, Bukidnon, and the island province of Camiguin.

“I hope that Pacleb would live up to the expectation of protecting the lives of the people and the community in Northern Mindanao,” Dela Rosa said.

Army official: Civilians vital to counter NPA

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Army official: Civilians vital to counter NPA

A ranking Philippine Army official stressed the need for the cooperation of local government units (LGUs) and communities to prevent New People's Army atrocities.

Maj. Gen. Jon Aying, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID), said the army and the police were looking at working with civilians in carrying out their duties.

“Their cooperation is really imperative so we can reduce the capabilities of the rebels in the future and in the coming days,” Aying said in a report on Thursday.

The 3ID covers six islands in the Visayas, including Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor, Negros, Panay and Guimaras.

Aying refused to believe that the NPA had major influence in the Visayas despite the recent attacks perpetrated by the communist rebels.

“It’s not about the armed elements, it’s about the capabilities of people. The 100 firearms won’t make them strong,” the Army official said.

Last Sunday, at least 50 suspected rebels raided the Maasin Municipal Police Station in Iloilo Province, and carted away a cache of firearms, base and hand-held radios, Hi-Lux patrol car, among others, as well as personal belongings of policemen on duty.

Aying, who is based at the 3ID headquarters in Jamindan, Capiz, said the NPA apparently took advantage of the vacuum as the raid took place a day after soldiers from Iloilo were deployed to Marawi City.

Earlier, Aying said of the 10 provinces in the six islands covered by the 3ID, six were already cleared of insurgency: Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor, Aklan, Antique and Guimaras.

The remaining four with insurgency concerns include Iloilo, Capiz, Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

BIFF attacks in N. Cotabato now contained — AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): BIFF attacks in N. Cotabato now contained — AFP

The incident involving the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pigcawayan town, North Cotabato is now contained despite sporadic skirmishing with government security forces.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo, in a press briefing Wednesday, however, clarified that the BIFF attack is no way connected with the ongoing clearing operations in Marawi City.

The BIFF attacks centered on Barangays Malagakit and Simsiman where a militia detachment was located.

The bandits were aided by their private armed group allies in these series of attacks.

"Skirmishes are still ongoing as they withdrew in a nearby school but what we can say is the incident is now contained. There is nothing to be worried about," he added in Filipino.

Arevalo said he has no information on the number of BIFF attackers and the hostages they are holding right now.

He added that the attacks are a way of the BIFF showing that they are still a force to reckon with and has nothing to do with ongoing government efforts to clear Marawi City of its remaining Maute Group attackers.

The military official stressed that operations in Marawi City are now nearing its conclusion but did not give exact figures nor date for its completion, adding that military units only need to capture a few remaining holdouts of the terrorist group, stressing that progress is only being impeded by snipers, improvised explosive devices and the deplorable use of the bandits of human shields.

Arevalo also said these unprovoked attacks disrupted the peace and disturbed the religious observance of the Ramadhan.

The AFP public affairs office chief added that the military has planned contingency measures for such incidents.

AFP: North Cotabato school cleared of BIFF

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): AFP: North Cotabato school cleared of BIFF

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday announced that responding security forces have already cleared the school in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and are now conducting pursuit operations.

AFP spokesperson Restituto Padilla Jr. said that BIFF bandits who had earlier tried to harass a Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) outpost near Malagkit Elementary School have retreated with no casualties reported.

“It’s already resolved actually. They (BIFF) have withdrawn from the area. They are no longer there. The school area is again safe. The patrol base is well-secured,” Padilla said during the Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacañang.

The bandits staged the attack early Wednesday morning at the barangay augmentation team outpost before retreating to the nearby school after a firefight with quick responding Army troopers.

Padilla branded the attack as an “opportunistic activity” by the BIFF.

“They were taking advantage of the situation that we have a very lightly defended outpost and that they think our forces are elsewhere in the province,” he said.

“So sinubukan nilang pasukin ito at hindi sila nagtagumpay dahil simula’t sapul na nagsimula po itong Marawi crisis eh handa na po lahat ng pwersa sa buong Mindanao na harapin kung anuman ‘yung mga bantang nangyayari,” Padilla said.

However, the military official confirmed that five civilians are being held as human shields by the retreating bandits to slow down pursuing troops.

“Unfortunately, in the withdrawal phase of the armed elements, of the armed group, they used some civilians to cover their withdrawal. Ginamit nilang human shield kaya medyo pigil po ‘yung mga pwersa na humabol,” Padilla said.

Earlier, a BIFF spokesman said the civilians are safe and would be released later.

Padilla said state forces are currently ascertaining if the BIFF have already released the five civilians that they have held.

In the meantime, the AFP spokesman assured that the military have enough forces in Mindanao to respond to any threats posed by various rebel groups.

“Our forces are spread all over. We may be facing many fronts, ibig sabihin madami tayong kinakaharap na kalaban pero maayos po nating na-i-assign ang lahat ng ating mga pwersa para harapin po itong mga iba’t-ibang banta,” Padilla said.

Situation in Marawi continues to improve, says AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): Situation in Marawi continues to improve, says AFP

As fighting in Marawi entered its fifth week, the situation in the strife-torn city continues to improve, a military spokesman said Wednesday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. reported that government security forces continue to gain foothold in areas previously under the control of the Maute terror group.

“There are areas that we have not covered before that we have already overcome at this moment and the process of clearing is what we are concentrating on in the succeeding days,” Padilla said during the regular Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacañang.

The military official said as of Tuesday, at least 16 buildings have already been cleared of the presence of the militants, who laid siege in Marawi City last May 23.

“We are prioritizing the areas that are built up or heavily built up which means to say those that are constructed well and can withstand attacks and bombardments and potentially may have basement areas or hidden areas underneath that can protect them from any kind of assault from the air,” Padilla said.

He also said government troops are also carefully assessing the situation in the outlying areas in preparation for the rehabilitation of Marawi but he has yet to give concrete estimate of the damage in the once peaceful and orderly city.

Padilla said Joint Task Force Ranao led by its commander Brigadier General Ramiro Rey is continuously conducting consultations with other members of the community to iron out their participation in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi once the hostilities have ended.

Asked by reporters about possible threats in different parts of the country, Padilla said threats will remain even after the Marawi crisis is resolved calling on the public to remain vigilant and alert at all times.

“But as we have been saying previously, threats remain. Lagi pong may banta na nanatili. Hindi po nawawala ‘yung mga banta. Maski saan po tayo may banta na nariyan,” he said.

He stressed anew the importance of shared responsibility and security to prevent any untoward incident.

“At nais ko lang pong ulitin ‘no, pagkatapos po na maresolba itong Marawi crisis, hindi po mawawala ang banta na haharapin natin,” he said.

During the same briefing, Padilla said the military fended off attack by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato on Wednesday morning forcing the rebels to withdraw.

“Now, ito pong ginawa ng BIFF ay isang opportunistic activity. Nakita nila na may pagkakataon so ipinamalas nila ‘yung kanilang kakayahan na kaya nilang gawin ito pero sa mabuting palad, hindi nila matagumpay na nagawa ito,” Padilla said.

The BIFF harassed a barangay augmentation team in North Cotabato. The attack was not successful, Padilla said, citing the readiness of military forces.

“So sinubukan nilang pasukin ito at hindi sila nagtagumpay dahil simula’t sapul na nagsimula po itong Marawi crisis eh handa na po lahat ng pwersa sa buong Mindanano na harapin kung anuman ‘yung mga bantang nangyayari,” he said.

Reports said the rebels used civilians to cover their withdrawal. The military, however, is assessing whether the BIFF has freed the civilians, according to Padilla.

Meanwhile, Padilla issued a warning to the public regarding the increase in number of scammers trying to deceive people by raising money for the soldiers killed or injured in the Marawi fighting.

He encouraged the public to report these scammers to telecommunications companies who might then block the cellphone numbers they were using.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella reminded the public that the two accounts the government setup in Land Bank of the Philippines are the only official depository account for families of soldiers killed-in-action and for internally displaced persons.

The account names are: AFP Marawi Casualty for slain soldiers (account no: 00000552107128) and Marawi IDP (account no: 00000552107136) for evacuees.

Abella reported that the donation for the families of the fallen soldiers has increased to P508,500 from P224,000 as of June 20, while donation for the evacuees went up to P187,500 from P21,000.

The Palace official also gave an update on the situation in Marawi noting that as of 12 noon Tuesday, June 20, there are 1,645 civilians rescued or an increase of 8 from 1,637 while government casualties grew by one to 66.

The recovered firearms by government troops from terrorists increased to 271 from 255, while the number of terrorists killed rose by 10 to 268.

Duterte kept promise to use presidential plane as air ambulance — AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): Duterte kept promise to use presidential plane as air ambulance — AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday expressed gratitude to President Rodrigo Duterte for fulfilling his promise to use his presidential plane to ferry soldiers wounded in the battlefield.

"I'd like to give notice that as the President has promised, for the use of his presidential aircraft last night on our way back to Manila from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Those who were required by our medical professionals to be evacuated to Manila, used the presidential aircraft and other aircraft of the Air Force to be transported to Manila," AFP spokesperson Brig, Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said at the Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacañang.

"A fulfillment of his commitment to have the presidential plane used by the soldiers. And we'd like to pass on the thanks of our Armed Forces on behalf of the Chief of Staff and the wounded warriors that we brought to Manila for further treatment," Padilla said.

According to Palace officials, President Duterte took nine wounded soldiers with him aboard the F-28 presidential plane on the way to Manila after his visit to troops at Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City Tuesday night.

The nine soldiers were among security forces battling terrorist in Marawi City.

After winning the elections, Duterte said he wants all aircraft assigned to the Presidential Airlift Wing to be converted as "air ambulances".

He followed it up sometime in August 2016 when he asked Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana to convert the presidential plane into an air ambulance.

PH, Indonesia, Malaysia forge collective effort vs terrorism, extremism

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): PH, Indonesia, Malaysia forge collective effort vs terrorism, extremism

The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are intensifying defense and intelligence collaboration in the wake of the recent attack of the IS-affiliated Maute group in Marawi City.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter S. Cayetano announced Wednesday that foreign ministers, top security and intelligence officials will meet on Thursday, June 22, in Manila to discuss plans for intense trilateral cooperation aimed at preventing extremists from establishing operational bases in the Southeast Asian region.

“The aim is to make a team effort, rather than each country fending off extremism by themselves,” Cayetano said.

Joint maritime operations by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to fight transnational crimes and terrorism in the Sulu Sea were launched Monday, June 19, in Tarakan, North Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The Trilateral Maritime Patrol was inaugurated in the Tarakan Naval Base in a ceremony attended by Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

As security concerns threaten the robust economic growth of the region, countries are forging a collective effort against terrorism and extremism.

President Duterte rejects civilian help vs Maute in Marawi, says it could lead to civil war

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): President Duterte rejects civilian help vs Maute in Marawi, says it could lead to civil war

President Rodrigo Duterte refused to accept offers of help from civilians who volunteered to arm themselves and join the fight against Maute terrorists in Marawi City.

This was the reply of the President when he was asked to comment on the reported offer of the “Ilaga” group to go to Marawi and join government troops in ridding the city of the remaining Maute fighters.

The “Ilaga” is a group of Christian extremists who gained notoriety in the 1970s for fighting Moro insurgents in southern Mindanao.

“I do not think at this time that we have to include the civilian sector.

The last thing that I would want to happen is a communal war. ‘Yung mag-armas-armas na kanya-kanya. I know that some of the Christians are getting insecure and that is why a lot of them have been looking for heavy firearms. Pero sinabi ko sa mga gun store, 'bawal'. You’re only limited to a (caliber) .22 to a shotgun,” the President said.

Duterte warned that if civilians are allowed to join the fighting, it would make the situation in Mindanao more complicated.

He also pointed out that a civil war would not be far off if he allowed elements outside of the military and police to enter the war on terror.

The commander-in-chief then expressed confidence that the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police can hold its own in Marawi.

“But ‘yung offer na ‘yan would only add to the convoluted thing that’s happening now. Let the Armed Forces and the police deal with the problem," he said.

"I know that they’re capable of doing it. And I said, they are winding up in Marawi except for a few snipers left behind. But I do not think that it would last a little longer than expected. ‘Yung anarchy and communal wars, they call it. Civil war, communal wars. Mahirap po ‘yan. Let the Armed Forces deal with it. Tutal kaya naman talaga ng (mga) sundalo," he added.

Gov't forces also clearing Marawi of IEDs, other explosives

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Gov't forces also clearing Marawi of IEDs, other explosives

Aside from clearing the remaining Maute Group remnants in Marawi City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday announced that part of the ongoing operations is involved at clearing and removing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines and unexploded ordnance in the locality.

This is to ensure that no civilians will be hurt nor killed once residents started returning in order to rebuild their city, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said.

"When we say clearing operations, it does not only involved flushing the remaining Maute Group members, this includes removal of IEDs, landmines, and unexploded ordnance. This will take a while to ensure that no injury nor death will be inflicted to returning civilians," he said in Filipino.

Arevalo declined to give an exact timeline or deadline in neutralizing the remaining Maute Group terrorists but stressed that this will not take much more time.

In the fourth week of the conflict which started May 23, a total of 258 Maute Group terrorists have been killed along with 65 troops and police officers along with 26 civilians.

Also, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla earlier said that a total of 16 buildings, formally occupied by the lawless elements, have been captured in the past few days.

However, he declined to comment on how many buildings are needed to be captured to ensure the total elimination of the lawless band in Marawi City.

"Enemy resistance continues to wane and the enemy held areas continue to diminish as government security forces press its advance...Troops continue to get deeper innto once enemy held positions," the AFP spokesperson pointed out.

Fighting as of this posting are still confined in four barangays, adding that the use of snipers, improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades are slowing down the progress of military personnel engaged in clearing operations.

Military wants public assistance in beating terror threats

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Military wants public assistance in beating terror threats

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is urging the public to report the presence of suspicious looking individuals and packages to authorities as part of efforts to curb terror threats in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.

In the same vein, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said they also coordinating with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to further beef up the security of the metropolis.

Arevalo added that measures are already instituted but the AFP still needs the help of the civilians to make these foolproof.

And when asked why the military is not sharing all the information, the AFP official said this is because they don't want to cause panic.

The AFP public affairs office chief also assured the public that security forces are doing their job in going after local terrorists.

Earlier, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla they have not so far receive any intelligence information that members of the Maute Group are planning to conduct bombings in Metro Manila.

He issued this statement following the circulation of a memorandum coming from the Valenzuela Police Station-Station Intelligence Branch of the alleged Maute plot to conduct bombings in Trinoma, SM Cubao, and Quezon City Circle, all in Quezon City and certain places in Quiapo, Manila and Makati.

Troops, residents in Marawi get free texts, calls for 15 days

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Troops, residents in Marawi get free texts, calls for 15 days

Troops battling the terrorist Maute Group in Marawi City got a much-needed boost in morale after telecommunications company, Globe, announced it is providing 15 days of free texts to all networks and free calls to Globe and TM subscribers in the locality, starting Thursday afternoon.

"Communication is of extreme importance in any instance of disaster, be it natural or man-made. As a telecommunication company with the purpose of treating people right, Globe fully supports the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and DICT (Department of Information and Communication Technology) who are experiencing these challenges by reconnecting them with their families and helping make the situation a little easier to bear," Globe president and chief executive officer Ernest Cu said.

He said the free services for their Globe and TM pre-paid subscribers in Marawi City will allow residents and soldiers to communicate with their loved ones even if they do not have pre-paid load.

The ceremonial switching of service took place at the AFP Cyber Center in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Cu said they are amenable to extending their free service if needed.

AFP deputy chief-of-staff for communications, electronics and information systems, Maj. Gen. Jose Tanjuan Jr., lauded Globe's gesture as this will afford troopers an open line of communication with their loved ones.

"We would like to thank the DICT and Globe Telecom for affording us this avenue for our embattled in Marawi to maintain communication lines with their families and loved ones during this critical time as they defend the Republic against lawless elements," he said.

On the fourth week of the conflict, which began May 23, a total of 258 Maute Group terrorists have been killed, along with 65 troops and police officers, and 26 civilians.

AFP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, earlier said that a total of 16 buildings, formerly occupied by the lawless elements, have been retaken in the past few days.

He however declined to comment on how many buildings need to be retaken to ensure the total elimination of the Maute elements in Marawi City.

"Enemy resistance continues to wane and the enemy-held areas continue to diminish as government security forces press their advance... Troops continue to get deeper into once enemy-held positions," Padilla said.

Fighting as of this posting was confined to four barangays.

Padila said the use of snipers, improvised explosive devices, and rocket-propelled grenades were slowing down the military's clearing operations.