Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Tragedy of Marawi for a Chastened Duterte

From the Asia Sentinel (Jul 2): The Tragedy of Marawi for a Chastened Duterte

The Tragedy of Marawi for a Chastened Duterte

A pensive Duterte confronts Mindanao tragedy

Philippines’ president discovers the impermanence of his Mindanao connections
The destruction of the Islamic city of Marawi has tragically confounded the aspirations of President Rodrigo Duterte, the small-town mayor who became the Philippine President and has discovered that his ambitions outweighed his capabilities.

Based on his experience as the mayor of Davao City, where he had a friendly relationship with the region’s Muslims, Duterte promised during his presidential campaign to deliver an elusive peace in the southern Philippines in his term.

The fighting that raged throughout Ramadan to flush out terrorists pledging allegiance to the Islamic State has reached catastrophic proportions not seen in the recent cycle of violence on Mindanao island. The Islamists at the very epicenter of his polity say they want to establish a caliphate, with jihadis crossing onto Mindanao’s unguarded beaches from Yemen, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries.

The president too has not been seen in public – raising serious questions over the 72-year-old’s health –for the most part of the crisis that has claimed more than 400 lives, displacing tens and thousands of Muslims, while the military battled in what was once a heritage city that has gone to ruins, the fighting now tapering off in its sixth week.

Suddenly appearing at the presidential palace for the late celebration of Eid al-Fitr, Duterte said he was saddened and angered and fell back to his default mood of cursing the tragedy of the Maranao tribe in Marawi – whom he had often boasted were among his blood families.

No longer the tough guy

And the tragedy for the president is that his pulse of Mindanao, of which he is a “proud son,” is no better than those of his predecessors who also had to face the rawness of the decades-long conflict. It has dismantled his armor of being the tough guy in the neighborhood.

The map of Mindanao has been scorched with far too many killings, battles, burnings – reaching major proportions seemingly every two years, the last of which was a botched police operation in early 2015, before that a rebel siege in a largely Christian city in 2013, and the killings of scores journalists by a warlord family in late 2009.

The battle for the city of Marawi in northwestern Mindanao, whose population once numbered 200,000 but which is now wrecked, has defied military logic, with the commanders forced to send in the armor and artillery and to pour down bombs in a series of air strikes, asking help from the Americans that Duterte had scorned, to bear the brutal challenge of the terrorists’ arsenal of high-powered weapons.

No longer fighting and running

It used to be that rebels would fight, withdraw, and fight another day. Not this one.

The president hadn’t realized that the Maute group that he had belittled would strike in such a spectacular show of force. He said himself that if it had been a war against the old guard of the Moro National Liberation Front and its breakaway Moro Islamic Liberation Front, he would have “endured it and pleaded peace with you.”

“What is painful to me is the entry of a fractured ideology and they don’t even know what they’re doing. All they want is to kill and destroy,” he said. “If they went to a forested area, claim a particular mountain and fight there I could have forgiven them.”

That was the specter of Marawi: radicalization choosing Mindanao to make its mark in Southeast Asia from orders in the Middle East. When the fighting broke out on May 23, the terrorists could have taken over, raised the black flag over the hills of the army brigade camp, to establish a wilayat, an Arab word for a dominion, that would have been of unimaginable consequences. They were stopped in the nick of time.

The president said it would not have worked anyway, because “we are a Malay race, we are not that brutal and we respect life.” Had he not known that terrorists who had first come to the shores sowing violent extremism in the minds of the local rebel groups were from Indonesia and Malaysia, and were ethnic Malays?

Open park

Mindanao is an open park for the terrorists crossing the waters from neighboring countries in the southern fringes; and without strict identification control and border patrols that are emblem of internal security. it’s a walk to the rebel enclaves.

The plains and the mountains around the borders of Lanao del Sur (of which Marawi is a part) and Maguindanao provinces have been training grounds since the 1990s for Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya. It was then that an Indonesian named Ibrahim Ali was among the first batch of the so-called cadets.

It was Ali, according to one intelligence report, whom the IS had wanted to designate the emir for Southeast Asia but who was killed in a shootout in late 2015 in the Philippines’ Sultan Kudarat Province, that was intended to capture a leader of another rebel group. The military was to discover later that it was Ali the bomb maker who was among the casualties.

Consequently, it was a daring leap for Isnilon Hapilon to be named the emir for the Southeast Asian Caliphate from his Abu Sayyaf rebel base on Basilan island to the mainland’s northwest frontier to join forces with the Maute family – steeped in money and in clan wars – that held fort in a remote town called Butig, about an hour away by land from Marawi.

It was believed the Mautes had previously harbored radicals, one of whom was an Islamic teacher from Indonesia who was killed in late 2012.

Two of the Maute sons became the up-and-coming terror bloc generation, going by the deeds of the Islamic State that were evidently a departure from the main rebel groups negotiating peace with the government. The Maute group was responsible for the bomb attack last September in President Duterte’s hometown of Davao, a blow to what was supposed to be an impenetrable “alternate seat of power.”

Twice in the midst of the crisis in Marawi, the president withdrew from public view, sparking rumors of failing health. He had boldly announced that the siege would come to an end on the Philippines’ Independence Day, June 12, but that didn’t happen as the battle went on to take control of the city while he himself missed the celebration that was expected of a president. His spokesman said he needed to rest.

Meanwhile he had declared martial for the entire island of Mindanao, reminding his guests at the palace gathering for the Muslim festival, seated at ornate tables under bright chandeliers, that the Marawi crisis had forced his hand.

False confidence

“I knew everything,” he said, “I knew the deployment of the snipers and where they hid the weapons. I already had a complete picture and I knew it would be a long fight.”

He had been in Moscow when the fighting struck in the afternoon of May 23, raising the question of how much he really knew, when on his Russian trip he had in his entourage about 50 police and military generals that included senior commanders and their deputies who took their wives along in what became evident as a junket.

Scattered information from the intelligence community had sensed that something was afoot a couple of weeks in advance, sources said, taking notice of a swelling of forces in the Maute stronghold. One intelligence group from the Navy, dubbing their project Target Pocket Bingo, had been following Hapilon for about three years, maybe more.

Eventually crumbs of information led them from the southern islands all the way up to Marawi, where special units of the army and the navy were called in for the hunt. Within half an hour gunfire erupted from the building in which Hapilon was believed to have been staying, triggering a battle that has changed dimensions in the conflict.

The military said Hapilon might have escaped the fighting and that they believe one of the principal Maute brothers has been killed. Weeks on, the president told his audience in the palace that a casualty among the Maute family was a cousin, “did you know that?” – putting himself in a perplexed state of having been deceived, making him a victim among the thousands of Maranaos who had lost what they had because of “this adventure.”

“Ungoverned spaces”

He promised, again, to rebuild Marawi from the rubble, to bring back its prosperity – if by that he meant its shadow economy thriving on guns and drugs and other illegal trades. The city may well be the denouement of things that can’t go back to the way they were before. It was one of those “ungoverned spaces” labeled by the navy’s special operations force that has caused radicalization to fester.

The military was one step behind in having tried averting it, but it wasn’t fast enough to douse the fire of violent extremism.

After it has been destroyed in order to save it, Marawi has to be resurrected with a symbol erasing the past. It will have to start on a clean slate, this crisis being a heartbreaking wake-up call for all of Mindanao. The president may have to stop harking back to his one-dimensional view of the Muslim narrative, because it has to move forward or risk greater failures.

He said he couldn’t bear watching the suffering on television, he would turn it off or change the channel to watching cartoons instead.

[Criselda Yabes is a prize-winning journalist and longtime contributor to Asia Sentinel]

AFP: ‘NPA degenerated into bandit group’

From the Manila Times (Jul 1): AFP: ‘NPA degenerated into bandit group’

THE New People’s Army (NPA) “degenerated” into a group of bandits that has resorted to extortion, a military spokesman said on Saturday.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., the AFP spokesman, said the public should already be reminded about the “true nature” of the NPA by now, following attacks perpetrated by the communist rebels to some private and public infrastructures.

“The public by now knows the true nature of the NPA…a group that has degenerated to being bandits and plain extortionists and must be shunned,” Padilla told reporters in a text message.

Padilla was reacting to a recent statement of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) on Friday that its armed wing, the NPA, must carry out “more and more” attacks in order to “derail and blunt the all-out attacks” of the military.

The CPP also described the AFP as “the most notorious human rights abusers” and also criticized President Rodrigo Duterte during his first year for showing strongman attributes and hit his bloody crackdown against illegal drugs.

Its political wing, the National Democratic Front, is currently engaged in peace negotiations with the Philippine government.

The peace talks nearly fell through after Duterte ordered a suspension following continued attacks by the NPA against government security forces.

Padilla said the NPA actions were “clearly anti-peace, anti-development, anti-progress, and truly anti-people”.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the NPA was a “terrorist group and “anti-poor”.

In June, a group of NPA rebels attacked a police station in Iloilo. After the President declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23 following the deadly attacks by the Islamic State-linked Maute group, the CPP ordered the NPA to intensify its attacks as a way of resisting military rule.

ISIS 'sanctioned, if not directed' Resorts World attack – expert

From Rappler (Jul 2): ISIS 'sanctioned, if not directed' Resorts World attack – expert

The Philippines now serves as an inspiration for global jihadists, say terrorism experts, who asked the government to investigate an ISIS claim the Resorts World gunman converted to Islam

One month after the Resorts World attack in Manila, terrorism experts tell Rappler they believe the Philippines prematurely dismissed claims by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, IS, ISIL or Daesch, and asked for an investigation into its claim the Resorts World gunman was a recent convert to Islam.

The June 2 attack was “at the very minimum sanctioned – if not directed – by the Islamic State,” Veryan Khan, editorial director and founder of Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), told Rappler. TRAC is a digital intelligence repository focused on global terrorism and political violence.

“It’s very likely that the Resorts World was a terrorist operation,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, cautioning authorities against dismissing ISIS claims as “propaganda.”

“It isn’t true that ISIS has a history of claiming others’ attacks as their own,” added Jones. “There’s usually a basis for it, even though their media departments don’t always get the details right.”

Khan and Jones are echoed by Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al-Qaeda and the head of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence & Terrorism Research.

“The propaganda organs of ISIS such as Amaq exaggerate but do not falsely take credit for attacks mounted by other entities,” said Gunaratna, who, based on his study of ISIS, warned Philippine authorities of possible attacks a month before Resorts World and Marawi. (READ: ISIS planning more attacks in PH and region - terror expert)

Experts who closely track the Islamic State agree: an ISIS claim of responsibility usually means the attack might have been planned, funded and directed by ISIS or inspired by the group's sophisticated propaganda.

ISIS claims

In its section listing its global operations for the month, "Military and Covert Operations," ISIS includes Resorts World, referring to it as "an inghimasi attack." On June 8, ISIS’ glossy magazine, Rumiyah featured Resorts World on its cover with the title: "The Jihad in East Asia."

Based on ISIS' internal files translated and analyzed by the US military's Combating Terrorism Center, an inghimasi is a "suicide fighter" or "those who submerse in enemy's line with no intent to come back alive." Its 10th edition was released in 9 languages: English, Uighur, Pashto, Kurdish, Indonesian, Bosnian, Russian, German and French, and focused on attacks on "Crusader soil" including Manchester in the United Kingdom and in Marawi in the Philippines.

This follows ISIS’ 4 claims within about 24 hours of the June 2 attack:

Two by a Filipino ISIS operative supplying news, photos and videos from Marawi;
A succinct claim on the Amaq news agency, ISIS’ news arm;
A formal communique from Nashir, seen as a direct claim by its leaders. (READ: Casino targeted with suicide attack because it's 'haram' - ISIS)

"Given that Amaq and Nashir claimed the attack as well as Rumiyah 10, there is no doubt that the Islamic State had some hand in the event," concluded TRAC's Khan.

"Often they offer details that were never released by security forces, and they have a reason to not lie," added Khan. "They would lose support if they went around claiming things they were only mildly certain of."

Gunman converted to Islam?

Philippine police released edited CCTV video of a lone gunman identified as 42-year-old Jessie Javier Carlos, a former government employee whose gambling problems alienated him from his family. Within hours of the attack, police said it was a robbery.

The video shows a man calmly walking through Resorts World setting gambling tables on fire before, finally, setting himself on fire.

On Sunday, June 4 – two days after the attack, Philippine police categorically ruled out any links to ISIS.

On June 8, the Filipino ISIS operative in Marawi posted again, claiming Carlos adopted the Muslim name “Khair” after converting to Islam 4 months earlier.
"Our connections in Manila 1 week before the attack we already know his plan to destroy the casino because it is HARAM and making his life difficult because of the practices of gambling by the kufar [non-believers]," reads the message.

"That is why 10 minutes after his go signal to us we already posted a 'LONEWOLF attack was conducted by the soldier of the caliphate.'"

Semion Almujaheed is the Telegram account used by this Filipino ISIS operative. It gained credibility by providing daily updates of the ongoing battles in Marawi. This account posted the photos and video of the Marawi Catholic priest held hostage on May 30, and was first to claim the Resorts World attack for ISIS within minutes of the first gunshot.

Almujaheed was also the first to refer to Carlos as a shaheed, someone who dies deliberately for his faith.

“It makes sense that a disgruntled employee with this man’s background could be vulnerable to recruitment and conversion,” said IPAC’s Sidney Jones. At this time, no evidence of radicalization or conversion exists apart from this ISIS claim. Studies do show that, among other factors like increasing alienation, as radicalism increases, family influence decreases.
Intelligence officials from the Philippines approached by Rappler after June 23 say they have yet to look into this ISIS claim. One said this was the first time he heard about it, echoing official sentiment.

“ISIS has no credibility,” Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Eduardo Año texted Rappler on June 10. “It was a case of a gambling addict who was heavily indebted. He went berserk and tried to steal gambling chips. When confronted by the PNP [Philippine National Police], he realized it was too late and committed suicide.”

“When the account said he put chips in his backpack, end of story agad 'yun (That was the end of the story),” Año continued. “[A] terrorist will never do that. And he never shot at people.”

Yet, hours before his death, Carlos may have done exactly that.

On June 23, the Manila Police District said that Carlos is the only “person of interest” in the killings of two people, a lawyer and an ex-cop turned casino financier, a few hours before the Resorts World attack. Both were shot in the back of their heads inside a car. (READ: Resorts World gunman possible suspect in BMW killings – MPD)

Again, CCTV video shows a man who could be Carlos crawling out of the back of the car. If it is him, this could reinforce the theory of a man gone crazy, but could also show a possible new convert who killed before committing an act that some terrorist writings claim would cleanse his sins.

“Philippine authorities should investigate the Islamic State claim that Jessie Javier Carlos converted to Islam and was recruited by ISIS,” cautioned Gunaratna from Singapore. “Until that line of inquiry is completed, government should be careful of dismissing the ISIS claim.”

Governments lie
This isn’t the first time the Philippine government has denied terrorism: in 2004, investigators initially ruled the Superferry bombing was an accident. The details we had then at CNN, including an early claim to the attack as well as an extortion letter, allowed us to report it had the hallmarks of terrorism.

It took about 8 months before the government admitted it was a terrorist attack, the largest maritime attack in Southeast Asia, carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah, then al-Qaeda’s arm in the region. There has always been a nexus between terrorism, crime, and drugs.

“I hate to speculate what the Philippine government is thinking,” TRAC’s Khan said. “I do know in other places like Bangladesh, when the government has adamantly denied Islamic State attacks even in the face of attacks claimed, often it’s been to either try to assuage the general fear of the citizens or protect their tourism industry.”

The Bangladesh café attack in July 2016 has two things in common with the Resorts World attack:
Bangladeshi authorities blamed it on homegrown Islamist extremists, denying any link to ISIS;
It was claimed by Nashir, the only attack outside Syria it claimed that summer.

"It's well known to have been directly planned from ash Sham [Syria]," added Khan.

Vulnerable public

There are clues to what may be behind the Philippines' denial.

On June 19, an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court said the government deliberately painted a different picture from reality because of "psychological operations" against ISIS.

To justify the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, authorities admitted government lied on May 24 when a military spokesman repeatedly said the military was in "full control" in Marawi and that "the armed men we are dealing with are not ISIS but members of a local terrorist group."

Solicitor General Jose Calida quoted Año that “there had been a directive to all AFP spokesperson and personnel to downplay any news or information pertaining to this collective group” (referring to ISIS).

These statements “were made to encourage foreign investments and maintain confidence in the Philippine economy.” (READ: AFP downplayed ISIS threat as part of psychological ops – Año)

This strategy, though, leaves the public vulnerable.

Western governments issue terrorist alert warnings for the public good. They see it as a responsibility: citizens must be aware of threats so they can protect themselves. It has a legal responsibility: for example, an American citizen caught in a terror attack could file a case against the government if it had prior knowledge of a plot and failed to inform the public.

It’s a delicate balance between the public’s right to know and national security, part of the reason terrorist alert warnings are often vaguely worded.

About a month before the Resorts World attack, ISIS claimed two consecutive weekend attacks in Manila on April 28 and May 6, both denied by Philippine officials. (READ: ISIS planning more attacks in PH and region - terror expert)

While the British government warned its citizens to avoid the Quiapo area on the same day as the May 6 blasts, the Philippine government ordered telecommunications companies to shut down cellular networks but gave no warning to its citizens.

Was this also part of psychological operations?

It becomes a crucial question after the Filipino ISIS operative's ominous warning:

"My message to the Philippine government denying the fact our soldiers conducted the attack, just wait. By Allah's permission another strike will come and believe me you will never see it coming."

PH inspiration for global jihadists

We need to examine the continuing evolution of the ideology which transformed al-Qaeda linked homegrown groups to ISIS in the Philippines. As early as 2011, we reported on the first black flag and the training camps in central Mindanao, which would later become the base of the Maute Group. (READ: ISIS’ global ambitions and plans for Southeast Asia)

“The longer term concern is that extremist ideology has taken root in the Philippines, and that will be much harder to eradicate,” said IPAC’s Jones. “There will be blowback to the rest of the region.”

“Until now the main fear has been that foreign fighters could return home from Syria and Iraq,” added Jones. “No one thought that the bigger threat would be foreign fighters who never set foot in the Middle East coming back from a conflict much closer to home.”

On January 13, 2017, the Malaysian government announced it had dismantled a Sabah cell to funnel ISIS fighters to Marawi. (READ: Filipino millennial joins ISIS in Syria)

That cell was allegedly receiving instructions from Isnilon Hapilon in the southern Philippines, the former Abu Sayyaf leader who has successfully united disparate homegrown groups and held ground in Marawi. (READ: ISIS to declare a province in Mindanao?)

In Rumiyah 10, Hapilon gains new status in ISIS’ ranks and is given a new name – with an entire section devoted to an interview with the "Emir of East Asia" Shaykh Abu "Abdullah al Muhajir."

This “elevates Hapilon’s status not only in the Pacific Rim but globally,” said TRAC’s Khan. “Hapilon seemingly has won the political battle for who will run ISIS Pacific Rim, a competition for attention from ash Sham [Syria] that has been raging for at least two years.”

This video was posted in April before the attack on Marawi and Resorts World. It plants the ISIS flag on the Philippines, and in Filipino declares, “Ang mga Sundalo ng Khilafa sa Silangang Asya” or the Islamic fighters in East Asia.

The graphics are followed by video of training and fighting in central Mindanao – including the Maute Group’s brutal beheading of two Filipino sawmill workers in April 2016.

Indonesian extremists shared the video and were pushing each other to travel to the Philippines, with one saying in a chat room, “Don’t be a lion in the virtual world and a rabbit in the real world.”

Now that chatter is global.

In the fifth week of fighting, terrorists continue to hold ground in Marawi. On July 1, the government said at least 438 people are dead, with nearly 400,000 forced to flee their homes.

“TRAC has seen evidence that the success in Marawi has the attention of Indonesian ISIS supporters and serves as an aspiration to them,” said Khan. “Even ISIS supporters in Germany have started creating German language CGI propaganda posters to celebrate the success story of Marawi City.”

“The Philippines is now acting as a catalyst for Islamic State propaganda to distract from battlefield losses in ash Sham [Syria].”

Photo shows armed 12-yr-old boy walking with suspected Maute members

From GMA News (Jul 1): Photo shows armed 12-yr-old boy walking with suspected Maute members

Children have been placed at the front lines in the ongoing conflict in Marawi City, allegedly fighting against military forces for the Islamic State-linked group Maute.

A report by Chino Gaston in 24 Oras on Saturday showed a photo of an armed 12-year-old boy. The teen could be seen standing close to terrorists in the middle of a wrecked street in the war-torn city.

Gaston said that according to a source who shared the photo, the boy was a child warrior being used by the Maute group.

Four days after the Maute group attacked the city on May 23, a police officer told GMA News' Jiggy Manicad that they saw child warriors as young as 10 years old being used by the Maute group in the front line.

Last week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that it is verifying reports that hostages are being used as human shields and are being forced to collect unexploded ordnance in the war zone.

Gaston's report said that the military was not surprised by the news that the local terrorist group is using child warriors, saying that the Maute group really plan to recruit young minds.

Meanwhile, a 6-year-old boy was injured after getting hit by a stray bullet. The boy was immediately brought to the Amai Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi.

The AFP on Friday said that as of June 29, a total of 44 civilians have been confirmed killed by the Maute group. The government side has lost 82 men while a total of 303 Maute group members have been killed in the ongoing conflict.

Snipers, bombs, mortars - Philippine troops battle against Islamists

From Reuters (Jul 1): Snipers, bombs, mortars - Philippine troops battle against Islamists

Sprawled on the boarded-up balcony of a two-storey house, the barrel of his rifle poked into a hole cut in the wood, the Philippine army sniper calls for quiet before taking his shot.

"Firing," he says evenly, before the .50 caliber shot rings out, sending tremors through the house. He was firing at a home less than a kilometer (a half mile) away, believed to be a stronghold of Islamist militants who have been holed up in Marawi City for over five weeks.

A spotter sat next to him, with his scope set into another hole. The two spoke quietly to each other as the sniper took three more shots across the Agus river into the militant-held commercial district of Marawi, now a battleground strewn with debris from ruined buildings. Scores of bodies are rotting in the area, and the stench mixes with the smell of gunpowder.

Thousands of soldiers are battling to retake the southern Philippine city, where militants loyal to Islamic State launched a lightning strike on May 23.

The southern Philippines has been marred for decades by insurgency and banditry. But the intensity of the battle in Marawi and the presence of foreign fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen and Chechnya fighting alongside local militants has raised concerns that the region may be becoming a Southeast Asian hub for Islamic State as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria.

As troops poured in to contain the siege, few were expecting a slow, difficult and unfamiliar urban war.

"We are used to insurgencies... but a deployment of this magnitude, this kind of conflict is a challenge for our troops," said Lt Col Christopher Tampus, one of the officers commanding ground operations in Marawi.

He said progress in clearing the city has been hindered by militant fire and booby traps like gas tanks rigged with grenades.


After weeks of military airstrikes and shelling, Marawi, a lakeside city of around 200,000 is now a ghost town, the center of which has been reduced to charred rubble and hollow structures. Buildings in the military-controlled areas of the city are still standing but deserted after residents fled.

Authorities estimate around 100 to 120 fighters, some of them as young as 16 years, remain holed up in the commercial district of the city, down from around 500 at the beginning of the siege.

The fighters are holding around 100 hostages, according to the military, who have been forced to act as human shields, take up arms or become sex slaves.

Military aircraft drop bombs on the militant zone almost every day. From the outskirts of the city, mortar teams take aim at what they call "ground zero", the heart of the conflict.

"Mortars are designed to target people and smaller areas than the airstrikes." said mortar specialist Sgt. Jeffery Baybayan, as he jotted down coordinates that come crackling over a radio from an observer closer to the conflict area.

"Hitting targets accurately can be difficult and we're expending rounds without hitting targets. We are concerned about our own troops that are very close to the enemy area," he added, as the mortars exploded in the city, sending up plumes of thick black smoke.


During the day's battle, Tampus received reports that three civilians, trapped for weeks near the fighting, were trying to escape. Several soldiers responded to help rescue them - moving to the area in two lines along the sides of streets to avoid sniper fire.

Three civilians - two men and a woman using a walking stick - came out and sat by the side of the street once they were in the military zone.

"The bombs were so frequent coming from both sides," said Jose Locanas, a 53-year-old Christian man trapped with his wife and friend in his house. "We were caught in the middle."

Troops said they received word from their relatives that the three were trapped and managed to escort them out.

More than 400 people, including over 300 militants, 82 security forces and 44 civilians are known to have died in Marawi.

Some of the bodies of civilians were found decapitated and the military has warned the number of residents killed by rebel "atrocities" could rise sharply as troops retake more ground.

Every day, troops make announcements through loudspeakers for the militants to "surrender now or die". To the trapped civilians, they offer help to get out of the conflict area.

Authorities say they believe the militants are running out of supplies and ammunition, but they say there is no deadline to retake the city.

Tampus, the officer, said when troops reinforcements come into Marawi, they are initially apprehensive because of the high death toll.

"But once they are here, the discipline kicks in and they are focused," he said.

SIMULATION EXERCISE: 3 ‘terrorists’ who took over petrol truck killed

From the Mindanao Times (Jul 2): SIMULATION EXERCISE: 3 ‘terrorists’ who took over petrol truck killed

SECURITY forces in the city conducted a simulation exercise revolving around a scenario where a petroleum truck was commandeered by terrorists in Barangay Sasa, Buhangin District yesterday morning.

The suspects were intercepted at corner Roxas avenue and Padre Gomez street, where there was an exchange of gunfire between the terrorists and responding PNP personnel.
One of the suspected terrorists who died later was able to detonate an IED which resulted to the explosion of the truck and wounding of civilian and police personnel.

Three terrorists were killed in the scenario. Recovered were three M16 rifles and two Glock 9mm pistols. The 15 wounded were brought to the nearest hospital. The simulation exercise, which started at 9 a.m., ended at 10:30 a.m.
The activity was headed by Public Safety and Security Command Center, Davao City Police Office, Task Force Davao, Central 911, Bureau of Fire and Protection XI, National Intelligence Counter Agency, City Traffic and Transport Management office , Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and K9 team and Scene of the Crime Operatives.
In an interview, PSSCC chair Benito De Leon, said the exercise “is just a test on how could we response to any threat of terror.”
“The response time of our concerned agencies is okay, but we need to fine-tune some things so the response will even be quicker,” he said.

De Leon said the simulation is also part of the city’s readiness measure with the upcoming Kadayawan festival and the hosting of the Davao Region Athletic Association games.

Col. Erwin Bernard Neri, commander of Task Force Davao, also said the drill was meant to check the readiness and preparedness of all security forces in the city......

GPH, MILF sign protocol on “cooperation and coordination” in war on drugs

From MindaNews (Jul 1): GPH, MILF sign protocol on “cooperation and coordination” in war on drugs

The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a protocol Friday that sets the “cooperation and coordination mechanisms” in addressing the drug problem in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and some parts in the Davao region which has MILF presence.

During the 4th Consultative Meeting to Address Drugs, Criminality and Corruption Friday at the Hotel Elena, Catalino Uy, OIC Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) said the signing of the protocol between the two parties is a manifestation of a year-long series of meetings on how both parties can work together in clearing the Bangsamoro communities of drugs.

Atty. Abdul Dataya (L), chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel’s counterpart in the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (MILF-AHJAG), Isidro Lapeña, Director General of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and Catalino Cuy (r), Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Interior and Local Government, sign the “Protocol of Cooperation on Anti-Illegal Drugs Operations and Related Activities in MILF Areas/Communities” on Friday, 30 June 2017 in Hotel Elena, Davao City. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

On July 12 last year, the government and the MILF signed a two-page “Agreement of Cooperation and Coordination” between the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) of the government (GPH) and MILF in the “Campaign against illegal drugs in MILF-Affected Areas.”

After the signing last year, Director General Isidro Lapena, chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement agency (PDEA) said there will be more meetings with the MILF to “finetune” the MILF’s participation in the war on drugs.

Cuy said the GPH and MILF acknowledged the enormity of the drug problem in the country and that the areas controlled by the MILF “are not exempted.”

He said the 15-page “Protocol of Cooperation on Anti-Illegal Drug Operations and related Activities in MILF Areas / Communities” will provide procedures and integrate efforts of both parties during anti-illegal drug operations.

The protocol notes that the MILF recognized the ill effects of illegal drugs and the rampant trading of shabu in the Bangsamoro and declared “the use, sale and proliferation of shabu as ‘haram’ and prohibited in Islam.”

It said the protocol applies to anti-illegal drug operations and other related anti-illegal drug efforts that will be conducted jointly by the government and MILF forces in the Bangsamoro and some parts in the Davao region which has MILF presence.

It also said the protocol aims to integrate efforts, provide procedures and clearly “define the roles of GPH and MILF in the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations and related activities in MILF areas through ceasefire agreement with the end goal of filing drug cases against arrested drug personalities.”

The protocol adopts the ceasefire mechanisms of the government and MILF. The protocol states that government agencies that will conduct anti-illegal drug operations in MILF areas “shall inform not less than 24 hours prior to the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations, the GPH-AHJAG (government-Ad Hoc Joint Action Group).“

The Joint AHJAG “shall then inform the GPH-MILF CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities) in order to avoid misencounter between the GPH and MILF forces.”

The protocol also provides, among others, the general guidelines, operational procedures, and implementation of search warrant.

July 12, 2016 Agreement of Cooperation and Coordination

On July 12 last year, the CCCH and AHJAG of the government and MILF signed a two-page “Agreement of Cooperation and Coordination between the GPH and MILF CCCH and AHJAG on the Campaign against illegal drugs in MILF-Affected Areas.”

The agreement provides that in the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations, all existing protocols under RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 “and all relevant agreements between the GPH and the MILF shall apply,” that the PDEA and anti-drug units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Immigration and Deportation “shall coordinate with the AHJAG and CCCH.”

It also involves “information exchange/sharing which includes but is not limited to the submission of the MILF of a list of drug personalities identified in its area subject to validation of the law enforcement agencies.”

The agreement also provides that the MILF “can conduct information drive on the ill effects of illegal drugs” in their areas “as part of its demand reduction activities” and that the drive may be conducted “in coordination with the barangay, municipal, city or provincial anti-drug abuse councils.”

Before Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs campaign, the MILF launched its own campaign in late 2015. An editorial posted on the MILF website on November 17, 2015, shortly after the MILF declared its war on drugs said shabu (metamphetamine hydrochloride) “is the enemy of all and, therefore, should be fought together. A common enemy calls for a united front approach.”

Smooth sailing
Police Chief Supt. Pierre Bucsit, chair of the GPH-AHJAG, on Friday said he believes coordination between the police and the MILF will become “smooth sailing” with the signing of the protocol.

He noted the difficulty of the government forces in holding operations inside the Bangsamoro communities before.

Atty. Abdul Dataya (2nd from L), chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel’s counterpart in the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (MILF-AHJAG), and Chief Supt. Pierre Bucsit (3rd from r), chair of the GPH-AHJAG, exchange copies of the final “Protocol of Cooperation on Anti-Illegal Drugs Operations and Related Activities in MILF Areas/Communities” on Friday, 30 June 2017 in Hotel Elena, Davao City. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“The coordination will be smooth sailing when it comes to law enforcement operations. Today is another milestone between government and MILF,” he said.

GPH-CCH chair Brig. Gen. Earl Baliao said he saw the need for the two parties to collaborate and coordinate “efforts for us to be able to further fast-track our cooperation against illegal drugs.”

He said the protocol will allow proper coordination with their MILF counterparts.

“We do not have problem before with the conduct of anti-illegal drugs in other areas, but many difficulties in MILF-controlled areas, sometimes the coordination allows our target to get out from the areas, that’s why, we believe with the protocol, we will be able to efficiently operate with coordination and support from MILF in their controlled areas,” he said.

Lawyer Abdul Dataya, chair of the MILF AHJAG said government’s coordination with the MILF will be advantageous because “we know the ground.”

“The MILF will assist in trying to prevent possible misencounters. Meron kaming sariling grupo (we have our own group) who will coordinate with the Armed Forces (of the Philippines),” he said.

Dataya said they recommended the addition of PDEA in the efforts against illegal drugs since they are operating in the ARMM and other known MILF areas in some parts of Davao Region.

Under the general guidelines, all planned operations by government agencies shall have anti-illegal drug coordination from PDEA in compliance with the existing rules and regulations as mandated by the Republic Act 9165,

It added the government anti-illegal drug operations in MILF area, whether initiated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies shall be coordinated with the MILF-AHJAG and CCCH and be supervised by the PDEA to ensure the proper implementation of RA 9165.

It also ensures that respect for human rights will be observed at all time when handling arrested or surrendered drug personalities.

Anti-illegal drug operations by the MILF will be conducted jointly with the PDEA through the ceasefire mechanism.

Also, the protocol provides that a regular seminar/workshop on RA 9165, criminal procedures, handling of drug evidence and other related topics on anti-illegal drugs will be conducted among MILF members and training of the madrasah teachers on anti-illegal drugs will be conducted to ensure successful prosecution of drug cases.

Duterte: “That war in Marawi will continue until the last terrorist is taken out”

From MindaNews (Jul 2): Duterte: “That war in Marawi will continue until the last terrorist is taken out”

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday said he is “always praying” that the war against the Maute Group and its allied terror groups “will end as fast as it can” because of the rising casualties and the mass displacement of residents, but vowed “that war in Marawi will continue until the last terrorist is taken out” and reiterated he will not negotiate with terrorists.

“I will never, never, never talk to the terrorists. And there will never be forgiving there. And that war in Marawi will continue until the last terrorist is taken out,” Duterte told residents of Davao del Sur at the Davao del Sur Coliseum on Saturday, during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the province.

“Hindi talaga ako papayag (I will never agree) because it is a brutal and cruel organization. .. think.. what will happen to us if we allow them to overwhelm,” the President added.

President Rodrigo Duterte reiterates he will “never, never, never talk to terrorists” and that the war in Marawi “will continue until the last terrorist is taken out.” Duterte was in Digos City on 01 July 2017 for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Davao del Sur. Robinson Ninal / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

He said the Maute Group and its allies have “no redeeming factor at all,” that all they want is “to kill and destroy.”

The war against the ISIS-inspired group and its allies entered Day 40 on Saturday, the death toll mounting by the day: 465 as of June 30.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella in his Mindanao Hour press briefing aired over Radyo ng Bayan on Saturday morning listed 438: 317 terrorists, 82 government forces, 39 civilians.

Add to that the number of evacuees who died in hospitals in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte — 27 — according to reports reaching Dr. Kadil Sinolinding, Health Secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao — and the total number is 465 since clashes between government forces and the Maute Group started on May 23.

As of 3 pm.. on June 29, Report No. 53 of the Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD-DROMIC) said a total of 388,073 persons (84,086 families) have been displaced by the armed conflict in Marawi, from all 96 barangays of Marawi City and from 20 towns in Lanao del Sur.

Evacuees from Marawi City line up while waiting for the distribution of goods at the covered court in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte on Tuesday, 30 May 2017. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

“I want it (war) done immediately,” Duterte said. But he reiterated previous pronouncements that the terrorists had been stockpiling firearms and ammunition allegedly for years, that “we never realized the magnitude of their preparation sa kanilang mga paputok” (of their explosives), that they had positioned themselves before the troops got in.

He again expressed his anger at his fellow Maranaos (his grandmother was a Maranao) for allegedly allowing the terrorists to stockpile firearms and ammunition in the city.

He said he has been telling troops he is “very sorry… but I hope you’d understand that I have this Constitutional duty,” that he would be jailed if the does not do his work “and more in shame, because para akong nag-talaw (I’d look like a coward).

“I had to do it because if not, we would have lost Marawi in a matter of days. At maka-establish sila… makapagyabang sila (they would have bragged) that they have an Islamic state,” he said.