Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Soldier injured in attack

From the Mindanao Times (Aug 30): Soldier injured in attack

A SOLDIER was injured when still unidentified gunmen fired upon a military truck in Barangay Carmen, Baguio District around 6 p.m. Monday.

2Lt. Mark Anthony Raymundo, the Civil-Military Operations officer of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, yesterday told TIMES that two squads of 3rd IB’s Charlie Company soldiers, on board two KM450 vehicles, were traversing the highway in Sitio Macatabo when they were attacked.

No soldier was hurt by the enemies’ bullets.

But the wounded soldier, name withheld, sustained an injury to his head while escaping from the truck, as he apparently barreled through a hard object.

After he was given first aid, the trooper was brought to the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) for proper medical attention.

The remaining troopers conducted a clearing operation in the area.

Raymundo said the soldiers were on their way to the camp after attending a marksmanship record in a firing range in Barangay Ma-a, Talomo District.

In his statement, Lt. Col. Raymund Dante Lachica, the battalion commander, described the act as “terroristic attack” perpetrated by undetermined armed men.

While authorities could not yet pinpoint the assailants, Lachica said they could either be communist or Moro rebels.


Military says Marawi siege over in 2-3 weeks; journalists decry “restrictions”

From MindaNews (Aug 29): Military says Marawi siege over in 2-3 weeks; journalists decry “restrictions”

Students of Mindanao State University in Marawi City cross the scenic golf course inside the campus while the downtown in the background burns after a bombing run by military aircraft on Tuesday, 29 August 2017. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

The already three-month long armed hostilities between government forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute group will be over in two to three weeks, a military official said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command, said he expects “normalcy” to return to the city in two to three weeks, citing the conflict area had been reduced to “400 to 600 square meters”.

Galvez said government troops killed five of 10 Maute militants who tried to reinforce their comrades via Lake Lanao on Monday.

He said only around 60 Maute gunmen were left and were stepping up use of improvised explosive devices.

He said clashes had been confined to areas near the lake.

But on Tuesday, military planes continued to drop bombs over the downtown area, the scene of heavy fighting since the early days of the siege which enters its 100th day on Wednesday.

Galvez admitted that government troops were finding it difficult to fight in an urban setting.

In a press conference in Cagayan de Oro City last June 11, he described Marawi as a “rat hole” for the militants.

On Monday, he declared that most of Marawi had been cleared of militants and that they were preparing for the return of the evacuees and reopening of public schools in the city proper.

Mindanao State University’s main campus, which sits on a hill overlooking the city, opened classes last August 22 amid heavy security. Army troopers continued to guard the school entrance.

Coverage restrictions

Several journalists have complained that the military, citing “operational security,” has imposed tighter restrictions such as banning media presence even in “cleared” areas that they wanted to cover and had previously covered.

They told Galvez they are not the military’s “PIO” (public information officers) thus they would not be content with receiving press releases as sources of their reports.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief, on Monday (Aug. 28, 2017) declares the Marawi siege will end in two to three weeks time. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

In a letter last week addressed to General Eduardo Ano, Armed Forces chief of staff, journalists covering Marawi said: “We believe that clarity in policy is beneficial to all parties. But more importantly, the world needs to know what is happening in Marawi through the media’s unbiased and unfiltered lens. This is what is sorely lacking here.”

“Press releases, press conferences and photo/video handouts from the military are no substitute to field coverage by the media.

“What is happening in Marawi is a curtailment of press freedom, a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, even under a state of martial law. There are many existing and tested methods by which journalists can carry out their duty with the military still being able to preserve the secrecy of vital tactical movements.

“We are fully aware of the risks that surround us, and yet, like you, our duty to the people compels us to be in Marawi. These are precisely what we have been presenting on the ground, but these have all fallen on deaf ears. We hope we can sit down with you to discuss these urgent concerns,” the letter added.

The military, however, has refused to heed the journalists’ demand for greater leeway in covering the conflict.


Army official warns Leyte bizmen vs. scammers

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Army official warns Leyte bizmen vs. scammers

A top military official has cautioned businessmen in Leyte province not to fall victim to a group introducing themselves as members of a liquidation squad or a vigilante group.

Brig. Gen. Francisco Mendoza, Philippine Army 802nd Brigade commander, denied the existence of vigilante groups in Leyte.

The official made the statement in a media interview Tuesday after a businessman from Ormoc City reported having received death threats through phone calls.

“These are all scams. I urge those who received this call to ignore this and if they feel that they are threatened, they must call security agencies like the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army to report the incident,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza added that even members of the New People’s Army in Leyte province have “no capability to impose active threats” to businessmen.

“With development comes peace. We cannot achieve peace and development if there are extortionists bringing disorder to our business community,” Mendoza added.

Mendoza also added that people should also be cautious in spreading text messages or information on social media pertaining to existence of vigilante groups if not validated by law enforcers.

These are just false information meant to create panic in the people’s mind,” Mendoza added.

The army official noted that all similar reports received by the military turned out to be false.


New marker for NPA ‘purge’ victims to rise in Baybay City

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): New marker for NPA ‘purge’ victims to rise in Baybay City

The city government here will put up a new marker for victims of mass killings perpetrated by the New People’s Army (NPA), whose remains were exhumed in 2006.

The Inopacan mass grave discovery and exhumation marked its 11th year anniversary on Monday.

However, venue for the commemoration was set at the local church grounds following the demolition of the marker at the public cemetery where the skeletal remains of at least 67 individuals were buried after they were uncovered on August 23, 2006.

Baybay City Mayor Carmen Cari said the marker was affected by the road widening project undertaken by the Department Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the area.

“We will build a new marker where all family members can pay their respects,” Cari said.

She vowed the new marker will be put up in an area that will be safe and accessible to the public.

Meanwhile, Carmelita Tenaja, whose husband was one of those executed, remembered how their family members suffered at the hands of the rebels. She was joined by more than a hundred other family members from Baybay City, Inopacan and Mahaplag towns who offered mass and lighted candles for their loved ones.

Tenaja tearfully recalled the plight of families whose sons, fathers and brothers were killed in the 1980s mass purging and said that each year the case drags dims their hope for justice to be served.

After the mass grave discovery, the Philippine Army filed 15 counts of murder before the Manila Regional Trial Court against couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Satur Ocampo, Vicente Ladlad, Randal Echaniz, Rafael Baylosis, Exusperado Lloren and several others.

The Tiamzons got temporary freedom to be part of the ongoing peace talks between the government and the NDF in Oslo, Norway. The case filed against the top hierarchy of the NPA had its last hearing last year.

The mass purging tagged by the NPA as “Oplan Venereal Disease,” has claimed the lives of about 300 residents in Leyte province, based on estimates of former rebels and the victims’ relatives.

Skeletal remains of 67 individuals were unearthed from shallow graves at Subang Daku village in Inopacan town on August 28, 2006 through the help of villagers.

Brig. Gen. Francisco Mendoza, commander of the Army’s 802nd Infantry Brigade, expressed hope that cases filed against NPA leaders will speedily roll in court, saying causes of the delay is more on the judiciary process.

“We are extending all active support we can to the family members. Our hopes are one with them that justice will be served soon,” Francisco said.

He added that they will annually commemorate the Inopacan mass grave discovery and exhumation so the victims will be remembered and that their sufferings in the hands of communist terrorists will serve as lessons "well-learned" in the present times.


PNP, Army on alert vs Maute attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): PNP, Army on alert vs Maute attacks

Police forces in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur have been alerted to prevent retaliatory and sympathy attacks following the death of Maute patriarch Cayamora on Sunday.

Chief Supt. Theodore Sindac, Police Regional Director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm), ordered the deployment of more police checkpoints in Lanao Sur and Maguindanao after intelligence reports indicated that sympathizers of the Maute Brothers will bring the war outside Marawi City.

Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur are adjoining provinces under PNP-Armm.

Cayamora Maute, father of local terrorist leaders Omar and Abdulla, died on Sunday at a hospital after complaining of chest pain.

A police intelligence officer said relatives of the Maute patriarch were emotional on the news of his demise while in government custody.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr, chief of Western Mindanao Command, also ordered the Army to remain on alert for possible rampage by Maute terrorists.


Caravan to Marawi highlights Peace Month

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Caravan to Marawi highlights Peace Month

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) has lined up activities in line with the observance of the Peace Month in September.

In a statement, Opapp on Tuesday said simultaneous celebration of Eid’l Adha on Friday, September 1, at the four evacuation centers in Iligan City will mark the formal launch of the Peace Month.

Officials from Opapp and other national as well as local government agencies are expected to join the celebration.

This year’s Peace Month highlight is the “Peace Buzz,” which is a peace caravan that will roam nationwide to bring the government’s peace initiatives on the ground.

The "Peace Buzz" will kick off in Baguio City, and will make stops in Quezon City, Legazpi City, Catbalogan City, Butuan City, Davao City, Iligan City. It will conclude its journey in Marawi City, in time for the Closing Ceremony of the Peace Month.

Aside from the "Peace Buzz," Opapp will also conduct series of fora that aims to educate different stakeholders about the peace process.

The other activities will include contests that target the youth such as film-making, photography, and spoken word competition.

Opapp Undersecretary Nabil Tan has encouraged the public to be active participants to the peace process and be advocates of peace.

“Let us find ways in which we can contribute to the ongoing peace process and become catalysts of peace, unity and understanding in our respective communities,” Tan said.

“I believe that all of us can be peace builders. Let us start now,” he added.

The month of September was declared as the “National Peace Consciousness Month” by virtue of Proclamation No. 675 dated July 2004.

This year’s celebration of the Peace Month is anchored in the theme “Puso para sa Kapayapaan, Magkaisa para sa Bayan.”


Water transport banned as hunt vs ISIS continues

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Water transport banned as hunt vs ISIS continues

Military authorities in Maguindanao Tuesday advised the public to avoid using water transportation in tributaries and rivers as the Army and Moro rebels have continued manhunt against ISIS-inspired group.

Lt. Col. Jerry Besana, commander of the 6th Civil Military Operations (CMO) Battalion based here, said transport of goods and people in Rio Grande de Mindanao in the Liguasan Marsh could be dangerous following reports that the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) Abdulmalik faction has planned to use civilians as human shields.

The Army has been conducting sustained military operations in the towns of Datu Salibo, Sharif Saydona and Datu Piang since last week.

“Please advise everyone that water transportation in the vicinity and adjoining municipalities of Datu Salibo, Shariff Saydona and Datu Piang will be restricted,” Besana said in a statement.

“This action is being implemented for the safety of civilians,” he said, adding “we will continue our efforts in fighting the insurgents in order to disrupt the group that threatens the security operations.”

Government forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that signed a peace deal with the government, have continued their manhunt operation.

The MILF first clashed with the ISIS-flag carrying armed group in Datu Salibo when the outlawed group tried to encroach into MILF identified communities by setting off several improvised bombs.

More than 50 people have been killed from both sides since the clashes between former comrades erupted three weeks ago. Dozens were also injured.

Among the dead was the son of BIFF faction leader Esmael Abulmalik known as “Commander Torayfe.”

Under the 1997 ceasefire agreement between the government and MILF, the rebel group must help the government get rid of terrorists in communities identified with the MILF.

For the past two weeks, the MILF had been pursuing the ISIS-flag carrying armed group, led by Esmael Abdulmalik of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao’s second district.

According to Abu Amir, the BIFF Imam Karialan faction, Abdulmalik was injured in a clash with MILF Task Force Ittihad (Unity).

Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao police director, said the police have been helping the MILF in locating the BIFF/ISIS group.

Tello said police and military authorities in Maguindanao have been placed on heightened alert to thwart possible retaliatory attacks from Abdulmalik’s group.

Abdulmalik was one of the lieutenants of slain Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” who was killed in police operations in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015.


Political, religious leaders urged to help fight extremism

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Political, religious leaders urged to help fight extremism

A top military official has urged political and religious leaders in Lanao del Sur to actively participate in combating violent extremism.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said they should establish and develop municipal defense through constant and close coordination with the military and police within their areas.

“We have to keep in mind that violent extremism is a global menace and it needs to be addressed by all sectors of society. It could be anywhere, it could be creeping already within our homes, our communities,” Galvez said.

“It could be right under our noses, we just might not have any clue that it is there already,” Galvez added.

He also encouraged the local chief executives to take responsibility in their respective communities especially on issues of security.

“However, we need to harmonize our efforts into one goal this time--to fix what violent extremism has broken and to prevent it from spreading and creating further destruction,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Westmincom said in a statement on Tuesday that the Lanao del Sur Provincial Peace and Order Council has proposed to propagate mainstream Islamic moderation, putting the resolution in the hands of Muslim traditional leaders, the Ulama, and the community.

“Opportunities for building the capacity of Muslim teachers in Islamic studies and religious leaders must be created,” the Westmincom quoted Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Mamintal Adiong as saying.

“There is also a need to review policies on recognition of the traditional Madaris and to adopt common regulation, supervision, accreditation, and standardization of curricula to ensure teachings and learnings are consistent with the mainstream Islamic moderation and practices,” he added.

He said this could be achieved if the traditional leaders, parents, and the Ulama take active role in ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are educated.


7 die in Sulu clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): 7 die in Sulu clash

Seven people, including four suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits, were killed while two others were wounded in a clash in the province of Sulu, a top military official said Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said the clash occurred at around 12:45 p.m. Tuesday in sitio Kan Hassan, Barangay Bud Bunga, Talipao, Sulu.

Sobejana identified the groups as that of Jul Hamidi of Barangay Upper Kamuntayan, Talipao and another one of suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Al Arod.

Sobejana added that the group of Arod is a known enemy of the Hamidi family.

He said Arod is the son of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Arod Wahing.

The firefight resulted in the death of Jul Hamidi and two of his followers, namely Kaidal Sayyari and a certain Juddama.

Two of Hamidi’s followers were wounded. One of them was identified as Hatib Jamih.

On the side of the Abu Sayyaf, four were killed including Arod. Two of the other three fatalities were only identified as a certain Kiram and a certain Awa.

Sobejana said the Abu Sayyaf bandits withdrew towards the forested area leaving behind their slain companions and dragged along the wounded members.

Sobejana said troops from the Army’s 21st Infantry Battalion are tracking down the fleeing Abu Sayyaf bandits.


Guihulngan PNP cautious in responding to mountain areas

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Guihulngan PNP cautious in responding to mountain areas

The Philippine National Police (PNP) acting provincial director of Negros Oriental on Tuesday admitted that police personnel in Guihulngan City are directed to be extra cautious in responding to calls for assistance especially in the hinterland barangays.

Sr. Supt. Henry Biñas made the admission Tuesday as yet another person was shot over the weekend in Guihulngan City, now perceived to have an unusual number of shooting incidents since the July 21st ambush by alleged Communist terrorists that left six policemen dead and three other police personnel and a civilian wounded.

Sr. Supt. Biñas admitted that Guihulngan police cannot move alone without the help of the Philippine Army or the PNP’s Special Action Force who are better trained on the ISO (internal security operations), considering the treacherous manner that the NPA employs to target the police and other law enforcement operatives.

While it is not immediately easy to presume whether the motive for any killing is related to the drugs war or the terrorist movement, Sr. Supt. Biñas disclosed that he has directed the police chief of Guihulngan to coordinate with the Army or the SAF prior to responding to crime incidents especially in the mountainous areas.

The provincial director admitted that shooting incidents in the mountainous areas of Guihulngan have gone up, although he didn’t have available data yet.

He said the police are cautious when responding to calls especially in the mountains as anything can happen, such as the Communist NPA terrorists using other people as “bait” by killing them so policemen will respond and in the process, the lawless elements can carry out attacks against them.

The latest victim was a man believed to have ties with the Barangay Intelligence Network (BIN) and was shot over the weekend for a still unknown motive in Barangay Binobohan of that northern city.


Search for remaining Maute hostages now ongoing: AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Search for remaining Maute hostages now ongoing: AFP

With the retaking of various Maute group-controlled areas in Marawi City, the military is now determining the areas where the terrorists are holding their remaining hostages.

"So we're still seeking to locate the probable areas where hostages are being held and we are still looking forward to rescuing these hostages," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in an interview with CNN Philippines Monday.

An estimated 30 hostages is still believed to be in the hands of the Maute Group terrorists.

Padilla made this statement as the AFP made significant territorial gains last week with the recapture of the Marawi City Police Station and Grand Mosque, forcing the remaining members of the Maute Group into an area measuring about half a square-kilometer.

These buildings are strategically located making their capture a military necessity.

As of this posting, military units in Marawi have so far neutralized 603 terrorists and recovered 665 weapons. Government losses were placed at 130 troops along with 45 civilians executed or killed by the terrorists.

Rescued civilians are placed at 1,728 and 1,270 improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnances recovered so far.


AFP, PNP deploy all-female contingent in Marawi City

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): AFP, PNP deploy all-female contingent in Marawi City

In line with government efforts to care for families displaced by fighting in Marawi City, the AFP and PNP officially deployed Tuesday an all-female civil relations company (CRC) in the war-torn locality.

The send-off ceremony in Villamor Airbase, Pasay City was spearheaded by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff, Gen. Eduardo Año.
The contingent is composed of 105 troops, of which 100 are enlisted military and police personnel, and five officers, including four from AFP.

Of the 105, 30 are from Luzon, 59 from Mindanao, and 16 from Visayas consisting of various religious denominations.

“The all-female CRC will be deployed to Marawi to form part of an inter-agency team that shall assist in the implementation of rehabilitation and recovery programs for internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in the battle-stricken city,” AFP public affairs office chief, Col. Edgard Arevalo, said.

Their mission is to assist in the implementation of programs that will help IDPs who have been traumatized by their experience in the ongoing clashes in Marawi City.

“The CRC may also serve as a mother or elder sister figure to the evacuees, especially the youth, to help alleviate their conditions in various evacuation centers,” Arevalo added.

Prior to their send-off, the CRC completed the required pre-deployment training organized by the AFP Civil-Military Operations School, and Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement from Aug. 21 to 25.

The CRC will be under the operational control of Western Mindanao Command. They will be positioned in evacuation centers as well as in communities that significantly need rehabilitation.

The deployment of the all-female CRC is one of the efforts of the Joint AFP-PNP Civil Relations Committee (JAPCRC).

It seeks to promote and enable the coordination and synchronization of AFP Civil-Military Operations and PNP Police Community Relations on matters relating to national security and development.

“The AFP and PNP recognize the need to address the substantial psychological stress experienced by the residents of Marawi City. With this, we commit our forces not only to liberate Marawi from the terrorists but to help the city get back up on its feet again, and ensure the protection of its citizens,” Año said.


Duterte declares Sept. 1 regular holiday for Eid'l Adha

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Duterte declares Sept. 1 regular holiday for Eid'l Adha

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared September 1 a regular holiday in observance of the Muslim festival Eid'l Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice.

The declaration was issued through Proclamation No. 297 which the President signed August 29, 2017.

The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) has recommended September 1, which falls on a Friday, as the day corresponding to the observance of Eid'l Adha based on the Islamic Calendar.

Eid'l Adha is one of Islam's two major feasts that is celebrated worldwide each year.

The festival commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son, as an act of obedience to God's command.


Año on gov't post after AFP retirement: 'I leave it to authorities"

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Año on gov't post after AFP retirement: 'I leave it to authorities"

AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año said he is leaving it all up to the legal experts and the national leadership on whether he can be given another government post shortly after his retirement on October 26.

He issued this statement in wake of President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement that he wants the AFP chief retained in the government and appointed as his senior aide after his retirement from the military.

And while Año is pleased with the Chief Executive's pronouncements and said it is a great honor for him as it highlights his long service at the military, he said that he is leaving the matter to relevant authorities.

I leave it to the legal (experts) and to the national leadership kung papano ako makakapagbigay pa ng serbisyo. (I leave it to the legal (experts) and to the national leadership as to how I can still render service.) Ako naman ay hindi naman ako namimili, kung saan lang ako pwedeng makatulong, public service lang naman ang ano natin (I am not picky. I am willing to help by all means. Anyway, this is all about public service.)" he stressed.


Marawi City tightly sealed by military: AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Marawi City tightly sealed by military: AFP

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, Gen. Eduardo Año, on Tuesday said there is no way for the lawless elements to escape or get reinforcements as the military prepares for the "one big battle" that will finally free Marawi City from the clutches of the remaining Maute Group terrorists.

"That's our main goal (against the Maute Group terrorists) no way out, no way in, if they want to join, they want to go to heaven sabi nila, so we will give them the chance to go to heaven," Año said.

This is an obvious reference to the AFP's tight security in all entry and exit points in Marawi City where attempts to penetrate are harshly treated by the military.

The AFP chief cited as an example the Maute Group's attempt to infiltrate in Marawi City via Lake Lanao last Monday which was foiled by government troops.

In the ensuing firefight, 10 Maute Group terrorists were killed as their boat was sunk while one firearm was also recovered.

"So gusto lang natin ipakita dito na anywhere they go (So what we want to show here is that anywhere they go), if they will attempt to reinforce or they will escape, we are ready to get them," he added.

Año, however, declined to give an exact timeframe on when the operation for Marawi City's liberation will start but stressed that the momentum, as proven by the recapture of the Marawi City Police Station and Grand Mosque, is definitely on the side of the government.

With this development, the AFP chief said the remaining Maute Group terrorists are now constricted in a small area measuring less than 500 square meters where they are expected to resist fiercely.


Peace month 2017 to highlight compassion and unity among Filipinos

From the Philippine Information Agency (Aug 29): Peace month 2017 to highlight compassion and unity among Filipinos

Puso para sa Kapayapaan, Magkaisa para sa Bayan,” is the theme for this year’s celebration of National Peace Consciousness Month. Rather than just talk about change, the theme reflects the positive change we want our country to achieve.

The theme also reminds us to put a little more understanding and respect to one another so that despite our many differences, having a diverse culture can be the strength of our country.

In his message for the Peace Month, Deputy Peace Adviser Undersecretary Nabil Tan also encouraged the Filipino people to be active participants to the peace process and be advocates of peace, “Let us find ways in which we can contribute to the ongoing peace process and become catalysts of peace, unity and understanding in our respective communities.”

“I believe that all of us can be peace builders. Let us start now,” he added.

OPAPP Undersecretary Diosita T. Andot also called on the Filipino people to unite so we can withstand the challenges our country experiences, “Nowadays, we say PUSO when we are passionate about something, expressing our strong feelings and emotions in an ardent way. As we celebrate the National Peace Consciousness Month this September, our PUSO for peace should be highlighted, as we reflect on our gains to promote social healing and peacebuilding on our nation.

We would like to invite everyone to unite for our common goal in withstanding the challenges our country faces and ensuring a just and lasting peace to all Filipinos. PUSO PARA SA KAPAYAPAAN, MAGKAISA PARA SA BAYAN.”

Pursuant to the thrust of the government to instill greater consciousness and understanding among the Filipino people on the comprehensive peace process and to sustain institutional and popular support for participation in the promotion of building a culture of peace, the month of September was declared as the “National Peace Consciousness Month” by virtue of Proclamation No. 675 dated July 2004.

The same Proclamation mandates the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to be the lead government agency to coordinate and monitor the observance of the National Peace Consciousness Month.

OPAPP, together with national and local government agencies, will be conducting nationwide peace and development related events and activities. To formally launch the Peace Month, OPAPP will simultaneously celebrate Eid’l Adha on 1 September within 4 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps situated in Iligan City.

This year’s Peace Month highlight is the “Peace Buzz”. It is a peace caravan that will roam nationwide to bring the government’s peace initiatives on the ground. The Peace Buzz will kick off in Baguio City, and will make stops in Quezon City, Legazpi City, Catbalogan City, Butuan City, Davao City, Iligan City. It will conclude its journey in Marawi City, in time for the Closing Ceremony of the Peace Month.

Aside from the Peace Buzz, OPAPP will also conduct series of fora that aims to educate different stakeholders about the peace process. Other Peace Month activities include contests that target the youth such filmmaking, photography, and spoken word competition. (OPAPP)


Maute group, Hapilon cornered in 500-square-meter area —AFP

From GMA News (Aug 29): Maute group, Hapilon cornered in 500-square-meter area —AFP

Government forces have cornered in a 500-square-meter area the members of ISIS-inspired Maute group still holed up in Marawi City, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Eduardo Año said Tuesday.

Año said that among the bandits in the area are their leaders, the brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute, and Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon, the primary subject of the government forces when they went to Marawi on May 23.

“Small area na lang ito, less than 500 square meters but sabi ko nga we will expect confrontation with Maute-ISIS as they do their last stand,” Año said.

“[As] far as we know Abdullah and Omar are still there. (Hapilon) is still there,” he added.

He said there was no way for the Maute members to get out of Marawi and for their allies to go in and reinforce their ranks.

“That’s our main goal. No way out, no way in. If they want to join, they want to go to heaven, sabi nila, so we will give them the chance to go to heaven,” he said.

The AFP chief earlier said that the military was preparing for one final push against the Maute group as the latter’s controlled area dwindled.

As of August 28, a total of 133 soldiers and police have been killed in the firefight while 614 were killed on the enemy side.

A total of 45 civilians have also perished while 1,728 have been rescued.


What Did the US Pacific Military Chief’s Philippines Visit Accomplish?

From The Diplomat  (Aug 29): What Did the US Pacific Military Chief’s Philippines Visit Accomplish?

A closer look at Harry Harris’ visit to Manila

From August 23-24, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) commander Admiral Harry Harris visited the Philippines and met with key officials including President Rodrigo Duterte. His visit reaffirmed the ongoing cooperation being forged by the two allies in spite of clear setbacks under Duterte’s reign thus far.

The United States and the Philippines have officially been treaty allies since the inking of the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951 and have a long history of security collaboration (See: “The US-Philippine Alliance Under Duterte: A Path to Recalibration”). Although the environment for bilateral cooperation has been somewhat complicated since Duterte took power last June and vowed to forge a more independent foreign policy that diversifies Manila’s alignments away from Washington and towards other powers like China and Russia, important collaboration in areas ranging from counter-terrorism to maritime security is still continuing.

On counter-terrorism, U.S. support for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has only intensified in recent months as Manila has confronted Islamic State-linked militants in the southern city of Marawi, which has exposed its well-known limitations (See: “US Terror Aid to Philippines Signals Enduring Defense Ties Under Duterte”).

And on maritime security, despite the weakening of the Philippines’ South China Sea position as Duterte seeks a broader accommodation with China, important U.S. assistance to Manila has continued, with notable developments including bilateral interactions focused on the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas as well as the transfer of a high-tech radar balloon last week (See: “Beware the New China-Philippines South China Sea Deal”).

Last week, Harris paid a visit to the Philippines in the latest in a series of visits by U.S. officials, ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s expected meeting with Duterte in Manila later this year when he will attend the next round of ASEAN summitry there (See: “Why Trump Should Go To APEC and EAS in Vietnam and the Philippines”). Other officials, including commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Scott Swift and U.S. Marine Corps General Robert B. Neller, have also visited the Southeast Asian state over the summer.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Harris met with top Philippine officials including Duterte as well as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP chief Eduardo Ano, and Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, in Manila. He also participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the Heroes’ Cemetery in Taguig to honor Filipino military heroes and made a trip to Zamboanga which included meeting Commander of Western Mindanao Command Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr.

The meetings, the Embassy said in the short public statement, predictably focused on “upcoming bilateral engagements, recent aid and military assistance that the U.S. government has provided to the Philippines, as well as opportunities for additional U.S. support in Marawi,” in addition to other issues of regional concern such as North Korea. The focus in the statement on the Marawi situation, instead of the South China Sea, reflects both the urgency of the terrorism threat as well as the sensitivity on that aspect of maritime cooperation thus far during Duterte’s reign.

And as useful as such public statements are, it is important to recall, as I have noted previously, that the U.S. and Philippine officials have said privately that the lack of public disclosure about specifics in U.S.-Philippine defense cooperation in the Duterte era obscures the inroads being made despite the complications that remain.


Maynilad to treat water in Marawi

From The Standard (Aug 27): Maynilad to treat water in Marawi

Maynilad Water Services Inc. said it will deploy a mobile water treatment plant to Marawi City to provide potable water for the troops and civilians in the war-stricken city.

Maynilad’s mobile water treatment plant, which uses reverse osmosis and chlorination technology to remove bacteria and contaminants from any water source, can produce about 7,000 gallons of water per day―enough to meet the daily drinking requirements of some 17,000 people.

Maynilad recently turned over the mobile water treatment plant to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Civil Relations Service after training its personnel on the proper operation and maintenance of the equipment.

“Clean water is a basic need of our soldiers, so we appreciate this support from Maynilad. We also plan to share the water produced by the mobile treatment plant with the displaced Maranao families in the evacuation centers,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Acosta, surgeon general of the AFP.

Maynilad also donated clothes, 500 pieces of bottled water and 150 portable water microfilters to the soldiers and the families in the evacuation areas.

The company said the initiative was being done in partnership with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System headed by administrator Reynaldo Velasco, who responded to the request of Acosta to augment the diminishing supply of potable water for government troops and civilians in Marawi City.

“Aside from meeting the immediate need for potable water, Maynilad is also looking into providing more sustainable ways of helping Marawi once the war is over and rehabilitation efforts begin,” said Maynilad president and chief executive Ramoncito Fernandez.

Maynilad is the largest private water concessionaire in the Philippines in terms of customer base.


Japan, UN group to work to combat pirates in Philippines

The Manichi (Aug 29): Japan, UN group to work to combat pirates in Philippines

VIENNA -- Japan is set to join hands with a U.N. organization in combatting pirates belonging to an Islamic extremist group in the Philippines, it has been learned. 

The Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf, which is apparently loyal to the Islamic State (IS) militant group, has attacked numerous commercial vessels off the Philippines. As part of its efforts to step up countermeasures against terror in Asia, Tokyo will support maritime police forces in the Philippines and other countries to prevent extremist groups from expanding.

The latest move is part of an action plan on anti-pirate measures that Japan and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) signed in Vienna on Aug. 28.

The Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea in the southwestern Philippines are part of a route for commercial vessels transporting iron ore from Australia to Japan, China and other countries. In recent years, acts of piracy by Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups are intensifying in the area. According to the nongovernment organization Oceans Beyond Piracy, there were 38 cases in which pirates attacked commercial and other vessels in the area last year. In 21 of these cases, pirates kidnaped crewmembers and demanded ransom for the release of the hostages.

Meanwhile, there has been an ongoing battle between militant groups including Abu Sayyaf and government forces since May, following an attack on the stronghold of a high-ranking member of Abu Sayyaf, who is known as the IS leader in Southeast Asia, on Mindanao in the southern Philippines. It has been pointed out that the Philippines could be a hotbed for the IS.

Concerned about terrorists entering Japan prior to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020, the country is poised to cooperate with the UNODC, which has expertise in combatting pirates off Somalia, in anti-terror measures off the Philippines. The joint forces will provide maritime police in the Philippines and surrounding countries with effective methods for identifying and chasing pirate ships to help them crack down on pirates.

Duterte: Reports say Taguiwalo gave conditional cash fund to NPA

From CNN (Aug 28): Duterte: Reports say Taguiwalo gave conditional cash fund to NPA

Former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, and President Rodrigo Duterte. (FILE PHOTO)

President Rodrigo Duterte said he has received reports claiming that former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo released funds from the government's conditional cash transfer fund to the New People's Army (NPA).

"She was suspected by, hindi naman lahat, but people… na the bulk of the money went to, ditong Pantawid, naibigay doon sa mga — ako sinabi ko, naibigay sa mga NPA," Duterte told reporters in Pampanga Thursday.  [Translation: She was suspected by, not all, but some people, that the bulk of the money from Pantawid, was given to the NPA.]

The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or 4Ps, is the country's conditional cash transfer program under the Social Welfare Department, which gives money to extremely poor families and promotes the health and education of children. Around ₱54.9-billion of the 2017 national budget is alloted for the 4.4 million household beneficiaries under the program.

Duterte said the money reportedly released by Taguiwalo may have been used by the NPA to buy firearms.

"Baka naibili ng mga bala o armas [It may have been used to buy ammunition or arms,], because of the pronouncement of Sison that they are expanding, that they are recruiting," he noted.

Taguiwalo, a Left-leaning cabinet member, was rejected by the Commission on Appointments on August 16.

On her last day in her post, Taguiwalo said that she kept her faith in the President, but was saddened that he did not do the same with her. She did not elaborate.

Duterte's relationship with the Left remains strained as he cancelled peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines last July, after a clash between government troops and the NPA, the CPP's armed group.

The President also dared exiled communist leader Joma Sison to come back to the country and join his followers.

Besides Taguiwalo, two other members of the Cabinet are allied with the Left: Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.


Troops gear up for final battle in Marawi

From the Straits Times (Aug 29): Troops gear up for final battle in Marawi

Last of militants surrounded, but battle against extremism far from over, say analysts

Philippine forces patrolling a deserted street in Marawi late last month. The battle is seeing its final days as troops accomplished a series of recent victories.

Philippine forces patrolling a deserted street in Marawi late last month. The battle is seeing its final days as troops accomplished a series of recent victories.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Philippine troops are bracing themselves for one last push to retake Marawi from Muslim militants who overran the southern city more than three months ago.

"We're preparing for one big battle," General Eduardo Ano, the military chief, told reporters yesterday. He said he expects the gunmen still holed up in a small pocket inside the city to fight to the last man.

"Do or die. We expect no less from them," he said.

Gen Ano declined to say when the final assault would take place, saying it is up to his ground commanders. Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, said security forces had boxed the militants inside a 0.5km area.

Security forces have been battling hundreds of militants allied with the ultra-radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that overran Marawi on May 23, after a botched army raid to capture their leader, Isnilon Hapilon.

More than 770 people, including 603 militants, 130 soldiers and policemen, and 45 civilians, have died in the fighting, which has sparked concerns that ISIS may have gained a foothold in South-east Asia through local extremists, after suffering battle setbacks in Syria and Iraq.
Spokesman of Task Force Marawi Jo-ann Petinglay reported yesterday that security forces recaptured on Friday a Catholic cathedral seen in an ISIS video being vandalised by the militants early on in the fighting. This came a day after the army retook the grand mosque and a police station.

Philippine forces patrolling a deserted street in Marawi late last month. The battle is seeing its final days as troops accomplished a series of recent victories. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Meanwhile, at least 10 extremists attempting to reinforce those holed up in Marawi by entering by boat via Lake Lanao were intercepted and killed yesterday, Captain Petinglay said.

For Mr Jose Antonio Custodio, a defence analyst, retaking Marawi marks the start of a long journey of fighting Islamist extremism in southern Philippines.

"This is not going to end any time soon," he said, adding that even if the military is able to flush the militants out of Marawi, remnants of the Maute group, which led the May 23 attack, remain in other parts of Lanao province.

"Their areas of influence have not been neutralised," he said.

He added that those who died fighting in Marawi are now serving as "a source of inspiration" for Maranaos, the ethnic Muslim group that form the majority of Marawi's population and are disgruntled by the bombing of their city and purported abuses by soldiers.

"From a guerilla standpoint," he said, "(the militants) won."

Mr Custodio said the challenge the government faces is to "win the hearts and minds of the Maranaos by speeding up in an effective manner development aid and rehabilitation".


10 Maute men killed trying to enter Marawi war zone

From the Philippine Star (Aug 29): 10 Maute men killed trying to enter Marawi war zone

Ten members of the Islamic State inspired Maute group were killed in a pre-dawn encounter yesterday with government troops who intercepted them as they tried to sneak into the main battle area in Marawi City to reinforce their group, a military official reported. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

Ten members of the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute group were killed in a pre-dawn encounter yesterday with government troops who intercepted them as they tried to sneak into the main battle area in Marawi City to reinforce their group, a military official reported.

Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) and Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay said soldiers caught the militants on board two motorized pumpboats in Lake Lanao, moving into the main battle area around 2:30 a.m.

A firefight erupted and lasted for three hours, followed by pursuit operations against the fleeing terrorists, according to Petinglay.

She said that around 5 a.m., government troops conducted a search operation that yielded five bodies from the Maute group, an M16 rifle and a motorized banca.

The dead were initially identified as Muktar, Abu Talib, Ismael, Samson and Nidal, all adolescents.

She added the five others were killed in the pursuit operations but their bodies were not recovered as their pumpboat sank during the fierce chase.

As of yesterday, soldiers and police forces were still searching for the remains of the slain militants in the 340-square kilometer lake.

Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said security around the lake will be heightened as they have anticipated attempts of the terrorists to reinforce their cornered comrades in the city’s main battle area.

“The plan of the terrorists was earlier reported to us, that is why it was easier for patrolling Special Forces Riverine units and maritime policemen to detect and neutralize the movement,” Galvez said, noting that the accomplishment of the government forces was a result of their successful coordination with local government units and civilian authorities in the area.

Galvez said the neutralization of the militants should serve as a warning to those who would try to escape and reinforce the terrorists.

“Our troops are ready for you. We will definitely get you,” Galvez said.
Maute death toll rises to 613

Yesterday’s encounter between government forces and the Maute brought the death toll of militants to 613.

Government forces also recovered 665 assorted high-powered firearms as fighting entered its 98th day yesterday, Petinglay said.

She added that no casualty from government troops has been reported since Sunday, although some 130 have been killed since the first day of hostilities.

Among civilians, the death tool stood at 45 while 1,728 were rescued.

About 1,270 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnances (UXO) were recovered in different structures in the main battle area.

Last Sunday alone, troops recovered 32 IEDs and UXOs rigged as traps by the Maute group in the remaining battle area, Petinglay said.
Cathedral retaken
Government troops have also finally cleared and regained control of St. Mary’s Cathedral since Friday afternoon – 95 days after the conflict started – but had to clear the Catholic church in the mainly Islamic center from IEDs.

Petinglay said troops from the 10th Infantry Battalion had to stealthily and decisively move in and recover the church located in Barangay Marinaut.

During the first week of the siege, the Maute group posted on social media a video of its members seizing the church and desecrating religious images by settling them on fire.

The group also seized Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob along with 10 other church devotees.

Petinglay said that after retaking the church, troops were able to recover three high-powered firearms and assorted ammunition.

This came barely a day after the troops also retook the Islamic Center and the Grand Mosque that the Maute had occupied to use as command and control center.

From the Islamic Center, the troops recovered three booby traps, one suicide bomb suit with IED, two Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers, one RPG rocket, one tripod for a 50-caliber machine gun and one Daesh black flag.

The troops also discovered a dug-in tunnel inside the mosque believed to be the hiding place of ammunition.
Augmenting troops

Meanwhile, another elite Scout Ranger battalion of the Philippine Army headed by a Negrense military officer is now in Marawi, as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) tries to finish off the remnants of the Maute group who continue to engage government troops in armed skirmishes.

The newly organized 5th Scout Ranger Battalion (5SRB), headed by Lt. Col. Marlo Jomalesa, a native of Silay City, Negros Occidental, arrived Saturday in the city.

Jomalesa yesterday said they would join other Scout Ranger units fighting against the Maute group for the past three months.

The 1st Scout Ranger Battalion, which used to be assigned in central Negros, is also in Marawi. It is with the 15th and 82nd Infantry Battalions under the supervision of the 3rd Infantry Division headed by Maj. Gen. Jon Aying.

Before their deployment to Marawi, Jomalesa said the 5SRB troopers underwent training in specialized courses, aside from the close-quarter battle, as the Marawi conflict is being fought in urban warfare.
Prefabricated materials for shelters

In a related development, the National Housing Authority (NHA) is now reportedly eyeing to use prefabricated materials to build better temporary shelters being planned out for 5,000 Marawi “bakwit” (evacuee) families, according to Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Lanao del Norte-First Engineering District assistant district engineer Ade Mustapha Deron.

“Last week, it was discussed that it seems the NHA would scrap the building of bunkhouses and it would instead use prefabricated materials. They are planning on building a single attached, one-story house that has around a 22-square meter floor area. Each house would have its own toilet and a septic tank,” Deron said.

Deron added that the NHA is reportedly planning to start constructing the houses on Sept. 8, targeting to build three houses a day.