Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Troops comb Basilan for Hapilon's followers

From the Philippine Star (Aug 29): Troops comb Basilan for Hapilon's followers

The military is continuing operations in Basilan against an Abu Sayyaf faction led by Isnilon Hapilon to prevent the terrorists from sending fighters to Marawi City and from launching diversionary attacks.

Hapilon is said to be the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria forces in the Philippines and has linked up with the ISIS-inspired Maute terror group that has been holding out in Marawi in Lanao del Sur since May.
Security officials said they are guarding against sympathy attacks since Hapilon is believed to be trapped in Marawi's main battle area, which has slowly been shrinking as government forces retake key areas of the city.
Col. Juvymax Uy, commander of Joint Task Force Basilan, said troops have been conducting pursuit operations and combing the province's jungles for Hapilon's men.
He said the military is watching out for movements that could indicate Hapilon is returning or has returned. 
“Preemptive action is continuously pursued to thwart that possibility,” Uy said.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command chief, said reports indicate that Hapilon is still in the main battle area in Marawi. 
The Westmincom oversees operations to retake Marawi.
On Monday, security forces thwarted an attempt by Maute fighters to enter the main battle area through Lake Lanao, killing 10 militants. Galvez did not discount the possibility that the attempt may have been part of a plan to evacuate Hapilon and terrorist leaders Abdullah and Omar Maute, both of whom have been reported dead.
Authorities have yet to determine whether the brothers are really dead.

7 killed in fighting between Muslim clan, Abu Sayyaf

From Anadolu Agency (Aug 30): 7 killed in fighting between Muslim clan, Abu Sayyaf

Hamidi clan of Sulu province is known enemy of Abu Sayyaf faction led by Al Arod

Seven people were killed, including four Abu Sayyaf militants, in a battle with a Muslim clan Tuesday in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, a stronghold of the pro-Daesh group.

The fighting, which broke out in the town of Talipao, was between the clan of Jul Hamidi and an Abu Sayyaf faction led by Al Arod, son of terrorist sub-leader Arod Wahing, according to Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Joint Task Group Sulu as reported by the state-run Philippine News Agency.

Sobejana added that the Hamidi clan and Arod’s faction are known rivals in the town.
The firefight resulted in the death of Jul Hamidi, two of his followers and Arod along with three of his followers.

Two followers of Hamidi were also wounded and an undetermined number from the militants’ side who they brought with them when they fled.

Sobejana said the soldiers are pursuing the militants as part of focused military operations in a bid to rescue at least 20 hostages still being held by them, 15 of which are foreigners.

CCT money in envelopes found in NPA camp, says Duterte

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 29): CCT money in envelopes found in NPA camp, says Duterte

Envelopes with money from the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the government were found in a camp of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday.

Duterte again tackled reports the funds for the CCT of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) were diverted to the NPA during the watch of then Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.

“They recovered from an NPA camp envelopes containing the Pantawid,” he added, referring to the formal name of the CCT program, which is Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).

Duterte denied, however, that story came from him, saying: “The [reports] that the Taguiwalo used the money did not come from me. That arrived in the hands of the congressmen. Well, from the military maybe. But not from me. Otherwise, I would not have reappointed and reappointed her.”

Taguiwalo had to vacate her post as DSWD chief after the powerful Commission on Appointments rejected her appointment.

“Mr. President, I kept faith with you,” Taguiwalo said afterwards. “I’m just sad because I don’t think you kept faith with me in the end.”

On Monday, the President said the 4Ps money “might have been used” to buy ammunition or firearms after Jose Maria Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said the NPA was “expanding, recruiting.”

“So, therefore, they would need more arms,” Duterte said. “They can buy, ambush, steal, or extort, whatever.”

“Let me be very clear,” he added. “To the Communists: You listen. I don’t care if the recipient was a poor NPA member or a poor law-abiding citizen. They both need food. Just don’t buy bullets and firearms.”

“So for Secretary Taguiwalo, you are barking at the wrong tree,” Duterte went on. “That is what I told the military. I’m not so concerned about money reaching the hands of the NPAs.”

Taguiwalo said the accusations against her were “baseless.”

“For the record and for the President’s own awareness, not a single peso of the 4Ps program passed through my hands,” Taguiwalo said in a statement.

She said the funds were directly coursed through Land Bank of the Philippines and its conduits, which then made direct payouts to CCT beneficiaries.

“These transactions are recorded and COA [Commission on Audit] regularly audits this program,” Taguiwalo said.

Has Marawi killed the Philippines peace process?

From The Interpreter (Aug 29): Has Marawi killed the Philippines peace process? (By Sidney Jones)

For years, the common wisdom about conflict in the southern Philippines was that the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was the best antidote to radicalisation. We all said it – analysts, activists, donors, diplomats, anyone who cared about making Mindanao a better place.

Now it's time to face facts: the peace process in Mindanao may be dead, and no one has a Plan B. Thinking about alternative options is now critical.

Since 1997, the agonisingly slow process toward autonomy has been aimed at the creation of an autonomous territory called Bangsamoro that would replace and have greater powers than the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The basis would be a comprehensive agreement worked out in 2014 between the MILF and the government that was supposed to be enshrined in a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) adopted by the Philippine Congress. Deadlines for passing the BBL have come and gone – a new version is now with Congress, but it might stay there for months (or forever) as political dynamics in Mindanao change for the worse.

If the peace process is dead, the war in Marawi has killed it. Now in its fourth month, the prolonged battle between the Philippine military and a coalition of pro-ISIS fighters in the country's only 'Islamic city' has weakened the MILF, almost certainly exacerbated Islamophobia within Manila's political elite, and laid the groundwork for increased radicalisation in the south.

Ethnic fissures

In recent years, the MILF has been able to position itself as the future leader of Bangsamoro because it could plausibly claim to represent Muslim Mindanao's main ethnic groups, including the two largest, the Maranao from around Marawi and Lake Lanao, and the Maguindanaon, from Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces.

The Marawi war has weakened the MILF's hold over both. It drew some Maranao fighters into ISIS and left others reluctant to fight their kinsmen (though many MILF volunteers also risked their lives to open the 'peace corridor' in June that enabled hundreds of trapped civilians to get out). Many Maranao, however, reportedly saw the MILF as unable to protect them, either from the Maute brothers who command the ISIS forces in Marawi or from the military's bombardment.

A senior MILF leader I met last week in Cotabato argued that they could not take on the Mautes because they had no formal request from the government to do so. Without a clear mandate (such as they have with the government to fight illegal drugs) the chances of a misstep were huge, he said. That's certainly true, but with the military also uncertain of MILF loyalties in the Marawi area, a request for help was unlikely to be forthcoming.

Then in early August, MILF fighters found themselves fighting fellow Maguindanaon in the MILF heartland. A pro-ISIS faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) led by Abu Torayfe (whose death in recent days has been reported, but not confirmed) brought several dozen fighters into MILF territory. The MILF called up its special forces (known as Task Force Ittihad) and resisted the incursion, backed by the Philippine army. When asked why this engagement required no formal request, the MILF leader explained that Abu Torayfe's men posed a direct threat to the MILF and that it was a clear case of self-defence. 'They are out to destroy us,' he said.

A Philippine government official said that the MILF-BIFF fighting was useful for the peace process, 'because it shows that the MILF can be a reliable partner'. But the MILF joining with the government to fight fellow Maguindanaon may not play well within its own constituency when Mindanao is under martial law and when ISIS propaganda is accusing the military of destroying Marawi through airstrikes.

The MILF and Duterte

The MILF has also been weakened by its edgy relationship with President Rodrigo Duterte. Many voters in the MILF heartland supported Duterte's rival, former cabinet minister Mar Roxas, in the 2016 election. When the new President appeared to be in no hurry to press the BBL, the MILF did not push. The President's office finally submitted a new version of the bill to the Philippine Senate on 17 August but without the so-called certificate of urgency that could lead to its being fast-tracked – there are many technical hurdles to clear before it has any chance of being adopted.

An MILF leader excused Duterte's delays by pointing out that he was in the early days of his six-year presidency and believed he had all the time in the world. At the same time, it was clear that the MILF as an organisation is wary of doing anything that could alienate a volatile president. 'With the past [Aquino] administration, we could suggest things for consideration,' said one member. 'With Duterte, the moment he dislikes us, we're out. We have to be very, very careful.'

The decision to let the President set the agenda, however, has deprived the MILF of leverage. In the past, the MILF held out the implicit threat of a return to violence if its concerns were not met. Now it has all but taken that possibility off the table. Chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the most frequent question he gets these days is what the MILF will do if the BBL collapses:

They want us to say we'll go back to war. I say, 'We will continue to assert our right to self-determination.'

The problem is, what if no one is listening? The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), which under President Aquino had been a creative, energetic body that was at once chief advocate and political strategist for the Bangsamoro, has turned into almost a ceremonial office under Duterte. It appears to have no strategy of its own to bring the BBL forward.

The President, meanwhile, has other priorities, including his lethal drug war that has led to more than 8000 extrajudicial killings of suspected dealers and users since he took office (some estimates are far higher). He is also committed to a hazy notion of federalism that has never been fleshed out and whose exact relationship to the BBL has never been made clear.

The truth is that the BBL is stalled, and possibly dead. If it resurfaces in a Congress newly wary of security problems in the south, it may be so watered down that the MILF would further lose credibility by signing on – especially among a younger generation, for whom the organisation, with its aging leadership, seems anything but revolutionary.

Into the breach...

Into the breach come the young, charismatic Mautes, with their message of a universal caliphate promising justice and equality and their goal of establishing a pure Islamic state. They have mastered the art of propaganda, sending messages and videos over social media and relying on mass decentralised dissemination to carry images of their improbable capture of Marawi to the rest of Southeast Asia and beyond (one young MILF member called his own organisation's communication strategy 'Jurassic' by comparison). That message resonates with only a small minority of Mindanao's Muslims but it may be gaining ground, particularly among those displaced by the Marawi fighting and university students. The head of the Philippine Sports Commission came back from a visit to an evacuee centre in Iligan saying the dream of some children there was to join ISIS, seeing the Mautes as heroes. Others report that the displaced are far angrier with the government than with the Mautes, largely because of the airstrikes that have caused so much destruction.

The pro-ISIS recruitment is likely to outlast the Maute's control of Marawi, particularly if those who call themselves the 'East Asia Wilayah' of Islamic State can manage to find a steady source of funding to cover operational costs. The danger is that with their proven ability to cross traditional regional and ethnic lines (Abu Torayfe's forces reportedly included Maranaos, Tausugs, a few Muslim converts and one foreigner), the pro-ISIS groups could morph into a new, more militantly Islamist insurgency than anything the Philippines has seen before.

There is no point sitting around hoping that BBL and a new Bangsamoro polity will be the antidote to extremism. Extremism has already arrived.

What to do

There are many ways to strengthen Muslim Mindanao even in the absence of a BBL. The most pressing need is to get the reconstruction of Marawi right, as failure to do so will aid extremist propaganda and recruitment in the area already most receptive to it.

That means listening to the concerns and priorities of the displaced, ensuring that professionals among them have a role in decision-making and keeping the process accountable and as free of corruption as possible.

Addressing security concerns without undue militarisation is going to be tricky, particularly under martial law. It will be important to quickly try to bring life back to normal in the neighbourhoods largely unaffected by the fighting (the barangays bordering Mindanao State University) but the military reportedly is worried about pro-ISIS fighters seeping back into communities if it allows people to return too soon. Some infiltration will inevitably occur, but a functioning community with jobs and schools can also be an important buffer.

Countering extremism is important, and civil society organisations have made several useful recommendations, from developing youth programs to addressing the 'shadow economy' of guns, narcotics and smuggling. But an obsession with extremism at the expense of addressing other pressing needs in Mindanao, such as improving education and government service delivery, will be counter-productive. Even if the Bangsamoro state does not materialise anytime soon, much can be done.

One final note – Duterte's war on drugs has been as much of a disaster for Mindanao as the Maute brothers. In Marawi, it may have sent some dealers into the arms of the extremists for protection, though there is no evidence to support Duterte's assertion that the Mautes themselves were long involved in the drug trade. It has undercut any efforts to fix the dysfunctional criminal justice system, encouraging vigilante killings and planted evidence. With most of the victims from poor neighbourhoods, it has reportedly led to a spike in recruitment for the Communist New People's Army (NPA), which in any case is taking full advantage of the massive deployment of military forces to Marawi and the Sulu archipelago. And it is diverting the attention of the president and his advisers from moving forward on Bangsamoro autonomy.

If the President is not careful, his legacy to the Philippines will be two newly revitalised insurgencies, not just one.

Emotions running high after death of Maute Group's patriarch: Analyst

From Channel News Asia (Aug 29): Emotions running high after death of Maute Group's patriarch: Analyst

FILE PHOTO: Cayamora Maute, a man who said he was the father of two brothers whose Maute group of Islamist militants led the seizure of Marawi city, gestures inside the police station after his arrest in Davao city, southern Philippines June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr/File Photo
Emotions are running high amongst insurgents in the Philippines after the death of Cayamora Maute, the patriarch of the pro-Islamic State Maute Group which laid siege to Marawi City in May.
Maute, 67, died of illness on Sunday (Aug 27) after being rushed to hospital from prison. He was arrested in June at a checkpoint in Davao City, a month after fierce fighting broke out in Marawi. His sons, Omarkhayam Romato Maute and Abdullah Maute, are leaders of the Maute Group.

“Emotions are high within the group and family. The death is being used to rally relatives, especially those still active in the MILF for support,” a Filipino scholar who studies insurgents told Channel NewsAsia.

“Cayamora was an MILF commander and his death is used to attract more recruits,” added the scholar.

The MILF refers to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Philipines' largest insurgent group. It has condemned the fighting in Marawi where Islamic States' (IS) black flags were raised and civilians beheaded.

As the largest insurgent group which controls territory, MILF is seen as a crucial factor in stemming the flow of militias joining IS.

However, according to Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College in a recent opinion piece, the militias have also been able to win over some defectors from the mainstream MILF whose negotiations for a peace process with the government has been on indefinite hold since January 2015.
“The MILF leadership is looking very old and discredited to a new generation of frustrated and angry Moro youth,” Prof Abuza wrote in a piece that appeared in the BenarNews news portal.

“The MILF is unable to stem the exodus of members who are joining pro-IS militants and must now compete for young recruits,” added Abuza who specialises in Southeast Asia insurgencies and politics.

Asked whether Cayamora's death will trigger anger and suspicions against the government, the Filipino scholar said: “It is happening. Cayamora is an ideologue so his ideology, more than anything else, will move this (fighting) further."
According to the scholar, Cayamora believed in setting up a moderate Islamic state.

A regional security official told Channel NewsAsia that the Maute brothers would probably be "more fierce" due to the death of their father. "They would put the blame on the Philippines government for sure,” he said.

Cayamora Maute, according to the military, funded and provided logistical support for his sons’ activities. It is also believed that the patriarch was involved in drug deals and used the proceeds to buy weapons.
“Without that, they (Maute) cannot buy firearms, ammunitions and other war material,” said the security official.
However, the scholar dismissed those suggestions, saying it was more probable that the Mautes received funds from groups involved in illegal drugs.
“Cayamora does not appear to have directly dealt with drugs. He has 14 children who are accomplished, doctors etc … and would not risk the family,” said the scholar.

“Their lifestyle is not of that of a 'drug lord' unlike local personalities and families who are publicly known as drug dealers and live a luxurious life. But they (Maute) receiving funds from groups involved in illegal drugs is not discounted,” the scholar added.


The Institute for Policy Analysis for Conflict (IPAC) does not expect Cayamora’s death to have any impact on the Maute Group.
“I don’t think it will have a major impact one way or another ... When he (Cayamora) was arrested, operations went on. The leadership was being provided by his sons. I don’t think he was playing a significant role when he was arrested,” said Sidney Jones, director of IPAC.

The Maute Group’s funding and logistical support are also expected to continue unfettered by Cayamora’s death as financing for the group is well in place, Jones added.

“The logistics had already been assembled. The financing was already in place. I think the mother was much more important then the father in terms of the logistics,” she explained.

His wife, Farhana Maute, is an accomplished businesswoman in the contracting business.
In a July report, IPAC said funding for the Marawi operations “came directly from IS’ central (Syria) as well as local sources.”

According to IPAC, the Philippines military said US$600,000 was chanelled to the group via Malaysian militant Mahmud Ahmad who is aligned with the Abu Sayaf Group’s pro-IS faction.

Jones believes there will be a slow dispersal of Marawi fighters to other parts of Mindanao island.

“Recruitment will continue even if the Marawi siege is contained,” said the scholar.

Maute’s death comes one week after IS released a new slick video calling for Muslims from across Southeast Asia to go to Marawi to wage jihad, worrying security officials across the region.

Malaysia's top counter-terror cop, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, called the video “powerful and dangerous” which would excite and provoke young, fanatical Muslim men to go to Marawi, saying it was a problem for the entire Southeast Asia region.

AFP believes father’s death has huge impact on Maute brothers

From UNTV (Aug 30): AFP believes father’s death has huge impact on Maute brothers

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) believes that the leaders of the terrorist group, Omar and Abdullah Maute, are affected by the death of their father Cayamora Maute.
“It would have a huge impact, of course, since his children are still in Marawi City. They are affected. This means that all people might be killed, but we should always be on the right side. What we are doing is goodness for the people, for the country,” AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año said.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año said he is saddened by the death of Cayamora Maute.

But with the Maute Partriarch’s demise, government forces are now preparing for a bigger battle in the event the Maute brothers take revenge for the death of their father.
“We have seen the progress and the advancement of our soldiers. We have already retaken the grand mosque. The area left to them is small.”

“So probably we are preparing for one big battle,” Año said.

General Año is confident that the battle will end sooner as there are only 40 terrorists left in the city.

The number of deaths on the part of the terrorists group has already reached more than 600 in the 67-day fighting.

As of current, soldiers still need to clear about 300 buildings in the now war-torn city.

‘Don’t embarrass me’

From the Mindanao Times (Aug 30): ‘Don’t embarrass me’

Mayor Sara issues challenge to new TF Davao commander

MAYOR SARA Duterte-Carpio challenged the newly appointed Task Force Davao commander to ensure that his stint will result to “zero terrorism incident.”

Col. Nolasco Mempin replaced Col. Edwin Bernard Neri during the turnover ceremony at TF headquarters in Sta. Ana wharf.

During her speech as a guest of honor and speaker, Mayor Duterte revealed that Mempin came with high recommendations. In fact, her first choice to replace Neri was a former TF commander.

“I was the one who vetted you and I will only add one, don’t sleep, don’t breathe, and don’t embarrass me because I was the one who vetted you,” she said.

The mayor also said that she appreciates the efforts of both the Task Force Davao and the Philippine National Police, especially when she sees men in uniform patrolling the streets even at midnight or before daybreak.

“The reason why you are not allowed to sleep it’s because our students, as well as doctors and nurses and other professionals and Davaoenos will sleep peacefully and that’s your job to wake up while they are sleeping to prepare and secure the city,” she added.

In return, she said, the TF Davao can expect the full support of the local government and its inhabitants. For one, the financial support for the Cafgu auxiliary will continue along with other needs of the contingent to perform their job well.

In a separate interview yesterday, Mempin said that he’s accepting the challenge of Mayor Duterte.

“Even if one incident occurs, it’s going to be a failure on our campaign against terrorism,” Mempin said.

He described the outgoing TF Davao commander as a mentor who molded him to become a good soldier. “I take pride in being a soldier to ensure first the safety and protection of the people before your own personal comfort,” he said.

Mempin said they will continue to intensify their intelligence efforts, in addition to the adopted security measures, to thwart any terror attack in the city. Among the security measures are visibility and random checkpoints.

“Don’t sleep because maybe when you sleep that’s the time when the enemy (will strike),” he further said.

The ceremony was held at the TF Davao headquarters in Sta. Ana wharf, presided by Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin, assistant division commander of 10th ID.

Duterte-Carpio and Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, the deputy commander of Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom), were the guests of honor.

Mempin was a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Bigkis Lahi” class 1990, who graduated top eight in a class of 147.

Prior to his designation, Mempin was the chief of Governance and Strategy Management Office (GSMO) of the 10th Infantry Division. He became also the commander of 78th Infantry battalion under the 8th Infantry Division.

OPAPP: Negotiations only one of many roads toward peace

From the Mindanao Times (Aug 30): OPAPP: Negotiations only one of many roads toward peace

PRESIDENTIAL Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said the national government is continuing its efforts despite the cancellation of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines and National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF).

“The talk are ongoing but is still now canceled. The president had instructed ‘no talks.’ We in the panel takes his guidance and decisions,” he said.

“Everything is cancelled, but it doesn’t stop OPAPP and other sectors working for peace to continue our work,” he said, noting that the negotiating table is only one of many roads toward peace.

Another way to ensure peace is to improve the lives of the people. “We can continue improving the lives of the people even without the peace agreement. You can even sign a hundred pieces of agreements. If you cannot improve the lives of the people, nothing will happen to the paper that was signed,” he said.

The peace secretary also noted, however, that the negotiation with the MILF has been sustained despite the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. He said the government is already working with the group to develop Moro communities through the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA).
The BDA was established in accordance with the humanitarian, rehabilitation, and development aspects of the GRP-MILF Peace Agreement in 2001. This is aimed at determining and managing rehabilitation and development projects in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.

Photo: Destruction in Marawi

From MindaNews (Aug 30): Photo: Destruction in Marawi

Damaged buildings loom in the background as Philippine Marines backed by a V300 armored vehicle cross Mapandi Bridge in Marawi City on Wednesday (Aug. 30, 2017), 100 days since the Islamic State-inspired Maute group started a siege that has made the city a ghost town. Government troops recaptured the bridge from the militants late last month. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Army prohibits civilians from using Maguindanao river

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 29): Army prohibits civilians from using Maguindanao river

The Philippine Army has prohibited residents in 3 municipalities in the southern Maguindanao province to cross or use the river to go to nearby towns.

It said the restriction was imposed because of on-going military operations against terrorists in the province. It took effect of August 28.

“In connection with the on-going and sustained military operations in Datu Salibu, Shariff Saidona Mustapha and Datu Piang municipalities please advise everyone that water transportation in the vicinity and adjoining municipalities will be restricted.”

“All civilians are therefore advised to refrain if not avoid the use of water/river as mode of transportation. This action is being implemented for the safety of civilians. We will continue our efforts in fighting the insurgents in order to disrupt the group that threatens the security operations,” Capt. Arvin Encinas, the army spokesman, said without further elaborating.

Residents frequently use the river to cross to nearby villages and towns and to transport commodities and farm produce. The governor of Maguindanao, Esmael Mangudadatu, did not release any statement on the army restriction for the transportation use of the river.

It was unknown if Mangudadatu or municipal mayors and officials were consulted on this matter.

Military allows journos to go near Marawi battle area

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 30): Military allows journos to go near Marawi battle area

The Philippine military on Wednesday allowed journalists covering the war in Marawi to cross a bridge previously under the control of local ISIS militants and see the devastation that ruined the historic Islamic city.

Tanks and armoured carriers rolled onto the Mapandi Bridge as journalists from various news outlets followed as security officials assured their safety following days of clearing operations to ensure that no bombs or improvised devices had been left behind by militants.

Although the area had been free from ISIS fighters, gunshots can still be heard from afar where government soldiers are still battling dozens of militants who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

The face of a destroyed city – blasted buildings covered in bullet holes – and debris scattered all around was a sight that resembled the war-ravaged city of Mosul in Iraq where ISIS battled government forces.

The fighting in Marawi has entered its 4th month and military chief Eduardo Año said this would be over soon, but the agony of tens of thousands of Muslim residents displaced by the deadly violence will stay longer in their hearts as they suffer in cramped and filthy evacuation camps not far away from here.

Bringing journalists at the doorstep of the battle area also served as big boost to military’s effort in showing the public the difficult task of retaking part of the besieged city from ISIS. More than 100 soldiers had so far died in the battle with the military claiming to have killed over 600 militants since May 23 when ISIS occupied Marawi in an effort to put up an Islamic State province in the provincial capital. Dozens of civilians were also slain in the clashes.

On Tuesday, the military deployed 102 female soldiers and policewomen to help local efforts in addressing the needs of families displaced by the crisis. The contingent is composed of 40 policewomen and 62 army members – mostly Muslims – who will be assigned to different evacuation centers in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte and in Iligan City.

They all underwent special training on gender and development and studied modules on cultural sensitivity prior to their deployment and will also assist in the many aspects of recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of Marawi. They were trained in Psycho Social Intervention and Peace Education to assist in the implementation of programs to help the evacuees.

MILF fighters arrest 3 BIFF men

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): MILF fighters arrest 3 BIFF men

Three more members of ISIS-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were arrested by Moro rebel group in Maguindanao as manhunt against local jihadists has continued.

The three were arrested while trying to slip past members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in a river at sitio Butalo, Barangay Sambulawan, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao on Tuesday afternoon, according to Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, police regional director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).

They were on board a wooden-hulled banca posing as fishermen when the MILF Task Force Ittihad (Unity) members noticed firearms covered with black cloth beside them.

When checked, the MILF, which signed a peace agreement with the government and obliged to get rid of terrorists in Mindanao, found several firearms.

Sr. Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao police director, identified the arrested BIFF members as Mahmod Alimudin, 43, Oting Kaligan, 27 and Akmad Jacaria, 18, all residents of Barangay Sambulawan.

They are reportedly followers of Commander Abu Toraype, a BIFF sub-leader, who pledge allegiance to ISIS.

More than 50 peple have been killed in the on-going Army-backed MILF pursuit operations against the BIFF.

Fighting between former comrades erupted in mid-August when the local terrorists encroached MILF identified communities in Datu Salibo.

Al Haj Murad, MILF chair, said the MILF, in keeping with the 1997 ceasefire agreement with the government, will continue to prevent BIFF from influencing MILF members and sympathizers.

The three will be turned over to the Maguindanao police for filing of appropriate charges.

It can be recalled that 10 MILF fighters were hurt when the BIFF set off an improvised bomb and are being treated in a military hospital inside Camp Siongco, Maguindanao.

Earlier, Lt. Colonel Gerry Besana, chief of the Army's 6th Infantry Division's Civil Military Operations, said the Army banned civilians to use water transportation in the marshland to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

Ustadz Esmael Abdulmalik, leader of a faction of the BIFF, was injured during the firefight, according to spokesmen of two other factions.

More police and military detachments have been established in Maguindanao to prevent the BIFF from carrying out diversionary and sympathy attacks after Abu Toraype was killed in a clash with the MILF last week.

Women uniformed personnel arrive in Marawi

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Women uniformed personnel arrive in Marawi

One-hundred-two female soldiers and policewomen have been deployed to Marawi City to specifically assist female evacuees, elderly and youngsters with special needs, who need utmost attention.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, on Wednesday said they are assigned to different evacuation centers in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte and Iligan City.

“These female personnel underwent special training on gender and development, and studied modules on cultural sensitivity prior to their deployment,” Galvez said.

“Something has to be done with the situation of the female refugees and the children, that is why we opted to best address the problem by designating female soldiers and cops,” Galvez added.

He said they will also clean houses and streets when rehabilitation is already in full swing.

The female personnel, consisting of 62 Philippine Army and 40 policewomen, arrived Tuesday, August 29, aboard a C-130 Hercules plane in Laguindingan, Cagayan de Oro City.

Galvez, Chief Supt. Raul Boac, deputy regional director for administration of the Police Regional Office-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Marawi City administrator Camid Gandarma and Sultan Macmod Dalidig, chair of the 16 sultanates in Lanao, welcomed them.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, Westmincom information officer, said they were placed on orientation program and “will be deployed tomorrow (August 31).”

Some of them, who are nurses and medics, will be assigned to the medical stations inside the evacuation centers.

Army blocks rebels' drive to recover Leyte villages

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Army blocks rebels' drive to recover Leyte villages

The Philippine Army has assured Leyte villagers that they will not allow communist rebels to recover former strongholds.

Brig. Gen. Francisco Mendoza, Army’s 802nd brigade commander, said on Wednesday that recent clashes in the mountains of Burauen, Leyte do not mean that rebels are gaining strength in the province.

“The three encounters in Burauen town in the past few weeks happened in the mountains and far from communities. This is an indication that rebels are no longer welcome in villages,” Francisco said.

The official said the clashes happened because villagers reported to the military the sightings of armed rebels in the mountains.

A soldier was wounded during clashes from August 15 to August 20. These encounters led the discovery of camps of New People’s Army (NPA), and driving rebels upland, farther from settlements. Mendoza revealed there are about 50 rebels in Leyte province, 40 of them armed.

The NPA has stepped up their insurgency drive within the mountain range of central Leyte, he said citing intelligence report.

“We will not give them the opportunity to recover the areas already recovered by our government forces from rebel influences,” assured Mendoza despite the recent deployment of the 19th Infantry Battalion to Mindanao.

Burauen Mayor Juanito Renomeron confirmed on Wednesday, the efforts of rebels to penetrate far-flung villages of Roxas, Candag-on, Cagbana, and Mahagnao.

He said these rebels are not from his town, but from Samar, Luzon, and Mindanao provinces.

“I told residents to return to their communities and teachers to resume classes because the military is on top of the situation. We also identified safe evacuation centers within their village if in case there would be encounters between soldiers and rebels,” Renomeron said.

Rebels open line for release of captured cop

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Rebels open line for release of captured cop

A town mayor in North Cotabato Wednesday said the communist rebels, who seized a police officer, already sent feelers to negotiate for his possible release.

“Hopes are high for the release of PO1 Bristol Catalan,” said Mayor Rody Caoagdan of Makilala, North Cotabato.

In a radio interview, Caoagdan said an emissary of NPA Front 53, which operates in the borders of North Cotabato and Davao del Sur, sent him information that the rebels who captured Catalan wanted to open communication with him.

Caoagdan refused to give more details except raising hopes for Catalan’s upcoming freedom from captivity.

“I continue hoping PO1 Catalan will be with his family soon,” he said in the vernacular.

Catalan, a member of intelligence unit of Makilala Municipal Police Office, was driving his two sons to school in Barangay Katipunan, Makilala when three gunmen seized him.

His children were unharmed but were traumatized, the police officer’s wife Jessa said.

Jessa said she has not received word from her husband or from his captors since he was snatched on August 16.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of the Diocese of Kidapawan also appealed to the communist rebels to free PO1 Catalan as soon as possible without condition.

“I appeal to the CPP/NPA/NDF to free PO1 Catalan soonest so that he will be reunited with his family and children,” Bagaforo said in a radio interview.

Jessa also appealed for his husband's release since “he is our only bread winner” and his captivity has affected her children who have stopped schooling.

'MILF commander' arrested

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): 'MILF commander' arrested

Elements of Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (CIDG-Armm) and PNP Public Safety Battalion arrested Wednesday a man for possession of high-powered firearms.

Supt. James Allan Logan, CIDG-Armm director, said government forces were armed with a search warrant when it raided the house of Hadji Amid Maraging in Barangay Tamontaka Mother, Cotabato City at around 6 a.m.

Maraging, who claimed to be a battalion commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), did not resist arrest.

Seized from Maraging were two M-16 Armalite rifle, an M-16 rifle, two hand grenades, rifle grenades and assorted ammunition.

Maraging is facing charges of violation of Republic Act 10591 or illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The MILF and its military wing – Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, could not be reached for comment.

Photo: Marawi-Bound

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Photo: Marawi-Bound

All-female team bound for Marawi City

MARAWI-BOUND. An all-female team composed of 100 members from the military and police are ready to board the C-130 bound for Marawi City at Villamor Air Base, Pasay City on August 29, 2017. The 60 enlisted personnel from the Philippine Army and 40 non-commissioned police officers will assist in the rehabilitation and recovery programs for Internally Displaced Persons in the battle-stricken city. (PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan)

Photo: New Generals

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Photo: New Generals

New generals

NEW GENERALS. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III (center) poses with newly promoted generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, (from left) Lieutenant General Rafael Valencia, Major General Casiano Monilla, Major General Arnel Duco, and Brigadier General Fidel Igmedio Cruz, at the Senate plenary hall in Pasay City on August 30, 2017. (PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan)

Taguiwalo denies diverting 4Ps funds to NPA

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Taguiwalo denies diverting 4Ps funds to NPA

Former secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Judy Taguiwalo, on Tuesday refuted insinuations that she diverted funds from one of the department’s programs to the New People's Army (NPA).

She also appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte not to legitimize the baseless accusations leveled against her by members of the Commission on Appointments (CA) that rejected her.

Duterte on Monday said reports had reached him that funds from the conditional cash transfer program or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) were diverted to the NPA.

Taguiwalo said it is impossible to channel 4Ps funds to the NPA.

"For the record and for the president's own awareness, not a single peso of the 4Ps program passed through my hands," she said in a statement, pointing out that the 4Ps funds are directly coursed through the Landbank and its conduits, which then make direct pay-outs to Pantawid beneficiaries.

"All financial transactions involving the 4Ps program are recorded and COA (Commission on Audit) regularly audits the program," she said.

The former social welfare chief lamented that insinuations are being made to justify her rejection by Duterte's allies in Congress.

She said that had the president’s allies questioned her regarding the issue during the CA hearings, or even during the congressional deliberations on the 2018 budget, she would have given them “answers that are easily verifiable”.

“When I first arrived in the DSWD, among my first declarations and actions was to say that the 4Ps program would not be expanding. The 4.4 million beneficiary-households of 4Ps did not increase. Members are from the DSWD Listahanan based on a nationwide assessment of the poor. The list was already in place when I became secretary," Taguiwalo added.

She said that as far as she knows, those who were added to the 4Ps were families of soldiers killed or wounded in action who have children aged 0 to 18 years.

This, she noted, was in compliance with the president's order.

Taguiwalo also said that as former DSWD chief, she lived up to the President's instruction to ensure that the department provides prompt service to the poor, regardless of political affiliation and without corruption.

"I have tried my best to ensure that the department fulfills its mandate of protecting and promoting the rights of the poor and to shield it from becoming an instrument of corruption and patronage,” she said.

"I have done my best as a member of the president's Cabinet and his government, and served the people with humility and full transparency. The least I asked of him is to not legitimize baseless accusations against me."

The DSWD’s 4Ps provides cash grants to poor families who have children 0 to 18 years old as a form of investment on the children’s health and education.

The program provides every child PHP300 to PHP500 a month and the parents, PHP500 and rice subsidy in the form of cash. In return, the parents are required to attend the monthly family development sessions, bring their children to health centers for check-up and immunization, and send them to school.

Pressing need for snipers noted in Marawi conflict

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Pressing need for snipers noted in Marawi conflict

There is a pressing need for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to train and deploy more snipers.

This is one of the apparent lessons learned in the ongoing clearing operations in Marawi City which is now on its 100th day, Joint Task Force Ranao deputy commander, Col. Romeo Brawner said Wednesday.

Brawner said most of the fighting in the city was conducted by snipers from the Maute group and military side.

"Because of the urban setting of the conflict, (there are lot of structures where snipers can take cover) and fighting is mostly done by snipers from both sides," Brawner said in Filipino.

Snipers are specialized troops trained to operate in front or back of an enemy force and are tasked to shoot down strategic targets like leadership, communications and counter-sniping units.

There is a pressing need to train more snipers as the military does not have that many of these specialized shooters in its rosters, he said.

Earlier, the AFP announced that there is an immediate need for military units to undergo training in urban warfare in wake of the ongoing Marawi City crisis.

It also admitted that Filipino troops are more attuned to fighting in the jungle due to its long history of operating against insurgents and lawless elements.

Meanwhile, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the entire military is calling for continued support for all Filipino soldiers fighting in Marawi City.

"Today, the 30th of August 2017 marks the 100th day of the Battle for Marawi. The AFP calls upon all our citizens from all walks and whatever faith to continue to manifest their support for our troops and unceasingly pray for an early resolution of this conflict," he added.

Fighting in the city started after government troops tried to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts last May 23.

"Our troops are doing their best and working overtime to end hostilities with the hope of rescuing the remaining hostages and expediting the road to normalcy of the City of Marawi. We owe it to each and every peace loving Filipino to liberate Marawi at the soonest possible time from the clutches of the remaining terrorists who continue to defy our laws," Padilla said.

While the conflict is very unfortunate, the AFP spokesperson is confident that it will make the country and its people much stronger.

"Unfortunate as this event is, we are confident that we will, as a country and as a people, rise up stronger! Together we will be better, we will be stronger and soar again," he added.

AFP promotion cycle to continue despite Marawi conflict

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): AFP promotion cycle to continue despite Marawi conflict

Despite the military's preoccupation in neutralizing the remaining Maute group members and other lawless elements, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) promotion cycle will continue as planned, AFP Chief of Staff, Gen. Eduardo Año said late Tuesday.

The promotion cycle also shows that the AFP remains a professional and dynamic institution with qualified officers getting important and plum posts.

The AFP chief said the promotion cycle is being monitored and deliberated by the Board of Senior Officers of Major Services and the Board of Generals.

Año is scheduled to retire on October 26.

Also scheduled to leave the service after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 are Northern Luzon Command head Lt. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo, who is set to retire this coming Sept. 5; Philippine Army commander Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda on Oct. 8; Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, on Nov. 1; Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, on Dec. 11; and Eastern Mindanao Command’s Lt. Gen Rey Leonardo Guerrero, on Dec. 17.

PA gets replica of 'Mother of All Philippine Maps'

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): PA gets replica of 'Mother of All Philippine Maps'

The Philippine Army (PA) formally received an official replica of the so-called "Mother of All Philippine Maps" or the first-ever scientific map of the country Tuesday.

The replica was handed by Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) chair Mel V. Velarde to PA commanding general, Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, during simple ceremonies at the Army Museum in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

“The importance of this map cannot be denied. This will form part of our heritage right. We are going to take care of it and sooner or later the future generation would know who we really are,” the PA chief said.

“It is not only a donation, it is a reawakening item telling us who we really are.”

The "Mother of All Philippine Maps" otherwise known as the 1734 Murillo Velarde Map was procured by Velarde through an auction by Sotheby’s in the United Kingdom in 2014.

The Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands are visible in the map. It serves as a reminder of the country’s sovereignty and territorial rights which the PA has pledged to protect.

“This contribution is nothing compared to the contribution you are doing. One day your contribution will be more than enough and what you individually can do, collectively you will be triumphant and we are sure of that,” the AIJC chief stressed.

Velarde donated the original copy of the map to the national government through the Office of the Solicitor General.

4 fishermen nabbed after letting Maute group members use their boats

From GMA News (Aug 29): 4 fishermen nabbed after letting Maute group members use their boats

After receiving reports of attempts of the ISIS-inspired Maute group to enter and leave Marawi City through Lake Lanao, government troops and the local government unit continue to impose strict security measures in the area, according to a "24 Oras" report by GMA News' Sandra Aguinaldo.
The troops conducted an operation in Marantao town, Lanao del Sur early Monday morning as they tried to find boat operators who rent out their banca to the terrorists.

Two small boats were held by government troops in Lanao Lake as they attempted to enter Marawi City. There were ten men onboard who were all killed when they engaged in gunfire with the troops.
On Tuesday, at least four men were arrested in Marantao town, Lanao del Sur after they supposedly allowed Maute group members to use their boats to enter the city.

According to the report, residents related that the terrorists were willing to pay as much as P50,000 for the use of the boats, which the poor fishermen accept.

"'Yung Lanao lake, we tried to seal it so that they cannot go out anymore. Nag-reposition sila so we are trying to seal off 'yung possible exit and entry points," said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

The suspects were arrested for allowing terrorists the use of their boats. the same suspects were also caught using illegal drugs.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines or AFP reported that several sachets of suspected shabu and firearms were recovered from the suspects.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law after the terrorists attacked Marawi City on May 23.

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.