Saturday, September 16, 2017

Two Maute hostages rescued in Marawi

From ABS-CBN (Sep 17): Two Maute hostages rescued in Marawi

(UPDATED) Two civilians were rescued Sunday from the war zone in Marawi, some 4 months after they were taken by Islamic State-linked terrorists who laid siege to parts of the southern city.

The 2 hostages reportedly escaped late Saturday, hours after the military retook the Bato mosque and a school from the extremists, an ABS-CBN source said.

Fr. Chito Suganob was reportedly among the rescued captives, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said in a Facebook post, citing his staff based in Iligan City.

But when asked for confirmation, Dureza said in a text message to ABS-CBN News: "Let's wait for AFP official announcement and from the Palace. Mil (military) ops ongoing so we don't jeopardize their ops."

Military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla meanwhile told ABS-CBN News that he could not yet confirm the news pending official reports from Marawi troops.

Fighting between state troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists has been raging for nearly four months in Marawi, leaving at least 845 dead, most of them terrorists, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The prolonged conflict has left much of the once bustling urban center ravaged, and the government has begun plans for its rehabilitation.

Maute uses hostages as fighters­­—AFP

From The Standard (Sep 17): Maute uses hostages as fighters­­—AFP

THE Maute group, blamed by security authorities for the siege in Marawi City since May, has started enlisting compulsorily civilians in an effort to increase their dwindling numbers in the provincial capital, Task Force Ranao Deputy Commander Col. Romeo Brawner has said.

“They now force the hostages, especially the male hostages to fight with them,'' Brawner said on GMA 7 news program 24 Oras.

The Maute group has found itself in a major battle with government troops after the terror group attacked Marawi last May.

In addition to increasing their numbers with civilians, the Maute group also has been reported to be augmenting their production of improvised explosive devices by using dud bombs dropped by government forces.

About 1,500 IEDs had so far been recovered by the 54th Engineering Brigade, and, with the help of other security units, the Army Engineers continued to create safe areas in the city which were free from Maute munitions, debris, and criminal organizations.

In one such operation, police captured an Amenton Rebosura and seven other drug personalities who hid in a house in Marawi. The suspects were brought to Lanao del Sur’s police provincial office.

Rebosura was reported to have admitted using illegal drugs but denied being part of the drug trade.

Peace council seeks subsidy for ulama in anti-terror drive

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 16): Peace council seeks subsidy for ulama in anti-terror drive

Authorities in this province are seeking full government subsidy for ulama (Islamic scholars and imams) in an unprecedented bid to spur a comprehensive campaign against terrorism-bound religious extremism.

At the latest meeting here of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) on September 13, civilian, police and military officials reached a consensus to organize and subsidize local and foreign-educated ulama in Maguindanao as a pilot area for the innovative venture.

Maguindanao PPOC chairman and Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, Brig. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, head of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division; Provincial Police Director Sr. Supt. Agustin Tello, and representatives of line agencies and private sectors agreed with the proposal raised at the meeting.

Ustaz Ishak Katambak, a young alim (singular for ulama), told the meeting that the proposal will be an antidote to the current dependence of some ulama on compensations being provided by foreign countries where they obtained their Islamic education.

Katambak believed that this situation has constrained the ulama into preaching whatever agenda their benefactors desire from them.

Many ulama from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) finished studies in Middle East countries where some sects profess wahabbism, an orthodox ideology that allows violent militancy in Islamic governance.

“Islam literally means peace… But some of us, especially those compensated from abroad, are vulnerable to adopting extreme ideology that runs counter to the true essence of the religion,” Katambak said.

The Daesh or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) professes violent religious militancy, which the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan and Sulu, the Maute Group-led Dawlah Islamiya in Lanao del Sur, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao also adhere to, according to government authorities.

Philippines engages clerics in fight against extremism

From Anadolu Agency (Sep 16): Philippines engages clerics in fight against extremism

Around 150 Muslim clerics and community leaders are assisting government in south in campaign against extremism: mayor

Around 150 Muslim clerics and community leaders are working with the government in Lamitan City in southern Philippines’ Basilan Province in its campaign against violent extremism, according to an official Saturday.

City Mayor Rose Furigay told Philippine Star the Islamic theologians work for the government involves guarding communities from being attracted to radical preachers; in return they are compensated with regular stipends and fuel rations for their daily mobilization.
“Our Muslim clerics are helping us keep the solidarity of Lamitan City’s Muslim and non-Muslim residents,” Furigay said.

The local government was also organizing regular fellowship between Muslim religious leaders and non-Muslim local officials, the daily added.

Lamitan City is the center of Basilan, a province known to be a haven of the militant Abu Sayyaf Group where the so-called emir of Daesh in Southeast Asia Isnilon Hapilon hails from.

Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr. on Saturday termed the arrangement in Lamitan as a good practice that should be emulated in other areas.
“This is something we have to replicate in other areas. Moderate Muslim preachers are our best partners in preventing the spread of violent religious extremism in areas vulnerable to infiltration by extremists,” Galvez said.

Recently, several Muslim community groups and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim group in the Philippines, welcomed a ruling against violent extremism or radicalism issued by a top Muslim legal expert in the region in June that urged Muslims to fight violent extremism.

Clashes between government troops and the Maute group in Marawi City has been ongoing since May 23 when the militant group launched an attack in the city allegedly to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region.

Moro leader warns foreign aid for Marawi has ‘strings attached’

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Sep 15): Moro leader warns foreign aid for Marawi has ‘strings attached’

Jerome Succor Aba, chairperson of S​uara Bangsamoro (Photo by Bags Castillo/Kilab Multimedia)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A Moro leader warned that the more than P2-billion foreign aid pledged by various countries for the rehabilitation and to assist those affected by the fighting in Marawi City comes with a price.

Jerome Aba, chairperson of Suara Bangsamoro, said “based on experience” foreign aid have strings attached.

“Foreign countries will always have interest in giving out assistance as in the case of the US government,” Aba said

He said resources in Lanao del Sur province “lure in interest of foreign businesses.”

Aba cited the oil reserve in Lanao Lake which is a “strategic mineral” for the people of Mindanao.

“They also want the expansion of plantations in the province in Lanao Del Norte. So those aid really have strings attached,” Aba said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday said various countries have pledged assistance to rebuild Marawi.

Marawi Foreign Assistance Count (

In a press briefing, Lorenzana said Australia has announced to give P1 billion; US, P730-million; Japan, P100 million; Thailand, P100 million, European Union, P49 million and China, P85 million, which includes P70 million for the wounded and P15 million for rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, former Bangsamoro Transition Commission member Samira Tomawis said they always ask how much of the budget for the donor program will actually be allotted for the actual program and how much of the portion will go to “foreign consultants.”

​Also citing previous experience with donor-funded programs, ​Tomawis said​ US consultants ​”​are costly​” and hoped Bangsamoro professionals will be tapped instead ​of outsiders.

She said the government should also be wary of the “conditions” that foreign donors would want in exchange of their assistance.

“It should always be about the interest of the Filipinos,” she told Davao Today in a phone interview.

In his speech on June 28 in Pampanga, President Rodrigo Duterte welcomed the country’s international partners in rebuilding Marawi City.

“This invitation extends to our allies who share with the principles of goodwill and non-interference in our domestic affairs. Though the unrelenting efforts of the brave men and women of the AFP and PNP, and the assistance of our friends and allies, I am confident that we can end this dark episode and move on to restoring peace and order throughout Mindanao,” he said.

Aba said the government may provide for the rehabilitation in Marawi City by stopping Martial Law, saving money spent for military operation.

“The government may use the budget instead to provide for social services needed by the displaced residents,” he said.

IN PHOTOS: What happened to Duterte’s independent foreign policy?

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Sep 16): IN PHOTOS: What happened to Duterte’s independent foreign policy?

As people recall the day when American military bases were kicked out from the Philippines on September 16, 1991, thousands of Lumad and Moro people who joined the Lakbayan of National Minorities protested outside the US Embassy in Manila on September 15 to oppose the increasing US interventions and presence in the country under the Duterte administration.

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

The Lakbayanis (as what the delegates of the caravan call themselves) never made it near the US Embassy as state forces, particularly from the Philippine National Police blocked their way.

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

Lumad and Moro delegates under Sandugo, an alliance of Moro and indigenous peoples criticized how the state forces curtailed their wish to air out their concerns to the US Embassy.

In a statement, Sandugo said: “Under the pretext of the so-called war on terror and using the ISIS phantom, the US has justified its growing role in Mindanao and provided the Duterte regime enormous military assistance for its counterterrorism operations in Marawi.”

They also questioned the promise of President Rodrigo Duterte that he will pursue an independent foreign policy.

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

The Moro delegates also said that the US forces are planning to build permanent military structures and facilities in Marawi to pave the way of the extension of its troops in the region and eventually gain economic control over the rich lands and resources of the Moro and Lumad people in Mindanao.

Sandugo said that the US government is currently providing the Armed Forces of the Philippines with billions of military aid, tactical weapons, bombs, unmanned “deadly” surveillance drones and attack aircraft.

The US has recently announced the deployment of its Gray Eagle Drone in Mindanao, a known notorious US aerial killing machine.

Sandugo said the increasing US support to the AFP will worsen the cases of human rights violations in Mindanao, considering that martial law is still in effect and even in the whole country as US interests target the areas and lands of national minorities.

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

But leaders of Sandugo said the national minorities are not intimidated with the continuing repression being imposed by the Duterte administration and vowed the Lumad and Moro people will continue their struggle for self-determination, justice, and peace. Sandugo said: “It is foolish for him (the Duterte administration) to believe that martial law will stop the struggle of the Moro, Lumad and Filipino people. We are forced to further fight the injustice, and are more determined to defend our rights.”

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

(Alex D. Lopez/

US, Philippine Troops Renovate Schools in Casiguran

From Business News Asia (Sep 16): US, Philippine Troops Renovate Schools in Casiguran

US Marines

US Marines and Sailors with the 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (3d MEB) alongside their Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counterparts conducted a groundbreaking ceremony on the renovation of several schools and a day care center in Casiguran, Aurora Province.

The construction work is a joint civic assistance activity which forms part of the upcoming U.S.-Philippine bilateral military exercise, KAMANDAG.

The Philippine and U.S. service members are conducting engineering and construction projects at three different sites in Casiguran.

Military service members from both countries will work together during these bilateral projects to assist local populations and strengthen the ties between the Philippines and the United States.

The renovations of C.J. Torre Elementary School, Esperanza Elementary School, and Esperanza Daycare Center aim to provide the children with a more spacious, modern, and comfortable environment in which to learn and play.

The project includes building new classrooms and canteens, and updating electrical wiring.

READ ALSO: US-Philippine Cooperation Leads to Arms Smuggling Arrest in Makati City

U.S. military medical teams also taught basic lifesaving skills, disease prevention, and dental hygiene to a group of almost 600 Girl Scouts while in Casiguran.

These projects precede the official start of KAMANDAG, but are considered a preparatory part of the exercise.

KAMANDAG is an acronym for the Filipino phrase “Kaagapay Ng Mga Mandirigma Ng Dagat,” which translates to “Cooperation of Warriors of the Sea,” highlighting the partnership between the Philippine and United States militaries.

Bilateral exercises like KAMANDAG strengthen working relationships and increase the ability for service members to respond rapidly during real world terrorist or humanitarian crises.

National minorities denounce Duterte as ‘US imperialist lackey’

From the pro-Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Sep 15): National minorities denounce Duterte as ‘US imperialist lackey’

(Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)

“Duterte continued the War on Terror policy which carried terrorism in our country and the whole world.”

The first and biggest alliance of Moro and indigenous peoples in the country condemned President Duterte for paving the way for increased US intervention, specially in the ongoing conflict in the Islamic City of Marawi and with his imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

In a protest held here today, Sept. 15, which commemorated the 26th year of the Senate rejection of the US bases treaty, the national minorities alliance Sandugo branded Duterte as “just another US lapdog,” as he continues the US-led War on Terror, the US-patterned counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, and the return of US military bases in the country.

The national minorities’ rejection of the Duterte administration comes with their call for heightened struggle for the right to self-determination, whether through campaigns or through the indigenous, traditional form of defense throughout history: armed resistance.

“In contrast to Duterte’s claim of having an anti-imperialist stand, of having Moro blood, of condemning US injustices in the Philippines, it is clear now that he is a puppet of US imperialism. He intensifies the plunder in our ancestral lands according to the neoliberal policies of the US,” said Datu Jerome Succor Aba, Sandugo co-chairperson.

(Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)

The call for struggle was depicted in a war dance performed by indigenous and sectoral mass leaders, who jabbed mock spears, swords and bow and arrows, as they burned a 12-foot effigy of US President Donald Trump straddling a missile embossed with Duterte’s face.

This was also reflected as the Moros prayed together in a jumu’ah, in which they affirmed the call for jihad, the continuing struggle against oppression.

Last year, on October 19, Sandugo’s protest in front of the US embassy was violently dispersed by police, one of whom drove a police mobile into a crowd of protesters, injuring at least 50, including Sandugo convener Piya Macliing Malayao.

At that time, progressives had hoped that Duterte will push through with ending lopsided defense agreements with the US, and end US intervention in Philippine politics and economy. But Duterte has turned his back on his pronouncements, and has accepted technical aid and other assistance from US military troops for the fighting in Marawi. This year, he also scrapped the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), declared martial law in Mindanao and ordered all-out offensives in Marawi City.

(Photo by Dee Ayroso/Bulatlat)

“Duterte continued the War on Terror policy which carried terrorism in our country and the whole world, raised the specter of ISIS, Abu Sayyaf and Dawlah Islamiya which were created by the US to use in its intervention in our country,” Aba said.

He added that Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao worsened human rights abuses and pushed Moros and indigenous peoples. “We are forced to further fight the injustice, and are more determined to defend our rights.”

“Even before the formation of the New People’s Army, the MILF or the MNLF, the national minorities have long waged armed struggle against the colonizing forces of the Spanish, the Americans… The national minorities use arms to fight for national liberation, as part of the nation’s struggle,” Aba said.

The protesters gathered in the morning at Plaza Salamanca at the corner of Taft and United Nations avenues, and at 10 a.m., marched toward the US embassy. They did not get any farther than the National Library along UN avenue, more than a kilometer away from the US embassy, as they were blocked by more than 100 anti-riot police of the Manila Police District, and a fire truck. A short skirmish ensued between protesters and police before the rally program was held.

(Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)

On Sept. 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to scrap the RP-US Bases treaty, effectively booting out American military bases in the country. Under succeeding administrations, American soldiers were allowed back under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in 1999, and the joint military exercises dubbed Balikatan, which began in 2002. In 2014, under President Aquino, the country signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, which allows “agreed locations” for US troops, war ships and planes and weapons. Progressives say Edca signals the return of US military bases.

Militant group says 4 slain NPAs were civilians, belies clash

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 15): Militant group says 4 slain NPAs were civilians, belies clash

A militant group condemned yesterday the killing of four civilians earlier reported by the Pangasinan Police Provincial Office (PPO) as casualties of an encounter between its combatants and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Barangay Malico, this town last August 25.

Eco Dangla, spokesman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Pangasinan, referred to the incident as a “massacre” and not an encounter; and identified the fatalities as alleged “treasure hunters” and “senior citizens,” not NPA guerrillas.

“Treasure hunters and senior citizens were the victims of PNP’s (Philippine National Police’s) Fascist Counterinsurgency Offensive in San Nicolas,” Dangla said of the incident that happened in the same area where a policeman was killed in an earlier NPA offensive on July 28.

He said the PPO had allegedly made up the story of an encounter and that the bodies of the supposed slain NPA rebels Marcelo Perico, alias “Mar,” 46, of Cauayan City, Isabela; Arthuro Galvez, past 60 years old, of Ilagan, Isabelal; and Crisologo Alambra, alias “Celso,” 60, of Lupao, Nueva Ecija, bore signs of torture.

BAYAN-Pangasinan said its fact-finding mission discovered that Perico and Galvez were treasure hunters and that Alambra was their cook and not rebels as claimed by the Pangasinan PPO and its Provincial Public Safety Company (PPSC).

It also alleged that Thelma Albano, 67, Galvez’s common-law-wife, was killed but her death was only confirmed on September 3, because her body which was discovered on August 30 also in this town was declared by the PNP pathologist as that of a teenage girl.

For its part, the Pangasinan PPO maintained there was an encounter that happened last August 25 that resulted in the deaths of Perico, Galvez, and Alambra.

Chief Inspector Norman Florentino, PPO spokesman, said that the PPSC’s operation was legal and that any group disputing the report should bring its complaint before the proper forum, not social media or the press.

Marawi Fighting Nearing End: Philippine Defense Chief

From BenarNews (Sep 15): Marawi Fighting Nearing End: Philippine Defense Chief


A soldier takes cover behind a building as government forces deploy near ground-zero of the battle in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, Sept. 14, 2017.

Philippine troops are close to retaking the entire southern city of Marawi, with Islamic State-linked militants believed to be cornered within two neighborhood blocks, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday.

He declined to give a definite timeline, saying that three previous deadlines he had set were not achieved. But, he said, troops were “doing their best” to liberate Marawi, the country’s only Muslim city, which has become a wasteland of pockmarked buildings and ruined homes amid a battle that has lasted almost four months.

“There’s only little resistance left. This is just one-half village wide. That’s why I’ve been told my ground commanders that the end is near,” Lorenzana told reporters. “Just a little more patience.”

He said that apart from the United States, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, which have been helping with intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism operations, the European Union, China and Japan have also offered to assist in rehabilitating the once-scenic lakeside city.

In all, Lorenzana said, about 50 billion pesos (about U.S. $1 billion) would be needed to rebuild and rehabilitate the city, whose more than 200,000 residents abandoned it when the fighting broke out on May 23.

The defense department’s war chest would be depleted by the end of the year, with most of the money already spent on funding the campaign to win back Marawi, Lorenzana said. This year’s Philippine defense budget exceeds 130 billion pesos (U.S. $2.6 billion).

If the fighting lasted till the end of 2017, the military would face budgetary constraints, he warned. “We’d need replenishment,” Lorenzana said.

Rare access to heart of war zone
The battle began in May, when hundreds of militants led by Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf militant group leader and acknowledged head of the Islamic State in the Philippines, went on a rampage in Marawi.

They were backed by local fighters from the Maute group and fighters from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, making Marawi the center of gravity for IS militancy in Asia.

Fighting has been vicious, with both sides suffering heavy casualties. As of Tuesday, 666 militants, 147 soldiers and policemen and 47 civilians had been killed, making the fighting the costliest in terms of casualties in recent memory.

President Rodrigo Duterte, after admitting that the government had underestimated the militant force, put the entire southern region of Mindanao under martial law, giving the military full control over security in order to crush what he called a rebellion.

And apart from the casualties, the militants are believed to be holding dozens of hostages, whom they have been using as human shields. They have also managed to slow down the government advance by deploying snipers in strategic positions.

But the military finally dislodged the rebels from Marawi’s Grand Mosque two weeks ago, and allowed a few journalists to accompany the advancing soldiers this week.

BenarNews reporters who were on the trip reported massive destruction, and gun battles punctuated by bombs dropped by Air Force planes. The destruction was massive. The smell of death hung in the air, and dogs gnawed on human bones.

Tempest Wind

Washington, meanwhile, announced on Friday that it would conduct bilateral, inter-agency counter-terrorism drills with the Philippines in the middle of the month.

The drills, called Tempest Wind, are designed to “test and improve the ability of both nations to rapidly plan, coordinate and conduct” counter-terror operations.

The exercises are to take place locally and in Hawaii, with the drills expected to include rapid decision-making and tactical responses, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement.

“In addition to important information exchanges, Tempest Wind is recognized as a way to test force readiness and exercise interoperability,” it said. “These assessments will help to focus future bilateral training efforts to enhance the crisis response capabilities of both nations.”

The United States is already providing crucial support to Filipino forces in Marawi by gathering intelligence data and flying drones, even as its forces are not allowed to directly engage in combat.

Philippine Troops Engage Militants in Day-and-Night Fighting in Marawi

From BenarNews (Sep 14): Philippine Troops Engage Militants in Day-and-Night Fighting in Marawi


Philippine troops look for militant snipers as they patrol the ruined area of Mapandi village, near the ground-zero of the fighting in the southern city of Marawi, Sept. 14, 2017.
Weary Philippine troops on Thursday pushed their way closer to enemy-held territory amid the ruins of Marawi, as the military appeared to have seized strategic positions almost four months after Islamic State-linked militants took over this southern city.

Troops allowed BenarNews reporters to join them inside Marawi’s main battle area, giving them permission to observe U.S.-trained Filipino commandos while they moved around the districts of Mapandi and Lilod, two areas controlled by the gunmen from May 23 until recently.

“We have reduced their maneuver space,” Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista, commander of the ground troops, told reporters, referring to the areas under control of the militants. “That is our final push. We concentrate whatever personnel, whatever capability we have.”

As dusk settled on the ruined city, Maj. Rick Ganuelas of the Marines 1st Brigade scanned the horizon with night-vision goggles and told his men to remain vigilant against Abu Sayyaf and Maute group fighters.

In the distance, heavy exchange of gunfire could be heard as an American P-3 Orion flew overhead and gathered intelligence information, which would be relayed to the Philippine troops on the ground.

The dull thud of bombs being dropped by Philippine Air Force planes shook the ground and rattled steel frames of windows.

“We have separate men assigned in daytime, as well nighttime,” Ganuelas told BenarNews, referring to the incessant firefights.

He described the fight as intense, but troops on the frontline were continuing to advance slowly.

“We lost two of our boys the other day during an assault,” he said.

A destroyed city

Besides him, troops took positions on pockmarked ruins that used to be homes, before Marawi was abandoned by its estimated 200,000 residents.

Nearby, the city’s old Grand Mosque stands abandoned, guarded by troops who had pushed out a rebel unit that took refuge in the concrete building before they fled two weeks ago.

Its once vibrant-green color has been scarred, and while the building stands erect, its main dome and turrets bore evidence of the heavy exchange of fire.

Abandoned vehicles lay in ruins, torched by the gunmen or destroyed by the constant bombing runs that so far had failed to dislodge the militants from their positions.

Stray dogs gnawed on scattered human bones, which were later gathered by military forensics experts, BenarNews reporters said.

Philippine troops search for militant fighters in an area of Mapandi village near the ground-zero of fighting in the southern city of Marawi, Sept. 14, 2017. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

Uncertain of number of enemies still fighting

The military believes that Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of one faction of the local Abu Sayyaf group and the acknowledged head of the Islamic State here, is carrying on with fighting in the area.
He is believed to be backed by fighters from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as well as local fighters from the Maute group, a small gang founded by members of a local Filipino Muslim family.

The military estimates that about 40 to 60 militants are still engaged in the fighting.
While the heavy firepower from the militant side has ebbed, they are still able to push back soldiers, with strategically positioned snipers able to pin down government assault units.
Fate of hostages unknown

Col. Romeo Brawner, commander of the Joint Task Group Marawi, said “the sustained bombardment from airstrikes” and daily assaults were being carried out carefully to ensure that no hostages were harmed.

But there was no word about the fate of the dozens of hostages believed to be held by the gunmen. One of them was Marawi’s Roman Catholic priest, who was last seen on a video pleading to President Rodrigo Duterte to stop the air raids.

On Thursday morning, the Marines marched on streets littered with debris from the battle, and made sure that none of the shattered buildings were re-occupied by the gunmen.

At least 148 soldiers and 660 militants have died since the fighting began. At least 45 civilians were also killed by militants, officials said.

The United States and Australia are helping in intelligence gathering, and Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have offered counter-terror support through marine patrols to ensure that militants from Marawi do not cross sea borders.

At least two jet fighters carried out air strikes in the area early Thursday, Brawner, the task force commander, said.

“Our airstrikes against our enemies’ defense positions continue on a daily basis, but we are careful not to hit the mosques,” Brawner said.

“Their hostages are indispensable,” he said. “As much as possible, they will keep their hostages alive to use them as their human shields.”

Marawi — a metaphor for Islamic extremism in Asia

From the Independent Australian (Sep 14): Marawi — a metaphor for Islamic extremism in Asia (By Bruce Haigh)

Former diplomat Bruce Haigh has just returned from Mindanao, where he has been investigating the ISIS insurgency and the Australian response.

PHILLIPINES President Rodrigo Duterte predicted on 12 July that ISIS backed Abu Sayyaf rebels, who seized the central business district of Marawi on 23 May, would be evicted in 10-15 days. It is now mid-September and there is no sign of the Philippine Army loosening the rebels grip.

Perhaps military commanders and the President are seeking to limit politically unacceptable casualties, confident that the rebels will sooner or later run out of food and ammunition. But there is no sign of that and the suspicion must be that they are being resupplied. How? Who knows in a chronically corrupt Philippines?

The Australian Government, together with other regional governments, have taken the view that a prolongation of the siege is giving encouragement and confidence to Islamic extremists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to undertake further high profile military action. Australia has deployed two P3 Orion surveillance aircraft to Mindanao to provide intelligence to the Philippine Army.

On the 8 September, Minister for Defence Marise Payne announced the deployment of Australian troops to the southern Philippines to assist in training. Australian troops are more acceptable to Duterte than American troops and, depending on which regiments they are drawn from, may be able to undertake "active" or "live" training.
Sidney Jones, Director of the Jakarta-based, Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict, believes Marawi has heralded in a new phase of regional Islamic militancy. She fears more moderate groups in the Philippines such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been marginalised. Negotiations that might once have taken place between them and the government over the future of an autonomous or independent Islamic region on Mindanao are less likely in the face of the growing influence of Maute-led, Abu Sayyaf militants now backed by overseas ISIS fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East. One of my interlocutors in Davao City last month claimed that the army had found 100 Indonesian passports in a recaptured part of Marawi.

Journalists and academics that I spoke to in Davao are critical of the government in Manila. They claim Marawi is a result of policies imposed on the region that lack understanding of local complexities. The genesis of the problem dates back several centuries to Spanish and American colonial occupation and exploitation of independent Islamic Sultanates. If there is a parallel the frustrations and aspirations of the Moro people might be compared to the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

However, what now considerably complicates an autonomy dispute is the presence of foreign ISIS fighters and operatives who have ingratiated and grafted themselves onto Abu Sayyaf, until now an indigenous militant group. Compounding this is the funding provided by Saudi Arabia through fundamentalist NGOs in Marawi and other parts of what is termed the Autonomous Region of Mindanao.
The Saudi’s adhere to a fundamentalist Sunni belief known as Wahhabism within a broader framework of Salafism, both advocate violence toward opponents of those religious strands. The Saudis export Wahhabism through the funding of madrasas (schools) and NGO’s in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines (Mercy Centres), even Australia. Other Sunnis and Shias condemn Wahhabism, which has been linked to the promotion of extremism and directly to the development of ISIS. Activities associated with institutions funded by Wahhabi (Saudi) money should be banned throughout the region. It is an exercise in guilt and self-delusion, as many in the ruling Saudi royal ruling regime observe rigid Salafi beliefs in the breach, preferring venality, misogyny and mendaciousness. The Saudi’s have strong protectors in the form of the U.S. government.

Some weeks ago, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop undertook to give $20m over four years to the reconstruction of Marawi. It is chicken feed. One of the reasons, if not the primary reason for the acceptance of the Wahhabi fundamentalist message is the anger and frustration engendered by poverty and the indifference, corruption and greed amongst the ruling elites in the aforementioned countries. Poverty and anger are the ingredients for radical politics — once Communism, now fundamentalism.
Australia needs to focus its aid budget at the grass roots in Asia. Stability, and therefore business and trade, depend on the maintenance of social cohesion and consensus. However misguided and misconceived, calls for the creation of a caliphate fall into the category of an attempt at social change, in much the same way as the early Communists, who unleashed rivers of blood and mayhem to create Elysium. Whatever Australia does with respect to fighting and addressing violent fundamentalism in the region it should with circumspection. It was a mistake for the head of ASIS to allow publicity with Duterte and for the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence to bang a drum over defence co-operation with the Philippines. All such displays do is to heighten the security risks to Embassy staff who of necessity must get out and about in the country. Risks are also increased to Australian aid workers, business people and tourists.

Finally, in my opinion, the question of joint naval patrols to interdict arms and ISIS personnel in the archipelagic waters separating Indonesia and the Philippines should be revisited.


[Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat. He has served in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and run the Indonesia section. Bruce still visits the Philippines and Mindanao from time to time and was last there a month ago. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceHaigh2.,10717

Sayyaf member nabbed in Bulacan

From BenarNews (Sep 14): Sayyaf member nabbed in Bulacan

An Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) member wanted for rape and kidnap-for-ransom charges was arrested in the City of San Jose Del Monte (CSJDM), Bulacan on Tuesday.

Supt. Fitz Macariola, city police chief identified the arrested ASG member as Rolly Alif, alias Al/Awliya, 33, of Jolo, Sulu but residing at Graceville 1, Barangay Muzon, CSJDM.

Alif is under ASG leader Abdul Muin Sahiron accused in the abduction of six Jehovah’s Witness members on August 22, 2003 in Patikul, Sulu.

One of the hostages, Amily Mantec, claimed she was raped by three ASG while two of the victims were beheaded before they managed to escaped on April 18, 2004.

Macariola said Mantec identified Alif as one of the bandits who raped her.

She is now under the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice.

Alif is facing six counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with ransom.

Militants fighting in Marawi using gov’t-owned guns, says Army exec

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 15): Militants fighting in Marawi using gov’t-owned guns, says Army exec

Most weapons recovered from slain militants belonging to the Maute group and its allies or from areas they had vacated in this Lanao del Sur provincial capital bore marks which indicated that these came from the government, a military spokesperson said.

“It only meant that somebody from the government sold it to them,” said Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the Joint Task Force Marawi.

Petinglay, however, did not say how many of these recovered firearms had been confirmed to have come from the government armory.
The military has recovered at least 628 firearms—among these high-powered weapons like Barrett .50 caliber sniper’s rifles and Armalite, Garand and M14 rifles—since fighting began in late May when Islamic State-inspired militants took over sections of Marawi.

According to Petinglay, finding out who are responsible for the delivery of the firearms to the Maute group and its allies is not the military’s priority, noting that the investigation can be conducted after the fighting here ends.

“It’s easy to track where (the firearms) came from (based on the markings). But it’s not our priority right now. Once the fighting is over, we will commence our investigation,” she said.

Government-owned firearms falling into the hands of insurgents had been reported in the past.

In 2015, the Office of the Ombudsman approved the filing of charges against a group of police officials and private individuals over 1,004 missing high-powered AK47 rifles allegedly sold to communist rebels.

The Ombudsman said the police officials were involved in the issuance of firearm licenses for AK47 from August 2011 to April 2013.

Duterte still open to peace talks with communists

From Rappler (Sep 16): Duterte still open to peace talks with communists

'If you want to resume the talks, I am not averse to the idea,' says President Rodrigo Duterte during a meeting with a released prisoner of war

PHILIPPINE LEADER. President Rodrigo Duterte gives his message during the celebration of the 24th Anniversary of Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) at Malacañang Palace. Photo by Lito Boras/

PHILIPPINE LEADER. President Rodrigo Duterte gives his message during the celebration of the 24th Anniversary of Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) at Malacañang Palace. Photo by Lito Boras/

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday, September 16, said the door is still open for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to resume peace negotiations, despite already expressing pessimism after ending a government ceasefire.

"If you want to resume the talks, I am not averse to the idea," said Duterte during his meeting with released prisoner of war SPO2 George Canete Rupinta at the Matina Enclaves.

Rupinta was caught by the New People’s Army (NPA) on June 9 in Lupon, Davao Oriental, for his police unit's alleged "anti-people activities" in the municipality.

A month later, the NPA released a video of the sickly police officer, who urged the government to resume talking with the Communists.

Duterte, however, told the Communists: "I am not the only one in control of this government."

The President, who was standing near Rupinta and his wife, a public school teacher, spoke this time in a sober tone, and went on to elaborate how the head of state has to play a balancing act when in comes to negotiating with the CPP.

"The problem is there are threats.. the deployment of NPA soldiers," he said.

Previously, the armed wing of the CPP threatened Duterte that it would intensify its tactical offensives to counter what they call the President's "tyrannical rule."

It came after Duterte emphasized that his administration would not be willing to return to the table to talk about peace if the NPA would not declare a ceasefire first.

"Do not be in a hurry because we have been fighting for the last 50 years," he said.

Duterte, however, thanked the Communists for a "humanitarian" gesture for releasing Rupinta.

"I see that all prisoners of war have been treated well in accordance to the Geneva Convention. For that I would also like to acknowledge their respect for the law," he said.

On Friday, the 52-year-old police officer was released in the mountains of Maco town in Compostela Valley. He burst into tears upon meeting his wife and son, and became emotional again upon hearing the news that his father-in-law had died when he was in captivity.

Maute fighters abandon Bato Mosque in Marawi

From Rappler (Sep 17): Maute fighters abandon Bato Mosque in Marawi

(UPDATED) The Bato mosque is one of 3 enemy strongholds that fell into government control over the past days as troops continue to press forward in the battle area

MARAWI WAR. Government forces have been fighting the Maute local terror group in Marawi City for nearly 4 months now. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

MARAWI WAR. Government forces have been fighting the Maute local terror group in Marawi City for nearly 4 months now. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

(UPDATED) – Fighters of the Maute local terror group were forced to abandon the historic Bato Mosque in Marawi, one of 3 enemy strongholds that fell into government control over the past days, as troops continue to press forward in the battle area.

Multiple sources in Marawi confirmed to Rappler Saturday night, September 16, that troops have taken the mosque along with two other buildings that served as key enemy strongholds – Jamaitul Islamiyah Marawi Foundation (JIMF) and Jamaitul Philippine Al-Islamiya (JPI).

This means the maneuver space of the enemies continues to shrink.

It's a major success in the battle area. In Manila, Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año issued a statement congratulating Joint Task Force Marawi commander Major General Rolando Bautista and his men.

“This enormous AFP gain further weakened the terrorist group by denying them their erstwhile command and control hub,” Año said in a statement issued close to midnight.

Intense firefight ensued in the area. Four soldiers were wounded when an abandoned improvised explosive device detonated.

5-hour firefight in mosque's periphery

Bato mosque was seized 5 pm on Saturday after a fierce 5-hour firefight with enemies "strategically located in the buildings in the periphery of the mosque and the JIMF," according to the military statement.

The military vowed not to bomb the mosque, recognizing its importance to the predominantly Muslim population of Marawi. It's also where the hostages were reportedly last seen.

Troops worked to clear buildings around the mosque before it reached the target. They were also able to take the adjacent building JIMF or the "pink building," where female hostages were reportedly kept.

A day earlier, on Friday, September 15, the marines also cleared JPI, the first Islamic University in the Philippines. One enemy was killed in the offensive.

Año said the military expects intense resistance as troops continue to press forward.

“We are ready for that. The AFP will press on relentlessly until conclusion," he said.

Where are the hostages?

Sources said the mosque and the pink building were abandoned when troops pressed forward to occupy them.

They said it appears the hostages were moved through the ratholes found in the area. (READ: Maute ratholes, trenches revealed as troops gain ground)

Hostaged priest Father Teresito Soganub was seen alive two weeks ago, based on an interview with Bautista on Wednesday, September 13.

The military said many of the hostages have been forced to become combatants. Others have been helping make dirty bombs, one of the main killers of government forces in the battle area.

The military launched its "final push" in the Marawi battle area after penetrating what it believes to be the final defensive stand of the enemies.

“We urge the remaining terrorists, especially former hostages turned fighters, to endeavor to communicate with the military surrender while they still have time,” said Año. (READ: Possible surrender by Maute recruits could end war sooner)

Hostaged Marawi priest Chito Soganub rescued

From Rappler (Sep 17): Hostaged Marawi priest Chito Soganub rescued

(UPDATED) Hostaged Marawi priest Father Teresito 'Chito' Soganub is rescued along with another hostage near Bato Mosque, one of 3 enemy strongholds that fell into government control over the past days

Hostaged Marawi priest Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub was rescued Saturday night, September 16, along with another hostage who is yet to be named.

Chief presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza shared the successful rescue of Soganub on his Facebook page on Sunday, September 7.

In a phone interview with Rappler, Dureza said Soganub was rescued near Bato Mosque. He said he was updated by his staff at the Office of the Presidential Adviser Peace Adviser based in Iligan City. (READ: Hostage-priest in Marawi often mistaken for Muslim)

A source on the ground also confirmed the priest's rescue to Rappler. The military has yet to issue a statement.

Fighters of the Maute local terror group were forced to abandon the historic Bato Mosque in Marawi, one of 3 enemy strongholds that fell into government control over the past days, as troops continue to press forward in the battle area.

The development comes as the military launched its "final push" in the Marawi battle area after penetrating what it believes to be the final defensive stand of the enemies.

“We urge the remaining terrorists, especially former hostages turned fighters, to endeavor to communicate with the military surrender while they still have time,” said Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año. (READ: Possible surrender by Maute recruits could end war sooner)

NPA rebels free captured cop in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Sep 16): NPA rebels free captured cop in Southern Philippines

Communist rebels have freed a policeman they captured in southern Philippines following appeals by his family and religious groups in the troubled region.

The 52-year old Senior Police Officer 2 George Rupinta was released on Friday in Compostela Valley’s Maco town with rebels saying the gesture was purely humanitarian. Rupinta was handed over to a nongovernmental organization called Exodus for Justice and Peace which facilitated the policeman’s safe release.

Wearing a white t-shirt and a pair of dark sunglasses, the prisoner was met by his son and wife who wept upon seeing him and embraced Rupinta tightly. Rupinta was captured in Lupon town in Davao Oriental province on June 9 this year and rebels declared him a prisoner of war.

Four days after his capture, New People’s Army rebels released a four-minute video clip of Rupinta, which showed him appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to help secure his freedom and urged the government to resume the stalled peace talks with communist leaders. Rupinta said the talks stalled following Duterte’s declaration of martial law.

During his capture, Rupinta said he was treated well by rebels. “They advised me not to do or try anything so that nothing will happen to me. So I conceded because I couldn’t do anything, there were six of them. So when we arrived at their camp, they treated me as a prisoner of war.”

“They gave me food, clothes, medicines. They also especially detailed a medic for me. They adhered to international protocols regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. I was not threatened. They did not harm me. They provided me with everything that I needed, even the medicine which I take daily for my maintenance,” he said.

The NPA has been fighting for many decades now to overthrow the democratic government and put a Maoist state.