Sunday, October 29, 2017

Maute created division among Maranao youth

From The Standard/Manila Standard (Oct 26): Maute created division among Maranao youth

THE Maute group had tried to recruit Maranao youth from as far as Manila to join the siege of Marawi City which began on May 23, according to its Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra in an interview on News To Go on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, I found out that during the siege, there were many youth, even young professionals who were enticed to participate, in this militant group and in fact they were invited, in some colleges and universities in Manila,” Gandamra said.

Gandamra said the actions of the extremist group created a rift and sowed distrust among those affected by the battle, making the youth a vulnerable target for their propaganda even when they were far away from the battle.

The local government enlisted leaders to provide religious counseling to youth and other evacuees well before the liberation of Marawi this month to address the trust issues generated by the terrorist attacks.

Debriefings, psychosocial, cultural, and religious programs in evacuation centers were instrumental in building trust between the youth, the Maranao, and the government again, Gandamra said.

In a related development:

• The Islamic State group sent at least $1.5 million to finance the recently ended siege of Marawi, with the assault leaders using the 2014 IS seizure of the Iraqi city of Mosul as a blueprint, Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said.

But the battle defeats of the group in Syria and Iraq, and now the IS-aligned gunmen in Marawi showed a major vulnerability of the extremists: Their audacious territorial occupations tend to crumble over time as they’re cornered in urban settings by the relentless firepower of US-backed offensives.

The counterterrorism victories have given governments confidence that IS—which shocked the world with its rise a few years ago—could be stopped and defeated, said Año, who oversaw the military campaign that ended the five-month siege in Marawi this week.

“They underestimated the reaction of the different countries in the world, the alliances,” he said.

The siege, launched on May 23, left more than 1,100 combatants and civilians dead, including more than 900 militants, and displaced some 400,000 residents, including the entire population of Marawi, a bastion of the Islamic faith in this predominantly Christian country of 106 million.

Gain control of Marawi City, after nearly five months of battle, saying that this is giving the government the “necessary leeway and maneuver room” to deal with jihadists, whose not yet entirely eradicated.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the emergency clamped down in Mindanao following the Marawi siege should remain until the end of the year to allow the military to address potential terrorist threasts.

Elements like the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and other radicalized groups in Mindanao are yet to be completely quelled, despite government troops scoring a victory with the Marawi siege completely over, Duterte’s top security adviser said.

“Plus reconstruction and rehab will somehow benefit from martial law,” he added.

Esperon however admits it will be “quite a dream” that all problems are resolved in Mindanao before the Dec. 31 extension granted by Congress.

“You might as well put more singing bands and singing groups, magcelebrate na tayo kung walang problema,” he said.

Philippines: Anger, Frustration as Marawi Residents Find Their Homes Ruined

From BenarNews (Oct 26): Philippines: Anger, Frustration as Marawi Residents Find Their Homes Ruined


Haji Nurian Cabugatan weeps as she tells reporters that she found her house ransacked after the Philippine government declared an end to months of fighting in the southern city of Marawi, Oct. 26, 2017.

Schoolteacher Baicona Hassan wept openly on Thursday when she saw what remained of her two-story home in a ruined section of Marawi city in the southern Philippines.

Her house had been looted and left in disarray, and its bullet-riddled walls were barely standing in Basak Malotlot, a district that absorbed some of the heaviest fighting after Islamic State-linked gunmen went on a rampage in May. This week, the Philippine government declared the five-month siege by the militants over.

“I spent my entire life savings on this house,” Hassan sobbed. “Now it’s gone.”

Hassan went to the abandoned residential area, accompanied by some neighbors who were told by soldiers not to enter their homes and, instead, view them from the outside.

They disobeyed the orders and stormed into their own homes, hoping against hope at salvaging whatever they could as they began the long rebuilding process.

Officials who had earlier surveyed the damage here said that it could take at least a decade to fully reconstruct Marawi, a once picturesque lakeside Islamic city that was all but razed to the ground by five months of fighting that killed more than 1,000 people.

An elderly woman, Panggao Saduk, cried when she discovered that her home had been ransacked by people whom she believed were members of the military, an accusation that was earlier rejected by troops.

“We have cash inside the house, but it’s all gone now,” Saduk said as she shuffled away.

An old man, who declined to be identified for security reasons, told BenarNews that their village was not a stronghold of the enemy. He said the military had taken over the entire neighborhood as the fighting dragged on.

“People of the world, this shows how our government is bad. Our apartment was torched and everything was stolen,” said the man, who had saved up while working in the oil fields of the Middle East for three decades.

Reports of looting had emerged since the middle of the crisis, with some hostages who were earlier rescued or escaped telling the authorities that some of the abandoned homes had been looted by the gunmen.

Baicona Hassan is emotional as she looks at a ransacked room in her house in Basak Malotlot, a village in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, Oct. 26, 2017. [Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews]

Homes looted

Footage apparently shot by a military drone also showed armed men aboard a truck allegedly ransacking one of the homes located on the frontline. But some residents had been skeptical, and even accused troops of pillaging homes.

Jerome Succor Aba, national chairman of Suara Bangsamoro, a Muslim political group, claimed that the Marawi residents’ rights had been violated by both the enemy and the government.

“President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to bomb Moro (Muslim) communities that led to death and displacement of Moro people and destruction of our communities is in itself a violation of our human rights, and to use this as a form of collective punishment against the Moro people whom he accused of harboring terrorists,” Aba said.

He said the U.S. government should be held partly liable for the destruction of Marawi, because Washington backed Duterte’s alleged anti-Muslim stand.

"The U.S. government and Duterte’s incessant accusation against the Moro people as harboring terrorists gave a go-signal for the military and the police to openly attack Moro civilians and communities,” Aba said.

He warned that the U.S. involvement in the war through aerial surveillance provided to Philippine forces had “exacerbated terrorism and terrorist networks” in the southern region. He did not elaborate.

The Marawi siege began on May 23 when soldiers and policemen tried to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, who was on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists, for his leadership of the Abu Sayyaf group, which has pledged allegiance to IS.

Hapilon, who was also recognized as the leader of the IS branch in Southeast Asia, and Omarkhayam Maute, one of the local militant leaders who helped plan the siege of Marawi, were killed last week. The military also reported that Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian militant who allegedly bankrolled the Marawi siege, had been slain.

This bullet-riddled house in Marawi is where Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of Islamic State’s affiliate in Southeast Asia, and other militants planned the siege of the southern Philippine city, Oct. 26, 2017. [Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews]

On Monday, the Philippines declared an end to the battle and siege, after killing the last 42 militants during a final assault. Officials said residents would only be allowed to trickle back to Marawi in the coming weeks as the military conducted final mopping up operations.

The fighting that involved near-daily aerial bombing runs displaced more than 200,000 residents, flattened buildings and killed about 920 militants, 165 government forces and 47 civilians, officials said.

Japan donates 5 aircraft to Philippines

From Update Philippines (Oct 29): Japan donates 5 aircraft to Philippines


The Japanese government has decided to officially donate the two currently being leased and three upcoming TC-90 aircraft to the Philippine Navy. 

This was conveyed by Japanese Defense Minister Onodera to National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during their bilateral meeting at the sidelines of 4th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus in Clark, Pampanga on October 23.

According to Japanese Ministry of Defense this is the first instance that excess defense equipment will be transferred to another country completely free of charge.

The earlier agreement between Japan and Philippines was a total of 5 TC-90 aircraft will be rented at a friendly price, however, with the change in Japanese regulations and request from Philippine government these aircraft will be given for free.

The first two aircraft arrived March 27 this year, while the additional 3 are expected to arrived March 2018.

These aircraft were provided by Japan to help Philippines monitor its vast maritime territories and also assist in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).

2 PH naval pilots complete training in Japan

From Update Philippines (Oct 29): 2 PH naval pilots complete training in Japan

Two more Philippine Navy pilots form the naval air group have completed training at Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Tokushima Air Base in Tokushima Prefecture on October 20.

The training was in connection with the transfer of 5 TC-90 aircraft to the Philippine Navy.

JMSDF Air Training Command’s 202 Air Training Squadron conducted the training.

JMSDF photo

The Philippines and Japan agreed for the training of six Filipino naval pilots in three batches. Each batch was composed of 90 hours training on ground and 170 hours aerial training.

The first batch started in November 2016 and ended March 2017.

Moreover, Japanese Defense Minister Onodera conveyed to National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at the sidelines of 4th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus in Clark, Pampanga that instead of leasing, the Japanese government will donated the five TC-90 aircraft.

Transition commission postpones Bangsamoro Assembly

From Rappler (Oct 29): Transition commission postpones Bangsamoro Assembly

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission does not specify the reason for the postponement of the event, originally scheduled November 3 to 4

POSTPONEMENT. The Bangsamoro Transition Commission postpones the Bangsamoro Assembly. File photo from BTC Facebook page

POSTPONEMENT. The Bangsamoro Transition Commission postpones the Bangsamoro Assembly. File photo from BTC Facebook page

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) announced Sunday, October 29, that the slated gathering of some 500,000 people for the Bangsamoro Assembly this week will be postponed.

"We regret to inform that due to reasons beyond our control, the said Bangsamoro Assembly has to be postponed," said Ghazali Jaafar, chairperson of the BTC, a commission tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The BTC earlier set November 3 and 4 as the dates for the assembly, which aims to muster support from various sectors for the passage of the proposed BBL.

A revised version of the BBL was filed at the House of Representatives earlier this month.

The BBL is the culmination of a peace deal signed between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. Aquino had wanted it passed before he stepped down, but a botched police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in 2015 derailed its passage.

The BBL is among the measures expected to be prioritized by Congress this year.

Jaafar, also vice chairman of the MILF, said they are looking to hold the assembly in the 3rd week of November.

"In the meantime, all the preparatory works of the Standing Committees will continue," he said.

In an earlier announcement which has since been taken down from, the MILF had said it is expecting President Rodrigo Duterte to attend the assembly.

The event will take place at the old provincial capitol of Maguindanao in Sultan Kudarat.

Marawi heroes honored in Fort Magsaysay

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 29): Marawi heroes honored in Fort Magsaysay

Maj. Gen. Felimon T. Santos, commander of the Philippine Army's 7th Infantry Division (7ID, PA) led the hero's welcome for 79 -strong 72nd Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC) who served as rear defenders during the Marawi battle in ceremonies here Friday night.

“In going there, their task is to defend the rear. Ibig sabihin, pinu-protektahan nila ang likod upang hindi ma-reinforce ang kalaban (it means, they have been protecting the rear so that the enemies cannot reinforce) which is very important,” Santos said, “especially in our military tactics.”

“They’ve played their role, they’ve played it well,” Santos stressed.

He said the company also conducted checkpoints to prevent Maute from moving from one place to another and cleared houses.

The company has even recovered 12 high powered-firearms, improvised explosive device, 16 radio communication equipment and based radio, one binocular, among others, during a clearing operation, he said.

Santos hailed that the troops, led by 1Lt. Beethoven Cabanlit, commanding officer, came home safe.

"Nandito sila nang buong-buo. walang kulang at wala ring sobra (They are here intact. No less, no more," the commanding general said.

Still, he expressed regret that the 7ID's Scout Ranger force had suffered a loss with the death of Private First Class Nesty Tecson and 69th Infantry Battalion had two wounded men.

Tecson, he said was killed by the enemy during the final assault.

Cabanlit, for his part, said they really had to fight the feeling of being away from their family and unfamiliarity with urban warfare.

“Natural sa amin yung nangungulilala but with the leadership of my fellow officers sinasabi ko sa kanila na palagi i-motivate yung mga tao natin (it is natural for us to yearn but with the leadership of my fellow officers, I have been telling them to always motivate our men),” he said.

With a green rosary on his right breast, Cabanlit said they had to pray before every operation.

"Itong rosary na ito symbolizes ang paniniwala sa Panginoon na kahit na anong hirap at suungin namin na panganib, pu-protektahan niya kami (This rosary symbolizes our faith in God that no matter how difficult or dangerous the situation is, He will protect us), ” he said.

Private First Class Harold Luis, who served as an automatic rifleman, thanked God for protection as well as his family and the government for support.

Another private first class named Manabat said that despite the tragedy he himself witnessed in Marawi, he would support the dream of his son, who came in fatigue uniform, to be a soldier in the future.

Santos said after debriefing, the soldiers would be given a month-long vacation.

He said while no one from the 72nd DRC was killed, they have witnessed and joined the rescue of wounded comrades. That sight, he said, was not easy for soldiers.

Guerrero orders troops to finish off remaining threats

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 29): Guerrero orders troops to finish off remaining threats

Newly-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero ordered all troops to eradicate all threats to peace and security in the country.

In a statement Sunday, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said this move echoes President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to eliminate lawless elements following the liberation of Marawi City from the hands of the Maute group.

“Lt. Gen. Guerrero welcomes his new responsibilities with strong momentum from his leadership of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EMC), a similarly tall order given the area’s susceptibility from terror threats and insurgency,” Arevalo said.

Guerrero, who is concurrently EMC Commander, was tasked to dismantle New People’s Army (NPA) bands that are concentrated in the Davao Region, Caraga Region, and Northern Mindanao.

At the same time, he was also tasked to curb the spread of violence and terrorism in his area of responsibility, especially during the Marawi City siege.

“The priorities in the area of peace and security are clear: finish the remaining terrorist groups, neutralize the communist insurgency threat, and support law enforcement against lawless armed groups,” Guerrero said in his assumption speech during the AFP change of command ceremonies on Thursday.

He also vowed to continue reform programs in the military, improve its capability, and revisit war-fighting doctrines in light of new “battlefield environments.”

“We will aggressively implement our modernization program and fast-track the procurement of advance weapons systems that provide cost-effective and precise target engagement, long-range and high-endurance unmanned systems, and modern air and naval platforms,” he said.

The new AFP chief also seeks to “refine internal processes including improvements on services and transparency and accountability of transactions”.

“My gratitude knows no bounds, and I think that the best way to show our President and our countrymen is to serve our country with selfless dedication and to lead the AFP with purpose,” Guerrero added.

Cops, Army seize war materials, NPA flag in Agusan del Sur

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 29): Cops, Army seize war materials, NPA flag in Agusan del Sur

Combined elements of police and Army swooped down on the houses of six suspects and seized war materials in San Luis town, Agusan del Sur province, a flash report reaching the regional police headquarters here on Sunday said.

Agusan del Sur Map (Photo courtesy of Google Map)

A report received by Northeastern Mindanao Police Regional Office 13 (PRO 13) regional director Chief Supt. Rolando B. Felix said operating forces from the police and Army seized 2 fragmentation grenades, 1 caliber ’38 revolver, 4 improvised explosives devices (IEDs), 4 blasting caps, 2 detonating cord, 2 rifle grenades, 1 shotgun and a New People’s Army (NPA) flag.

Felix said operating troops are still determining if those arrested are part of NPA movement in the area. “Investigation is still ongoing,” the region’s police chief said.

Chief Supt. Felix, identified the arrested suspects as Julito Otacan, 44; Jonas B. Acosta, 37; Marlon O. Talatayod, 37; Enrique A. Baluado, 45; Joel S. Trasuna, 45; and Noli M. Tahudan, 28, all of Barangay Balit, San Luis, Agusan del Sur.

The Caraga region police chief said the suspects were arrested after operating police and Army troops served six search warrants issued by Judge Lou A. Nueva of Regional Trial Court, Branch 7, Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, all dated October 25, 2017for alleged violation of Republic Act 10591 also known as Illegal Possession of Firearms and Ammunition.

“The operation resulted in the arrest of the six suspects,” Chief Supt. Felix said.

Arrested suspects and confiscated items are now in the custody of San Luis MPS, Agusan del Sur for proper disposition, he added.

5 facts about Marawi’s liberation and its aftermath

From GMA News Online (Oct 28): 5 facts about Marawi’s liberation and its aftermath (By Richard Javad Heydarian)

After more than 150 days of heavy fighting, our valiant soldiers and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) managed to liberate Marawi from Islamic State (IS)-affiliated militants. We owe nothing but our utmost gratitude to their sacrifice as well as the unremitting determination of the Duterte administration to nip the dystopia of IS Wilayat (governorate) in the bud.

There are, however, five factors to keep in mind vis-à- vis the liberation of Marawi and challenges ahead.

1. Thanks to President Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy doctrine, we managed to secure assistance from all major powers, both in the West and in the East.

We should thank our traditional allies, particularly the United States and Australia, for providing much-needed equipment, training and real-time intelligence, which allowed our troops to surround and pound enemy positions with minimized civilian casualties.

We should also be thankful for the assistance from Russia, which provided intelligence as well as training, as well as China, which has provided more than $1 million for treatment of injured soldiers and about $14 million in defense equipment aid.

Same also goes for our Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), namely Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. As Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana put it, “We’d like to thank the nations that helped us — China, United States, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, also Brunei and Singapore;”

2.) The prospect of an IS wilayat has been contained, at least for now. The death of Isnilon Hapilon, the designated emir of IS fighters in Southeast Asia, and the Maute brothers, Abdullah and Omar, who oversaw military operations in Marawi, deprives the extremists of a capable and nimble leadership.

Other fighters such as Furuji Indama are expected to take over Hapilon’s position, but it’s doubtful if they can mobilize the same diverse and potent coalition of extremists across ethnic-geographic faultiness of Muslim Mindanao as Hapilon deftly managed to;

3.) The IS-affiliated movement in the Philippines will likely shift its strategy by focusing on so-called “spectacular terror attacks”, with focus on soft targets and major urban centers. The aim is to prove the movement is still alive and kicking.

A similar thing happened with the IS in the Middle East, when they decided, around late-2014, to shift to major terror attacks in the West as they lost conventional battles in the heartland of the Caliphate in the Middle East. This is why the focus of the Duterte administration should be on cracking down on sleeper-cells and preventative intelligence and counter-terror operations;

4.) The bigger challenge, however, is the reconstruction of Marawi city. As many as 600,000 individuals have been displaced by war, and the city has been reduced to rubbles after intense fighting over five months. It is crucial for the Duterte administration to get the reconstruction process right devoid of corruption and excessive delays, lest a new group of disenchanted, radicalized residents emerge in the near future;

5.) Battling extremism will require both development and peace, thus it is crucial for the Duterte administration to rekindle whimpering talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other major rebel groups, which have offered to help the government against extremist groups and are concerned about radicalization among their ranks if peace talks continue to linger in uncertainty.

[Richard Javad Heydarian is resident political analyst at GMA Network and author of “The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy” (Palgrave Macmillan).]

More than 2,000 bombs, IEDs recovered in Marawi

From the Philippine Star (Oct 29): More than 2,000 bombs, IEDs recovered in Marawi                 

A soldier stands near a ‘Peace is Possible’ mural painted by Mindanao State University students along a main highway of Pantar, Lanao del Norte yesterday. The mural is intended to be a symbol of the call for peace after the end of the assault against pro-IS militant groups in Marawi. KRIZJOHN ROSALES

Government troops have recovered more than 2,000 pieces of unexploded bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Marawi City while working to restore basic services in the war-devastated city.

Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, commander of the 4th Civil Relations Group of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the recovered bombs and IEDs were disposed of under military-supervised controlled detonation operations.

The main battle area is still off limits to civilians as soldiers have yet to completely clear the area of booby traps left by the Maute group.

Garcia said even the technicians dispatched by a telecommunications firm to fix a damaged cell tower in the main battle area were prevented from proceeding to the area.

“They were prevented from going inside as ground forces are still clearing the area of IEDs as well as unexploded munitions,” he added.

The Maute group linked to the terrorist organization Islamic State attacked and occupied Marawi City last May 23.

 The Maute group depended on their stockpile of IEDs to forestall the advance of government forces to their occupied positions, forcing the military leadership to attack them from the air.

The military said more than half of the 165 soldiers who died in the fighting were killed in IED explosions planted by the Maute group.

The Employees’ Compensation Commission (ECC) issued an order for the speedy processing of benefits for the soldiers and policemen who died or were injured in the battle in Marawi.

ECC executive director Stella Zipagan-Banawis the government set aside P2.39 million for the solders injured or killed during the five-month fighting in Marawi.

Banawis said of the P2.39 million, P1.75 million is for disability benefits while the remaining P640,000 million is for death benefits.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito called on government agencies involved in the reconstruction of Marawi City to strive to make the war-torn city a model for the rest of the country to follow.

Ejercito, chairman of the Senate committee on urban planning, housing and resettlement, said he intends to visit Marawi with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council chairman Eduardo del Rosario and some key urban planning experts in order to assess the scope of the reconstruction effort there.

He said that the rebuilding of Marawi is probably more challenging than the reconstruction effort for the areas hit by Typhoon Yolanda because this time around, all that is left of the area is rubble.

“We want to do it properly this time. We don’t want another Yolanda. Marawi could emerge as a model LGU (local government unit),” Ejercito said.

Military leaders yesterday commended and thanked the 225 members of three elite companies of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division that fought militants in Marawi City.

Officials of the 6th ID, led by Major Gen. Arnel dela Vega, took turns thanking the personnel of the division’s 61st, 62nd and 63rd Reconnaissance Companies that helped in liberating Marawi City from the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf.

The three companies arrived past 10 a.m. at Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao from Marawi City.

Officials of the three companies said it was difficult fighting terrorists in urban settings, but their men zealously persisted in clearing the areas they were tasked to reclaim from enemies against all odds.

Dela Vega told The STAR six of the soldiers they dispatched to Marawi City – Sergeants Vergel dela Cruz and Marlon Hechanova, Private 1st Class Jayson Palma and Privates Aljon Jimenez, Ryan Tamonan and Joshua Gerald Cagud – were wounded in encounters with Maute terrorists.

“Our men are lucky, none of them perished in their combat engagements there. We are thankful to those who prayed for their safety and welfare,” he added.