Sunday, November 19, 2017

Army trooper killed in suspected NPA attack in Albay

From GMA News Online (Nov 18): Army trooper killed in suspected NPA attack in Albay

A Philippine Army trooper was shot to death Saturday morning in Daraga, Albay by an alleged sparrow unit of the New People's Army (NPA).

The victim identified as Private First Class George Rey Murillo was attacked by three unidentified gunmen at a marketplace in Purok 4, Barangay Anislag.

Murillo was killed instantly after sustaining head injuries.

The three assailants, who were believed to be NPA Sparrow members, also took the victim's firearm and cash bonus.

In the ongoing investigation, it was learned that the trooper from Sorsogon went to the market without a companion.

Abu Sayyaf terrorists kidnap civilians in Sulu

From Gulf News Today (Nov 17): Abu Sayyaf terrorists kidnap civilians in Sulu

Members of the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorists abducted six civilians, including two children on the island province of Sulu in restive Mindanao, which the military said would be used as “human shields” in the intensified operations against them.

Brigadier General Cirilo Sobejana, the Joint Task Force Sulu chief, said the terrorists took the six hostages at gunpoint during a raid on Tuesday night on their houses in a village in the town of Patikul, Sulu where the terrorists operate with impunity.

Sobejana suspected the terrorists would use the hostages as human shields as government forces intensified their operations against the Abu Sayyaf which has pledged allegiance to the Daesh extremists in the Middle East.

“The incident again showed the terrorists in Sulu are victimising even their fellow Tausugs and those who have less in life. Such hostility reminds us that security is everybody’s responsibility,” Sobejana said.

The latest abduction brought to 15 the total number of Filipinos held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf, including the four fishermen they had kidnapped off the town of Panguratan, also in Sulu on Oct.14, Sobejano said.

He added the terrorists are also holding as hostages five Indonesian sailors, a Vietnamese crew of a fishing boat and a Dutch national.

The Abu Sayyaf, meaning “bearer of the sword,” has gained notoriety through a spate of kidnap-for-ransom cases that were often marred by the beheading of their foreign and Filipino hostages.

Also in Mindanao, the government forces launched at dawn on Wednesday ground and air attacks against members another Daesh-linked terror group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who were seen massing in the outskirts of the town of Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao.

Captain Arvin Encinas, an Army division spokesman, said the BIFF members are wanted for the burning of an 80-year-old Catholic chapel as well as the destruction of religious images including the statue of the patron saint San Isidro de Labrador in a village in Shariff Aguak.

“Such crime is most disturbing and provocative,” lamented Archbishop Cardinal Quevedo of Cotabato even as he expressed the hope the incident would not affect harmonious relationship between Muslims and Catholics in the area.

WATCH | Activists chafe as Duterte bares plan to tag NPA as terrorists, crack down on leftist groups

From InterAksyon (Nov 19): WATCH | Activists chafe as Duterte bares plan to tag NPA as terrorists, crack down on leftist groups

President Rodrigo Duterte appears ready to take a crucial turn in his love-hate relationship with the Left, signalling Saturday night he will place the New People’s Army in the same category that the United States has placed it – as “terrorists” – and warning activists he will find a way to expose their alleged unholy alliance with armed rebels. The threat drew angry reactions from an activist group Sunday.

Speaking to reporters in Davao City, Duterte said he would henceforth also have government lawyers file, not charges of rebellion but ordinary criminal offenses like murder and arson against arrested communust rebels. He said he was fed up with the series of NPA attacks on businesses in the countryside, especially the torching of their equipment and facilities.
He blamed the attacks on the businesses and revolutionary taxes for driving out investors and jacking up prices of goods produced by the businesses that remain.

The threat of launching a crackdown against legal progressive groups affiliated with the main leftwing alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan was assailed by one of the alliance’s members, Anakbayan.
The youth group said in a statement Sunday morning that it was not hard to see why Duterte would want to do this. “Progressive groups have been at the forefront of opposing Duterte’s war on drugs, all-out counterinsurgency ops, and martial law in Mindanao that trample on human rights as well as his perpetuation of anti-people neoliberal policies. Duterte’s threats will not intimidate us into submission,” said Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo.

In a talk with reporters Saturday night, Duterte said of the NPA, armed wing of the National Democratic Front (NDF) with which his government had pursued peace talks in a bid to end a four-decade insurgency: “Before, we recognized them as legitimate rebels. But with their continued depredations, killing innocent people even an infant four months old, I’ll be issuing a proclamation. I will remove them from the category of a legal entity . . . placing them – same as America – [in the category of] terrorists.”

Duterte was alluding to the killing of an infant who was among eight civilians in a Toyota Fortuner caught in the crossfire when NPA rebels ambushed a police vehicle in Bukidnon last week.

The NPA local command admitted killing the infant, apologized to civilians and offered to recompense them.

The incident, however, angered Duterte, who learned about it in between his ASEAN hosting duties. He said Saturday he was just allowing the soldiers to rest, after a harrowing five months of fierce engagement with the homegrown, but ISIS-inspired Maute Group that laid siege to Marawi City.

“Pinagpapahinga ko lang mga sundalo ko [I’m just allowing the soldiers to rest]. But we will also go on the offensive,” Duterte said.

No more ‘rebellion’: criminal charges to be filed
He said it was also time to change the government’s legal tack against the rebels. “So beginning from now, wala nang [there’ll be no more charges called] rebellion-rebellion. We will fight terrorism, murder, arson na…. because we will consider them criminal already.”

He said the government “may take steps” against activists, sounding stung by the tags of “fascist” and “imperialist dog” that the various protest groups had hurled at him during rallies while the country was hosting the 31st ASEAN and Related Summits and he met with world leaders including President Donald Trump of the United States, one of nine country dialogue partners that joined the ASEAN events in Manila.

At the start of his presidency in June 2016, Duterte had fast-tracked peace negotiations with the NDF-CPP, occasionally referring to himself as “socialist” and “leftist” and citing his ties with some leaders like CPP founding chairman Prof. Jose Maria Sison, based in The Netherlands. Negotiations have since been suspended, though he recently said he wold not block an announced plan by his daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, to reach out to local rebels in her area.

Duterte had also named several leftists to the Cabinet, but at least two of them – Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo – have since been rejected by the bicameral Commission on Appointments dominated by his congressional allies.

On Saturday, he said he believed groups like Bayan were in league with the communist rebels, adding “We will study and maybe we will have a crackdown here somewhere.”

In reaction, Anakbayan’s Crisostomo said, “That Duterte is contemplating a crackdown against activists and progressive groups speaks much of his antipathy to any criticism and his thirst for absolute power. Repression is the logical consequence of equating all dissent with detabilization.”

Maute recruiting students in Northern Mindanao?

From the Manila Times (Nov 19): Maute recruiting students in Northern Mindanao?

The military and the police in Northern Mindanao are closely monitoring reports of the alleged recruitment of the Maute and other Islamic State-linked groups in the region.

Supt. Lemuel Gonda, spokesman for the regional police command, said the reports were taken seriously during the Regional Peace and Order Council last week.

Recruitment is reportedly undergoing in Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan City and the Central Mindanao region.

The immediate targets of recruitment are relatives of those affected by the Marawi conflict, the “Balik-Islam” group or converts and residents in Lanao del Sur and neighboring provinces, the council reported.

He said the terror group was reportedly recruiting students in various universities and colleges in Northern Mindanao, including high school students, by offering them each P20,000 per month.

Aside from paying P 20,000 upfront to the new recruits, the group reportedly promised a monthly stipend once they started formal training, Gonda added.

In Central Mindanao, the council received information that new recruits are each offered P 50,000.

Gonda said the military and the police were closely coordinating with the local officials and the Department of Education to thwart the alleged recruitment activities.

Chief Insp. Mardy Hortilloza said the military and the police were coordinating with local Muslim and religious leaders in Northern Mindanao to verify the alleged recruitment of women.

“The local law enforcers are closely monitoring various ‘soft areas’ in the city like the Mosques, schools, and the local Moslem community,” Hortilloza said.

The Maute group, led by Isnilon Hapilon, the designated IS “emir” in Southeast Asia, attempted to establish a caliphate in the Muslim dominated city of Marawi in May, which resulted in a five-month gun battle with the government forces.

Hapilon was killed with Maute leader Omarkayam Maute in October.

The five-month armed conflict resulted in the deaths of about 1,000 people and the displacement of 400,000 Marawi residents.

India expresses interest to supply military hardware to AFP

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 19): India expresses interest to supply military hardware to AFP

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that India has expressed interest to provide the Philippines with military hardware to boost the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

Lorenzana made the remark when asked if the Philippines and India signed any deals on defense matters during the bilateral talks between President Duterte and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the ASEAN Summit here recently.

“We haven’t signed anything… they want to supply us also with equipment…because India has a very robust defense industry,” Lorenzana said during a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

“They make ships, tanks and bullets. In fact, in the past we bought from them rounds of artillery. So they are capable of going there and they want to tap into our (logistics needs),” he added.

Lorenzana said India knows that the AFP is currently undergoing a modernization program, hence the need for them to enter on possible deals with the Philippine government.

Lorenzana said both the Philippines and India signed a memorandum of understanding about visitation of students to the AFP, and vice versa.

Some of their students will come here, and our enlisted personnel in the AFP will be going there. We already have that. We have a defense attache there, Lorenzana said.

“This is good for us to have regular contacts with each other,” he added.

Military backs Duterte’s ‘terrorist’ tag on NPA

From the Manila Times (Nov 19): Military backs Duterte’s ‘terrorist’ tag on NPA

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration that the New People’s Army (NPA) was a terrorist group has gotten the support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), a spokesman said.

“We totally agree with the Commander-in-Chief in calling the NPA [as]terrorists] because it is clearly reflected in the numerous criminal/lawless/terrorist acts they have been committing against defenseless and innocent civilians,” Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said in a statement on Sunday.

On Saturday, Duterte said he would issue a proclamation calling the NPA a “terrorist” group as he reiterated that he did not want to pursue peace talks with the the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF). The NPA is the armed wing of the CPP.

Duterte also called on the NPA rebels to get jobs as they surrender and return to the fold of the law.

In July, the President called off peace talks with the communists following a string of attacks by the NPA against state forces in North Cotabato and Palawan.

Padilla said the government “has done its part” when it resumed talks with the NDF.

“What we are asking from them is their commitment to cease and desist from the attacks but they did not and went into a period of peace relatively from August 2016 to February 2017,” he said in an interview with reporters.

“They (the Left) were the ones who violated and they were the ones who suspended the peace talks. So, we were prompted. What do they really want? We should be the ones asking what they really want,” Padilla added.

IN PHOTOS: PH, Australian troops train in urban warfare

From Rappler (Nov 19): IN PHOTOS: PH, Australian troops train in urban warfare

Fighting terrorism is the main concern among leaders who attended the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits held in Manila

Australia is the only other country aside from the US that has a visiting forces agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, allowing its troops to stay in the country.

On the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit held in the Philippines last week, visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull watched the two militaries simulate urban warfare, an area where they committed to continue training.

Turnbull said Australia will strengthen defense cooperation with the Philippines.

"We are in the same fight [against terrorism]. Now more than ever the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are working together, supporting each other, learning from each other, and fighting the fight, we cannot afford to lose," he said.

Fighting terrorim was among the main concerns during the summits held in Manila.

(READ: A region in panic: ASEAN doubles down against ISIS threat)

Soldier wounded in BIFF attacks

From the Manila Times (Nov 18): Soldier wounded in BIFF attacks

A government soldier was wounded as Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) bandits attacked an Army base and a school on Friday in Maguindanao.

The identity of the wounded soldier was withheld by the military, but said he is a member of the 57th Infantry Battalion which has been involved in fighting the BIFF in the province. One of its detachments in Barangay Timbangan in Shariff Aguak town came under attack with militants raining rockets and rifle grenades on the Army post.

Soldiers fought back but no reports of enemy casualties.

The assault came minutes ahead of another attack at the Gani Abpi College in Datu Unsay town. It was unclear why it was targeted by the BIFF, but soldiers were patrolling the town regularly.

Both Maguindanao Gov. Toto Mangudadatu and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman did not release a statement on the violence in the province where security forces are battling BIFF militants since early this week.

Most of the BIFF members were former fighters of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front who broke away and are opposed to peace talks with the government.

MILF assures presence in ARMM celebration

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 19): MILF assures presence in ARMM celebration

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front remains trustful and confident in President Rodrigo Duterte’s leadership, especially in its commitment to correct “historical injustices” among the Bangsamoro through negotiated political solutions prescribed in government’s peace accords with legitimate revolutionary groups such as the MILF.

MILF First Vice Chair Gazali Jaafar (MB PHOTO/JIM GUIAO PUNZALAN)
This, according to MILF First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar, who assured yesterday the front leadership’s attendance for the “first time’ in a celebration for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (ARMM’s) founding anniversary.

“Yes, that is my plan,” Jaafar told the Manila Bulletin in an interview by phone when asked if he or any MILF central committee official will attend today’s 28th ARMM foundation anniversary celebration in this city.

“It will be my first time,” Jaafar said, referring to his attendance in a celebration for ARMM, which the MILF leadership has never recognized officially since inception in 1990.

In past public forums, Jaafar – sitting as chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) – had called for the abolition of ARMM,,saying it does not reflect the “legitimate concerns” of the Moro people.

The Jaafar-led BTC drafted a new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which the President eventually certified as priority for Congressional deliberation. The 16th Congress shelved the old BBL draft amid questions aggravated by widespread outrage over the death of 44 police commandos in the Jan. 25, 2015 bloody clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

In Saturday’s interview, Jaafar said the MILF remains trusting and confident that the Duterte administration will enact the new draft into law and establish a more empowered Bangsamoro autonomous region in replacement of ARMM.

“We were with him before, we are with him now, and we will still be with him in the future,” Jaffar said, referring to the first President from Mindanao, citing the essence of Duterte’s having a Moro blood.

In a statement on Saturday, incumbent regional officials said they have invited MILF central committee officials along with members of the international community to grace the 28th ARMM foundation anniversary today (Monday) here.

The day-long commemoration will be capped by ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman’s delivery of his 7th state-of-the-region address (SORA) to update the public on the gains and concerns of the regional governance.

“This could be the last SORA of an ARMM governor if (Congress) will give its nod to the proposed creation of a new autonomous government (prescribed in the BBL). I am optimistic that will happen,” Hataman was quoted as saying in a statement posted on Sunday.

ARMM officials have lined up simple activities in today’s celebration in deference purportedly to the plight of victims in the five-month conflict in Marawi City, a component of the autonomous region.

Hataman said his administration has been supportive of the government’s peace processes with Moro revolutionary fronts such as the MILF, reiterating his readiness to facilitate a smooth leadership transition from ARMM to an MILF-led Bangsamoro region if its creation would cut his term short.

Hataman is in his second elective regional gubernatorial term, which will end in June 30, 2019.

Philippine court convicts bomber in congressman’s death

From the Washington Post (Nov 18): Philippine court convicts bomber in congressman’s death

A Philippine court has convicted a man for a daring 2007 motorcycle bombing that killed a Muslim rebel-turned-congressman and three other people and wounded 10, including two legislators.

Judge Ralph Lee of the Regional Trial Court Branch 83 on Friday convicted Ikram Indama but acquitted two other key suspects in the Nov. 13, 2007, bombing that killed Rep. Wahab Akbar as he walked out of a lobby at the House of Representatives.

Indama, who has links to Muslim militants, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to a copy of Lee’s decision.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong said that Indama, a cousin of a notorious Abu Sayyaf extremist commander in the country’s south, brought the motorcycle laden with a bomb and was identified through closed circuit television.

Ong said the attackers had also plotted to kill Akbar before, including the previous day, but he was absent from the lower house.


FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 19, 2007, file photo, left to right; from right, suspects Adnam Kusain, Ikram Indama and Caidar Aunal linked to the blast at the House of Representatives are lined up at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines. from right, Adnam Kusain, Ikram Indama and Caidar Aunal. A Philippine court has convicted Indama of multiple murders in the motorcycle bomb attack that killed a Muslim rebel-turned-congressman and three other people and wounded 10, including two legislators. Kusain and Aundal were acquitted of their charges in the case. (Bullit Marquez, FIle/Associated Press)

Former Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, who survived the bombing with leg and back wounds, head burns and a shattered ear drum, welcomed the conviction but said government investigators should continue efforts to identify the other suspects involved in the attack.

“We should not be content with just being told that the one who planted the bomb in the motorcycle has been taken in,” Ilagan said by phone. “The next question is, who ordered him to do so and what was the motive?”

Ilagan, now a social welfare undersecretary, recalled that she was about to board her van from the lobby when “a flash of light illuminated the area followed by a loud, loud explosion that forced me and my aide like a strong wind.” Her driver died and she later realized she was hit when she felt her leg was bloodied as she lay in the darkness.

Akbar was reportedly among the original leaders of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group when it was established in the late 1980s on the southern island of Basilan. He later had a falling out with the militants, was elected Basilan governor and backed U.S.-backed offensives in his province against the militants, who are notorious for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

As governor, Akbar had been blamed for a brutal crackdown against Abu Sayyaf militants, who had plotted to retaliate against him, anti-terrorism authorities said.

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization.

Bato looks at BIFF as serious threat in central Mindanao

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 18): Bato looks at BIFF as serious threat in central Mindanao

Director General Ronald dela Rosa, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), has ordered his personnel in the central part of Mindanao to be alert against possible attacks from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

PNP Chief Ronald Dela Rosa (Ali Vicoy | Manila Bulletin)
At the same time, dela Rosa instructed his directors in the same area to assist the military in running after the BIFF by conducting checkpoints and chokepoints to deny the rebel group opportunities to regroup, or escape.

“My instruction to them is that they should be wary of possible attacks that may be made by enemies as possible diversionary tactics to ease up the military operations against them,” said dela Rosa.

The military has been bombarding the locations of the BIFF in Maguindanao and Cotabato areas since Wednesday as an effort to flush them out of the areas.

The BIFF is a breakaway faction from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the schism started when the mainstream rebel group began crafting a peace agreement with the Aquino administration.

The group is responsible for bombings of government facilities and ambush on military and police personnel in Maguindanao and Cotabato areas.

Dela Rosa said the policemen in the central part of Mindanao have been very active in supporting the military every time there is an operation against the BIFF and even other lawless elements.

But he said there is a need to remind them to become on alert especially if there is an ongoing operation as the BIFF might attack them in order to distract the military.

100 foreign jihadists in Philippines? Government checking

From the Philippine Star (Nov 19): 100 foreign jihadists in Philippines? Government checking

Sources said the jihadists, who arrived in several batches, went straight to Mindanao from Indonesia in a bid to reinforce their trapped cohorts in Marawi. Uncredited AP, File

At least 100 foreign jihadists, fresh from their Islamic State (IS)-supervised military training in Indonesia, reportedly entered the country before the five-month Marawi siege was officially over.

Sources said the jihadists, who arrived in several batches, went straight to Mindanao from Indonesia in a bid to reinforce their trapped cohorts in Marawi.

“While a handful of these foreign militants made it to Marawi, most did not because of the tight security the military enforced around the city,” the source said.

Since the fighting started on May 23 until Marawi was liberated on Oct. 23, the military accounted for more than 900 bodies of terrorists, at least 20 of them foreign-looking.

The presence of these foreign jihadists, the source said, could be the reason why President Duterte kept on saying that the terrorism problem in the country is not over yet despite the defeat of the Maute group.

“This is now causing us some concerns because of the upcoming Christmas,” he said.

Meanwhile, a senior anti-terror official declined to confirm the presence of this huge number of foreign jihadists in the country.
“We are still validating this,” the official said, although he confirmed that prior to the Marawi siege, a dozen foreign militants – some from the Middle East – entered the country through Palawan and Tawi-Tawi from Malaysia.

He said government agents are verifying the presence of foreign jihadists in Mindanao as well as in other urban centers including Metro Manila.

There were also reports that all these foreign jihadists – including those who linked up with the Abu Sayyaf bandit group in Sulu, Baslian and Tawi-Tawi – are headed by a young Indonesian terrorist, identified as Abu Mohammad Busrow.
A separate intelligence brief showed that Busrow, along with a Jordanian terrorist, has a $1-million bounty on his head and is closely associated with slain Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was said to be the designated IS emir in Southeast Asia.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronaldo dela Rosa earlier said that Malaysian terrorist Amin Baku assumed as head of the foreign and local terrorists in Marawi following the death of Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute at the hands of government forces.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expressed belief that Baku was killed in the fighting in Marawi and the foreign and local militants in Mindanao have no leader.

While the AFP is maintaining this claim, it has mounted sustained anti-terror operations directed toward another IS sympathizer group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

Lessons from Marawi battle

Meawnhile, former AFP chief retired general Eduardo Año has shared lessons learned from the five-month Marawi siege to prepare members of the peace and order council against the threats of terrorism.

Año, now interior and local government undersecretary, said during the quarterly Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) meeting that one of the many lessons the government learned from the siege was poor governance.

“Poor governance contributes to the development of the would-be terrorists,” Año told the RPOC Western Mindanao chaired by Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar on Friday.

Año said other lessons were the urban warfare push, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, and signal intelligence.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the US military provided their Filipino counterparts with surveillance capabilities during the height of the Marawi battle.

But Año said the current laws in the country must also adapt to the developing threats of terrorism.

He said local government laws are not adequate to help authorities address the threat of extremism.

He said the social, political and economic conditioning makes communities vulnerable to terror narratives.

During the siege, President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao and extended it until Dec. 31 to help the military quell groups sympathetic to the IS.

Meanwhile, troopers from the 4th and 5th Scout Ranger Battalions were undergoing stress debriefing following the five-month stint in Marawi fighting the Maute terrorists as well as the Abu Sayyaf bandit group.

The debriefing was being conducted by psychologists from the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) and Mayor Salazar, who is a guidance counselor by profession.

Salazar said the activity seeks to ensure psychological health, morale and welfare of the troops who liberated Marawi from lawless elements.

Foreign fighters seen in North Cotabato

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 19): Foreign fighters seen in North Cotabato

HOT SPOT Government soldiers go on patrol in Pikit town in North Cotabato in this file photo taken on Feb. 24, 2015. —JEOFFREY MAITEM

Military says several Caucasian-looking gunmen along with BIFF fighters being pursued by government troops

Several Caucasian-looking gunmen, among at least 10 foreigners and their pro-Islamic State (IS) allies from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were being pursued by government troops on the borders of two North Cotabato towns, the military said on Saturday.

Col. Gerry Besana, chief of civil-military operations of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao province, said this was not the first time that foreigners were sighted in the company of BIFF militants in the province.

It was in Maguindanao where Indonesian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was killed in a bloody police raid that also left 44 Special Action Force commandos dead in January 2015.

Besana said they were trying to determine the nationalities of the foreigners. The black-clad gunmen were seen fleeing with BIFF fighters led by Commander Abu Torayfe following several skirmishes with soldiers on the borders of Aleosan and Carmen towns.

“They escaped from the SMPS box in Maguindanao due to massive military operations there,” Besana said.

“SMPS” refers to the adjoining towns of Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Pagatin (Datu Saudi Ampatuan) and Datu Salibo, the marshland bailiwick of BIFF.

Reports reaching the Armed Forces general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo said the presence of the foreigners were tipped to the military by commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is negotiating a final peace agreement with the government.

Government troops fought alongside MILF fighters last month in Maguindanao when Torayfe’s gunmen attacked an MILF territory.

Air Force MG-520 armed scout helicopters have been strafing and bombarding Torayfe’s group with rockets in the village of Tonganon, the military said.

Besana said village officials and civilians alerted the military to the presence of heavily armed men in their areas.

Separate airstrikes were also carried out on the borders of Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak against another BIFF faction led by Esmael Abubakar, alias Commander Bungos, he said.

Civilian witnesses said at least seven BIFF fighters were killed during the operations in Shariff Aguak. Soldiers were unable to recover a single body, though.

Preemptive operations

About 5,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in North Cotabato and Maguindanao, according to government disaster relief officials, who are attending to the immediate needs of the affected families.

Besana said the twin operations were being carried out with the help of the MILF which was helping them collect intelligence information on the enemy.

He said the preemptive and surgical operations were meant to prevent IS terrorists from massing and then launching a Marawi City-like siege in any part of Mindanao.

On May 23, IS-inspired militants attacked Marawi City, forcing some 260,000 residents to flee the country’s only Islamic city.

The five-month battle that followed left most of Marawi, Lanao del Sur’s center of economy, culture and heritage, in ruins. The military counteroffensive killed 920 terrorists, including its leaders, Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute and Abu Sayyaf chief Isnilon Hapilon, IS “emir” in Southeast Asia.

The military said scores of foreign fighters from such countries as Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen and Chechnya were also killed in the battle.

Bayan tells Duterte: Got problem with NPA? Resume peace talks

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Nov 19): Bayan tells Duterte: Got problem with NPA? Resume peace talks

In this July 29, 2017 photo, President Duterte meets with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. At the Malacañan Palace. (Presidential Photo)

If President Rodrigo Duterte has a problem with the New People’s Army (NPA), this could be addressed through peace talks, a spokesperson of a progressive group said on Sunday, November 19.

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said that the resumption of the stalled peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the government is the “best” solution to all the issues that Duterte have with the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“All the issues Duterte against the NPA are best addressed through the peace talks. He knows who he needs to talk to,” Reyes said.

Reyes’ issued a statement following Duterte’s pronouncement that he is no longer inclined to resume the peace talks with the communists while branding the NPA as “terrorists.”

On November 18, the President took a swipe against the NPA, hinting a possibility that peace talks may still be in limbo.

“I am tired of seeing properties destructed, equipment burned, and the killing of innocent people, and there’s even a four-month old (baby) involved,” Duterte said in Filipino, referring to the armed group’s atrocities.

READ: NPA ‘sorry’ for baby’s death in Bukidnon attack

When asked by a reporter about the slated resumption peace talks, he said: “No, I am not anymore inclined to.”

The President is also planning to issue a proclamation that would declare the NPA as criminals and not a legitimate rebels.

But Reyes said that Duterte’s orthodox style of tagging NPA as terrorists “would not accomplish anything, only intensified attacks on the people.”

He also responded to the President’s threats against Bayan and political dissenters.

“It is such a Marcosian mindset. Duterte’s threat of a crackdown is intended to eliminate the most effective resistance to fascist dictatorship, human rights abuses, anti-people economic impositions and increased US intervention,” he pointed out.

Iligan ups measure vs NPA recruitment

From the Manila Times (Nov 18): Iligan ups measure vs NPA recruitment

ILIGAN City has intensified security measures as massive recruitment of armed men believed to be New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were reported in the mountain villages.

Jo Pantoja, city information officer, told The Manila Times that while the measures to counter the alleged Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute recruitment had been heightened, the concern was more on the NPA rebels who were reportedly conducting similar activity in the hinterlands.

Some 148 individuals were evacuated from the mountain villages of Rogongon and Mainit to safer grounds as the military and police launched pursuit operations against the communist rebels who killed a soldier and wounded another last Sunday.

The hinterland village of Rogongon is located in the tri-boundaries of Iligan City–Bukidnon–Lanao Del Sur while Mainit is on the border of Iligan City and Misamis Oriental.

Killed was Philippine Army T/Sgt. Edgar Andal while wounded was Corporal Reymart Pamplona who were ambushed at a rebel checkpoint in Mainit town.

Another group of communist rebels abducted Police Officers 2 John Paul Doberte and Alfredo Degamon Jr. while guarding their post in Placer town in Surigao del Norte last Monday.

The fate of the policemen remains unknown.

Aside from the reported incident in Mainit and Rogongon, Iligan City remains peaceful as the military and police continue to monitor and track down traces of the Maute-IS terrorists who fled from Marawi City.

Marawi City is 35 kilometers southwest of Iligan City, where fighting between the terrorists and government forces ensued in May 25 after the group led by the Maute brothers and Isnilon Hapilon, alleged IS “emir” in Southeast Asia, tried to establish a caliphate in the Islamic city.

Apprehension about possible retaliation by the vanquished terrorist group in the neighboring provinces and cities in Mindanao was exacerbated after alleged massive recruitment of the IS-Maute remnants.

Missing Isabela farmers found in army camp – rights group

From InterAksyon (Nov 18): Missing Isabela farmers found in army camp – rights group

The headquarters of the Army's 86th IB, where two missing farmers are said to be kept. PHOTO COURTESY OF KARAPATAN

Two farmers from Barangay Diasan, Echague, Isabela earlier reported missing by the rights group Karapatan-Cagayan Valley since November 13, 2017 have been found: in the custody of the 86th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) inside their headquarters at Sitio Balabal, Barangay Uno in Jones town in Isabela.

Farmers and cousins Oliver Molina and Robert Dalupang were said to be tending to their swidden farms in the mountains of Barangay Diasan just before they disappeared. An earlier alert by rights group Karapatan said that when the farmers did not return and their families went to search for them, they saw traces of combat shoes in the area, where some soldiers reportedly reside.

Karapatan said the search party even met soldiers in the area, and asked them if they saw their relatives. The soldiers allegedly claimed said they did not see them and told them that the pair might have joined the New People’s Army (NPA).

The group also added that the 86th IB troopers are conducting military operations in the place.

Karapatan and the farmers’ organization Danggayan dagiti Mannalon ti Isabela (Unity of farmers of Isabela or Dagami) subsequently went to the army camp to check on the situation of Molina and Dalupang, whom they heard were brought there. They were told by a certain Technical Sgt. Fernando Baldomero that they need to wait for a “third party” to talk to them.

“Hindi sinasagot ng mga sundalo nang maayos ang aming mga tanong hinggil sa paghuli nila sa dalawang magsasaka. Ayon pa sa mga sundalo ay ayaw umano kaming harapin ng mga biktima kaya hindi namin nakausap ang mga ito,” (The soldiers are not properly answering our queries on the arrest of the two. According to the soldiers, the farmers refuse to see us, so we cannot talk to them).

Karapatan said the soldiers would not even say what charges the two farmers are facing.

2 soldiers hurt in grenade attack in Masbate

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 19): 2 soldiers hurt in grenade attack in Masbate

Two soldiers were wounded when a grenade thrown by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels exploded at the municipal building in Cayawan town in Masbate province on Saturday night, report reaching the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Bicol said.

Senior Inspector Maria Luisa Calubaquib, Bicol police spokesperson, said Sunday that Sgt. Dennis Orogo and Private First Class Alfie Romero, of the Army’s 93rd Civil Military Operations (CMO) Company, were wounded in the attack.

The report said the two soldiers were manning the CMO office at about 8:20 p.m. when two suspected NPA men on a motorcycle threw a hand grenade at the back of the building where the Army unit was based. The attackers immediately fled.

The wounded soldiers were brought to a hospital for treatment.

The Army pursued the attackers while an investigation was on going.

BAYAN: Crackdown on left-leaning groups may justify revolutionary gov't

From GMA News Online (Nov 19): BAYAN: Crackdown on left-leaning groups may justify revolutionary gov't

Acvitist group leader Renato Reyes Jr. feared that President Rodrigo Duterte's planned crackdown on left-leaning groups for allegedly conspiring with the communist movement is a "Marcosian mindset."

Reyes said in a text message to GMA News that Duterte may use the "imagined" conspiracy as justification for the declaration of a revolutionary government.

"Duterte's threat of a crackdown is intended to eliminate the most effective resistance to fascist dictatorship, human rights abuses, anti-people economic impositions and increased US intervention. Indeed we have seen this scenario before in our history," he said.

"If that happens, it will be 1972 all over again," Reyes added.

"The people however will resist such a plan. Never again," he said.

Duterte said he will study the possibility of launching a crackdown on left-leaning groups in a press conference in Davao City on Saturday night.

"Now it's a great conspiracy between itong mga BAYAN, pati ano... We will study and maybe, we will have a crackdown here somewhere. Nagsasawa na ako dito sa kalokohan nila," he said.

The President made the remark as he revealed his plan to issue a proclamation order, branding the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army, as terrorists.

In the same speech, Duterte clarified that he will only declare a revolutionary government if a revolution by certain groups actually happens.

"Revolutionary? Then we should have a revolution first then I will… Until there is a revolution ‘yung ma-ano, malabo... Sinabi ko noon, and I repeat now, and I know it would not be taken into account again. I said, if things go out of control at tumagilid ‘yung gobyerno, ‘yun ang predicate ko," he said.

He also said he doesn't like martial law because of the restrictions that come with it.

Meanwhile, Reyes said that Duterte should raise his issues with the communist movement through the peace negotiating table.

"All the issues Duterte against the NPA are best addressed through the peace talks. He knows who he needs to talk to," BAYAN Secretary-General Renato Reyes said in a text message.

"However, threatening the NPA with a terrorist label... will not accomplish anything, only intensified attacks on the people," he added.

Abducted cops safe – NPA leader

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 18): Abducted cops safe – NPA leader

Butuan City - A New People’s Army (NPA) spokesperson has claimed that the two policemen the rebels abducted in Placer, Surigao del Norte were in safe condition, and that their families need not worry.

According to Ka Oto, speaking on behalf of the guerilla-Front Committee 16 in Surigao del Norte, PO2s John Doverte and Alfredo Degamon “are in safe condition and families, relatives and friends have nothing to worry (about).”

Ka Oto gave the statement in a live radio interview here, following the appeal made by the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) on Friday, through its spokesperson Placer town Sangguniang Bayan member Sonny Caluña, on the safety of the hostages.

The families of the victims personally requested members of the provincial and municipal CMCs, led by Surigao del Norte Governor Sol F. Matugas, to intercede for the safe release of the abducted policemen.

The wife of 28-year old Doverte is reportedly five months pregnant while the 33-year old Degamon is set to get married in January 2018.

The custodial force of guerilla-Front Committee 16-B declared the two abducted policemen as their ‘prisoners of war’ (POWs), but assured their families that Doverte and Degamon were being treated humanely and their rights, protected in accordance to international laws, Ka Oto said.

On Monday, about 20 communist rebels aboard two Starex vans from Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte, snatched the two policemen at 1:40 p.m. at their assigned police outpost in Barangay Bad-as public market in Placer town, Surigao del Norte.

Ka Oto said the custodial force was looking into alleged atrocities committed by the two policemen against local villagers and in relation to the government’s war on drugs.

However, Placer MPS claimed that the two policemen have no derogatory record.

Matugas said the provincial government was exerting all efforts to ensure the safe release of the captives.

The families of the two abducted policemen were given financial assistance by the governor, while counseling was given by the CMC.

Duterte to proclaim CPP-NPA as ‘terrorists’

From the Philippine Star (Nov 19): Duterte to proclaim CPP-NPA as ‘terrorists’

President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated that he is “not anymore inclined” to continue the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. PPD/Karl Norman Alonzo, File

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday said he is eyeing to declare communist rebels as terrorists.

Duterte reiterated that he is “not anymore inclined” to continue the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

"I'll be issuing a proclamation. I will remove them from the category of a legal entity or at least a semi-movement which would merit our attention, placing them pareho sa (like) Amerika, terrorist," Duterte said Saturday.

The CPP and NPA are on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations since Aug. 9, 2002. The Arroyo administration requested for the rebel group's inclusion on the list.

The United States last February said it is keeping the CPP and NPA on its list.

Duterte said he would also file criminal raps against the rebel groups including the alliance of left-wing organizations, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.
"We will file terrorist, murder lahat. Arson with murder. Lahat na (Everything). Because I would consider them criminals already. Now, it's a great conspiracy between itong mga BAYAN pati—they are in conspiracy with the rebellion going on," the president said.

Duterte said he would also consider the communists as “criminals” and insisted that there would be “no more rebellion.”

Last July, Duterte said he would no longer talk with communist rebels, but he vowed to pursue peace up to his last day in office and even beyond. However, in September, he took back his statement and said he is open to resuming peace negotiations with the communist rebels again.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Duterte probably lost his patience in dealing with the CPP-NPA. He cited that Duterte wanted to resolve the peace issue with the rebels during the start of his term.

“By and large ang tingin namin dito, nagpapatuloy ang economic sabotage ng grupong ito (NPA). Kung siya (Duterte) man na nagsabi na maaari na niyang irekumendang tawaging terorista ang NPA, nararapat lang siguro dahil sa ipinamamalas nilang mga aksyon,” Padilla said in a radio interview with dzBB on Sunday.

The communists have been waging an insurgency against the Philippine government for 50 years.