Friday, December 8, 2023

Eastmincom on red alert after magnitude 7.4 quake, Marawi bombing

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 4, 2023): Eastmincom on red alert after magnitude 7.4 quake, Marawi bombing (By Alexander Lopez)

ON ALERT. Troops from Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) who are part of the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response teams are immediately deployed Saturday night (Dec. 2, 2023) to assist in disaster response following the magnitude 7.4 earthquake that hit Mindanao, particularly Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental. Eastmincom also announced on Monday (Dec. 4) that it is on red alert status after the strong tremor and the deadly Marawi bombing on Sunday (Dec. 3). (Photo courtesy of Eastmincom)

BUTUAN CITY – The Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) is on red alert following the magnitude 7.4 earthquake that hit Caraga Region and the deadly explosion in Marawi City.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Eastmincom said intensified checkpoint operations are being conducted in its areas of responsibility, including bus boarding operations, foot and water patrols, and enhanced troop visibility in crowded areas.

In Davao City, the command said heightened security operations are being conducted in coordination with the Davao City Police Office.

Intensified intelligence monitoring and security operations are also in place through a systematized and coordinated security scheme among cognizant units, especially in places of convergence, to ensure public safety during the holiday season.

Disaster response

In the Caraga Region, particularly in Surigao del Sur, Eastmincom said it has already deployed a total of 30 Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) teams to assist the local government units affected by the recent strong earthquake.

The teams were deployed in the town of Hinatuan and other coastal areas in Surigao del Sur and parts of Davao Oriental since Dec. 2.

“The troops promptly conducted mobile security patrol, transportation assistance, monitoring, and ocular inspection for any infrastructure damages, and other humanitarian assistance activities in collaboration with the local government units and relevant agencies to aid affected communities, especially the coastal towns of Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental,” Eastmincom said.

It noted that at least 16 schools, 543 houses, 38 buildings, and four bridges were either partially or damaged in the two provinces.

Some 13,401 families, comprising 61,791 individuals, with 14 reported injuries and three confirmed deaths were also recorded in the two provinces during the strong tremor, the command said.

Not letting guards down

"We assure everyone that we are on top of the situation. Although Marawi City is far from our area, we have alerted our troops to heighten their security operations to prevent possible spillover of terrorist atrocities in Eastern Mindanao,” Lt. Gen. Greg Almerol, Eastmincom commander, was quoted as saying.

Government forces are not "letting its guards down" following the deadly bombing in Marawi City on Sunday, Almerol added.

He also urged the residents to promptly report any suspicious individuals or groups of people in their area to authorities.

Military ops vs. NPA to continue amid efforts to resume peace talks

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 4, 2023): Military ops vs. NPA to continue amid efforts to resume peace talks (By Perla Lena and John Rey Saavedra)

SEIZED FIREARMS. Some of the firearms confiscated from members of the New People's Army in recent encounters. Visayas Command chief, Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, said on Monday (Dec. 4, 2023) that the military offensive against insurgents will continue while the Marcos administration is exploring the possibility of resuming talks with the National Democratic Front. (Photo courtesy of Viscom PIO)

CEBU CITY – Soldiers in the Visayas will continue its operations against communist rebels and engage communities in localized peace initiatives despite the Marcos administration’s expression of readiness to reopen peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), an Army official said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, Visayas Command (Viscom) commander, said while the national government is doing exploratory talks for the possible return of the peace negotiation, the military would continue its ground operations.

Arevalo said they are committed to end the local communist armed conflict.

“With that, our focused military operation will continue, as well as our localized peace engagement with those NPA terrorists who would like to return to the fold of the law. Our efforts will never waver, as we remain committed to ending the local communist armed conflict in this part of the country,” Arevalo said in a statement.

The Viscom chief urged the few remaining members of the communists in the region not to rely on the ongoing talks between the government and the representatives of NDF.

He maintained that their focused military operations will continue as there is no finality yet in holding the talks.

“We will never stop pursuing them, unless directed by higher authority,” he added.

Arevalo’s statement came as Viscom reported the command’s accomplishments against the communist rebels in the Visayas for November.

Last week, Viscom held a four-day Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) project implementation workshop and a briefing about last month’s gains.

Fifteen government-initiated armed encounters resulted in the neutralization of 77 rebels and confiscation of 38 firearms, including seven anti-personnel mines.

In a separate statement, the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division credited the successful anti-insurgency campaign in Western and Central Visayas to the convergence of government resources under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

In its accomplishment report released on Monday, the division said over five years since Executive Order (EO) 70 mandated the creation of the task force, 272 formerly insurgency-affected barangays from the two regions benefitted from the support to barangay development program (SBDP) projects worth over PHP3 billion.

“The projects include farm-to-market roads, electrification projects, school buildings, health initiatives, drainage and potable water systems, assistance to needy individuals, and support for local farmers with equipment and inputs,” the statement said.

The relentless campaign, combatant and non-combatant approaches, led to the neutralization of 612 leaders and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and the surrender of 1,217 members of Militia ng Bayan/Yunit Militia.

Among the neutralized regular NPAs, 151 were killed in encounters, 296 surrendered, and 165 were captured and apprehended.

Of their 284 armed engagements, the 3ID seized or recovered 781 firearms, consisting of 200 high-powered and 581 low-powered guns.

Further, 982 former rebels received benefits under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), composed of immediate and livelihood assistance, firearms remuneration, and reintegration aid.

C. Visayas cops engage Muslim leaders, youth for peace dialogues

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 5, 2023): C. Visayas cops engage Muslim leaders, youth for peace dialogues (By John Rey Saavedra)

'SALAAM' MEETING. Muslim leaders recite prayers before their meeting with officials of the Police Regional Office (PRO-7) at the Camp Sergio Osmeña Sr. in Cebu City on Tuesday (Dec. 5, 2023). The meeting aims to promote cooperation amid the recent bombing of the Mindanao State University gymnasium in Marawi City on Sunday (Dec. 2, 2023). (Photo courtesy of PRO-7 PIO)

CEBU CITY – Amid the recent bombing at the Mindanao State University gymnasium in Marawi City, the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas (Region 7) on Tuesday engaged Muslim leaders and youth volunteers to promote peace in Cebu and the region.

Brig. General Anthony Aberin presided over a meeting with the Muslim leaders in Region 7 at the PRO-7 headquarters in Camp Sergio Osmeña Sr. to pitch in cooperation and coordination in ensuring peace and prevent spillover of violence amid the bombing incident that killed four and injured at least 50 last Sunday.

The event, he said, would also “guarantee that our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community are not discriminated, oppressed, or singled out.”

Aberin also engaged young volunteers from Zamboanga Peninsula in a three-day Youth-Salaam Volunteers Facilitator’s Course that started Tuesday at the Radisson Blu Hotel here.

The training for Muslim youth volunteers has been supported by the US government, said Aberin.

“You will be the hope of the future, of course for Zamboanga and nearby provinces, and especially now that recently, maybe you know what happened in Marawi. We don’t want that thing to happen in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, or Tawi-Tawi or Lanao del Sur or other places, especially in Cebu, not in my time,” Aberin told the youth volunteers in his keynote speech.

Aberin pledged more engagement activities like volunteer training program for the youth to prevent any spillover of the violence in MSU.

“When you go back to your different barangays, you can re-echo what you have learned here,” he added.

ELCAC caravan of services benefits 2K from 9 remote Antique villages

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 5, 2023): ELCAC caravan of services benefits 2K from 9 remote Antique villages (By Annabel Consuelo Petinglay)

CARAVAN OF SERVICES. Barangay officials in the Municipality of San Remigio assist in distributing family food packs to their constituents during the caravan of services in Barangay Sumaray on Tuesday (Dec. 5, 2023). San Remigio Municipal Mayor Margarito Mission, Jr. said in his message that the caravan has already benefitted all the 45 barangays of their municipality. (PNA photo by Annabel Consuelo J. Petinglay)

SAN JOSE DE BUENAVISTA, Antique – The caravan of services organized by the provincial task force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) benefitted around 2,000 residents of nine remote barangays in the municipality of San Remigio in Antique on Tuesday.

“We are holding the caravan of services here in Barangay Sumaray because it is the catchment area for the last eight remaining barangays,” said San Remigio Municipal Mayor Margarito Mission, Jr. in his message.

The half-day caravan offered free medical and dental services; the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Antique Provincial SWD distributed used clothing and food packs; and law enforcement agencies gave out various items like slippers, water containers; the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provided school supplies.

Aside from Sumaray, other barangays served by the ELCAC included Panpanan I, Panpanan II, Walker, Lumpatan, Orquia, Insubuan, Lapak, and Rizal.

“There were residents who even had their tooth extraction for the first time by a dentist,” Mission said.

The ELCAC has been carrying out the caravan of services for four successive years to bring government services even in the remotest barangays in Antique.

Mission said the caravan has already benefitted the municipality's 45 barangays.

Bangsamoro solons condemn MSU bombing

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 6, 2023): Bangsamoro solons condemn MSU bombing

(Photo courtesy of Office of Bangsamoro MP Diamila Disimban-Ramos)

COTABATO CITY – Members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament filed on Tuesday a resolution expressing their “strongest condemnation” of the Dec. 3 bombing at a Mass inside the Mindanao State University gymnasium in Marawi City.

In a news release on Wednesday, the lawmakers said the resolution emphasized the free exercise and enjoyment of religious professions and worship without discrimination or preference shall forever be allowed, as stated in Section 5 and Article 3 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

"We stand in solidarity with the community of peace, urging adherence to safety protocols set by local authorities, and together, we reaffirm our commitment to fostering a society rooted in tolerance, respect, and lasting peace,” it added.

It was principally authored by Members of Parliament (MPs) Diamila Disimban-Ramos, Ali Montaha Babao, Don Mustapha Loong, Nabila Pangandaman, Michael Midtimbang, Kadil Sinolinding Jr., and Rasol Mitmug Jr. and co-authored by Members of Parliament Ali Solaiman, Mudjib Abu, Suwaib Oranon, Kelie Antao, Tawakal Midtimbang, Basir Utto, Ramon Piang Sr., Tarhata Maglangit, Khalid Hadji Abdullah, Abdulazis Amenoden, Abdullah Gayak, Abdullah Macapaar, Faizal Karon, Said Sheikh, Amroussi Macatanong, Rasul Ismael, Abdulkarim Misuari, Randolph Parcasio, Dan Asnawie, Bassit Abas, and Denmartin Kahalan.

The Bangsamoro government also condemned this heinous act of violence.

“In this moment of grief and shock, let us come together as a community, embracing one another with compassion and solidarity. The MSU is an academic institution that has always welcomed people of different faiths and we must see to it that this tradition will endure these times of tribulations,” part of the official statement of BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim.

“Ensuring the safety of students and the community remains our top priority. We are working closely with the proper authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into this abhorrent act and establish measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future,” part of the official statement of BTA Parliament Speaker Pangalian Balindong.

The Office of MP Disimban-Ramos extended its sympathies to the families of the casualties and those affected by this tragedy.

“Islam strongly prohibits such acts of violence and emphasizes the sanctity of human life. It is particularly heart-wrenching to acknowledge that most of the victims were students, engaging in the pure act of practicing their faith. This attack on young individuals, at a place and time of spiritual reflection, only adds to the severity of this tragedy. Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims, the injured, and all those affected by this tragedy,” Ramos said.

On Sunday, Ramos sent assistance such as rice and grocery items to the victims who were then being treated at the Amai Pakpak Medical Center, MSU Infirmary Hospital, and MSU Dormitory.

Due to fear, "others did not go out and chose to stay in their respective dormitories while the situation was still hot."

Ramos’ office also posted on its official social media accounts the interviews with Genevive Tirsion, a second-year psychology student, and Maria Rowena Lauree, a resident of MSU Main Campus, both victims of the bombing.

“Yung iba po talaga na need is yung financial lalo sa mga kailangang operahan at ‘yung basic needs. Pero hindi lang po financial support but also psychological support kasi iba po ‘yung trauma (The other thing that really needs attention is the financial, especially for those who need surgery, and the basic needs. But it is not just financial support but also psychological support because of trauma),” Tirsion said.

Meanwhile, Lauree said she felt like the explosion came from under her seat.

“May katabi ako na humingi siya ng tulong sa akin, binuhat ko siya pero hindi ko siya kayang buhatin, estudyante siya. Kaya lumabas po ako at humingi na ako ng tulong (There was someone next to me asking for help. I lifted him, but I couldn't; he was a student. So, I went out and asked for help,” Lauree said.

Earlier, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., said the government is working closely with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the concerned local government units for their swift response in this matter.

Vice President Sara Duterte expressed condolences and called on all Filipinos, especially Mindanaoans, to be calm while the authorities conduct their investigation and “to be careful and vigilant so that we can prevent further attacks on civilians."

Military in E. Visayas says no let up in localized peace efforts

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 6, 2023): Military in E. Visayas says no let up in localized peace efforts (By Sarwell Meniano)

ENDING INSURGENCY. A rebel showing soldiers the location of buried firearms in this Oct. 1, 2023 photo. The Philippine Army in Eastern Visayas vowed to continue its localized peace engagement meant to end insurgency despite an agreement to revive peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army)

TACLOBAN CITY – The Philippine Army in Eastern Visayas would continue its localized peace engagement (LPE) meant to end insurgency despite efforts to revive negotiations between the national government and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Brig. Gen. Noel Vestuir, commander of the Philippine Army’s 802nd Infantry Brigade based in Borongan City, Eastern Samar, said the LPE has been very effective in their campaign to encourage rebels to surrender.

“The peace talks at the national level and our localized peace engagement have different objectives. Even if there are negotiations between top government officials and NDF leaders, we will continue what we have been doing on the ground,” Vestuir said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Since the transfer of the 802nd Infantry Brigade from Leyte to Eastern Samar last June 2023, there have been 25 NPA members, 19 Militia ng Bayan members, and 61 underground mass organization members who surrendered to local authorities.

These surrenderers from some parts of Eastern Samar and Samar provinces have turned over or revealed the locations of 33 assorted firearms and 12 banned anti-personnel mines.

The major undertaking under the Brigade’s LPE is the Friends Rescued Engagement through their Families (FReE Families) project the Eastern Samar provincial task force to end local communist armed conflict.

Family members of active NPA members and supporters have been capacitated to negotiate for the peaceful surrender of their loved ones and family members with active support from third-party peace advocates, former rebels, local government units, non-government organizations, religious sectors, and other key actors.

Vestuir said the LPE has significantly contributed to the weakening of NPA in the southern part of Samar Island.

Early this year, two active NPA platoons in the area had six squads. Through LPE, the squads went down to four.

Last month, the Philippine government and the NDF agreed to a "principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict" through the Oslo Joint Communique. The NPA is the NDF’s armed wing.

S. Kudarat guv offers P1-M bounty on MSU-Marawi bombers

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 6, 2023): S. Kudarat guv offers P1-M bounty on MSU-Marawi bombers (By Edwin Fernandez)

Sultan Kudarat Governor Datu Pax Ali Mangudadatu. (File photo courtesy of Sultan Kudarat PIO)

KORONADAL CITY – Sultan Kudarat Governor Datu Pax Ali Mangudadatu has offered a PHP1 million reward for any information on the identification, whereabouts, and eventual arrest of persons behind the Mindanao State University gymnasium bombing in Marawi City.

"We condemn this barbaric, terroristic, and inhumane act. This kind of act could not be justified for any reason," Mangudadatu said in a statement on Wednesday.

He said the bounty hopes to help fast-track the investigation "so that justice will be served" to the victims of the Dec. 3 blast at a Catholic mass inside MSU-Marawi’s Dimaporo gymnasium that left four dead and 50 injured.

During the Soccsksargen Regional Development Council (RDC-12) meeting here on Monday, Mangudadatu said the bomb attack "should not be something that would cause division among the Muslims and the Christians."

RDC-12 passed Resolution 253 condemning the MSU-Marawi bombing.

Mangudadatu appealed to the people of Mindanao to remain calm and allow authorities to resolve the crime "to help prevent the situation from worsening."

Body of slain NPA fighter claimed, another wounded in Negros

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 7, 2023): Body of slain NPA fighter claimed, another wounded in Negros (By Nanette Guadalquiver)

RECOVERED. Troops of the Philippine Army’s 94th Infantry Battalion seize an M16 rifle with long and short magazines, as well as personal belongings, after a clash with New People’s Army rebels in Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City Thursday morning (Dec. 7, 2023). It is the second gun battle in central Negros since Wednesday after 62nd Infantry Battalion soldiers clashed with a group of NPA fighters, resulting in the death of one of the rebels. (Photo courtesy of 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army)

BACOLOD CITY – The family of the slain New People’s Army (NPA) fighter in Negros Occidental claimed his body on Thursday, a day after he and his comrades encountered troops of the Philippine Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion (IB) in Barangay Amontay, Binalbagan town.

The 62IB identified the fatality as Braulio “Bruno” Tobalado, a member of Central Negros Front 1, as confirmed by a former comrade who has surrendered and is now a peace advocate of the Army.

After the Binalbagan encounter, troops of the 94th Infantry Battalion also clashed with a group of NPA fighters from Central Negros Front 2 on Thursday morning, which wounded one of the rebels in the adjacent Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City.

Soldiers saw the fleeing rebels drag their wounded comrade, according to a report from the 3rd Infantry Division (ID).

In a statement, Maj. Gen. Marion Sison, 3ID commander, acknowledged the vigilance of the locals in providing information to the soldiers, who responded quickly and thwarted the extortion activities of the NPA.

“This once again proves that when government forces and the people unite and work together, it becomes easier to suppress the terroristic actions of the communist-terrorist group,” he added.

After the skirmish on Wednesday, 62IB troops recovered a Garand rifle and a caliber .45 pistol, while on Thursday, soldiers of 94IB found an M16 rifle with long and short magazines.


MSU Marawi to resume classes with heightened security

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 7, 2023): MSU Marawi to resume classes with heightened security (By Nef Luczon)

SUPPORT. The Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office of Lanao del Sur delivers its second wave of relief operations for Mindanao State University students living in cottages and dormitories inside the campus in Marawi City on Wednesday (Dec. 6, 2023). Some 660 beneficiaries received 10 kilograms of rice, food packs, and hygiene kits. (Photo courtesy of Lanao del Sur Provincial Government)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The Mindanao State University (MSU) Main Campus in Marawi City is set to resume its classes next week after the Dec. 3 blast that killed four and injured scores of mass goers.

In a memo released on Thursday, MSU president Basari Mapupuno said mental health support would be provided during the reopening of classes on Dec. 11.

"Recognizing the emotional impact of the recent incident, the university will continually provide readily available mental health and psychosocial support services to all students and faculty," Mapupuno said.

The university was supposed to conduct final examinations this month to end the semester before the explosion incident.

Mapupuno said the MSU administration would provide special accommodation to the blast survivors, who will be exempted from complying with academic requirements during the period of their recovery.

The MSU administration, together with the Lanao del Sur provincial government, will also provide free transportation from Dec. 9 and 10 for students in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur; Malabang town, Lanao del Sur; and in this city.

Records from the MSU Incident Command Center showed that of the 14,855 students this semester, 1,984, or 13.11 percent, are reported to have returned to their homes outside Marawi City.

As a guarantee to the returning students, the MSU administration will implement heightened security measures, which include the deployment of K-9 units and barangay peacekeeping action teams.

The police and military will also conduct checkpoints and security.

The Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office also distributed its second wave of relief operations for some 660 MSU students living in cottages and dormitories on Wednesday.

Other cash assistance, medical, and burial expenses were also pledged by other stakeholders and local government units.

9 DI slain in AFP air, ground assaults in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 8, 2023): 9 DI slain in AFP air, ground assaults in Maguindanao (By Edwin Fernandez)

ARTILLERY. The Armed Forces of the Philippines' ATMOS 155mm caliber self-propelled artillery after it conduced strikes on the position of Dawlah Islamiya terror group in the Maguindanao marshland on Thursday (Dec. 7, 2023). The military said at least nine terrorists were killed. (Photo courtesy of DXND Radyo Bida Kidapawan)

CARMEN, North Cotabato – At least nine Dawlah Islamiya (DI) terror group members were killed during air and ground assaults by the military in the Maguindanao marshland on Thursday, the Army said.

“We counted about nine local terrorists killed in the operation,” Capt. Dexter Ruma, chief of civil-military operations of the Army's 601st Infantry Brigade, said, citing reports from village officials and ground troops directly involved in the operation.

In an interview Friday, Ruma said 10 DI members were also injured from the strikes using Israeli-made autonomous truck mounted howitzer system (ATMOS) self-propelled artillery canons.

Ruma said some 100 families in Dalgan, Pagalungan, Maguindanao del Sur, fled to safer grounds when the 4 a.m. operation started.

No civilians were hurt during the operation, the Army official said, adding that the evacuees were being attended to by the local government unit.

Ruma said they carried out the strikes immediately after intelligence information confirmed that DI members were massing in the marshland.