Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Over a dozen MILF rebels slain in Maguindanao clashes--military

COTABATO CITY -- More than a dozen Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels were killed in encounters in two towns in Maguindanao, the military said Thursday.

Major Peter Edwin Navarro, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 601st Brigade, said 19 Moro rebels were killed in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Guindulungan towns.

Major Armand Rico, spokesman of the military's Eastern Mindanao Command, said nine rebels died in the seven-hour gunbattle with army troops on Tuesday in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and seven others in artillery strikes in nearby Datu Piang.

Two soldiers were wounded in the fighting, Rico said.

Government forces have been hunting three MILF commanders and hundreds of fighters allegedly behind deadly attacks on predominantly Christian communities last month in at least four southern provinces.

The rebel attacks were sparked by a deadlock in Malaysian-brokered peace talks.

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu denied the military reports, saying not a single rebel died and only one was wounded in Tuesday's clashes.

He claimed that 10 soldiers died in Tuesday fighting. A separate rebel statement claimed 20 more troops died Wednesday in clashes in Maguindanao.

Rico accused the rebels of making up the death toll. "The armed forces will look for even a single missing soldier because he has to be accounted for the sake of his family," Rico said. "The rebels are now tampering with combat casualty numbers to boost the sagging morale of their men."

The government said Tuesday that it would ask the United Nations to blacklist 12 MILF rebels as terrorists for their role in last month's attacks on Christian areas.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the terror sanctions were not aimed at the entire rebel group, adding the government remains open to resuming stalled talks with the 11,000-strong guerrilla force once the clashes end.(By Jeoffrey Maitem; INQ.net)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Involving UN in Mindanao will only ‘worsen’ problem --MILF

Involving the United Nations (UN) in the Mindanao problem, as the government seeks to do, will only worsen the situation in the southern Philippines, an official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said Wednesday.

“Palagay ko hindi magandang move yun. Lalong magiging complicated ang pag-resolve sa problem pag ginawa ‘yun [I don’t think that would be a good move. Resolving the problem can only complicate the problem further if they do that],” Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, said reacting to Malacañang’s statement Tuesday that it would ask the UN to declare as terrorists three rebel commanders accused of leading attacks on civilian communities in Central Mindanao last month.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who announced the government plan, said a favorable decision by the UN will pave the way for the inclusion of MILF commanders Ameril Ombra Kato, Abdullah Macapaar alias Bravo, and Aleem Sulaiman Pangalian in the Philippines' own terrorist listing under the Human Security Act of 2007.

But Jaafar said getting the UN involved will only “worsen” the situation as he stressed that the “best [way] is to resolve the problem within the confines of the mechanisms of the peace talks” between the MILF and government as well as the framework of an existing ceasefire agreement.

At the same time, Jaafar said the three wanted MILF commanders are not terrorists.

“I don’t think they are terrorists, you know, if we go by the definition of terrorist,” Jaafar said.

But asked how he would describe the three, Jaafar replied: “I do not need to answer that.”

In a separate interview, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said they cannot prevent the government from seeking the assistance of the UN. Nevertheless, he said the MILF hopes the UN “is really fair and square” and give the rebels a chance to defend themselves.

Iqbal also said the government and its security forces, whom he accused of “indiscriminately” burning houses and terrorizing and killing civilians in conflict-affected provinces of Mindanao, are the “terrorists.”

“Ano ba ang sinyas ng terrorist? Ang sinyas ng terrorist ay tinatakot ang civilian, sinusunong yung mga bahay nila, binobomba sila, etcetera…Kung terorista ang mga [MILF] commanders, mas terorista ang gobyerno ng Pilipinas [What is the sign of the terrorist? The sign of the terrorist is terrorizing civilians, burning their homes, bombing them, etc…If the MILF commanders are terrorists, the government of the Philippine is a worse terrorist],” Iqbal said.

Iqbal added that the MILF is compiling reports on alleged atrocities by government troops but need to study when the best time will be to present these to the UN.

‘Well, we will see when the best time is because it is hard for us since the MILF is not a state actor, not like the Philippines, they can reach out to the United Nations anytime they wish because the Philippines is a member-state,” Iqbal said.

(By Katherine Evangelista; INQ.net)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

War in Mindanao eats into P15B fund for typhoon victims

The proposed P15-billion rehabilitation fund for areas ravaged by Typhoon “Frank” would be reduced to P10 billion due to the country’s increased spending for the war with Muslim rebels in Mindanao and other programs.

Iloilo Rep. Arthur Defensor, House Majority floor leader, said hostilities between government forces and Muslim rebels in Mindanao were draining the government’s financial resources.

Raul Banias, presidential assistant for Western Visayas, said the Department of Budget and Management had recommended the reduction of the proposed rehabilitation fund.

“(Budget) Secretary Rolando Andaya said it might be difficult to get the whole P15 billion during the budget hearing last week,” Banias told the Inquirer in a phone interview Sunday.

P5 billion less

Officials of provinces and municipalities that suffered massive devastation from Typhoon “Frank” were planning to use the proposed P15-billion fund for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Expected to benefit from the fund are the provinces of Iloilo, Antique, Aklan, Capiz, Guimaras and Negros Occidental and the cities of Iloilo and Bacolod.

These areas suffered hundreds of millions of pesos in damages as a result of Typhoon “Frank,” which brought the worst flooding in the region in recent years.

Defensor said that if enacted, the supplemental budget would provide P10 billion for the rehabilitation program, instead of the P15 billion as earlier requested by the bill’s sponsors, Defensor said.

“The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had advised us that our available resources could not sustain a P15-billion rehabilitation fund so we have to reduce it,” Defensor told the Inquirer in a telephone interview on Monday.


Because of the budget reduction, Banias said his office has started assessing various rehabilitation projects that have to be prioritized.

“The proposed fund is supported by an itemized request for every project in every province,” he said.

Banias said the projects included the rehabilitation and repair of damaged infrastructures like bridges, river and flood control, irrigation systems, farm-to-market roads, school buildings and health facilities, among others.

The Office of Civil Defense also requested P150 million to enhance its capability to respond to disasters in the region. The amount requested by the OCD would also be included in the supplemental budget, he said.(By Nestor P. Burgos Jr., David Israel Sinay; INQ.net)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Christians, Muslims keep bond after attack on community

Kung mamakwit man diay mo, nagpahibalo unta mo (If you opted to evacuate, you could have informed us),” Kairon Oday recalled what he told—albeit in jest—evacuees during a recent community dialogue in Barangay Muntay after the Aug. 18 siege of the Kolambugan town proper in Lanao del Norte.

Like any other community affected by the attacks that fateful day, many families, mostly Christians, fled Muntay, taking a 30-minute boat ride to Ozamiz City.

“Everybody was in panic. Gunshots were heard everywhere,” said village chief Julius Montecillo.

Such state of confusion resulted in the evacuation of at least 70 percent of the population. Those who fled included families living along the shorelines.

But Muslim families staying on the other side of the community, together with the barangay officials, remained.

“We believe that if we stayed here, they (armed men) will not harm us,” Abdulcamid Dimalapang, a Maranao leader, who also serves as temporary barangay secretary, reasoned out.

No guns allowed

On that morning, Dimalapang said, the Muslim families went out to the main highway on the northern end going to Maigo town. On the other end, going to Tubod, the provincial capital, the barangay officials, who are mostly Christians, were on guard. Muntay is among the villages along the national highway that connects the coastal towns.

Neither groups had firearms.

“If we were armed, we would surely be caught in the crossfire. It would be hard to determine whether we were members of CVO (Civilian Volunteers Organization) or soldiers or rebels or plain civilians,” Dimalapang said. “So, we decided not to take up arms.”

True enough, at around 9 a.m., a series of violence hit nearby communities of Kolambugan and Kauswagan towns. Armed men believed to be Moro rebels arrived at a bridge in Sitio Kulasian, just a kilometer away from the barangay hall.

“They saw us, we saw them. And for a long while, we just stared at each other from afar. They did not make any move and we stood pat. Then, they left,” Dimalapang narrated in a pensive tone, reliving their experiences that day.

At around the same time, at the southern tip of the same stretch of road, around 20 armed men believed to be vigilantes turned up. According to Montecillo, the group received a text message saying the whole barangay was taken hostage by the other armed group and they came to check.

Montecillo talked to the group, asking them to leave their community. They heeded.

The local leaders might have prevented an imminent confrontation between fully armed groups, but the commotion and confusion that descended in the community left the residents at a loss. Many could not understand what happened to them on that day. Others were distraught and hurt.

The day ended with 43 deaths, five of whom were soldiers and a police officer, 41 wounded and 36 houses burned in Kolambugan and Kauswagan, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

Residents’ ordeal

Though no direct atrocities took place in Muntay, the ordeal that the residents had gone through started to create a dent on the harmonious relationship between those who evacuated and those who stayed behind.

Three days after the incident, all those who left came back. But an invisible gap tried to divide the Christians and Muslims in the community.

Sensing the tension, local officials called for a community dialogue during a barangay session held not at the barangay hall but at the area where the Muslim families lived, which locals called “SPCPD” (Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development).

It was named such as Maranao families came to Muntay after it was declared a “center for peace and development” by the Ranao State Revolutionary Committee of the Moro National Liberation Front after the final peace agreement was signed between the government and the rebel group in 1996. The families still live there.

SPCPD had served as the transitional implementing mechanism of the peace pact.

Maranao integration

The social integration of the Maranao families, who came from the interior towns and settled in this predominantly Christian village in 2000, was an arduous journey by itself.

After a series of dialogues between the Muslim and Christian residents, as well as several planning sessions, the barangay declared itself a Peace and Development Community (PDC) in 2001.

PDCs are conflict-affected or conflict-vulnerable areas, whose transformation into self-sustaining and peaceful communities, have been supported by the United Nations Multi-Donor Program and now by its successor program, the GoP-UN Action for Conflict Transformation (ACT) for Peace Program.

The dialogue was called to discuss ways to sustain and even strengthen the harmonious coexistence of both Christians and Muslims, especially during trying times, Montecillo said.

During the latest community dialogue, “all of us, Christians and Muslims, poured our hearts out to break the tension between us,” Oday said.

“We clarified it among ourselves and agreed that this conflict is between the military and some groups of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). We are not part of this,” Dimalapang added.

Community pact

After two hours of intense discussion, the community reached an agreement that Christians and Muslims should not turn their backs against the other, and came up with concrete steps on how to maintain peace in the place despite the tension gripping the province.

Handwritten on a white pad in Visayan and signed by barangay officials and sectoral representatives, the community banned any form of weapon in the barangay and agreed to share information that may affect the residents.

“If we hear of ill plots by a group from the (Moro) tribes, we’ll inform the barangay officials and we will negotiate with that group not do it. In the same manner, if such plans are to be (carried out) by Christian groups, the barangay officials will inform us and dissuade them from doing anything,” said Dimalapang, whose family is among the 56 Muslim families now living among 262 Christian families in Muntay.

If and when armed hostilities will affect the community, both groups decided that the Christian families will go to the houses of Muslim families if the perpetrators are Christians, while the Muslim families will stay at the homes of Christian families if those responsible are Muslims.

But Dimalapang, Montecillo and Oday hoped it would not reach that point. “We, Muslims and Christians, just want to live in peace here in our community,” Montecillo said.

Muntay is now even hosting other internally displaced people from Tangkal and Munai towns.

“We can all peacefully coexist,” Montecillo added.

The villagers are now doing their best to recover from the trauma caused by the violence and move on as one community, banking on the strength of the renewed bond between and among them..(By Leah P. Bugtay, INQ.net)
The author is a communications specialist for the Act for Peace, a partnership between the Philippine government and the United Nations, which supports 251 peace and development communities in Mindanao and Palawan

Monday, September 22, 2008

AFP troops clash with Bravo’s men in Lanao

Government soldiers again engaged Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) believed to be under the command of Abdullah Macapaar alias Bravo on Monday morning, the military spokesman said.

Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, Jr. said troops from the Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion clashed with some 20 Moro rebels at around 9 a.m. in Poona village, Piagapo town, Lanao del Norte.

The soldiers suffered no casualties and the rebels retreated to a forested area after a 15-minute firefight.

Torres said the troops are scouring the area for possible rebel casualties after they recovered a bloodied FN FAL 7.62-mm assault rifle, a grenade launcher tube, rocket propelled grenades, the damaged handguard of an M16 rifle, assorted ammunition and MILF uniforms.

The military has been on the offensive since last month against Macapaar and fellow MILF commanders Ameril Ombra Kato and Aleem Sulaiman Pangalian, who are accused of leading attacks on civilian communities last month.

Colonel Benito De Leon, commander of the 104th Infantry Brigade, said in a text message: “It is just a matter of time that the [targeted MILF] in the area will be decimated and their leaders taken by operating government forces.”

(By Katherine Evangelista; INQ.net)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MILF welcomes gov’t plan to bring child warrior issue to UN

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- The Moro Islamic Liberation Front welcomes the government's threat to bring the alleged use of child warriors by Moro rebels to the attention of the United Nations because it will bring out the truth, a rebel spokesperson said Saturday.

The military claims to have documented the alleged deployment by the MILF of child warriors during recent skirmishes in Mindanao and Malacañang has said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will inform the UN about the MILF's use of children as fighters and other abuses committed by the rebel group.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said on Thursday that the President will speak before the UN General Assembly in New York and will cite a video clip showing MILF recruits as young as 15 years old undergoing military training and marching drills.

The video footage was reportedly found by the military in one of the camps of MILF commander Ombra Kato that was captured by government forces after recent battles in Maguindanao.

"That is a very welcome development," said Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief.

Kabalu maintained that the MILF did not use children to fight the military and branded the government claim as baseless.

"Once the issue is presented before the UN, an investigation, an impartial one, is going to take place and expose the truth," he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Kabalu said the government could have mistaken some of their members for children because they are really small compared to others, even if they are aged 18 or 20 already.

Muhammad Ameen, deputy chair of the MILF's information committee, also said a UN probe would determine which entity has been destroying the future of children in conflict areas.

"We hope the United Nations will not try us in absentia and provide us an avenue to air our side and present evidence that the government is the one killing our children," Ameen said.

He cited the death of seven civilians -- including six children -- during a September 8 air assault by the military on suspected MILF positions in Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

Ameen said the MILF has been religiously observing international conventions on children in armed conflicts and was not recruiting children as soldiers.

He said the MILF was actually helping children go to school, where they also receive military training similar to the government's military training program in schools.

"To enable them to defend themselves, the MILF is providing them basic military training," he said.

With respect to abuses allegedly committed by the MILF, Kabalu said it was the military that has been violating the ceasefire and blaming the MILF.

Kabalu said the MILF continued to be interested in finding peaceful ways to end the Mindanao conflict.

Peace talks between the government and the MILF have been suspended and Malacañang has dissolved the government peace panel.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon has said that if the talks resume, the government should ask Indonesia instead of Malaysia to mediate the negotiations.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, said Malaysia's involvement in the failed talks was prompted by a request by Arroyo in 2001.

"If the negotiations resume, we will still choose Malaysia as facilitator. We are not saying we don't want Indonesia but Malaysia is already there so why should we replace them?" Iqbal said.

(Reports from Edwin Fernandez, Charlie Senase and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inq.net)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Guard dies of electrocution in flooded home

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- A security guard of the National Food Authority died of electrocution while retrieving family belongings from his house in the flooded village of Biniruan here on Thursday, a city official reported Friday.

Sam Mundas, city disaster coordinator, said Baser Mohammad became the second fatality of the floods.

Earlier, Mundas said a 12-year-old freshman at the Tamontaka National High School drowned when swept by strong currents of the Tamontaka River.

He said Mohammad was electrocuted when he returned to their flooded house, after he had evacuated his children and wife, to get some important belongings.(By Charlie Señase;INQ.net)

Police say Gen Santos dumping ground for stolen cars

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines -- Central Mindanao is teeming with vehicles stolen from other parts of the country and General Santos City has become a favorite dumping ground of car theft syndicates, the region’s Traffic Management Group (TMG) said.

Senior Superintendent Regie Nerbes, regional TMG chief, told reporters earlier this week that operatives of the agency seized 11 luxury vehicles with dubious documents recently.

"We checked the engine and chassis numbers, including the papers of the seized vehicles and we confirmed that they had been tampered with," he said.

Nerbes warned car buyers not to be swayed by what appears to be a good bargain but to first verify the documents of the vehicles offered to them.

He also said the TMG has intensified its campaign against car theft and hijacking syndicates and those dealing in stolen vehicle.

Meanwhile, police intercepted about 500 motorcycle engines loaded in two container vans at the Makar wharf here on Tuesday.

Senior Inspector Edgar Yago, commander of the police station in Makar, told reporters the motorcycle engines came from a warehouse in Labangal village and were about to be shipped out when intercepted.

Yago said they were still verifying with the TMG if the motorcycle engines were legally acquired.(By Aquiles Zonio; INQ.net)

Duran picks Pacquiao, Hearns chooses Hoya

Roberto Duran is leaning toward Manny Pacquiao while fellow boxing icon Thomas Hearns says Oscar De La Hoya should win if only for the Golden Boy’s sheer size.

As the two great prizefighters of the 1980s gamely took their picks, Pacquiao breezed through a light routine on the first day of his training for what he calls the “greatest fight of my life” against De La Hoya on Dec. 6 at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
No one was allowed to watch at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, according to philboxing.com, as Freddie Roach started to get his most famous ward back into shape Wednesday afternoon.

Three tall sparring mates have been lined up, all of whom packing a mean left hook, which is De La Hoya’s main weapon according to Roach.

“They all have powerful left hooks,” the philboxing.com report quoted Roach as describing Pacquiao’s sparmates.

The trainer also pooh-poohed the Golden Boy’s right hand. “He (De La Hoya) has no right,” said Roach. “He has a jab but no right.”

Yuri Foreman, a 5-foot-11 NABF light middleweight champion who boasts a 25-0 record with eight KOs, will be the top sparmate for Pacquiao, the reigning WBC lightweight champion.

Joining Foreman are fellow middleweight Arron Robinson, a 5-10 fighter with a 6-2-0 (4 KOs) record and 5-11 welterweight Rashad Holloway (9-1-0).

The three hope to sharpen up the 5-6 Pacquiao when he takes on the 5-10 De La Hoya, a 10-time world champion in a 12-round bout at l47 pounds.

Duran, the legendary Panamanian who moved up from lightweight to welterweight in the ’80s, told boxingconfidential.com that he is leaning toward the smaller, faster and gutsier Pacquiao.

“I am leaning toward Pacquiao,” Duran said. “I like De La Hoya, he has been a great fighter ... But he has not been very active in recent years.

“Pacquiao has been extremely active. It seems like he is always training and fighting.”

Nicknamed “Manos de Piedra” or Hands of Stone, Duran scored a unanimous decision win over the flamboyant Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980.

Hearns, dubbed as the Hitman and who was world champion in six weight classes, said he is betting on De La Hoya because of his sheer size advantage, according to boxingconfidential.com.

“No way Pacquiao can win,” Hearns said, adding that the fight could be over for the Filipino in four or five rounds.

“Oscar may carry him for a few rounds but he is way too big and too strong for the smaller man.”

Meanwhile, in his column in the tabloid Abante, Pacquiao asked the fans to make sure they don’t bring in virus when they visit him in the gym.

He told his readers that lack of sleep, change in temperature and the onset of the flu season caused him to cancel a planned trip to Las Vegas to meet Top Rank president Bob Arum last Tuesday. He instead took a day off. (By Marc Anthony Reyes; INQ.net)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Soldier slain, 15 hurt in MILF ambush in Lanao Sur

A soldier was killed and eight others were wounded during an ambush by Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in Lanao del Sur province on Wednesday, a military spokesman said Thursday.

The incident happened at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the boundary of Barangay (village) Calalanoan and Barangay (village) Pangaw Lupa, in the municipality of Calanogas, Lanao del Sur said Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres.

Torres said members of the 51st Infantry Battalion were responding to reports that a "heavy" group of armed rebels believed to be under the command of Abdurhamen Macapaar alias Commander Bravo had taken control of the Calanogas Highway.

Aside from the wounding of eight soldiers, the 40-minute gunfight also resulted in injuries to seven MILF rebels, Torres said.(By Katherine Evangelista; INQ.net)

Newly born child dies in Pikit flood

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/17 Sep) -- A newly born infant died when the waters in their village near the Liguasan Marsh rose Monday night, belated reports said.

Senior Insp. Elias Dandan, Pikit municipal police chief, said the girl’s family was forced to evacuate the place, but her young fragile body could not withstand the floods.

“Her family was forced to vacate the place when the waters ran high. Because of the lack of transportation, the baby was not able to reach the hospital. She died while fleeing the floods,” he said.

Aside from the infant’s family, 700 other families from Barangay Paidu Pulangi left the village on Monday, seeking refuge on higher grounds as the waters of the Rio Grande de Mindanao overflowed due to torrential rains.

The Pikit municipal agriculture office reported that the floods that hit the town since Saturday already damaged P28-million worth of agricultural crops and affected 3,423 farmers in 11 villages.

The town’s rice and corn fields in the villages of Inug-ug, Talitay, Rajamuda, Bagoinged, Buliok, Barongis, Bulol, Bulod, Kabasalan, Katilakan, Punol, and Paidu Pulangi are the ones severely affected by the floods, reports said.

The rains apparently also caused the strong currents of Tamontaka River in Cotabato city, causing a 14-year-old girl to drown 7:30 a.m. today, according to the City Disaster Coordinating Council.

The girl and some friends swam in the river, oblivious of the river’s strong current, said Sam Mundas, head of a rescue group in Cotabato City.

The rains have also flooded many parts of the city, forcing schools in low-lying villages to suspend classes.

Mundas said the water hyacinths coming from the upper Rio Grande de Mindanao blocked the flow of water to the Moro Gulf, thus flooding a wide portion of the city. (Malu Cadeliña Manar / MindaNews)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When he looked around, his siblings and his father were dead or dying

DATU PIANG, Maguindanao (MindaNews/16 Sept) -- A portion of the pawas (marshland) still reeked of death on Sunday, six days after a fisherman and five of his children, one of them pregnant, were killed by shrapnel from an alleged air strike targeting “renegade” members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A red-white-and-green malong hangs at one corner of the kamalig (farmers’ resting hut). Dannex Canday, son of the hut owner, said they took down its nipa roof and “wall” made of coconut leaves and piled them on the ground because shrapnels from what exploded on the riverbank had grazed them, and the bamboo and round timber posts, as well.

A crater produced by one of three bombs allegedly dropped by a plane, one of them killed a fisherman and five of his children; only one of them survived.

Aida, 18, the eldest child of Daya Manungal and Vilma Mandi, owned that malong. In four months, she was going to give birth to her first baby.

But she died instantaneously, her head almost severed, her right eye gouged out by shrapnel.

Maguindanaoans say it must have been “Kahanda nu Kadenan” (God’s will) or “bagi” (destiny).that Guiamaludin, 13, the eldest son, survived.

The blasts produced three huge craters, each measuring 1.5 meters to 1.8 meters in diameter and at least ¾ meter deep. Shrapnels were still found in the third crater some 30 meters away from the riverside kamalig.

Two of the craters are on the riverbank itself, about three meters apart, very close to the kamalig. The kamalig was not burned. Whatever exploded nearby was not incendiary.

A fragment from the ill-fated banca lay on the ground. Nearby, the detachable bamboo seat, on top of which is what appears like a cloth--wrapped makeshift “cushion.”

Blood on the cloth and on Aida’s malong has since faded but not totally rinsed off by rain.

The stench of death still blows across this vast marshland.

Four minutes to safety

They had traveled some 800 meters from Sitio Dagaren in Barangay Tee, and had only about 800 meters more (not 500 to 600 meters as earlier estimated by MindaNews) to reach Butalo bridge and the highway.

On a “pumpboat” – in these parts, actually a small but motorized banca -- it is a two-minute and thirty-second ride to the death site from the bridge, but four minutes from the site to the bridge.
Daya knew they were four minutes to safety. But he had to stop, relatives said, because the boat’s engine had malfunctioned.

Daya apparently feared more the possibility of sinking than being mistaken for rebels from the air. The boat had more children than adults. Their clothes were multi-colored. Guiamaludin wore a bright golden yellow shirt.

On such a beautiful morning, even those along the highway could tell the approaching boats carried civilians, as they and the barangay captain asked soldiers on ready-fire position at Butalo bridge, to hold their fire. The soldiers held their fire.
View of the kamalig as boat approaches it from Butalo bridge. Daya was coming towards the bridge when he steered the boat towards the kamalig in the pawas.

Daya steered the boat towards the pawas, instructing his children -- the pregnant Aida, 18; Guiamaludin, 13, Bailyn, 9; Zukarudin, 7; Adtayan, 5 and Faidza, 2 - to wait in the kamalig. They never reached the kamalig. Guiamaludin recalls that just as they had disembarked from the banca and taken two to three steps through the mud, they were thrown away by the blasts. He could not say how far away he was thrown off.

Guiamaludin, the lone survivor from his father’s boat said when he looked around, his siblings and his father were either dead or dying.
Guiamaludin, the lone survivor from his father’s boat. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas.
Ten to 15 meters away, still cruising the river, the terrified occupants of the other boat screamed and cried as the bombs exploded. Vilma, Daya’s wife, held on tightly to her 16-day old baby, Fairudz and children Bainor, 11, and Tata, 4.

Mohalidin Unsi, Aida’s husband, was frantic. In four months, they would be having their first baby.Shrapnels were still found in the third crater. The bigger ones had been taken by the police, villagers from the highway said. Mohalidin had no time to grieve when he reached the bank and saw his lifeless wife.

“Pinulot nya raw yung mga body” (He said he collected the bodies) and put them on the boat, to bring them to Butalo bridge, Noraisa Mandi, Aida’s aunt, said.
Noraisa said that as Mohalidin was counting and collecting the bodies, he was shouting to the planes overhead to stop bombing.

Mohalidin narrated how his father in law, Daya, groaned in pain. But when he came back for him, said Noraisa, Daya was gone. He had fallen into the river. His body was recovered the next day.

Vilma, Mohalidin and Guiamaludin claim there was no exchange of gunfire before the blasts. Residents along the highway some 800 meters from the blast site said they heard no exchange of gunfire before the explosions.

Military sources told MindaNews that gunfire exchange over such a wide expanse of river and marshland can be heard up to five to seven kilometers away at daytime and up to 10 kilometers at nighttime.

The Commission on Human Rights said it has directed its regional office in Mindanao to investigate what happened. “Children as collateral damage is unacceptable,” CHR chair Leila de Lima said.

”There was no bombing,” Zamudio told MindaNews on September 16.

Guideline 2 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ “Tactical Adjustments on Military Operations During Ramadhan,” states that “tactically, artillery and air strikes will be minimized as much as practicable.”

”Nonetheless,” it added, “field commanders are not prevented to proportionately employ such firepower when extremely necessary in addressing imminent threats from an overwhelming LMG force.”

“LMG” is military parlance for “Lawless MILF Group,” referring to renegades in the MILF like Kato and Bravo, who, the MILF leadership maintains, is still within their control.Zamudio stressed the pilots merely fired back because they were fired upon by the rebels.

He said rockets were used on them, not bombs

“Do rockets produce craters?” MindaNews asked.

“There are craters?” Zamudio asked.

(By Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews for Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project)

Robin Padilla's daughter asks both sides to "end the war"

(MindaNews/15 September) – Actor Robin Padilla’s daughter has joined the clamor for a stop to the fighting between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Speaking in Talayan, a town in Maguindanao affected by renewed hostilities and where she led a distribution of relief goods for evacuees, Queenie Padilla appealed to both parties to stop fighting to give way to rehabilitation work.

Queenie was with the staff of her father’s Liwanag ng Kapayapaan Foundation and officials of the Office of Muslim Affairs-National Capital Region.

“Provide help and make a difference, our people, children, mothers are suffering,” said Queenie, who, like her father, has embraced Islam.

“I am happy I helped provide them with some relief goods but that is not enough. The longer they stay in crowded evacuation centers, the more they need food,” she said.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque today visited evacuees in Pikit, Cotabato displaced since August by renewed fighting between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Some 2,000 families have remained in at least 15 evacuation sites in the town, mostly house-based tents located along the Cotabato highway, data from the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office showed.

Duque, together with Governor Jesus Sacdalan, distributed medicines and some pre-pregnancy kits.

The secretary also handed the governor one million pesos as financial assistance for evacuees whose houses were razed or destroyed and for relatives of civilians who were killed when fighting erupted in Pikit and in other towns in North Cotabato last month.

Duque, in an interview over dxND, said his mission was part of President Arroyo’s promise to a group of evacuees from Mindanao that visited her last week in Malacanang.

It was during the meeting last Friday that Arroyo assured the evacuees of assistance from the national government.

The evacuees have asked the government to stop military operations against the MILF and resume peace talks with the rebel group. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Peace process ‘messy’ but gov’t should ‘never give up’

Working for peace is “messy” but this should not deter government from pushing to resume negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said a former presidential peace adviser on Monday.

“Making peace is messy but let us persevere,” election commissioner Rene Sarmiento said in an interview.

Sarmiento used to head the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and also served in the government panel to peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“This peace process is facing zigs and zags and difficult turns but it [government] should never give up,” Sarmiento said.

The government has dissolved the panel negotiating peace with the MILF after hostilities between the secessionist rebels and government forces broke out early last month. The fighting began after MILF rebels attacked civilian communities in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte province.

Sarmiento conceded that peace negotiations take a long time but stressed that these should not be rushed.

Government, he added, “should [also] involve the civil society; they should be onboard. After all, in the peace process, the civil society is a very important stakeholder.”

He also expressed optimism peace can be achieved through dialogues among civil society, the government and the MILF peace panels, especially on the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD).

The issuance early last month of a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court against the signing of the MOA-AD was followed soon after by hostilities between government forces and MILF rebels which are continuing through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The fighting has led government to dissolve its peace negotiating panel to the MILF and to review all its peace efforts.

“If we listen to the civil society, we listen to the other stakeholders and then reach a common point, improve the MOA [AD] and then hopefully achieve that peace in Mindanao,” said Sarmiento.

He added that the botched signing of the MOA-AD should not be taken as a step back from achieving peace but as a “learning experience.”

“I think we have learned our lesson. Let us concede that we had rejection of the MOA but we learned lessons that we should not repeat, and for me that is a big experience that we can use,” Sarmiento said.

He added that another product of the MOA-AD was that it encouraged the public to speak up on the matter.

“The reactions, the lessons, the comments [from the public], in effect, it became a national experience, and we should draw our lesson from this experience,” Sarmiento said.

But current presidential peace adviser Hergmogenes Esperon Jr. said peace talks with the MILF cannot resume until improvements on the ground are seen.

“We need an improved situation on the ground before we can reconstitute the peace panel,” Esperon said.(Katherine Evangelista; INQ.net)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pacquiao laughs off De La Hoya’s fight plan

Manny Pacquiao stopped and looked at the ceiling for a moment when asked to comment on Oscar De La Hoya’s plans to adopt Juan Manuel Marquez’s fighting style in their Dec. 6 megabuck fight.

Then he said: “Bakit? Tinalo na ba ako ni Marquez? (Why, did Marquez beat me?)

“He might just as well lose if he will take on Marquez’s style. As far as I can remember, Marquez has not won over me,” added Pacquiao in Filipino during a press conference held shortly before he left last night for Los Angeles.

Marquez was in the news yesterday after he stopped Cuban Joel Casamayor in the 11th round of his first fight as a lightweight.

In their first meeting in 2004, Marquez bucked three knockdowns in the first round to salvage a draw with the Filipino champion and keep his two world titles then. Pacquiao then decisioned the Mexican for the super featherweight crown early this year.

With a host of politicians in tow, Pacquiao said he will start training at the Wild Card gym of trainer Freddie Roach on Monday, a day after his arrival in LA. He said his sparring with a pair of 5-foot-10 middleweights may begin Oct. 6.

“I will be training very hard, use my skill but I will not enumerate my strategies because Oscar might prepare for it,” said Pacquiao during the hastily called press conference at the Rennaisance Hotel in Makati.

His speed, he said, will be the “key” in the fight, but his team will come up with more strategies, “different styles” against De La Hoya, a 10-time world champion in six different weight divisions.

“They study me, I will study them. I will do my best. I’m not the kind of boxer who brags before the fight,” added Pacquiao.

After beating Casamayor yesterday, the Marquez camp again called out to Pacquiao, saying that two closely fought bouts deserve a third installment.

“No problem,” Pacquiao countered.

“I can fight with anybody. But he (Marquez) must agree to my offer because I will be the promoter of that fight,” added Pacquiao.

“I won’t agree to it if I’m not (the promoter). If he agrees to my small offer, then he really wants to fight me, but if he won’t then it means he’s only after the money.”

De La Hoya has said he would adopt the counter-punching style of Marquez and is even inclined to hire the Mexican’s famed coach Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, Marquez’s trainer.(By Marc Anthony Reyes; INQ.net)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Esperon to MILF: peace process continues; MOA-AD will be major reference

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/13 September) -- Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon has relayed a four-point message to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) through the Malaysian facilitator, and this includes the continuation of the peace process and the use of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) as “major reference, if and when the talks resume.”

Esperon went to Malaysia on Thursday as President Arroyo’s Special Envoy to Malaysian Prime Minister (PM) Abdullah Badawi, to hand over a personal letter “explaining the non-signing of the MOA-AD, and to discuss and explore ways of sustaining the peace process and other related issues in Mindanao,” according to a press statement from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
Esperon was accompanied in the mission by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) Director-General Pedro Cabuay Jr.

Esperon met with Dato Othman Abdul Razak, the Prime Ministers’ appointed GRP-MILF Talks Facilitator, “who was straightforward in asking what the GRP would like to be relayed to the MILF.”

The former Armed Forces chief of staff, replied: “One, the peace process continues. Two, calmer and cooler MILF leaders must take control while Umbra Kato and Bravo must be turned into the Philippine authorities. Three, the MOA-AD will become a major reference, if and when the talks resume. And four, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) must be frontloaded in the agenda of future talks.”

Disarmament, however, “is not a precondition to the resumption of talks,” the press statement read.

Asked to comment on the four-point message of Esperon, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal replied, “can’t comment. We need official communication from Kuala Lumpur.”

The Philippine government and MILF had initialed the MOA-AD on July 27 and were scheduled to formally sign the agreement on August 5. A temporary restraining order (TRO), however, was issued by the Supreme Court, preventing the government peace panel chair from signing the agreement.

The MOA-AD was supposed to have been the last of the agreements for the three agenda items prior to negotiations on the comprehensive peace agreement.

Following the protests against the MOA, the Philippine government announced initially it would not sign it in its present form but the following week added it won’t also sign it in whatever form.

On September 3, Malacanang announced the dissolution of the government peace panel and the shift in “peace paradigm” of negotiating with armed groups only on the basis of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration).

Esperon, the press statement said, was received in the Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya where Badawi expressed concern over the current situation in Mindanao.

The Prime Minister, however, “impressed his optimism to Sec. Esperon by saying that Malaysia remains hopeful the Philippines will eventually find the key to peace in Mindanao.”

Earlier in the day, Esperon met with Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Urtama Dr Rais Yatim at his office in Putrajaya. The latter “expressed concern on the escalation of hostilities” in Mindanao but Esperon said he explained the military operations are “target-specific and area-delimited, and are extremely important for the security of the people and the stability in the affected areas.”

Esperon’s press statement added that Malaysia has “expressed willingness to continue as facilitator of the talks and lead country of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).”

The tour of duty of this IMT batch would have ended August 31 this year but was extended to three more months.

Other countries participating in the IMT are Malaysia ; Brunei , Libya and the lone non-soldier, Japan.

Esperon also met with his former counterpart, General Dato Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal, the Commander of the Malaysian Armed Forces.

”General Aziz agreed that Bangsamoro aspirations can be accommodated within Philippine sovereignty and constitution. He gave the assurance that the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) will always be ready to support the peace process. If requested, the MAF is ready to increase deployment in the IMT,” the press statement read. (Source: MindaNews)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

GenSan, Cotabato and Butuan will soon have its own passport offices

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 September 2008) – Residents of General Santos, Cotabato and Butuan will no longer have to commute to Davao City or Cagayan de Oro City to get their passports. They will have their own passport processing offices soon.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered the “immediate opening” of six additional regional consular offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), half of them in Mindanao: Cotabato, General Santos and Butuan,

The President’s directive is embodied in Executive Order 748 issued on Aug. 28, 2008, “to effect an efficient delivery of basic public services by bringing it closer to the people.”

The Regional Consular Offices are mandated “to process and issue passports and to extend various consular services to Filipinos and non-residents alike."

Aside from the three Mindanao cities, the other areas where consular offices will be set up are the cities of Bacolod, Puerto Princes and Baguio.

Under the E.O., funding for the project will be coming from the annual budget of the DFA and the Passport Revolving Fund.

“For Calendar Year 2008, an initial fund amounting to P66-million shall be released from any available appropriation for CY 2008, as may be determined by the Department of Budget of Management,” the E.O. said.

The E.O also provides for the organizational requirements and housing for the soon-to-be-created consular offices.

At present, residents of Cotabato, General Santos and the neighboring provinces of Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan and the three Davao provinces have to go to Davao City to have their passports processed.

At present, too, residents from Caraga region – the two Agusans and two Surigaos -- and Bukidnon have to go to Cagayan de Oro for the same service. (Source: MindaNews)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

RP delegation dispatched to update Malaysia on talks with MILF

Malacañang on Wednesday sent a delegation to Kuala Lumpur to update the Malaysian government on the status of the peace efforts between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The delegation was headed by presidential adviser on the peace process Hermogenes Esperon Jr who was also tasked to update the Malaysians on the ongoing operations in Mindanao.

This was revealed by Press Secretary Jesus Dureza who added that the said delegation includes National Intelligence Coordinating Authority chief and former deputy national security adviser Pedro Cabuay and Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales was supposed to lead the delegation and represent President Arroyo during the party's call on Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi but he had to beg off to undergo angioplasty at the St Luke's Medical Center Wednesday morning.

"I think we owe it to the Malaysians to be able to officially inform them of the present status as far as it stands with the Philippine government," Dureza said.

Asked if the government would be seeking an extension of the term of the International Monitoring Team which Malaysia is a part of, he said it would be better to wait for the results of the trip.

The decision to send a delegation to Kuala Lumpur was made weeks after the collapse of the talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

The collapse of the talks was blamed on attacks launched by wayward MILF commanders on civilian communities in parts of Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and Saranggani.

The attacks were launched after the Supreme Court stopped the signing of an agreement on ancestral domain. - GMANews.TV

US forces helping in offensives vs MILF rebels--Moro group

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—A Moro group on Tuesday said US forces have been helping in the offensives against Moro Islamic Liberation front rebels in Maguindanao.

But the military denied it even in the wake of photos taken by the Philippine Daily Inquirer which showed US forces holding an unmanned aerial vehicle during the early days of the offensive against the forces of MILF Commanders Ameril Ombra Kato and Wahid Tundok.

The US forces were seen inside an Army camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan on August 24, when government troops were shelling Kato's position.

Bai Ali Indayla, spokesperson of Moro human rights group Kawagib, said there were also instances when they saw American forces in full battle gear with Filipino troops in Maguindanao last month.

"We do not know what more the Armed Forces of the Philippines and US troops were doing inside Maguindanao with their covert operations. Last night, there was a helicopter flying at night within Maguindanao areas but we cannot see it because it's dark," Indayla said Tuesday.

Colonel Marlou Salazar, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, who supervises the punitive action against Kato's group, declined to comment on photos of US forces holding the body and wings of a white unmanned aerial vehicle inside the military camp in Crossing Salvo in Datu Saudi town.

During the anti-Abu Sayyaf operations in Sulu in 2006, US forces also used drones to track down Khadaffy Janjalani and other bandit leaders.

Major General Eugenio Cedo, then commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the drones were used for intelligence gathering purposes.

One of the drones later crashed in Indanan and was recovered by village officials.

Major Armand Rico, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) in Davao City, said he could not confirm if spy planes were being used in Maguindanao.

Commenting on the Inquirer photos, Rico said: "We could not confirm it is a spy plane. We still cannot ascertain. The ones being used by US soldiers were bigger than that."

Salazar also did not comment on photos taken by the Inquirer, which showed other US soldiers inside the said camp.

"You ask them (US soldiers)," he said.

Rico said there is an ongoing exercise with US forces in Central Mindanao which began about last month.

"There is an ongoing training there. There are many courses involved, (explosive ordinance handling), monitoring, engineering and (handling of) technical equipment," he said.

He said the stay of US forces inside the military camp in Crossing Salvo could still be part of the said exercise.

As to allegations US soldiers were seen with their Filipino counterparts, Salazar said: "The rules they follow, if something happened on the ground like clashes, they will stay and remain in an Army camp."

The US Embassy in Manila has repeatedly denied US forces have joined combat operations.

But Herbert Docena, researcher of the Focus on the Global South and author of the books "At the Door of All the East, The Philippines in the United States Military Strategy," and "Unconventional Warfare--Are US Special Forces engaged in an Offensive War in the Philippines?" was consistent in his claim that "US troops in the Philippines are into actual combat operation with the Filipino forces."

"It's ludicrous, very ridiculous for our government and for the United States to declare their soldiers are not into combat operations," Docena told the Inquirer by phone Tuesday.

Docena said "they are stretching the meaning of combat."

"If they say their activity is not combat like searching for dud bombs, conducting intelligence gathering, evacuating wounded soldiers, (then) they are not just lying to the Filipino people or to the public, they are also lying to themselves," he said.

Docena said even the United States Army War manual described their operation as "combat operations."

In Lanao del Norte, several US soldiers arrived Tuesday as the military was intensifying its manhunt against another MILF commander, Abdullah Macapaar alias Commander Bravo.

But Colonel Benito Antonio Templo De Leon, who took over the helm of the 104th Infantry Brigade, said no US soldiers will be joining the manhunt.

The center of the operation now, he said, is in Mt. Gurain, which borders the two Lanao provinces.

He said aside from soldiers, the Philippine National Police is also helping in the operation against Bravo.

As this developed, the local government of Datu Piang in Maguindanao has called for an investigation into the death of six civilians, including a teenage mother and two children, during an alleged military air strike on Monday morning.

Musib Tan, spokesperson of the Datu Piang municipal government, said witnesses have confirmed claims that the bomb came from a military aircraft.

The victims were fleeing the fighting aboard a motorized banca when they were hit by an explosion, Tan said.

Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said the 6th Infantry Division was conducting an investigation.

"We're not hiding anything here. The reported deaths of the six alleged civilians happened right in the area where MILF fighters were firing shots at aircraft hovering above them," Ando said.

He said the military only flew "persuasion flights" but no bombings were conducted.

Samsudin Ali, a 50-year-old Muslim farmer, said they were certain that a bomb or a rocket landed on the motorized banca.

"Na-direct hit ang pump boat, makapal ang usok (smoke was thick)," Ali said.

Tan also said metal fragments pierced through the bodies of the victims.

The incident has also triggered alarm over villagers in other parts of Datu Saudi and Datu Piang towns.

On Monday afternoon, the Datu Piang town plaza had already been teeming with displaced persons.

In Datu Saudi, Tan said the number of evacuees has already swelled to more than 10,000 following the influx Monday of another batch seeking refuge from the violence.

"Not only are we attending to our Maguindanao constituents, but also Muslim evacuees from Aleosan and Midsayap in North Cotabato," Tan said.

As this developed, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police were ordered to ensure the safety of relief workers following the alleged hijacking of a truck loaded with rice from the World Food Program (WFP) in Mamasapano town.

Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao, police chief for ARMM, said the police were willing to provide armed police escorts to relief organizations.

(Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez, Charlie C. Señase, Julie Alipala, Nash Maulana and Richel Umel, INQ.net)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fighting resumes in Maguindanao

AFP mounts air, ground attack vs. Moro rebels

Philippines — Fighting resumed Monday after a weeklong lull with the military mounting ground and air assaults against a band of guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Datu Piang town in the province of Maguindanao, military officials said.

At least six civilians, including two children and a pregnant teenager, were killed in the clash in the village of Tee, MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu said. Those killed were fleeing aboard a motorboat that was hit by a rocket from a helicopter gunship, said Mosib Tan, municipal administrator in the MILF-controlled town.

Kabalu identified the fatalities as Daya and Vilma, both surnamed Manunggal; 18-year-old newlywed and pregnant Aida; Kim, 7; Adtaya, 7; and Faiza, all surnamed Mandi. Two others, identified as Caharodin, 16, and Bailyn, 13, both surnamed Mandi, were wounded.

“There has been no fighting in Datu Piang since yesterday. What happened was that the military launched air strikes. There are many soldiers right now in Datu Piang,” Kabalu told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Col. Marlou Salazar, commander of the 601st Brigade, said his men killed at least seven rebels in the clash with the group of MILF commander Wahid Tondok around 9:55 a.m.

Salazar said about 50 guerrillas were sighted in Sitio Dagangin early evening of Sunday and they engaged the ground troops in a firefight Monday morning. He said the rebels, armed with cal. 50 machine guns, fired at two helicopters and air strikes were called.

Maj. Gen. Hernanie Perez, chief of the Philippine Air Force 3rd Air Division, said four planes dropped rockets as a “defensive move to prevent an escalation of violence.” He said no bombs were used and the measure was meant to scare off the MILF fighters.

No civilians in battle zone

Both Perez and Salazar could not immediately confirm the MILF report of civilian deaths.

“Those who claimed there were children fatalities were not in the area, [there were] no civilians there except government troops and MILF rebels,” said Salazar. “I think if there were children there, it would be the young MILF fighters, their child warriors.”

Government forces have been sent to hunt down Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Commander Bravo, after the two sacked towns in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, killing scores of civilians, including women and children.

MILF leaders said Kato and Bravo were protesting the delay in the signing on Aug. 5 of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on an expanded Bangsamoro homeland hammered out in secrecy in July in Kuala Lumpur in negotiations brokered by Malaysia. The Supreme Court stopped the deal after Mindanao executives denounced the move as unconstitutional, saying it would lead to the dismemberment of the republic.

Around 100 civilians and several dozen soldiers have died in the month-long violence, according to government agencies and the military. The military claims troops have killed more than 120 MILF fighters, but the MILF confirmed only seven deaths.

Guns fell silent after the start on Monday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan although small clashes were reported.

Number of evacuees swells

Salazar said civilians in Tee started fleeing again upon seeing armed MILF in the village Sunday evening. “They must have known that anytime there will be fighting.”

Tan said evacuees in the town center had begun returning home but the number was expected to swell again as a result of the fresh outbreak of fighting.

“I am so sad with the resumption of hostilities because it’s fasting month and the people are weak and tired of evacuating,” Tan said.

Salazar said fighting erupted after troops dispatched to Tee to verify MILF sightings clashed with an undetermined number of rebels under Commander Wahid Tondok, Kato’s top lieutenant.

“We were informed by civilians about the rebels’ sightings in the village of Tee. We have sent soldiers to the area and it’s positive. The enemy also strafed our plane S-211. It returned fire but we did not fire howitzers,” Salazar said.

But Kabalu insisted no clashes happened, just the military air strikes. “We have reported the incidents to the coordinating committee on cessation of hostilities but their function right now is limited,” Kabalu said.

Muslims denounce military

The Philippine Darul Ifta (House of Opinion), a collegial body of Islamic scholars and religious leaders, condemned the military operation.

“The military should have respected the rights of the civilians. They cannot perform their fast well because they have to run every now and then,” Ustadz Esmael Ibrahim, spokesperson of Darul Ifta, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“The issue in Maguindanao is police matters. And there should be no use of bombs, cannons and more troops,” he added. (With reports from Nash Maulana,Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez; INQ.net)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Army rockets kill 3 children, 3 others in Maguindanao

At least six civilians, including a pregnant woman and three children, were killed on Monday when Philippine army planes strafed and bombed Muslim rebel positions in the south a week after a peace deal collapsed, officials said.

Army helicopters and planes attacked rebel positions near a marshland after renegade members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had fired at helicopters searching for rebels on the southern island of Mindanao, army officials said.

Musib Uy Tan, a local official, told reporters the civilians had been on their way to a temporary shelter area when their boat was hit by rockets fired from helicopter gunships.

"The boat was a total wreck," Tan said, adding that the bodies of a 53-year old farmer and his family, including a pregnant 17-year old girl, had been pulled from the water.

Colonel Marlou Salazar, an army brigade commander, said he was unaware of civilian casualties but reported that seven MILF rebels had been killed in the air strikes.

But army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Julieto Ando said collateral damage in armed encounters was possible.

"We're investigating that incident now," Ando told reporters.

Earlier on Monday, a crude bomb went off in a public market in Mindanao's Isulan town while another was defused near a hospital in nearby Tacurong City. Both are Catholic-dominated areas and thus potential MILF targets.

Identical bombs

"Our investigators believed it was supposed to go off at the same time as the second bomb because the two explosive devices were almost identical," Major Armand Rico, another military spokesman, told reporters. "They were made from 81mm mortar rounds and remotely detonated by a cellphone."

Military chief General Alexander Yano warned of more bombings in Catholic-dominated areas in Mindanao even as fighting subsided since Ramadan started last week. He said the rebels had broken into smaller groups to avoid head-on confrontations.

More than 200 people, including 21 soldiers, were killed in August in fighting between troops and renegade members of the MILF blamed for attacking Christian-majority southern towns after the peace deal fell apart.

The government has been in on-off talks with the MILF since 1997 to end a rebellion that has killed 120,000 people and stunted growth in a region said to be sitting on huge deposits of minerals, oil and natural gas.

About half a million people have been displaced by fighting since Aug. 18 as troops bombed and shelled rebel positions.

On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) asked for more donations so it could continue providing food to around 70,000 people at refugee camps on Mindanao, adding that there could be more uncertainty after the end of Ramadan.(MANNY MOGATO; Reuters)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

MILF accepts disarmament policy but…

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in pushing for a resumption of negotiations with the government in the face of new hitches on the issue of ancestral domain that led to a renewal of fighting in parts of Mindanao, on Saturday expressed support for the government's "DDR policy" but did so with some reservationsMalacañang has stated it will negotiate with the MILF only in the context of disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation, or DDR, and that it would also bring the affected communities into the peace process.

The government’s "shift in paradigm" and statements on DDR have alarmed peace groups, who fear an escalation of the fighting.

The MILF said it was willing to go back to the negotiating table but Malacañang should not be setting any pre-conditions.

"The disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, or DDR, should be tackled as the last item in the stalled government and MILF peace negotiation, in case it resumes," said Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF political affairs chief.

Jaafar said the MILF central committee came up with this response to the government’s DDR demand during a recent meeting.

"For the MILF to lay down their arms, by force, as a precondition for the resumption of the talks would be construed as the government using its military might rather than the political approach that most civilized countries used," Jaafar said.

He said the MILF also preferred that the last letter in the initials DDR stood for "reintegration" instead of "rehabilitation."

In a five-point policy statement dubbed as the "MILF Declaration Manifest" that was officially released Friday, the rebel group described President Macapagal-Arroyo's DDR as "the new government road map to peace" that many countries used in resolving armed conflict with the underground.

Jaafar said they acknowledge that DDR "forms part of the comprehensive peace settlement, but it should be the last item in the talks."

"When the DDR is taken up ahead of the comprehensive peace settlement, it is interpreted to be a military approach. Not in the way of a political approach that President Arroyo promised in 2001 when she replaced the all-out war policy of President Joseph Estrada to the all-out peace policy," Jaafar said.

Meanwhile, an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross said Saturday admitted that the renewed conflict in Mindanao "has been extremely violent."

"Mindanao has suffered its worst fighting since 2003," Dominik Stillhart, ICRC deputy director for operations, told reporters here.

Stillhart flew in from Geneva recently as the ICRC stepped up assistance to displaced civilians, whose numbers, he said, could run up to half a million people.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council reported that the number of people displaced by recent rebel attacks and subsequent clashes with responding government forces has exceeded 200,000 individuals in Lanao Del Norte, North Cotabato, and Maguindanao.

"I visited evacuation sites and seeing the deteriorating situation of the IDPs (internally displaced people), we see it fitting to step up our aid," said Stillhart, who visited the village of Libungan Torreta in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato on Friday.

"We could see in their eyes that these people have been displaced many times over," Stillhart said.

Bai Fatima Sinsuat, the local Red Cross official, said the number of people working in the Red Cross relief operations center has increased as more evacuation areas needed assistance.

Perry Proellochs, in charge of ICRC relief operations for Central Mindanao, said the number of their field personnel has also ballooned to about 50 from only five or six before the armed conflict started in July.

"There were so many people that need humanitarian aid and that's our main concern, their health, hygiene, and food," he said.

Suara Bangsamoro, a militant Moro group, said the only way to prevent hostilities from spreading is to resume the peace negotiations. (By Charlie Señase, Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem; INQ.net)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Red Cross: 500,000 affected by worst fighting in 5 years

Fighting between Philippine government forces and Muslim insurgents has reached its worst point in five years, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Friday.

"Up to a half a million people have been affected by this armed conflict and many of them have been obliged to leave their homes," said Carla Haddad, a spokeswoman for International Committee of the Red Cross.

While some people are able to return home, others remain in evacuation centres as a result of the clashes, which "are the worst since 2003," Haddad said in Geneva, where the ICRC is headquartered.

The situation for people on southern Mindanao island will stay difficult for some time to come because of a breakdown in the peace process, she added.

The ICRC plans to provide medical assistance, food and shelter to 325,000 people on the island by year's end.

Fighting broke out between Philippine troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on August 10 after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against signing a peace agreement.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting for a separate Islamic state since 1978. In 2003 it signed a ceasefire with Manila to open the way for peace talks.

More violence

Analysts fear that President Gloria Arroyo's 3 September decision to dissolve a negotiating panel seeking a political solution to the MILF's 30-year rebellion will trigger increased violence across the southern island of Mindanao.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said on 4 September that four weeks of fighting between government soldiers and MILF forces had displaced some 423,772 people. These people "are directly affected and needing assistance of any form. They either lost their houses, are displaced and/or lost their livelihoods."

Cases of acute respiratory and urinary tract infections have been reported by medical authorities in camps near Kolambugan, one of the towns in Lanao del Norte province raided by MILF forces. Classes remain suspended in many areas, with schools burned down by rebels and not yet repaired and others serving as temporary shelters, according to the NDCC.

MILF rebels, headed by Umbra Kato and Commandero Bravo, led their forces in a deadly rampage across several mostly Christian towns and villages in Lanao and other areas on southern Mindanao island in August. They claimed the attacks were in retaliation for a Supreme Court order freezing an MILF-government deal that would have given them control over an expanded autonomous region in the south.

The MILF rebels looted homes and businesses, burned down houses and left some 50 people dead. Calling the attacks treacherous and a violation of a 2003 ceasefire, Arroyo unleashed punitive strikes, including heavy artillery and air bombardments, killing more than 100 rebels in the past four weeks. The government military has also taken over 15 MILF camps.

Civilian casualties

Leila de Lima, head of the independent Human Rights Commission, told IRIN the number of civilian casualties appeared to be higher than reported by the military. She said independent monitors from her office had said that in one Lanao town, Poona Piagapo, 20 civilians were killed on 24 August although their deaths went unreported.

She said it was not clear whether they were killed deliberately by the MILF or were caught in the crossfire.

"Civilians are suffering immensely. Tens of thousands are internally displaced because of this war, dozens have been killed, hundreds of homes have been pillaged and razed, landmines have been utilised, shelters and rations are insufficient, children cannot go to school and sanitation is deplorable," De Lima said.

"Armed conflict is the worst environment for human rights. The human suffering involved here remains the unmistakable black mark that stains any incidence of armed conflict," De Lima said.

Humanitarian crisis

A report by the commission after visiting nine IDP camps in the area of Cotabato city this week stated that the national and local governments were overwhelmed by the humanitarian crisis, and blamed central government for a "lack of foresight" in emergency planning prior to ordering the massive military offensive.

The report, obtained by IRIN, said sanitation was deplorable, medical supplies were running low and overall planning for disaster management "appears disorganised". It said there were no regular food supplies, potable water was inadequate, and the number of social workers to help women and children appear to be lacking.

Under pressure to quell public outrage, Arroyo scrapped talks with the MILF and said any future negotiation should entail the MILF disarming first. The directive was a major departure from her policy of talking peace and aiming for a final settlement before her term ends in 2010.(Agence France-Presse and IRIN, a news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Arroyo scraps peace panel

Says she won’t sign MOA at gunpoint

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ended 11 years of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), dissolving the government panel of negotiators and declaring that her administration cannot be forced to sign a deal on an expanded Bangsamoro homeland at gunpoint.

This was announced Wednesday by Press Secretary Jesus Dureza a day after Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro stressed that the MILF had become “irrelevant” after it refused to surrender commanders blamed for sacking towns in Mindanao and slaughtering scores of civilians.

Teodoro said that dialogues with armed groups, including the communist-led New People’s Army, would henceforth be based on demobilization, disarmament and rehabilitation (DDR) as the President had previously outlined.

“There are no more talks,” Dureza told Reuters news agency. “We’re dissolving the peace panel. You don’t need it when you’re ending talks with an armed group. We’ll start consulting with the people on the ground and find out how we can resolve the Muslim problem.”

Ms Arroyo reiterated in a statement that her administration would not sign the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain “in light of recent violent incidents committed by lawless violent groups.”

“Our commitment is to peace, the constitutional process and rule of law. There will be no peace gained through violence, no peace agreement will be reached through intimidation or the barrel of the gun,” she said.

Off to Kuala Lumpur

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita later announced that Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales would be dispatched to Kuala Lumpur to explain Ms Arroyo’s position to Malaysian officials who brokered the deal.

Ermita insisted that the administration had not totally abandoned the peace process, that a new panel could be formed in the future and that the two sides could resume talks.

“The peace process is still on,” he said, pointing out the 2003 ceasefire mechanism and the international monitoring team remain in place.

Explaining at a forum Ms Arroyo’s latest pronouncement, Esperon said that because of the focus on grass-roots dialogue, the disbanded panel “may not find themselves suited in the new paradigm” created by the resurgence of MILF violence.

Esperon said he was not giving up on peace but that “there must be an effort from the MILF to cooperate with our authorities.”

Harakiri suggested

The disbanding of the peace panel was hailed in the Senate and said Esperon should be fired.

Sen. Francis Escudero said the President has no choice but to sack her peace adviser whom he said was a “paradox to peace process because all throughout his military life was devoted to searching and destroying the enemies.”

“Government incompetence killed the peace negotiations and so these people have to go and go quickly,” said Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan. “They should take the cue from the Japanese and resign or commit harakiri.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that Esperon has no experience in negotiations and that a peace panel requires people “who know their jobs and who would not be taken for a fool.”

Senate President Manuel Villar said someone should be held accountable for the turnout of the peace deal that caused the escalation of atrocities in Mindanao.

In the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao said he hoped the dissolution of the peace panel did not mean abandonment of the peace process “because it can mean all-out war.”

Added Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, also of Maguindanao: “The government is marginalizing the MILF. The MILF no longer represents the Moro people.”

Awaiting official notice

MILF leaders said they would await an official communication from the Philippine government through the Malaysian secretariat.

“Unless they formally notify Malaysia, our position is that these statements coming out of newspapers and the broadcast media remain as informal statements,” said Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief.

“Peace panels are not permanent. They can be dissolved and reconstituted,” Kabalu said, holding out hopes that negotiations could resume.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator, repeated an earlier position that the MOA initialed in July in Malaysia was “a done deal.”

“We hold on to it for they have initialed the document,” Iqbal said.

Double-edged sword

MILF leaders have acknowledged that its field commanders—Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdulla Macapaar—had gone on a warpath, disgruntled at the government’s failure to sign the MOA on Aug. 5 in Malaysia.

The Supreme Court halted the deal after local officials in Mindanao protested the inclusion of areas under their jurisdiction in the expanded Moro homeland and warned that the MOA would lead to the dismemberment of the Philippine republic.

The government has mounted a massive operation to hunt Kato and Macapaar, offering a P10-million reward for their capture for igniting violence that has killed at least 62 civilians and displaced close to 500,000 people, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Center. The military said 17 soldiers had died in the fighting. The MILF confirmed seven deaths.

The government has been in on-off talks with the MILF since 1997 to end a conflict that has killed 120,000 people and displaced 2 million in the south. From 2001, Malaysia has been brokering the peace talks, held in secrecy, and last month agreed to keep its 12 unarmed troops on Mindanao for another three months to help monitor the truce agreement since July 2003.

The MILF, with a 12,000-strong armed force, was formed in 1976 by Hashim Salamat, who refused to honor a peace accord that Nur Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front forged with the government in 1996. Salamat rejected Misuari’s bid for more autonomy for the Moro homeland and sought independence instead.

Renato Reyes, secretary general of the leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the President’s move was a “dangerous double-bladed sword” meant to appease critics of the MOA and close the door to serious peace negotiations.

He said that disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation (DDR) as a framework for peace talks was “doomed to fail.”

“The Arroyo government wants its foes to surrender even without the government addressing the fundamental causes of armed conflict. This formula has been imposed on the National Democratic Front in the past and has in fact become a hindrance to the advancement of the peace talks,” Reyes explained.

Local leaders’ involvement

In General Santos City, Mayor Pedro Acharon welcomed the government move to dissolve the peace panel.

“Local leaders must not only be consulted, but they must also be actively involved in the process so we can come up with a just, credible and lasting solution to the Mindanao problem,” Acharon said.

Amirah Ali Lidasan, national president of Suara Bangsamoro, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the scrapping of the government team indicated that it was never serious in forging peace with the MILF.

Lidasan accused Ms Arroyo of using the MOA “for her personal interest,” pointing out her earlier plan to submit the deal to a constituent assembly that critics said was aimed at prolonging her term beyond 2010. (With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Jerome Aning, Beverly T. Natividad, Alcuin Papa, Norman Bordadora, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., TJ Burgonio in Manila; and Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin O. Fernandez, Aquiles Z. Zonio, and Ed General, Inquirer Mindanao; and Reuters)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Arroyo orders new panel for MILF peace talks

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita formally announced Wednesday that President Arroyo had dissolved the government's peace panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after it was "misled" into nearly signing the Muslim homeland agreement in Malaysia last August 5.

In a press conference, Ermita said the government would be forming a new government peace panel with the MILF, but future talks would depend on whether the separatist group would commit to abide by the ceasefire agreement with the government and whether it would turn over two rogue field commanders and other members who have staged violent attacks in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and other provinces in the south.

Ermita said the decision to dissolve the peace panel was arrived at during a national security cluster Cabinet meeting in Nueva Ecija on Tuesday.

Mrs. Arroyo has ordered National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales to go on an official mission to Kuala Lumpur to officially inform the Malaysian government about the government's decision to dissolve the government's peace panel negotiating with the MILF.

The dissolution of the peace panel, headed by Ret. Gen. Rodolfo Rodolfo Garcia, was "effective immediately," he said.

Ermita said Gonzales will explain the background of the decision and also assure the Malaysian government, which has been acting as mediator, that the ceasefire will be maintained, the International Monitoring Team will continue, and that the current military operations are directed at the lawless elements of the MILF.

"All mechanisms within the peace process are in place, the ceasefire agreement will be maintained," the executive secretary said.

New panel

Ermita said stakeholders in the peace process will be asked to recommend the new members of the peace panel with the MILF.

The new peace panel will pursue talks consistent with President Arroyo's new peace policy where disarming, disbandment, and reintegration of armed rebel forces will be "front loaded" in the negotiations.

The new approach to the peace talks will be followed not just by the peace panel with the MILF but also the other government peace panels talking peace with Communist rebels and other armed groups.

Ermita said the government wants "fresh ideas from fresh people" who can suggest "fresh approaches" that will lead to a "successful conclusion" of peace talks with the MILF.

Too much 'fanfare'

Ermita said the peace panel led by Garcia was "lured" into agreeing to hold a signing ceremony on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in Kuala Lumpur in August 5.

The signing was stopped after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order August 5 in response to complaints from politicians they were not consulted on the agreement.

Ermita said the panel erred in creating "too much funfare" on the planned signing of the MOA-AD.

"For some reason they were lured into making too formal a ceremony of having the memorandum of agreement signed in the presence of the foreign minister of Malaysia and our secretary of foreign affairs including other ambassadors, which made everybody think that that is already the agreement," Ermita said.

He said previous interim agreements on agenda items on security and economics had "no such fanfare." These include the ceasefire agreement and the creation of the Bangsamoro Development Agency.

"It is only on this ancestral domain, for some reason, they lost their perception that there is not much need for too much formality that somehow brought the attention of some people that what was to be signed was the actual agreement, when it's not," Ermita said.

Days after the high court issued the restraining order, some MILF commanders led attacks on civilian communities in North Cotabato. The attack was followed by bloody raids in Lanao del Norte, which left over 30 civilians dead and thousands of people homeless.

Ermita said the government will continue to pursue the rogue MILF rebels who carried out the attacks. He said Mrs. Arroyo has ordered the military and the police to accord "the highest respect' to the observance of Ramadan.

Other peace efforts on review

Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo has also ordered Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to review all existing peace initiatives of the government, including the stalled talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

"The result of the review will be basis of an enhanced and new roadmap on the peace process," he said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has ordered Esperon's office to realign all the peace initiatives to the government's new peace plan of "disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration" or DDR.

He said Mrs. Arroyo also wants future peace agreements based on "the rule of law, primacy of the Philippine constitution, and principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity."

Ermita said the decision to scrap the peace panel and to adopt a new peace strategy was made in response to the legal opinion of the Office of the Solicitor General and the issues raised by Supreme Court justices in the hearings on the MOA-AD.


Ermita also stressed the need for unity between the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) in the interest of peace.

He described the MNLF as the "mainstream secessionist" group with observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference while the MILF is "just a splinter group from the MNLF."

A unity of the two groups would make it easier to say that they represent the interests of the Muslims in Mindanao, he said.

He suggested that the peace brokers could help move the talks forward by putting pressure on the MILF into meeting the demands of the government that it turn over its rogue commanders to authorities.

Ermita said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon will continue to maintain contact with the MILF and pursue the peace negotiations.

He denied that government was not on a full-scale war against the MILF and that he believes the ceasefire will hold.

Asked what will happen to peace panel chief Garcia, Ermita said he will likely go back to the private sector but he may be consulted by the new peace panel.

Gov't prerogative

Earlier, MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told ABS-CBN News Channel that the dissolution of the government's peace panel is normal in a peace process and a prerogative of both sides.

"This is normal in a negotiation. Each side can dissolve or replace its panel anytime it wishes. That is normal and that is a prerogative of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) as well as the prerogative of the MILF," Iqbal said.

He said the MILF leadership will discuss its future plans as soon as it receives a formal communication about the peace panel's dissolution from the Malaysian government.

Iqbal assured that MILF commanders monitoring the developments in the peace negotiations with the government will not react violently to the dissolution of the peace panel.

Sec. Teodoro: MILF now irrelevant, no peace talks

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. Tuesday ruled out the resumption of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, saying that the MILF had become “irrelevant” after it refused to surrender its commanders blamed for attacking civilians.

Emerging from a Cabinet security cluster meeting at the Nueva Ecija convention center here, Teodoro said that disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation (DDR) would be the basis for any dialogue for peace as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had enunciated in a speech on Aug. 22.

Ms Arroyo announced the DDR policy after MILF field commanders Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdulla Macapaar, disgruntled at the cancellation of the Aug. 5 signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on an expanded Bangsamoro homeland, rampaged in Mindanao, slaughtering scores of civilians.

The government went on a counter-offensive, offering a P10-million reward for the capture of the two commanders and demanding that the MILF leadership surrender them. MILF officials rejected the demand, saying mechanisms exist in the 2003 ceasefire agreement between the government and the rebel group and that the front will deal with Kato and Macapaar.

“By saying such a thing, the MILF makes itself more irrelevant because its credibility once again is put to the test—because of its refusal to condemn the atrocities committed by some of its members.”

Besides the demand to surrender Kato and Macapaar, Malacañang added another precondition to the resumption of stalled peace talks—the disarmament of the 12,000-strong MILF force. Kato and Macapaar, also known as Commander Bravo, lead about 500-1,000 MILF fighters.

Objective is disarmament

“That is the objective of all peace talks—disarmament—not just for MILF but for all armed groups,” he said.

Teodoro lamented that about 300,000 people had been displaced by the fighting in Mindanao.

Over the past month, authorities said at least 70 civilians had been killed in the surge of violence. The military said 17 soldiers and militiamen died in the fighting. The military also said the MILF toll was 125, but the rebels confirmed only seven deaths.

Teodoro said the government was not cowed by MILF’s ability to launch more attacks.

Parameters have changed

“To me, the way they try to increase their leverage is by puffing themselves up once again, by being more intransigent, and I think they should wake up to the call of the times that this doesn’t work with the Filipino people anymore,” Teodoro said.

“It’s a counterproductive tactic,” he said. “Perhaps a bit of humility, a bit of placing their feet on the floor, a bit of acceptance of reality that arrogance does not bring you anywhere. A heady dose of that should serve a better purpose than puffing yourself up.”

The MILF central committee has not contacted the government, the defense secretary said, and that the only information the government gets are news reports that the signing of the MOA is a “sine qua non” for the MILF to resume negotiations.

“All options for dialogue shall still be used. But the parameters for the dialogue necessarily have changed,” Teodoro said. “They should look for ways to start renegotiation or whatever.”

The Supreme Court put the brakes on the signing of the MOA following protests by local Mindanao executives and claims that it contravenes the Constitution. Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera has told the court the administration will no longer sign the MOA.

Teodoro said the government was not worried that Malacañang’s decision was being interpreted by the MILF as tantamount to a declaration of war.

Door not totally closed

“Don’t take the words of MILF seriously. We have law enforcement (operation) that is continuing. The more they talk like that, their credibility is eroding. They should not only approach the government, but show good faith.

“We don’t tolerate such activities, but we just want to show them—those of them who are reasonable—we can’t totally close the door to everybody,” he said, but added that they must “do some adherence for peace.”

So far, a lot of areas have been cleared of MILF forces, Teodoro said. “So that’s a major headway. And they can’t form in large formations anymore. They can only do small groupings in the area,” he said.

“Naturally the operations will be tailored to afford greatest respect to the communities that are involved to afford them the chance to observe Ramadan in a peaceful way,” he said. But he stressed that law enforcement operations will still continue against Kato and Macapaar.

Bombing raids eased

“Because that is non-negotiable, non-bargaining point between the MILF and the government,” he said. “It’s to enforce justice in the community.”

Gen. Alexander Yano, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Tuesday elaborated on his directive to troops to make “tactical adjustments” on operations against Kato and Macapaar during the Muslim fasting month

“Tactically, artillery and air strikes will be minimized as much as practicable,” Yano said. However, he said field commanders “are not prevented to proportionately employ such firepower when extremely necessary in addressing imminent threats.”

AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres said that artillery and air strikes may not be necessary now. He said the forces of Kato and Macapaar had broken down into small groups after the military overran MILF encampments and villages in Lanao del Norte and Maguindanao.

The Philippine Air Force also has been directed to ease bombing raids during Ramadan, according to PAF information chief Maj. Gerardo Zamudio Jr.

PNP tags woman behind Davao bus blast

Al-Khobar extortion gang tied to blast

DIGOS CITY—A woman was again involved in Monday’s blast that ripped through a bus at a terminal here and killed at least six people, prompting police authorities to say that it was another handiwork of the al-Khobar extortion group that was behind the series of bomb attacks on bus companies in 2006 and 2007.

Senior Supt. Cesario Darantinao, Davao del Sur police director, said the unidentified woman hurriedly disembarked from Metro Shuttle Bus No. 209 before the improvised explosive blew up at around 2:45 p.m.

Grace Nicolas, who survived the blast, said she had overheard the woman bomber asking other passengers not to let someone take her seat as she was coming back. “She was four seats away from where I sat,” she said.

As soon as the woman disembarked, the explosion took place, she said.

A police officer said the bomb blast was so powerful that it decapitated one of its victims and almost tore off the bus roof.

One of the fatalities was a pregnant woman, identified as Wella Trimocha (not Timotea as earlier reported). About 30 other people were wounded, according to a list provided by the City Disaster Coordinating Council (CDCC).

Darantinao said investigators found that the woman had three male companions when she rode the bus at Crossing Aplaya, about a kilometer away from the terminal. The bus was bound for Malita town in Davao del Sur province.

A woman also figured in the bombing of another Metro Shuttle bus on July 24 (not July 23, as reported earlier), he said.(By Orlando Dinoy, Eldie Aguirre
Mindanao Bureau; INQ.net)