Archive for September, 2007


By Jeoffrey Maitem, Julie Alipala
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 01:28pm (Mla time) 09/27/2007


COTABATO CITY, Philippines — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has admitted the involvement of its forces in clashes in Basilan province Tuesday that claimed the lives of at least two soldiers.

The military said 10 MILF rebels were also killed in the clashes, the first of which broke out past 7 a.m.

Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military chief, blamed the military for the fighting in Tipo-tipo Central, where dozens of combatants from both sides were also injured, and said they have filed a complaint before a committee monitoring a ceasefire forged in 2001.

But Major General Nelson Allaga, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said the military was suing the MILF too, adding that the clashes proved the secessionist rebels were colluding with Abu Sayyaf extremists.

Kabalu claimed that, like the July 10 incident in Albarka town, where 14 Marines were killed, Tuesday’s violence started when soldiers entered MILF territory without coordinating with the rebels, in violation of the terms of a ceasefire forged in 2001.

“Our troops there were surprised, so they defended their position. There were no Abu Sayyaf members in the area as what the military claims. We already filed a protest before the ceasefire committee,” Kabalu told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.

“We are filing protest actions against the MILF in Basilan on the grounds that Moro rebels reinforced the Abu Sayyaf Group that clashed with our troops,” Allaga countered.

“It appears that they (MILF) are colluding with the Abu Sayyaf Group,” he added.

He said the site of the clashes were nowhere near MILF territory, contrary to Kabalu’s claim.

“It’s really far from their area. Our troops were targeting members of the Abu Sayyaf Group [ASG], but it turned out that some loose members of the MILF provided reinforcements to the ASG,” Allaga said.

He also said the 10 gunmen killed in the clashes were positively identified as MILF members.

Von Al Haq, chairman of the MILF ceasefire team, denied any of their fighters were killed. But he acknowledged that six rebels under the command of Commander Hamsa Sapanton were injured in the encounters.

“All the six wounded in action last Tuesday are legitimate members of the MILF, so we have hard evidence against the military for violation of the ceasefire agreement,” he said.

Tuesday’s fighting came even as optimism had begun to run high about the possibility of the government and MILF finally signing a final peace agreement.

The peace talks are expected to resume next month, after the fasting month of Ramadan ends.

Negotiators are expected to discuss the remaining hindrances to a final peace settlement, including the issue of territory.

The MILF has been demanding the inclusion of at least 1000 villages in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity but the government said the final composition of the territory would have to depend on the outcome of a plebiscite held for the purpose.

Copyright 2007 Mindanao Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read Full Post »


By Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 11:18am (Mla time) 09/18/2007


KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — Two tremors jolted several areas of Mindanao on Monday night and early morning Tuesday but no damages were reported, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Reports from Phivolcs said that the first quake, which had a magnitude of 5.4 hit 105 kilometers off General Santos City around 10:32 p.m. Monday.

It was felt as far as Davao City, according to Phivolcs.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said in its website that it also monitored the quake but no tsunami alert had been issued.

Phivolcs said by 12:38 a.m. Tuesday, a second tremor measuring a magnitude of 3.1 jolted Butuan City and many areas of Agusan del Norte.

Phivolcs said the second quake was tectonic in origin.

Copyright 2007 Mindanao Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read Full Post »


By Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 06:20pm (Mla time) 09/20/2007


COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Australia has expressed interest in playing a more direct role in the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a rebel official said Thursday.

Australia has been providing support to development projects in war-torn areas in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and other parts of the southern island in a bid to bolster peace talks between the government and the MILF.

But Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief, said Canberra now wants to join the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The IMT is a body created by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to oversee the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the military and the rebel.

Recently, non-OIC members Japan and Canada were allowed to become part of the IMT.

Japan’s role in the IMT is focused on the socio-economic aspect of the peace process while Canada said it will help develop governance.

“We welcome it. However, we have [a] certain process to follow before they can join. Their decision is still pending in the peace panels,” he said.

It was not clear whether Canberra wants to send military representatives to the IMT like Kuala Lumpur, Brunei, Libya and other OIC countries have done.

Kabalu said the role would become clear once Australia’s bid had finally been accepted.

“It will be discussed once the peace talks resume in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia after the Ramadan,” he said.

In a related development, Kabalu said they support the proposal of Singapore-based security analyst Taharudin Piang Ampatuan for a broader role for US forces in the peace process.

US forces have been training their Filipino counterparts on anti-terror in Mindanao but Ampatuan said they could also become effective peacekeepers.

“There is no problem with that especially if it helps peace and security, as well as the peace process in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.

Copyright 2007 Mindanao Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read Full Post »


By Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem, Dennis Santos
Inquirer, INQUIRER.net
Last updated 11:44pm (Mla time) 09/21/2007


DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A local military commander has allegedly banned correspondent Julie Alipala of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, from covering military activities in Basilan.

Brigadier Genera Juancho Sabban, commander of Task Force Thunder, was quoted by some of his officers as ordering them not to allow Alipala to cover their activities in Basilan.

INQUIRER.net reached Sabban, who denied imposing a ban on Alipala.

“Wala naman [There is no ban],” he said in a text message when asked if restrictions have been imposed on the Inquirer correspondent.

“’Di totoo yan [That’s not true],” he added. “Pinakain pa nga namin siya sa officers’ wardroom. Sana magasalita naman siya tungkol dyan [We even let her eat in the officers’ wardroom. I wish she would also talk about that].”

Alipala said no less than Marine commandant Major General Benjamin Dolorfino confirmed the ban.

“They informed me of banning a correspondent and the instruction allegedly came from [Armed Forces chief] General [Hermogenes] Esperon [Jr.], but I didn’t believe such instruction from [Esperon],” Alipala quoted Dolorfino as saying on September 18, when they went together to Sulu.

She said her military sources have told her the ban stemmed from her coverage of the recent Basilan encounters.

Alipala said the military official had the impression that “there was an inconsistency in my reports when there was none.”

The reported ban was apparently triggered by Alipala’s report about alleged changes in the military’s operational plan, which was being blamed for the death of several soldiers.

A town mayor even said the 15 soldiers — including five junior officers — died like sitting ducks during the August 18 clash in Tipo-tipo Central.

“I would not say there was inconsistency in my report when I got the information from reliable sources,” Alipala said.

Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said he did not order a ban on the Inquirer, particularly Alipala.

Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro, Armed Forces spokesperson, said that “General Esperon is not [the kind of] officer who would issue such an instruction.”

“I talked to him last night and he said he didn’t issue that instruction,” Bacarro said.

Bacarro said Esperon is “always open to all and he is not discriminating anybody.”

“He does not even mind personal attacks on him,” he said.

The alleged ban on Alipala has been criticized by several sectors including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Khaled Musa, deputy chair of the MILF committee on information, said instead of banning Alipala, the military should have conducted an inquiry into her reports that military commanders committed abuses and lapses.

“The military should investigate what a member of the Fourth Estate had exposed instead of banning the bearer of the news from covering Basilan,” Musa said in a statement posted on the MILF website on Friday.

Khaled said banning Alipala would only strengthen her credentials as a true journalist, “who vowed to uphold the truth at all times.”

“On the other hand, it reinforces the perception that the military is hiding something from the public and has indeed committed [the alleged] abuses and lapses,” he said.

Jose Manuel Mamauag, director of the Commission on Human Rights in Western Mindanao, said the ban was “discriminate selectivity.”

“[It] showed that journalists’ exposing anomalies and illegal activities are perceived as hostile entities,” he said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines also said it was “alarmed” by the reported ban, stressing it would be “a violation of press freedom and the people’s right to know as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution.”

”The NUJP looks at the military’s action against a legitimate media practitioner as pure harassment and an indication of the military’s penchant for human rights violations,” NUJP president Jose Torres Jr. said in a statement.

Joel Guinto, INQUIRER.net, originally posted 8:15pm

Copyright 2007 Inquirer, INQUIRER.net. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read Full Post »


By Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem
Last updated 02:34am (Mla time) 09/22/2007


COTABATO CITY—The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will receive most of the $190 million peace and development assistance pledged by the US government, a ranking US Embassy official said.

“What is interesting about this is that it was a grant, it’s not a loan, it’s a grant from the American people and it is focused on developing the business and economy of Mindanao,” Paul W. Jones, US Embassy deputy chief of mission, told the Inquirer by phone on Thursday.

He said about 60 percent of the assistance would go to the ARMM, which is composed of the poverty-stricken provinces of Maguindanao, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur and Shariff Kabunsuan.

“What we see in Mindanao is tremendous opportunity and potentials for prosperity and for peace. Mindanao is an untapped region in terms of developing its own potentials and we frankly would like to see that potential realized,” he said.

President Macapagal-Arroyo and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney signed on Wednesday the new Mindanao Peace and Development Agreement, which seeks to develop infrastructure and expand economic opportunities in war-torn areas of the island.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the government agency Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco) will oversee the implementation of the programs under the MPAD Agreement.

When asked whether this has anything to do with the reported plan of the United States to establish military bases in Mindanao, Jones said: “Let me be very clear, there are no US bases in the Philippines and we have no intention, no interest in having American bases in the Philippines.”

The reports surfaced amid the continued deployment of US troops in Mindanao, including Sulu, Basilan and North Cotabato.

“What we have is a partnership for the 21st century that focuses on developing prosperity for our people because we believe it is the best way to secure peace,” he said.

Jones said that “building American bases would not be the best way to secure peace in Mindanao.”

“So we don’t want to have a base, we don’t have a base, we don’t have (any) intention of developing a base,” he said.

Copyright 2007 Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read Full Post »


By Charlie Sease, Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 04:18pm (Mla time) 09/22/2007


COTABATO CITY, Philippines–Two Malaysian officials, including the new head of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), predicted on Saturday that a final ceasefire agreement could be signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front this year.

Malaysian Army Brig. Gen. Yasin bin Mat Daud formally replaced Brig. Gen. Ismael bin Ahmad Khan on Friday as head of the IMT.

“I am optimistic that a final peace agreement will be achieved before the year ends,” Yasin said.

He said the atmosphere was now conducive for signing a peace deal because the ceasefire agreement has been very effective.

“The time is ripe for both negotiating panels to come into a peace agreement with finality. Let’s hope and pray,” Yasin said during ceremonies marking his entry to the IMT.

Malaysian Navy Admiral Amsa bin Solaiman, who installed Yasin as Ismael’s successor here, said the mandate of the IMT, which was organized by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 2003, was good only until December this year.

He said he was optimistic that by that time, the government and the MILF would have signed a final peace deal.

Yasin said for the peace process to succeed, there should be cooperation from all sectors including combatants from both sides.

The peace talks, which stalled about a year ago, are expected to resume after Ramadan.

Among the sticky issues to be taken up will be the scope of territory for the future Bangsamoro autonomous government.

The MILF wants the inclusion of at least 1,000 villages in the future Bangsamoro territory but the government said its composition would depend on a plebiscite to be held later.

As this developed, a US diplomat reiterated Washington’s full support for the government-MILF peace talks.

Copyright 2007 Mindanao Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read Full Post »

By Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 08:53pm (Mla time) 09/23/2007


CAMP SIONGCO, Shariff Kabunsuan – Moro rebels ambushed a convoy of International Peace Monitors (IMT) and military on Sunday in remote village of Datu Saudi town in Maguindanao, a military official said.

The IMT, composed of representatives from Malaysia, Indonesia, Libya and Brunei, is tasked to monitor the ceasefire agreement between government and MILF.

Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that IMT members, who were being secured by soldiers belonging to the 64th Infantry Battalion, were on their way to Kitango village around 1 p.m. to pacify militiamen and MILF rebels when they were ambushed.

“Luckily none of them was hurt in the attack,” he said.

Ando said the ambush on the IMT only showed that the MILF leadership had no control over its forces.

Before the attack, Ando said suspected MILF rebels also waylaid the chief of police of Datu Saudi town but could not say if the police officer was harmed.

“Relatives of the police official, who were members of CVO (civilian volunteers organization) retaliated. We were not involved. We just dispatched troops to the site but we were also attacked,” Ando said.

Von Al Haq, MILF coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities, denied the military’s allegations.

He said no ambush took place.

Al Haq said CVO members attacked the group of former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Datu Mando Tambulangan.

But he said the CVOs later targeted the MILF camp in Kitango, killing one rebel.

“We did not start the fighting. It was the CVOs. Their bullets landed in our camp in Kitango that’s why we were dragged into the fighting. We only defended our camp,” Al Haj said.

The clashes, which started early Sunday subsided around 4 p.m., he said.

Copyright 2007 Mindanao Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »