Last updated 01:05am (Mla time) 10/25/2007


COTABATO CITY—Libya has offered to host peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Libyan President Moammar Gadaffi was influential in the decision of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to sign a peace agreement with the government in 1996.

Ambassador’s message

Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military relations chief, said Libya’s desire to host the peace negotiations was relayed to them by former Libyan Ambassador to the Philippines Salem Adem.

Kabalu said Adem also told MILF leaders during a meeting yesterday that Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, said to be his father’s successor, wanted to meet Mindanao leaders in a bid to consolidate efforts that would lead to a peace agreement.

“He wanted the meeting through the facilitation of the MILF to happen before the year ends. Of course, it will be closely coordinated with the government,” Kabalu told the Inquirer.


The government is also becoming impatient at the pace the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is moving, a Malacañang official said yesterday.

Earlier, the MILF said it was becoming edgy because of what it sees as government-instigated delays hounding the resumption of the peace talks.

“If the MILF and other stakeholders were impatient, the government is more so because the problem on peace and order is basic to development,” Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, said in an interview with radio station dxMS here.

Best efforts

But Dureza said the government was trying its best to forge a final peace deal with the rebels and that the only way to achieve this is through negotiations.

He also said that the help of every Filipino is needed so that peace would eventually be achieved on the island.

“The peace negotiations are everybody’s concern, your concern, my concern, our concern because we are the stakeholders,” Dureza said.

Government and MILF negotiators have resumed their executive meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, in a bid to break the deadlock in the negotiations.

KL meeting

The deadlock was caused by disagreements over the issue on territory, with the MILF insisting on the inclusion of at least 1000 villages in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) without preconditions.

The government is steadfast on its position that only about 600 villages could be provisionally included in the discussion for territory.

The government also said that the final composition of the territory would depend on the outcome of a plebiscite to be called for that purpose.

“I’m optimistic they will be able to hurdle some of the contentious issues so we can resume formal talks,” Dureza said.

Deal with MNLF

The 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF led to the forming of the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) and the assumption into office by MNLF chair Nur Misuari as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Edwin Fernandez, Charlie Señase and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

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

By Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 10:56pm (Mla time) 10/25/2007


COTABATO CITY—Government and Moro rebel negotiators managed to break the impasse in the peace negotiations following two days of informal talks in Kuala Lumpur, government and rebel sources said yesterday.

Eid Kabalu, civil-military affairs chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said the panels had managed to hurdle the contentious issue on territory.

No details

Retired Gen. Rodolfo Garcia headed the government panel that met with the MILF team, led by Mohagher Iqbal since Tuesday.

But Kabalu declined to give details on how the problem was solved.

“Basically, that’s the result of their meeting. As to how they were able to break it, we will know when both parties formally issue their joint statement,” Kabalu said.

With the deadlock broken, formal negotiations may resume next month, he said.

“It was a breakthrough,” Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, also said when asked about the result of the Kuala Lumpur talks.

New entity

Dureza said both sides agreed on some models for the geographical composition of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). But he declined to give specifics, saying these would be tackled during the resumption of formal talks next month.

The MILF has demanded the inclusion of at least 1,000 villages in the BJE without any precondition, but the government said only about 600 villages could be provisionally included in the Moro territory.

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


By Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 11:30pm (Mla time) 10/09/2007


BULDON, SHARIFF KABUNSUAN–Nine-year-old Jamael Akmad’s life always began at 6 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m.

During the day, she spends most of her time in school. At home at night, she sleeps early and waits for the next sunrise.

“But now, life has changed,” she said.

Jamael’s village of Kulimpang was one of the recipients of a solar energy program funded by the US government and Mirant Philippines.

“We can now study at night, we can now see the world through our television,” Jamael, a Grade 4 pupil at the Kulimpang Elementary School, said.

The electrification project, which has been ongoing in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, provided “light” and “new life” to thousands of children, like Akmad, in the region’s poorest and most remote communities.

Sun’s benefits

For example, the solar energy harnessed by the Alliance for Mindanao Off-Grid Renewable Energy (Amore) program also benefited fisherman Ajijul Sampang of Tawi-Tawi.

“I had four Petromax (kerosene lamps) before but I sold three of them. In our village, nobody needs them now except those fishing at night. We already have electricity,” Sampang said.

Bukari Gumaga, 47, an imam of Kulimpang, thanked Allah when the fluorescent lamp installed in his house started to flicker into life on Monday.

“At the mosque in our village, we were previously dependent on kerosene lamp. But now we have electricity. We are thankful. My seven kids can also study longer even at night,” Gumaga told the Inquirer.


Baidido Macatambog, 36, a mother of four, said the solar-energy project also meant savings for her and her family.

“We can now save the money we spend for kerosene daily. We are planning to buy a television so that we will know what’s happening in our country and we can watch leading soap opera shows,” Macatambog said.

To mark the “energization” of some 12,000 household in the ARMM, Amore beneficiaries participated in the region-wide switch-on ceremony on Monday evening.

The event coincided with the observance of Lailatul Qadr or the “Night of Power” in Islam. Lailatur Qadr is celebrated during one of the odd nights in the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Muslims believe that it was during Laila-tul Qadr when the first Divine revelation came to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him).

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


Last updated 02:17am (Mla time) 10/12/2007


ZAMBOANGA CITY—The military yesterday said there are more Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) operatives, who have sought refuge in Sulu and nearby areas, than was previously thought.

Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga, Western Mindanao Command chief, said these JI members are operating alongside the Abu Sayyaf.

“During the Tawi-tawi incident on Jan. 6, our forces killed one of them along with several Abu Sayyaf members including Jundam Jamalul alias Black killer,” Allaga said.

Dulmatin aide

He said Gufran, also known as Abu Samur, was a trusted aide of JI leader Joko Pitono or Dulmatin.

Aside from Dulmatin, the other prominent JI members now in Sulu are Umar Patek and Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan in Sulu.

All three JI leaders carry a bounty of $5 million each for their capture, dead or alive.

Maj. Gen. Reuben Rafael, chief of the Task Force Comet, said the exact number of JI operatives now in Sulu and nearby areas could not be determined yet.

“But there are more or less 10 of them. That is also the main reason we have been conducting relentless operations against them,” he said.

He said the military was trying its best to prevent the JI operatives from slipping out of Sulu.

“Dulmatin and Patek are still in the area based on the information we gathered,” Rafael said.

Rafael said JI operatives like to seek refuge in Sulu and nearby areas such as Tawi-tawi “because of the support they get (from the Abu Sayyaf).”

In return, JI operatives provide the Abu Sayyaf with logistics and technology on bomb-making.

Funding sources

The Abu Sayyaf, a self-styled Islamist group, has also found other sources of income, according to Allaga.

“They now also peddle drugs to youngsters,” he said.

Rafael said at the height of Oplan Ultimatum phase 1 in 2006, more than two hectares of land planted with marijuana were discovered in Sulu.

On Monday last week, Rafael said they again discovered marijuana plants during another operation.

Chief Supt. Adzar Albani, chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Western Mindanao, confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf’s terror activities are now also being funded by money from narcotics. Julie Alipala with reports from Edwin Fernandez and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

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


By Jeoffrey Maitem, Nash Maulana, Germelina Lacorte
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 06:11pm (Mla time) 10/12/2007


COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Few Muslims fired firecrackers and weapons in the air as they marked the end of the month-long fasting at dawn Friday.

At the city hall and Cotabato City Central Pilot Elementary School grounds, thousands of Muslims convened around 6 a.m. for their congregational prayer on the occasion of Eid’l Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Mayor Muslimin Sema told reporters that less gunfire was heard throughout the city at dawn as majority heeded an appeal not to fire guns. Muslims traditionally welcome the end of the fasting with guns and firecrackers.

“The Eid’l Fitr is not all about firing of weapons and firecrackers. The most important are prayers, unity, and sharing. Islam does not teach about such thing during Ramadan and Eid’l Fitr,” said Sema, also secretary general of the Moro National Liberation Front, once the country’s largest Muslim rebel group that signed a peace pact with government in 1996.

The road to Eid al-Fitr started in Muslim communities as early as Thursday night, when Islamic faithful observed the Takbiran, a procession in the old days but a motorcade in more recent times.

In the Takbiran, groups of scholars went around communities and recited “Allahu Akbar,” an Arabic chant which means “God is great.”

“We are happy that Ramadan ended peacefully,” Sema said.

As elsewhere in the country, Muslims gathered in their communities for prayers, and later shared food with relatives and neighbors’ as part of the Eid’l Fitr celebrations.

The government also declared Friday a national holiday.

For many Muslims, fasting during the Ramadan was more meaningful this year because of support from other faiths, said Mahid Mutilan of the Bishops-Ulama Conference.

On September 30 Catholic bishops and leaders of other Christian denominations hosted Muslim religious leaders in a Ramadan dusk dinner at the start of a two-day peace dialogue in Davao City.

Although interfaith outreach calls are not new in Vatican edicts, Filipino Christians who joined Muslims neighbors in the day long fasting during Ramadan gave ecumenism a new face in the interfaith dialogue with the minority Moro Muslims, according to Mutilan.

In the early 80s, peace activists organized the “Duyog Ramadan” not only as venue for Christian-Muslim dialogue, but followers of both faiths made Ramadan an occasion for deeper interfaith involvement in peace-building through basic understanding of comparative religions.

“Duyog” is a Visayan word which means “to do along with.”

Fr. Reynaldo Roque, who specializes on the church-media relationship, said while the Church was beset with issues generated by some reported cases of sexual harassment, Muslims were equally concerned about global problem of extremist violence and terrorism.

One participant pointed out that Muslims are enjoined to fast along with the “People of the Book,” when the Koran says: “O! ye who believe… Fasting is prescribed unto you as it was prescribed unto those before you that you may learn self-restraint.”

By “People of the Book,” the Koran refers with reverence to the Jews and the Christians, or the followers of Abrahamic religions, of which Islam is one, said Dr. Salipada Tamano of the Mindanao State University’s King Faisal Institute of Islamic Studies in Marawi City.

Tamano even quoted a Koranic verse that says: “Verily! You will find good friendship unto those who say, ‘We are Christians’.”

Shariff Julabbi, who has a doctorate in Lugatul Arabiya, the language of the Koran, said it is not true that the Muslims’ Holy Book refers to Christians and Jews as “unbelievers,” “pagans” and “hypocrites.”

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


By Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 04:32pm (Mla time) 10/13/2007


COTABATO CITY — The government is setting up amnesty centers in rebel-infested areas in Central Mindanao as part of the Arroyo administration’s peace and reconciliation efforts, a regional police official said on Saturday.

Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio, Central Mindanao police director, said that the establishment of amnesty centers in municipalities where there are many active rebels “will encourage state enemies to avail of the government’s program.”

“It would also make the processing of their papers easier,” he said.

Serapio said the proposed program is part of Proclamation No. 1377, which entitles members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front to avail themselves of amnesty.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the amnesty program last month as uncertainty over the resumption of the stalled peace talks with the communists continues.

The NDF backed out of the Norway-brokered peace talks after the government declined to lobby for the removal of the NPA from Washington and European Union’s terror lists.

The amnesty covers “the crime of rebellion and all other crimes included therein or incident thereto in pursuit of political belief as defined by jurisprudence, whether punishable under the Revised Penal Code or special laws.”

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


By Arlyn dela Cruz, Nikko Dizon, Norman Bordadora
Last updated 01:38am (Mla time) 10/21/2007


The military statement followed claims from someone supposedly representing the Rajah Solaiman Revolutionary Movement (RSRM) that the bombing of the Glorietta 2 mall was the handiwork of the group.

The claim, however, appeared to be a hoax.

“Allahu Akhbar, we want the military to immediately release Ahmed Santos to prevent incoming collateral damage. Makati is just the beginning,” said a text message from someone who identified himself as “Sheik Omar RSRM.”

The RSRM is another name used to refer to the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM), an alleged Islamist terror band linked by security officials to the Abu Sayyaf Group. Police say the RSM—an urban-based group composed mostly of Muslim converts or “Balik Islam”—has been neutralized and is inactive since 2006.

The text message was sent to a senior reporter of the ABS-CBN television network yesterday morning.

A senior officer of the Philippine National Police doubted the claim.

“It would be easy to name RSM as the one behind the Glorietta bombing and I will not be surprised if suspects allegedly from RSM will be arrested, but no—that could not have been the handiwork of RSM,” said the officer.

“It’s a terror attack no doubt, but not RSM or any al-Qaida-linked group.”

The officer, a counterterrorism expert, asked not to be identified, saying he is involved in the probe of the bombing and does not want the investigation jeopardized.

Wrong scenario

Even the way the text message was composed is suspicious, said the officer.

“Why address it to the military? Did you see that in previous messages or statements made by the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) or the RSM? Compare it and you will see that it’s not even close to the authentic statements made by real terrorist groups in the past,” the officer said.

He added in Filipino: “Whoever drew up that scenario is wrong. He mixed revolutionary and Islamic (terms) and that is not correct ideologically. And if they really studied the personalities in RSM, Santos and Omar are enemies. Definitely, Omar will not ask for the release of Santos.”

Santos, arrested in 2006 in Zamboanga, is detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig while Omar is at large and has a million peso reward money for his capture.

PNP intelligence sources claim Omar is Ruben Lavilla in real life and adopted the name Sheik Omar when he converted to Islam. He hails from Lambunao, Iloilo, is a former medical student at the University of the Philippines in Manila and studied shariah law in Madena, Saudi Arabia.

Omar is described as an articulate and passionate Islamic preacher. He was last known to be in the Middle East.

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Geary Barias said the PNP would have to verify if the RSM really issued statement claiming responsibility.

“Our intelligence will have to validate that because it might be a hoax,” Barias told the Inquirer.

In Davao City, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said it was easy to know if the Abu Sayyaf was behind the Glorietta explosion.
Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military relations chief, cited incidents in which the bandit group was involved—such as the bombing of the Superferry off Manila Bay in 2004—and “they immediately came out with a statement.”

Kabalu urged authorities to dig deeper into the incident to determine who was really behind it.

Trillanes claim

“It is a terrorist act, whoever is the perpetrator,” Esperon told reporters. “He is terrorizing the people, but we don’t know yet who is behind it.”

Esperon rejected Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ reported claim blaming him for Friday’s carnage.

“It is alleged that I am the mastermind. It’s very illogical that it would be me because [it is my job] to ensure the country’s security,” Esperon said.

“This is a political pronouncement of a politically biased person. But let’s see, he might have a report,” he said.

In his website (trillanes.com.ph), the detained former Navy lieutenant accused Esperon and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales of perpetrating the bombing.

“This blast is most likely another tactic of the administration to divert public attention away from the controversies hounding GMA.”

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., who was in Baguio City for the 109th Foundation Day of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), said the incident was “apparently a terrorist attack.”

At the PMA, Teodoro asked for a moment of silence to remember those killed and injured in Friday’s attack.

A security expert tied the Glorietta bombing to local extremists’ bid to be recognized by international terror groups involved in the process of identifying which terrorist cells to fund.

Robles’ view

Retired Commodore Rex Robles told the Inquirer that it was unlikely that the explosion was a “pseudo-destabilization” meant to divert attention from scandals rocking the government, saying the bombing’s effect on public consciousness would only be “short term.”

“If the Rajah Solaiman group is indeed a breakaway organization from a bigger group, then they need funding. It fits our description of a group that needs publicity to be recognized and to get better funding,” Robles said in a telephone interview.

Robles said the al-Qaida network toward the end of the year would do “a sort of budget hearing” and identify which terror group to fund in certain regions based on its capability to launch terrorist attacks.

Robles said the only local groups capable of carrying out strong explosions, were the Abu Sayyaf, the MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front and special units of the Armed Forces.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales yesterday said the bombing at Glorietta could be a fund-raising operation of terrorists to get more funding from international supporters, and be a prelude to bigger attacks.

Speaking on radio, Gonzales said that real terrorists would not hesitate to hit innocent civilians and that the attack could be the work of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group and its local supporter, the Abu Sayyaf.

He said his office had been receiving intelligence reports that Metro Manila was to be the next target of terrorist attacks. With reports from Alcuin Pap, Cynthia D. Balana, Dona Pazzibugan, Allan Nawal, Julie Alipala, Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

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