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Feb 01 2008

People’s Direct Vote: Key To The Snag In The GRP-MILF Peace Talks

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chieftain Murad Ebrahim gestures as he speaks to former Libyan Ambassador to Manila Salem Adam in this photo taken during a plenum in Mindanao in 2005. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 01, 2008) — The question of constitutionality or subjecting whatever consensus coming out of Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GRP-MILF) peace talks to constitutional processes will be addressed by democratic instruments provided by the Constitution itself.

With the provision of a mechanism for submitting proposed law to citizen’s approval, potential conflicts in the evolving consensus points between the GRP and MILF peace panels will be properly addressed. In the case of the GRP-MILF peace negotiation standoff, on the other hand, the process itself needs to be respected and uphold by all parties concerned.

Work of the peace panels, as duly constituted bodies, whose job gained the support and affirmation of many sectors in the local and international community, which reached a certain level of success per appraisal of civil society and business in Mindanao, and which is heading to a signing of a peace agreement that will provide the impetus for lasting peace and development in the Mindanao region, should be pursued to completion.

Due to powerful sectors in the immediate circle of President Gloria Arroyo, however, the GRP-MILF peace talk is suffering an impasse. Newspaper reports point to an effort of the government’s security cluster cabinet raising the issue of subjecting the negotiation to constitutional processes as the leading cause of the deadlock.

Accepting historical basis and precedents in peace negotiations between governments and revolutionary organizations, and living up to the original premises mutually agreed by the panels, that is: MILF not to raise independence in the talks and for government not to subject the negotiation to the constitution, this recent development is totally a one hundred twenty degrees turnaround for the government side.

Peace advocates and non-governmental organizations in Mindanao urged the resumption of the talks and for the government and rebel negotiators to pursue the gains they have so far achieved. The signing of a peace agreement will be followed by a transition period.

It could be three or six years. This phase is joint endeavor of the government, MILF and the international community to implement the action agenda in the singed agreement.

After such transition, the direct vote of the citizens affected by the political experiment will be consulted to decide the fate of the political formula devised and implemented to address the quest for self-determination of the Bangsamoro. People’s direct vote will be undertaken in various forms in several phases of the political experiment.

First referendum will be a plebiscite for BJE territory citizens to decide if they wanted to be part of such a regional government. Second referendum will be as plebiscite which will follow after a charter change process called to effect by Philippine Congress to amend provisions in the Philippine Constitution to accommodate the Bangsamoro regional government.

Third referendum is the conduct of an open, popular election of executives and legislators of the Bangsamoro regional government. These three steps will put a popular and democratic stamp of approval for the new Bangsamoro government.

A fourth referendum, which will come depending on the political and cultural situation prevailing at that time, and if the conditions will merit one, is the conduct of an internationally supervised referendum for the Bangsamoro people to decide on the adoption of an Independent Bangsamoro State.

(Candido Aparece, Jr.)

Jan 30 2008

Police Patrol Ambush In Zamboanga Town

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 30, 2008) – Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels attacked Wednesday a Philippine police patrol, wounding four, on a farming village in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte, officials said.Officials said the attacked occurred before dawn near a village called Lakiki in Sibuco town, a known MILF stronghold west of Mindanao island. The attack on police forces sparked a running gun battle in the area.Troops from the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion on a nearby village were sent to pursue the attackers, but gunmen split into smaller groups and fled to the hinterlands.“We received reports that several gunmen were wounded in the fighting and troops were sent to pursue the attackers,” Major Eugene Batara, a regional army spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the local police blamed the MILF for the ambush. The motive of the attack is still unknown, but rebels have previously assaulted security forces patrolling near their camps.

The MILF, which has been fighting the government for almost four decades for a separate Muslim homeland in Mindanao, is currently negotiating peace with Manila. (With a report from Ely Dumaboc)

Jan 27 2008

IMT Pullout Threatening Peace In South

Muslim women prepare to pray in southern Philippines. Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, is worried over the stalled negotiations. Manila reneged on its earlier agreement over the issue an MILF demand of Muslim ancestral domain. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Mark Navales)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2007) — The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fears that the pull out of international truce observers would have an effect on the peace process in Mindanao.

The Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) has threatened to pull out if there is no progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Manila is currently negotiating peace with MILF, but talks were stalled since last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of Muslim ancestral domain.

Lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a member of the MILF peace panel, said the talks would be affected should the IMT pulls out this year.

“If the MILF is threatened, then the GRP should be threatened more. We need a third party as facilitator in negotiation. The element of violation is worked by the IMT, as a result of the CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities). We have to push them to the truth… MILF is rebel; the pull out of IMT should threaten the GRP more,” Mastura said at a recent peace forum in Cotabato City.

Speaking before representatives of non-government and peoples’ organizations at the forum, Mastura responded to reports that the stalled peace process could be more imperiled once the IMT pulls out of Mindanao or Malaysia stops mediating in the negotiations.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its contingent from the IMT in Mindanao. Since the IMT arrived in 2004, armed conflict between government and rebel forces significantly decreased, observers said.

Maj. Gen. Datuk Mat Yassin bin Mat Daud, head of the Malaysian contingent, said they would return home by August unless the stalled peace talks between the Philippine government and MILF resumes.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia wanted progress in the peace process, but Malaysia’s involvement in the mission to monitor the armed conflict in Mindanao might be extended but not indefinitely. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao since 2004 as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The monitoring team is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Canada and Japan have also members on the team.

“The deployment of an IMT in Mindanao is authorized under the provision of Chapter 8 of the United Nations Charter which allows peace settlement to be managed under a regional arrangement and upon the invitation of the host government.”

“In this mission, the Malaysian peacekeepers form as a major contingent in the IMT together with other participants from Brunei and Libya. The IMT plays a critical role in supporting the current GRP-MILF peace negotiations and in continuing the momentum for the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao,” said Ayesah Abubakar, the coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research and Education for Peace of the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia.

“Malaysia has contributed immensely to our peace efforts and we are confident it will continue to be with us and other nations in our peace and development work,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process.

Talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag in December over disagreements on the coverage of ancestral domain and subjecting it to constitutional process.

Dureza assessed the impasse as “among the most serious to stall the rocky talks, a big hump” upon which the GRP has no “magic formula” while “looking for a way out”.

The MILF negotiating panel refused to meet its government counterpart during the 15th exploratory talks last December 15-17 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because the GRP draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain supposedly did not contain certain consensus points earlier agreed by the two parties.

The government negotiating panel recently inserted a provision which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow “constitutional process.” The setting up of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) was agreed upon by government and MILF negotiators during exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last year.

This was aggravated by statements from some of the president’s key officials threatening the MILF with sanctions.

Secretary Ronaldo Puno was quoted by the Philippine media saying the government should not give in to the MILF’s demand for a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) without a plebiscite, while Armed Forces deputy chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero stated that peace talks will not resume unless the rebels lay down their weapons.

Negotiations between the two parties progressed because of mutual agreement that government should not refer to Constitution and the MILF would not demand independence.

Foreign observers from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and donor community have expressed concern on the instability in the peace process.

Various groups described the present setback in the peace talks as the most serious impasse to stall the peace talks since negotiations started in 1997. Thousands of people have marched in the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, General Santos and Iligan the past weeks to press the government and the MILF to resume their talks and eventually to sign a peace accord.

Rallies are also to be launched in Basilan, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Sulu these coming months, organizers said.

Talks between the government and the MILF started in 1996 but it was in 2001 when the Malaysian government intervened as their official facilitator and host to the negotiations.

Some of the significant agreements facilitated by Malaysia were the Agreement on Peace between GRP and the MILF of June 22, 2001 (Tripoli Agreement), the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of August 7, 2001, and the Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Aspect of May 7, 2002.

“The IMT is not only tasked to monitor the upholding of a cease fire from both camps but is also mandated to monitor the implementation of the above signed agreements and ensure that the peace process progress to the stage of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development of the conflict affected areas. These two conditions are equally important for confidence building measures as the peace talks are being pursued and a final peace agreement is yet to be signed,” Abubakar said.

Abubakar said that the IMT operations are carried out according to the following roles and responsibilities: “To observe and monitor the implementation of cessation of hostilities, as well as the socioeconomic development of the agreements. This includes receiving reports from the joint CCCH, LMT (Local Monitoring Team), Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), and other stakeholders.”

“Also, the IMT should assess and determine the validity of specific reports, protests or complaints of cease fire violations. These alleged violations and any actions taken should be coordinated with the Joint CCCH and LMT. Lastly, the IMT should determine if a particular report, protest or complaint has been acted upon substantially and satisfactorily at the level of the Joint CCCH or LMT, or whether there is a need for further verification investigation.”

And “to conduct field verification and validate any reported violation; to coordinate closely with the Joint CCCH and LMT on the conduct of the field verification and validation of the reported violation; to report to the GRP-MILF Peace Panels its findings and assessment of the reported violation; and to ensure that all reports are classified and treated accordingly.” (Norodin Makalay)

Jan 22 2008

Mindanao Rallies Continue; US Military Training Slammed

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 23, 2008) — A convoy of 50 vehicles from Marawi City and some 10,000 people gathered at the city plaza here as the series of the Mindanao-wide peace rallies organized by civil society groups continues.

Aside from pressing the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to resume their stalled peace talks, demonstrators attacked the Balikatan exercises, slaying of Catholic priest Jesus Reynaldo Roda, and early remarks by Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Armed Forces Vice Chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero as “anti-Mindanawons.”

The vehicles were decorated with red flags, written on them “Allahu Akbar!”, Arabic for “Good is Great,” and black banner saying “No to Balikatan in the Bangsamoro homeland!” and “vehemently condemning the horrible death of Fr. Roda.”

American troops will arrive in Cagayan de Oro City, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte starting Feb. 18 as part of the RP-US “Balanced Piston” Balikatan exercises, military officials said. They will also be deployed in Western and North Eastern Mindanao, including Sulu.

Talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag last December over disagreements on the coverage of ancestral domain and subjecting it to constitutional process. Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process, assessed the impasse as “among the most serious to stall the rocky talks, a big hump” upon which the GRP has no “magic formula” while “looking for a way out”.

The MILF negotiating panel refused to meet its government counterpart during the 15th exploratory talks last December 15-17 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because the government draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain supposedly did not contain certain consensus points earlier agreed by the two parties.

The government negotiating panel recently inserted a provision which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow “constitutional process.” The setting up of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) was agreed upon by government and MILF negotiators during exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last year.

Secretary Ronaldo Puno Puno was quoted saying, government should not give in to the MILF’s demand for a BJE without a plebiscite, while Romero stated a condition that peace talks will not continue without MILF’s disarmament.

Fr. Jesus Reynaldo A. Roda, OMI, director of the Notre Dame of Tabawan for a decade, was brutally killed last Jan. 15 by armed men who barged into the chapel as he was praying. The priest resisted a kidnap attempt by still unidentified armed men.

“This interfaith peace caravan-rally intends to prevent possible conflict and to show to the parties that the Bangsamoro is in solidarity with the Christians and the Lumads” said Lacs Dalidig of the Islamic Movement for Electoral Reform and Good Governance (IMERGG) and Muslim Multi-sectoral Movement for Peace and Development (MMMPD).

“If this acts are not enough to catch the attention of the government, the Interfaith CSOs (civil society organizations) will organize the walk for peace from Marawi City to Malacanang Palace to show to the government that we are indeed very serious in our fervor to attain just and lasting peace in Mindanao,” Dalidig added.

“We are one with the Bangsamoro in the call for lasting peace. After all only those who declared war win; we are all victims,” said Fr. Chito Sugano of the Marawi Catholic church. “The Bangsamoro homeland, our bread and butter are happily utilized as battlegrounds, leaving its inhabitants with dime of hope.”

Atty. Ibrahim Canama of the Federated Royal Sultanate of the Philippines said in the sultanates of Mindanao appeal to the MILF “to return to the negotiating table” and for the government “to be sincere in dealing with the Peace processes, from the course of the negotiation to the implementation of the agreements to be signed.”

“Our people cannot afford to live in fear,” Canama said.

“The Balikatan exercises increases rather than prevent the escalation of conflict,” said Adonna Ontillas of the Lanao Disaster Management Organization.

“If you want war, declare at your own risk! Do not involve the people in Mindanao!” shouted the participants during the rally, in reference to both the Balikatan exercises and the statements of Puno and Romero.

“How many more lives do we need to sacrifice? The consensus points were gained at the expense of the lives of the countless Bangsamoro who died fighting for it,” said Abulkhair Alibasa, an academe youth representative.

The demonstrators assailed Puno “the same enemy of peace who has also pushed the Estrada administration into all-out-war 2000.”

Caricatures of Puno holding M-16 and Bush were carried by the demonstrators.

”President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, an Iliganon, give us the justice we long for! We have suffered enough!” said Bai Lilang Macarampat, a women representative from Lanao Del Sur, as she stressed that Mrs. Arroyo’s maternal parents are from Iligan.

“We strongly condemn war, displacements and the long hardship of the Bangsamoro!” shouted Ma. Jittel Saquilabon, the executive director of the Tri-People’s Forum.

“Give the Bangsamoro their right to self-determination! We do not want to lose our parents because of war!” said Cha Lavandero of Duyog Kabataan.

“What does Puno know regarding Mindanao? We, the Mindanawons are to determine our own future,” Lavandero added.

“The Bangsamoro have suffered for 469 years, so give us back the justice that was taken from us!” shouted Mohammad Tamano of the Iligan League of Students.

Tamano said that the “Bangsamoro have suffered from the invasion of Spain in 1521 that lasted for 377 years, the American colonization of 40 years, and the Philippine colonialism of 52 years already.”

The first, second and third legs of the rally were held in Cotabato, Marawi and General Santos cities, respectively.

Either a peace rally or forum will be held in Zamboanga City and Sulu within the month, organizers said. “But mass actions will be held in Basilan on February 3 and Zamboanga-Sibugay on February 7.” (Norodin M. Makalay)

Jan 15 2008

2 Soldiers Hurt In Southern RP Attack

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 15, 2008) – Unidentified gunmen attacked before sunrise Tuesday a Philippines army post wounding two soldiers in the strife-torn southern province of Maguindanao, officials said.Officials said the attackers fired several rounds of rocket-propelled grenades on the post occupied by the 64th Infantry Battalion in the village of Bagan in Guindolongan town.“The sporadic attack lasted almost an hour and two soldiers are wounded,” Army Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.The post, he said, serves as a security base to protect the highway connecting the province to General Santos City. It was unknown whether any of the gunmen were killed in the fighting that subsequently erupted.And Ando said at least 15 gunmen were involved in the attack. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the town is a known stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.But aside from the MILF, the province is also lairs to private armies of politicians and the MILF blamed them for the attack on the military post. “This is a scenario by politicians opposed to the peace talks and the MILF has nothing to do with the attack,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said in a separate interview, but he did not elaborate.

Maguindanao was the scene of previous fighting between rebel and military forces and hostilities also broke out in the past between MILF and armed followers of Andal Ampatuan, the provincial governor.

Peace talks were stalled last month after government and rebel negotiators failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain, which is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

President Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001, but since then no substantial agreements have been signed between the two sides, expect for the cease-fire accord. (With a report from Mark Navales)

Jan 12 2008

20,000 Muslims, Christians Show Up In Peace Rally In Southern RP




Marchers in General Santos City in southern Philippines. (Photos by Consortium Maulana for the Mindanao Examiner newspaper)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 12, 2008) — Sympathy and frustration reflected in the eyes of some 20,000 people notwithstanding the scorching sun as they participated in an interfaith mass action which started with a march for peace from Queen Tuna Park to the Freedom Park and ended with a prayer here.

The rally was the third leg of a series of peace rallies in Mindanao organized by the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) that kicked off at Cotabato City on January 7 to pressure the government to sincerely engage with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and go back to the negotiating table and sign and eventually implement an final peace agreement, as well as truthfully keep its word with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in implementing the second phase of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

The March-rally was scheduled to start at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon. However, the trucks that carried participants from the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and South Cotabato started to arrive at 9:00am, making the assembly area at Queen Tuna Park jam-packed even before 12:00 noon.

Some of the people were forced to walk to the much wider Freedom Park earlier than the scheduled march proper to accommodate the large crowd of peace advocates.

General Santos City bombings and other random incidents in SOCSKSARGEN has consistently caught the attention of the media and the general public. The interfaith and peace rally also commemorated the 1st year anniversary of the GenSan Lotto Outlet bombing incident which killed six civilians and injured 36 others.

“We don’t want bombings in SOCSKSARGEN anymore!” said Oscar Solaiman, the CBCS-Rajah Buayan Regional Management Committee (CBCS-RBRMC) Chairmperson.

“SOCSKSARGEN is now a haven of peace” he furthered, attributing mainly this state of peace to three factors, “emergence of strong local leaders, protection from both the police and the military, and the present gains of the peace processes”.

But due to the recently “stalled peace talks, hopes were suddenly replaced by fears”, Solaiman added, referring to the cancellation of the anticipated signing of a Memorandum of Agreement on the issue of ancestral domain between the MILF and the GRP that was supposed to take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 15-17, 2007.

Solaiman contended that the clamor of the MNLF to the unaccomplished review the 1996 Final Peace Accord with the Government “adds to the obstacles of the Bangsamoro People to achieve genuine peace”.

“The peaceful lives of the Bangsamoro were shattered by the tremors brought about by the coming of the colonizers” said Sammy Maulana, CBCS Secretary General during his speech.

“We are not begging anything from the Government, we just want to regain our homeland and restore our inalienable rights to self determination, both as people and a nation”.

Most of the misery expressed was focused on the vacillating stance of the GRP in non-conforming to hard-earned consensus points on the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that was prior agreed upon with the MILF. “The GRP has to demonstrate integrity by honoring the consensus points”, said Anwar Saluwang of the United Youth of the Philippines for Peace in Development (UNYPAD).

The frailty of the Government to bequeath its political will is viewed as the core barrier that impinges the realization of the peace processes in Mindanao.

Pastor Frank Bantilan, a Lumad religious leader from Sarangani Province, together with other B’laans, said that they are distressed by the sudden impasse of the peace talks between the GRP and the MILF. “Muslims and Lumads are more than brothers” “we feel no different pain” he said with conviction.

“Tri-People”, the term commonly associated with SOCSKSARGEN is mainly due to the existence of diverse tribes belonging to the Indigenous People, Christian and Muslims. “This is not a time for war” he uttered calling for stronger unity between the Lumads and Muslims.

In a Position paper, the Moro CSOs and other non-Moro supporters pointed out that “the most civilized and acceptable way to resolve conflict is through negotiation”. And the best way for a negotiation to succeed is “sincerity, honesty and political will”.

These positions were fervently made known by the CSOs: “The real implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the MNLF and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), the restoration of the peace talks between the GRP and the MILF, and for the Government to bestow its ‘political will’ towards the realization of the peace processes”.

Along with these points is the condemning of bombing incidents and any form of terrorist acts that had taken the lives of many innocent civilians, whether Muslim or Christian, in SOCSKSARGEN.

The rally ended with a plea for the souls of those who died in the bombings that had brought fear to the hearts of SOCSKSARGEN, with the hope that it will never happen again.

The CBCS is now preparing for the next legs of this series of peace rallies in Mindanao within the month in Basilan, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Sulu that is expected to draw together the concerned groups and sectors in these regions to continue the call for genuine peace in Mindanao.(Consortium Maulana)

Jan 06 2008

Release Jailed Rebel Leader, MILF Tells Philippine Government

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 06, 2008) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has urged Manila to free a jailed former rebel leader.

The MILF wanted Nur Misuari, chieftain of the former rebel group, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) release from detention after six of his followers were freed last week.

“We reiterate our calls for the Arroyo government to free our brother Nur Misuari. He is a Muslim, a Bangsamoro brother and he should also be freed as others were pardoned and released from jail just like the six MNLF followers of brother Nur and the others like former President Joseph Estrada and other high-profile prisoners,” a rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.

Estrada who was convicted of plunder was granted absolute pardon last year by President Gloria Arroyo. Estrada was deposed in 2001 by Arroyo after a bloodless revolution.

Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.

Under the peace agreement, Manila would provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.

Many former guerrillas were disgruntled with the peace deal, saying, the Arroyo government failed to comply with some of its provisions and uplift their standards of living. They accused Manila of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the south.

And in November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the Muslim autonomous region, Misuari accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.

Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, but had been arrested and deported to the Philippines. He is now under house arrest in Manila.

Khaled Musa, a senior MILF rebel leader, said Misuari should be freed immediately without any precondition. Misuari deserves freedom more than Estrada, he said.

Musa also asked the government to work closely and immediately with the MNLF to assess and fully implement the 1996 peace pact.

But while MILF leaders asked for Misuari’s release, others said he already lost his moral authority to lead the Muslims in Mindanao.

The said that Misuari failed to bring developments to the Muslim autonomous region when he was governor. He also ran twice for governor in Sulu even while under detention, but failed. And supported Arroyo’s election bid and her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004 in exchange for promises that he would be pardoned and freed, which did not happen.

His arrest in Malaysia also was an issue among MNLF leaders and said to be in retaliation by his failure to secure the release of dozens of foreigners and Malaysian citizens kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in two island resorts off Sabah and brought them to Sulu in 2000.

The MILF, a breakaway faction of the MNLF, is currently negotiating peace with Manila, but talks were stalled last month over the issue of the Muslim ancestral domain.

Peace talks were stalled after government and rebel negotiators failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain, which is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001, but since then no substantial agreements have been signed between the two sides, expect for the cease-fire accord.

Murad Ebrahim, the leader of the MILF, has appealed to Muslims for patience over the failure of peace talks.

«The road to freedom is always full of twist and turn and to overcome, we must work, persist, and sacrifice,» Ebrahim said.

The MILF is an army of about 12,000 rebels with millions of Muslim supporters in the Philippines.

The MILF is fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. It accused the government of reneging to its commitment after peace talks last month failed in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said the Philippine panel agreed late last year on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, but later reneged on the accord that will constitute a separate homeland for more than 4 million Muslims and indigenous tribes in Mindanao.

Iqbal said the MILF is consistent with its demand for a Muslim homeland. He said the ugly turn of event in the peace process is taxing the patience of the MILF and the Bangsamoro people, who may be compelled to resort to other means of resolving the Mindanao conflict when they are pushed to the wall and become hopeless in the peace process.

He said the government peace panel must honor its commitment and previous agreement so the talks could resume.

«The government peace panel must honor its commitment to the Bangsamoro people because we wanted peace to reign and end the violence in Mindanao,» he said. «We will wait for the government to reconsider its decision.»

The MILF said government negotiators headed by Rodolfo Garcia completely disregarded the agreement on the ancestral domain and insisted again that the granting of homeland to Muslims in Mindanao would solely be through Constitutional process which the rebel group previously opposed.

The Philippine charter prohibits the dismembering of the country.But Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said there is a proposal to amend the Constitution and introduce a federal system of government.

«This is one of the proposals the government is looking at to get the peace talks moving again,» Dureza said, adding, the only purpose of changing the Constitution is to install a Bangsamoro state or a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

It is also what many opposition politicians fear because Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives might use the peace talks with the MILF as an excuse to amend the Constitution to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary or federalism to allow the MILF to have a separate state and eventually prolong her into power beyond 2010.

Under the presidential form of government, Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is allowed only one six-year term.

In the charter change proposal suggested by her political allies who dominate Congress, she can be elected as prime minister should Congress approve a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to parliamentary.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.

Jan 04 2008

Peace Rally Kicks Off In Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 04, 2008) — Some 50,000 people are expected to join the first leg of a series of Mindanao-wide peace rally which will begin here Monday.

Many of those who will participate in the rally are sectoral representatives from the nearby provinces of Shariff Kabunsuan, North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

The rally will be held in response to the “fast changing” peace process in Mindanao that is “reshaping the future of the Mindanawons, especially the civil society that comprise the greater majority in the grassroots,” said Abdulbasit Benito, chair of media committee of the organizer, in an apparent reference to the aborted talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine peace panels which were supposed to have taken place in Kuala Lumpur on December 15-17, 2007.

The rally will be spearheaded by the Cotabato-based regional management committee of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, a network of Moro non-government and peoples organizations with 168 member-organizations Mindanao-wide.

It will start at 9 a.m. from “strategic points” in the city and the three provinces and will end at 3 p.m. at the city plaza. A press conference will be held simultaneously at Hotel Castro Function Hall at 12 p.m.

“The current status of the peace process in Mindanao is fast changing and reshaping the future of the Mindanawons especially the civil society that comprise the greater majority in the grassroots. The expected signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the MILF and GRP in Kuala Lumpur on the issue of ancestral domain could have been a recompense for the ten-year long negotiation between the MILF and the GRP that commenced in July of 1997,” Benito said in a statement.

“But the stance of the GRP in nonconforming to the agreed consensus points, a clear manifestation of the feebleness of the GRP to bestow strong political will for the realization of the peace accord,” he said.

Benito said the peace rally will carry the theme “Uphold the gains of the Peace Processes,” adding that “the initiative came out as a unified response to draw the attention of the ‘gate keepers’ of the peace processes.”

Benito asserted that the “contentious issue” on the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) between the MNLF and the GRP “is viewed to impinge the peace process between the MILF and GRP to pursue.”

He argued that eleven years after the signing of the FPA, “gaps” between positions of the GRP and MNLF on the “genuine implementation” of the FPA widens. “These incidents inevitably make the peace situation fluid, volatile and according to some, can explode anytime.”

“We, in the civil society is aware of the fact that majority of people in the grassroots desire for a meaningful result of the peace process, not only to put an end to the ravages of war, but to address the longstanding political problem in a non-violent way,” Benito said.

Benito pointed out that the civil society’s unified response “can create a desired impact by significantly reducing the possible incidence of conflict exacerbation brought about by the fragile peace confronting our homeland.”

“Prerequisite to our yearning for human security, peace and economic progress is the attainment of a negotiated political settlement,” Benito said.

“The action points generally aims to draw the attention of these ‘gate keepers’ to immediately take necessary actions and muster enough courage to bring about the long awaited peaceful settlement.”

Benito said the “civil society in Mindanao urgently appeal” for “swift and more carefully review the implementation of the GRP-MNLF 1996 peace accord so that gaps are identified, corrective measures are installed, and implementation scheme put into place;” “for the immediate resumption of the GRP-MILF peace talks and for the Government to honor its commitment to the consensus points;” and “for the GRP and the MILF to refrain from any unnecessary actions that may jeopardize the peace talks.”

The second leg of the rally will be held on Jan. 10 in General Santos City and to be participated by sectoral representatives from the city and nearby provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, South Cotabato and Koronadal City.

The other legs of the rally is yet to be confirmed but on Feb. 7 the same rally will be held in Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Pagadian and Diplog cities and Ipil town. (Norodin Makalay)

Jan 02 2008

Be Patient, MILF Tells Muslims In Philippines

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front woman rests in her house in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Mark navales)

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 02, 2008) – The leader of the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, the MILF, appealed for patience over the failure of peace talks with Manila.

«The road to freedom is always full of twist and turn and to overcome, we must work, persist, and sacrifice,» Murad Ebrahim, chieftain of the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, said.

It was the second time the MILF appealed to Muslims and rebels for patience over the slow progress of the peace talks. Last month, Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, also appealed to Muslims to remain calm and patient over the failure of the talks.

Many rebel commanders are getting frustrated and restless over the failure of the seven-year old peace talks with the Arroyo government.

The MILF is fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. It accused the government of reneging to its commitment after peace talks last month failed in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.

Iqbal said the Philippine panel agreed late last year on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, but later reneged on the accord that will constitute a separate homeland for more than 4 million Muslims and indigenous tribes in Mindanao.

Iqbal reiterated his previous statement and said his group is consistent with their demand for a Muslim homeland.

Iqbal previously said that the ugly turn of event in the peace process is taxing the patience of the MILF and the Bangsamoro people, who may be compelled to resort to other means of resolving the Mindanao conflict when they are pushed to the wall and become hopeless in the peace process.

He said the government peace panel must honor its commitment and previous agreement so the talks could resume.

«The government peace panel must honor its commitment to the Bangsamoro people because we wanted peace to reign and end the violence in Mindanao,» he said. «We will wait for the government to reconsider its decision.»

The MILF said government negotiators headed by Rodolfo Garcia completely disregarded the agreement on the ancestral domain and insisted again that the granting of homeland to Muslims in Mindanao would solely be through Constitutional process which the rebel group previously opposed.

The Philippine charter prohibits the dismembering of the country.

But Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said there is a proposal to amend the Constitution and introduce a federal system of government.

«This is one of the proposals the government is looking at to get the peace talks moving again,» Dureza said, adding, the only purpose of changing the Constitution is to install a Bangsamoro state or a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

Allies of President Gloria Arroyo in the House of Representatives might use the peace talks with the MILF as an excuse to amend the Constitution to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary or federalism to allow the MILF to have a separate state and eventually prolong her into power beyond 2010.

Under the presidential form of government, Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is allowed only one six-year term.

In the charter change proposal suggested by her political allies who dominate Congress, she can be elected as prime minister should Congress approve a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to parliamentary.

Peace talks were stalled in September last year after government and rebel negotiators failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain, which is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

President Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001, but since then no substantial agreements have been signed between the two sides, expect for the cease-fire accord.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.

«The MILF peace panel, from the start of the talks in January 1997, has been serious in finding a just, lasting, and comprehensive political settlement of the Moro problem and the conflict in Mindanao and, therefore, has detested and will not participate in any double deal that would lead the parties to end.»

«The stand of the MILF peace panel and their principal, the Central Committee of the MILF, is that it is better to have no agreement at all than to enter into a bad agreement. The MILF leadership therefore appeals to the public and our constituents for their understanding and patience and steadfast in the support of the peace process,» Iqbal said.

Dec 19 2007

Troops Hunt Sayyaf In Basilan Island

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 19, 2007) – Security forces on Wednesday searched for Abu Sayyaf militants blamed for the killing of two soldiers in the southern Filipino province of Basilan, officials said.

Officials said two soldiers were killed and five more wounded in four hours of fighting in the town of Ungkaya Pukan on Tuesday, where gunmen fired on a helicopter transporting US soldiers on Basilan.

«There is an operation going on,» Major Eugene Batara, a regional army spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said an undetermined number of militants were believed killed in the fighting. «We don’t have body counts but we believed many gunmen were either killed of wounded in the clash,» he said.

The town’s mayor Joel Maturan said militants, backed by rogue members of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, aided the Abu Sayyaf in attacking marines in the area.

«The Abu Sayyaf and the lost-command group of the MILF attacked the marines and fighting was really intense,» he said.

It was unknown how many villagers have fled the town for fear that the fighting would escalate into a bigger war.

On Tuesday, gunmen straffed a helicopter carrying American soldiers near the town. A small contingent of US troops are deployed in Basilan to aide Filipino troops in defeating the Abu Sayyaf, tagged as international terrorist group by Washington.

(Mindanao Examiner)

Dec 15 2007

Muslim Rebels Appeal For Patience As Peace Talks Failed

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 16, 2007) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), appealed for patience as peace talks with Manila stalled over demands for a separate Muslim homeland in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.

The MILF accused Manila of reneging to its commitment after peace talks failed Saturday in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said the Philippine panel last month agreed on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, but reneged on the accord that will constitute a separate homeland for about 4 million Muslims and indigenous tribes in Mindanao.

”This ugly turn of event in the peace process is taxing the patience of the MILF and the Bangsamoro people, who may be compelled to resort to other means, pacific or otherwise, of resolving the Mindanao conflict when they are pushed to the wall and become hopeless in the present peace process,” Iqbal said.

The MILF said government negotiators headed by Rodolfo Garcia completely disregarded the agreement on the ancestral domain and insisted again that the granting of homeland to Muslims in Mindanao would solely be through Constitutional process which the rebel group previously opposed.

But the Philippine charter prohibits the dismembering of the country.

“This stance of the GRP peace panel has virtually jeopardized the integrity of the peace process and to continue with the talks would virtually turn it into a circus,” Iqbal said.

“The Philippine negotiators introduced extraneous and new matters not discussed and taken upon by the parties during the previous exploratory talks on ancestral domain that led to the signing of several consensus points.”

Iqbal said government leaders opposed to the peace talks should be blamed for the break down in the negotiations.

“We believe that spoilers of the peace process right at the corridors of powers are at work behind the scene to intervene again at the expense of our honorable counterpart from the government, without the knowledge of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” he said without elaborating further.

”The MILF peace panel, from the start of the talks in January 1997, has been serious in finding a just, lasting, and comprehensive political settlement of the Moro problem and the conflict in Mindanao and, therefore, has detested and will not participate in any double deal that would lead the parties to end.”

“The stand of the MILF peace panel and their principal, the Central Committee of the MILF, is that it is better to have no agreement at all than to enter into a bad agreement. The MILF leadership therefore appeals to the public and our constituents for their understanding and patience and steadfast in the support of the peace process,” he said.

Peace talks had been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain, which is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

Iqbal last week said that both sides are expected to sign the formal agreement on ancestral domain probably before the end of the year after the two groups ended a meeting in Malaysia in November.

The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

Mohammad Ameen, a senior rebel leader, said the MILF will only sign a peace deal with Manila if it establishes genuine governance for Muslims either in the form of “state” or “sub-state”.

President Gloria Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF, the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state, in 2001.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers from the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included four million Muslims.

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

But analysts fear that Arroyo or her allies in the House of Representatives might use the peace talks with the MILF as an excuse to amend the Constitution to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary or federalism to allow the MILF to have a separate state and eventually prolong her into power beyond 2010.

Under the presidential form of government, Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is allowed only one six-year term.

In the charter change proposal suggested by her political allies who dominate Congress, she can be elected as prime minister should Congress approve a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to parliamentary. (Mindanao Examiner)

Dec 15 2007

Manila Reneged On Agreement, MILF Peace Talks Stalled Anew

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 15, 2007) – Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels accused Manila of reneging to its commitment after peace talks were stalled Saturday in Malaysia.

Malaysia is brokering the peace talks and has previously threatened to pull out its truce observers in the southern Philippines if the negotiations do not progress.

Government and rebel negotiators previously agreed on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain in southern Philippines. It refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.

But the MILF accused government negotiators of reneging on the agreement that stalled the talks.

“The MILF peace panel accused the government of reneging on its commitment to the peace process by reversing all what have been agreed as consensus points on ancestral domain,” it said in a statement.

The MILF said government negotiators headed by Rodolfo Garcia completely disregarded the agreement on the ancestral domain and insisted again that the granting of homeland to Muslims in Mindanao would solely be through Constitutional process which the rebel group previously opposed.

Peace talks had been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, earlier said that both sides are expected to sign the formal agreement on ancestral domain probably before the end of the year after the two groups ended a meeting in Malaysia in November.

The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

Mohammad Ameen, a senior rebel leader, said the MILF will only sign a peace deal with Manila if it establishes genuine governance for Muslims either in the form of “state” or “sub-state”.

President Gloria Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF, the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state, in 2001.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers from the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included four million Muslims.

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

But analysts fear that Arroyo or her allies in the House of Representatives might use the peace talks with the MILF as an excuse to amend the Constitution to change the system of government from Presidential to Parliamentary or Federalism to allow the MILF to have a separate state and eventually prolong her into power beyond 2010.

Under the Presidential form of government, Arroyo is allowed only three terms, but she can be elected as Prime Minister should Congress, dominated by her political allies, approves a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to Parliamentary.

Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is unpopular in the Philippines and topped the list of the most corrupt presidents in recent history, according to a Pulse Asia Survey.

The survey conducted Among 1,200 respondents nationwide from October 21-31, 2007 showed that 42% think that Arroyo is the most corrupt followed by Ferdinand Marcos with 35% and Joseph Estrada with 16%. Former presidents Fidel Ramos with 5% and Corazon Aquino with 1% came in at the bottom of the list.

The Philippines is also perceived to be among the world’s most corrupt countries and ranked 131st out of the 180 nations studied, with a 2.5 rating, together with Burundi, Honduras, Iran, Libya, Nepal, and Yemen, according to the annual Corruption Perceptions Index released recently by the Berlin-based organization Transparency International.

The index score ranges between 0, which is highly corrupt, and 10, which is very clean. (Mindanao Examiner)

Dec 12 2007

Muslims To Get Own Homeland In Southern Philippines



MILF women during a plenum in Mindanao while rebels raise their flags. And a Muslim rebel reads the holy Koran during a break in the training in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)
MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 12, 2007) – Muslims in the southern Philippines may soon have a separate homeland, an aspiration they have longed for centuries, as the seven-year old peace talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Arroyo government may finally end in a treaty that will bring unity and harmony in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.
Philippine government and MILF peace negotiators have finally agreed on the issue of issue of ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.Peace talks have been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said both sides are expected to sign the agreement on ancestral domain probably before the year ends after the two groups ended a meeting in Malaysia in November.Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the MILF, but it had previously threatened to pull out its contingent from the International Monitoring Team if the negotiations remain stalled.Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said they wanted progress in the peace talks.Government and rebel negotiators had previously held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur since early this year, but they failed to arrive at an agreement that would end Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines.“We have already agreed on the issue of ancestral domain and we expect to sign the agreement soon,” Iqbal told the Mindanao Examiner.The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.“Basically, nothing has been changed on the scope of the Muslim homeland and we are now consolidating all other agreements in preparation for the next round of peace talks in January next year in Malaysia.”“We will tackle the political settlement and eventually, In ša Allāh, sign a peace deal and finally put an end to the problems of insurgency and start socio-economic projects in Mindanao,” Iqbal said.In ša Allāh is an Arabic term evoked to indicate hope for an aforementioned event to occur in the future. The phrase translates into English as “God willing” or “if it is God’s will”In his recent released book entitled “The Long Road To Peace,” Iqbal wrote the peace negotiations have been driven in positive direction through a combination of several factors: moving forward creatively on substantive issues, political will on both sides, able third party facilitation, a solid cease-fire mechanism combined with joint law enforcement features, aggressive international support, constructive grassroots activism and interfaith dialogue, among others.“Self-determination evokes strong emotions in the warrior and concern in established power structures. The fear of a new nation or sub-state spinning off from the main is valid, and must be conditioned by an enlightened gradualist approach.”“It seems that both sides in the negotiations support this approach not only because it avoids pitfalls of misunderstanding among constituencies that need to be transparently brought and not forced into the process, and allows the conventions that breed conflict to wash off as the Philippine government and the MIF try to reinvent the strategies of peace,” Iqbal wrote.Mohammad Ameen, a senior rebel leader, said the MILF will only sign a peace deal with Manila if it establishes genuine governance for Muslims either in the form of “state” or “sub-state”.President Gloria Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF, the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state, in 2001.The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers from the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included four million Muslims.The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.The MILF said Libya also wanted to help in the peace talks and has offered to host the negotiations in Tripoli. Former Libyan ambassador Salem Adam has met with MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim and has assured the rebel group of Tripoli’s support to the peace talks.“Libya has been very supportive of our struggle to have peace in Mindanao,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said in a separate interview.He said the MILF is optimistic with the peace talks.“We are glad that the talks were fruitful and the MILF is looking forward for the resumption of the peace negotiations. We wanted peace to reign in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.But analysts fear that Arroyo or her allies in the House of Representatives might use the peace talks with the MILF as an excuse to amend the Constitution to change the system of government from Presidential to Parliamentary or Federalism to allow the MILF to have a separate state and eventually prolong her into power beyond 2010.Under the Presidential form of government, Arroyo is allowed only three terms, but she can be elected as Prime Minister should Congress, dominated by her political allies, approves a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to Parliamentary.Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is unpopular in the Philippines and topped the list of the most corrupt presidents in recent history, according to a Pulse Asia Survey.The survey conducted Among 1,200 respondents nationwide from October 21-31, 2007 showed that 42% think that Arroyo is the most corrupt followed by Ferdinand Marcos with 35% and Joseph Estrada with 16%. Former presidents Fidel Ramos with 5% and Corazon Aquino with 1% came in at the bottom of the list.The Philippines is also perceived to be among the world’s most corrupt countries and ranked 131st out of the 180 nations studied, with a 2.5 rating, together with Burundi, Honduras, Iran, Libya, Nepal, and Yemen, according to the annual Corruption Perceptions Index released recently by the Berlin-based organization Transparency International.

The index score ranges between 0, which is highly corrupt, and 10, which is very clean. (Mindanao Examiner)

Dec 01 2007

“The Long Road To Peace,” A Book By Salah Jubair Is Launched In Philippines: LUWARAN

Cover of the book «The Long Road To Peace,» by Salah Jubair.

SHARIFF KABUNSUAN, Philippines — “The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process,” the book that deals with the over a decade-old peace gambit between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was launched at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town in Shariff Kabunsuan.

The ongoing peace process between the Philippine government and the largest revolutionary group that formally started on January 7, 1997 with all its ups and downs, twist and turns, and of course its envisioned end state can now be well understood and appreciated from the standpoint of an author, who is an accomplished writer, esteemed revolutionary leader, scholar, diplomat and a peace maker.

Salah Jubair, the author of this literary masterpiece, is the pen name of one of the leaders of the MILF who currently heads the MILF peace panel that negotiates with the government.

He has been involved with the MILF Peace Panel since the start of the talks in 1997 initiated by former President Fidel V. Ramos. Jubair, in his remarks, admitted that writing a book on a subject you are actually involved with may be authoritative but a daunting challenge entailing lot of objectivity and focus.

“This piece speaks of the peace process and my intention is nothing but to serve and protect the noble interest of peace though you may not agree on my views and proposition,” Jubair said.

Jubair, however, stressed that the book does not reflect the official stand and policy of the MILF but very much in line with the convictions of the MILF leadership on how shall the peace process succeed.

“Peace process, peace building and conflict resolution can never be achieved overnight there will always be challenges but not insurmountable. Yet, indeed, there is no better substitute to peaceful means in resolving armed conflict,” he said.

The content of the book culminated with the impasse on the negotiations which took placed September of last year due to some contentious points that were left unresolved by both the GRP and MILF peace panels.

Nevertheless, it illustrates how the impasse can be overcome, thus, paving the way towards realization of a just and enduring negotiated political settlement of the conflict.

The Long Road to Peace cited the gambit of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in upholding the primacy of the peace process but still it raises a great challenge for the government to do more in order fairly and squarely resolve the Bangsamoro problem and conflict in Mindanao.

The book stressed the paramount importance of the participation of the international community and civil society in resolving conflict and building peace, especially the exceptional facilitation of the Malaysian government of the peace talks and the role of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in ensuring the respect and sustenance of the ceasefire accord on the ground.

Lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a revered writer and senior member of the MILF Peace Panel, said the book had wonderfully builds up the true account of the peace process and the various and differing perspectives, especially of the MILF, toward solving the problem and conflict in Mindanao which is for the common good of all, especially the succeeding generations.

The reader will find an immense satisfaction and desire on finishing reading the book, which stands alone in introducing vivid and truthful accounts of an ongoing colorful peace process between the Bangsamoro and Filipino nations, he said.

Institute of Bangsamoro Studies took the pride in publishing the book as its way of popularizing Bangsamoro studies as area specialization not only in policy studies but also in academic inquiries.

Prof Abhoud Lingga, Executive Director of IBS, expressed that the writings of Jubair will encourage young Moro writers to join the world of authors.

Lingga said the book is a must reference for policy makers, peace workers, public officials, researchers, media, international donor communities, military officials, academicians and negotiators.

People from all walks of life graced the launching ceremony to include the GRP Peace Negotiating Panel, international community, civil society groups, media, military, ceasefire committees, government workers, academicians, IMT, and sectoral representatives.

Secretary Silvestre Afable Jr, who is a former Chairman of the GRP Peace Negotiating Panel and now a Special Adviser to the Peace Panel, wrote the foreword of the book.

Afable, in his message, said “We have built a process that has been tried and tested against attempt to subvert and derail it. We and our allies have understood the underlying terrain in which the talks have taken place, the trajectory of our aspirations, and the tools and craftsmanship required to put them together in a common solution.”

Among the other writings of Jubair is the book “A Nation Under Endless Tyranny,” which depicts the injustices and oppression perpetrated against the Bangsamoro and the desire of the aggrieved nation to be freed from the clutches of tyranny including the imperativeness of waging an organized armed struggle and Jihad fi sabillah.

Nov 10 2007

Estados Unidos Nagpahayag Ng Suporta Sa Mindanao Peace Process

MAGUINDANAO (Mindanao Examiner / Nov. 11, 2007) – Nagpahayag ng suporta ng Estados Unidos sa peace process sa pagitan ng pamahalaang Arroyo at Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Sa katunayan ay mismong si Paul Jones, isa sa mga mataas na opisyal ng embahada ng Estados Unidos, ang nakipagkita kay MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim kamakalawa sa isang kampo ng mga rebelde sa lalawigan ng Sultan Kudarat.

Inamin naman ito ng MILF at sinabing maganda ang naging paguusap ng dalawa at Sinabi rin ni Jones na patuloy ang suporta ng kanyang bansa sa peace process sa Mindanao.

Isa ang Estados Unidos sa mga bansang nagbubuhos ng malaking pondo sa Mindanao upang maisulong ang kaunlaran ng rehiyon. Karamihan sa mga pondong ito ay naipagpagawa ng mga kalsada at daungan, patubig at kuryente at maraming iba pa.

Naunang nag-alok ang Estados Unidos ng $30-milyon upang pondohan ang iba pang mga proyekto kung magkakaroon ng kasunduan ang pamahalaan at MILF.

Kasalukuyang may peace talks ang dalawang grupo at naniniwala ang pamahalaan na magkakaroon ng resulta ito bago magtapos ng kanyang termino si Pangulong Gloria Arroyo sa 2010. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 29 2007

Moro Renegades Still A Big Problem In South RP

Moro rebels show their might in Al-Barka town in Basilan island in southern Philippines. (Mark Navales/Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 29, 2007) — Rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have become a major headache for the armed revolutionary group which is currently stepping up efforts to arrive at a peaceful solution to the centuries-old Moro problem in southern Philippines.

Major Benjamin Dolorfino, in a recent interview here, said renegade guerrillas have resorted to banditry, kidnapping, and extortion, criminal acts which are condemned by the fundamentalist MILF.

«Their devolution into banditry, kidnapping and extortion – all of which often end in murder – is not only and embarrassment to MILF but also undermines everythingit is attempting to achieve,» Dolorfino said citing the seriousness of the MILF peace panel to end the conflict in Mindanao.

«That is why the MILF is not merely helping the government tracks down these deserters, but in some cases is actually leading the effort to suppress them,» he said.

Dolofino said the MILF also joined government troops in searching for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi taken from his parish by Moro renegades on Mindanao in June. «They were leading the search,» he said.

The MILF is not the only Moro group to be plagued and embarrassed by former members who have turned to crime but also some lost commands of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as well, which signed a peace agreement with the government after 30 years of fighting.

Unfortunately, not all of the MNLF unit commanders are ready to give up their arms, including Datukan Samad whom the MNLF refers to as the «lost command.»

In May, Samad and nine of his men kidnapped German treasure hunter named Thomas Wallraf, his wife and a Filipino couple they were entertaining, in Pikit town in North Cotabato province.

Even before police could intervene, the MNLF asked rival MILF chief Murad Ebrahim to send his men after Samad who was operating near the MILF territory around Pikit.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said the MILF fighters tracked and surrounded Samad near Pagalungan and asked him to surrender his hostage who refused at first but changed mind after MILF fired a rocket-propelled grenade near his position.

Norodin Matalam, vice mayor of Pagalungan town, praised the Moro groups for what he called their «spontaneous involvement» in recovering the hostages.

Samad’s Lost Command is but one of many such groups of former guerillas and terrorists that have left their parent organizations to turn independent contractors; they no longer fight for a cause –if they ever did – but for profit and to survive; some, like the notorious «Commander Kiddie,» who have turned to be professional kidnapper.

Commander Kiddie, or Abusalam Akiddin, as he is known when he led a Moro guerilla column, has a reputation for taking hostages and holding them for ransom. That reputation is so pronounced that even the Moro leadership believed it was he who had abducted Father Bossi, although the MILF leadership «pointed the finger» at Commander Kiddie, as Agence France-Presse noted, he had since denied playing any role in this particular incident

Major General Nehemas Pajarito, who as commander of forces in the area is well acquainted with the rogue commander, believed Akiddin did not hold the priest saying that authorities are «still investigating his possible involvement» in the kidnapping.

Commander Abubakar leads another Lost Command, lamented an MILF spokesman; Abubakar’s group is believed to be behind the bus and bus terminal bombings in May and June.

Major Randolph Cabangbang of the Eastern Mindanao Command told reporters that Abubakar’s lost command has sought to extort money from the Weena bus company, a family-owned business that operates at least 200 buses.

Abelerdo Gamilla, the company’s operation manager in Davao City, says the group has carried out 17 attacks on his company since 2002; at least nine people have been killed ang 48 others injured in three such bombings since May
In each case, said Major Cabangbang, «extortion was the reason behind the attacks.» (Candido Aparece Jr.)

Oct 25 2007

Manila, MILF Agree To Resume Peace Talks

COTABATO CITY, Philippine (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 25, 2007) — Philippine peace negotiators and Muslim rebels ended two days of talks in Malaysia with both sides agreeing to resume a stalled negotiations aimed at ending more than three decades of fighting in Mindanao.

Peace talks have been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.

It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

Government and MILF peace negotiators also held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur early this month, but they failed to arrive at an agreement that would end Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines.

The rebels were insisting on the ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes.And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

The latest round of talks ended on Wednesday with negotiators from both sides agreeing to resume formal peace talks next month, according to a joint statement released Thursday in Malaysia.

The state-run Bernama news agency also said that the Philippines and MILF have expressed readiness to resume the next round of peace talks by the middle of next month.

“Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiators ended their two-day peace talks here on a high note with both sides expressing deep satisfaction over the successful resolution of major issues that broke the September 2006 impasse regarding the ancestral domain issue.”

”The process is firmly back on track towards holding formal talks before the end of the year, thereby concluding the negotiations,” it said, quoting a joint Philippine-MILF statement.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the MILF, but it has threatened to pull out its contingent from the International Monitoring Team if the talks remain stalled.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia wanted progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the rebels and the Arroyo government.

“We are glad that the talks were fruitful and the MILF is looking forward for the resumption of the peace negotiations. We wanted peace to reign in Mindanao,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner on Thursday.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers from the International Monitoring Team in the strife-torn region of 16 million populations, four million which are made up of Muslims.

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

The MILF said Libya also wanted to help in the peace talks and has offered to host the negotiations in Tripoli. Former Libyan ambassador Salem Adam has met with MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim on Wednesday and has assured the rebel group of Tripoli’s support to the peace talks.

“Tripoli has offered to host the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF and we welcome this development. Libya has been very supportive of our struggle to have peace in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.

President Gloria Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF, the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state, in 2001. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 23 2007

Muslim Rebels Resume Talks; Warn Of Renewed War In Mindanao If Negotiations Fail

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 23, 2007) – Muslim rebels negotiating peace with Manila resumed talks Tuesday with Filipino negotiators, but warned hostilities may erupt in Mindanao should the talks fail.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels are fighting for a separate homeland in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included about 4 million Muslims.

Rebels and government peace negotiators are holding talks in Malaysia in an effort to sign a deal on the Muslim homeland.

Peace talks have been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

“The issue on ancestral domain must be resolved first before we can resume formal peace talks. We cannot have perpetual peace negotiations,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said hostilities may break out if peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers in Mindanao.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the MILF, but it has threatened to pull out its contingent from the International Monitoring Team if the talks remain stalled.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia wanted progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the rebels and the Arroyo government.

Kuala Lumpur has shortened the stay of the IMT in Mindanao, from one year to only three months. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, since 2004 as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

“We want to resolve this problem. The peace talks have been stalled since last year and we cannot have a perpetual cease-fire with the Philippine government. A cease-fire without any political settlement is not a guarantee that there is peace. The Muslims need real peace,” Kabalu said.

The strife-torn, but mineral-rich Mindanao had been embroiled in political dispute and power struggle between the government and rebels for more than three decades. But the MILF also blamed political warlords and big businessmen of exploiting the region’s natural resources.

“Without a real peace, exploitation by political warlords and big corporation and influential businessmen will continue unabated and will leave the Muslims without lands of their own, without natural resources to call their own and not even a descent livelihood for everyone. The ancestral domain is the only answer to these problems and the road to peace in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.

Philippine and MILF peace negotiators also held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur early this month, but both sides failed to arrive at an agreement that would end more than three decades of insurgency in the southern Philippines.

The rebels were insisting on the ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

Manila has previously offered the MILF the whole of the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989. The rebels rejected the offer. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 10 2007

Clan War Erupts In Southern RP

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 10, 2007) – Clan war between two Muslim groups have erupted Wednesday in the southern Philippines, forcing hundreds of villagers to flee their homes.

The fighting broke out in Kitango village in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province after former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels clashed with pro-government militia and police forces.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, has ordered its forces to stay away from the hostilities, Eid Kabalu, the group’s spokesman, said.

Kabalu said some MILF members, who have relatives from both warring groups, were dragged into the fighting. “We have ordered MILF members to stay out of trouble. Our concern now is how to help Muslim villagers displaced by the fighting,” he said.

He said there were no immediate reports of casualties, but the hostilities have affected the livelihood of villagers and were threatening their safety.

“Sporadic clashes are going on in the area and we are appealing to the two warring groups to cease fighting so villagers can return to their homes,” Kabalu said, adding, the skirmishes were probably triggered by a land feud.

The MNLF signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 while the MILF is still fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the southern region. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 07 2007

Trained In MILF Camp, Would-be JI Bomber Confesses

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 08, 2007) – Philippine authorities have repeatedly linked the country’s largest Muslim rebel group to the radical Indonesian group Jemaah Islamiya and the Saudi Arabia’s al-Qaeda terror network.

The MILF has strongly denied all allegations against them and its chieftain, the secluded but moderate Murad Ebrahim repeatedly denounced violence and terrorism. However, the MILF said there could be rogue members providing clandestine military trainings to JI militants without its knowing.

And a former JI militant arrested in Singapore has told authorities there that he received weapons training from the MILF in the southern Philippines, according to a report by the Malay language newspaper, Berita Harian, published on Saturday.

The identity of the arrested militant was not made public nor details of his arrest, but Singapore’s Today online news also reported that what started as a noble effort to deepen his understanding of Islam took a wrong turn when he was sidetracked by deviant teachings of radical ideologues and joined in weapons training allegedly organized by the MILF.

Now, the former member of the Singapore branch of the JI said he was lucky to have been arrested and detained in Singapore.

«I could have become a suicide bomber. I would like to share this lesson I learnt with others: Do not be easily influenced; flow with life’s mainstream,» the arrested militant said.

The report said he was detained under the Internal Security Act for four years and is now under Restriction Orders. He expressed his gratitude for the religious counseling he had received from the Religious Reformation Group, as well as for the unwavering support of his wife and children during this period.

His involvement in the JI began after he attended classes in the 1980s to better understand Islam. In one class, he met two others who offered to take him to another class, which turned out to be organized by the deviant organization.

The lessons began innocuously enough, revealing little of JI’s characteristics, although the former member felt a tad suspicious when students were told not to leave their footwear outside the classroom as is normally practiced.

«They never mentioned it was a JI class,» the former JI member said. «They only said that the class was to improve religious knowledge.»

The indoctrination was gradual and destructive, with the teachers agitating students over the problems faced by their Muslim compatriots in places such as Palestine, Afghanistan and in neighboring Indonesia and the Philippines.

«They mentioned what was happening in Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia, and what their government was doing to oppress the Muslims. Some Indonesian Muslims had to flee to Malaysia. They asked us to help them.»

«They also mentioned that those people wanted to raise funds to buy a piece of land to build homes and a religious school on. They invited me to go over and follow their classes,» the militant said in the interview, adding, that while the classes were free, he was asked to contribute money to various programs, including the building of schools.»

«They didn’t mention JI until they built the religious school in Ulu Tiram in Johor. But the JI were not as obvious then as they are now… I carried on with my involvement and took my children to study there (Ulu Tiram) and lived with them for several years.»

«After some time … they also started to talk about what was happening in the Philippines and the MILF. Through JI, I started communicating with the MILF.I got to know the leader and members of the MILF through JI. From then on, my focus changed from JI to the MILF … In the Philippines, the MILF aims to achieve independence. They want to form their own Islamic country,» he said.

«So, the priority had to be given to them. Eventually, I began to realise that MILF also had a close relationship with JI and Al Qaeda. They also ran training camps for JI members. They were also involved in the violent cluster,» the militant said.

Feeling remorseful over his past, he said the JI aims to create chaos in Singapore and tarnish the good name of the Muslim community there.

«Our actions were unfair. Because of our actions as a minority, the majority of the Muslim community here has to go through a hard time. I feel very guilty,» he said. «I regret and apologize for getting involved with JI,» he said. «I regret that I was being misled. What I did was wrong.»

An MILF spokesman, Eid Kabalu, said his group is willing to work closely with Singapore or Indonesian authorities in investigating the reported JI trainings in the southern Philippines.

«While we deny involvements in terrorism, the MILF is willing to work with Singapore and even Indonesia to investigate the alleged JI training in southern Philippines. The MILF is willing and ready to work with authorities about this matter,» Kabalu told regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner on Monday.

Kabalu admitted that there could be some MILF members who were providing military or weapons training to JI militants without the knowledge of the rebel group. Australia also linked the MILF with JI.

«There is a possibility that some rogue MILF members could be providing trainings to JI and like Singapore, we are also concerned about this activity and that’s why we are willing to work with Singapore authorities, or the Philippine authorities or anybody to investigate this matter. We wanted to know who these people are and punish them,» he said.

Kabalu said the MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, has tens of thousands of members in the Philippines. The rebel group is fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the troubled, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 05 2007

Malaysia’s Threat To Pull Out Truce Observers In Mindanao Is Real: MILF

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 05, 2007) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Friday confirmed that Malaysia has threatened to pull out its truce observers in Mindanao, probably next year, if Manila fails to make progress in the peace talks with Muslim rebels.

Malaysia said it wanted progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the MILF and the Filipino government. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia’s involvement in the mission to monitor the conflict in Mindanao might be extended but not indefinitely.

“They will be extended but the extension cannot be indefinite. So, we want to see progress in the talk,” he said.

Kuala Lumpur has shortened the stay of the IMT in Mindanao, from one year to only three months. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, since 2004 as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

But despite the peace talks and a fragile truce signed seven years ago, sporadic clashes between soldiers and rebels still continue in Mindanao. However, the presence of the IMT prevented the clashes from further spreading.

“Malaysia has threatened really to pull out from the IMT unless the stalled peace talks move on and we could not imagine how the peace process would be without the IMT and without a third country brokering the negotiations.”

“The peace process could be imperiled once the IMT pulls out in Mindanao or Malaysia stops mediating in the negotiations. But the MILF is prepared for any situation, bad or worse,” a senior MILF rebel leader, who asked not to be identified, told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

Manila has been negotiating peace with the MILF, the county’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in the troubled, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao, whose 16 million populations include about 4 million Muslims.

The region had been embroiled in political dispute and power struggle between the government and rebels for more than three decades.

Filipino government officials have been trying to downplay Malaysia’s statement and blamed the media for the inaccurate news.

“Malaysia has contributed immensely to our peace efforts and we are confident it will continue to be with us and other nations in our peace and development work,” Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential peace adviser, said in a statement on Friday.

Dureza said the peace talks are progressing, but the MILF said they were not. The MILF accused President Gloria Arroyo of wasting away seven years in peace talks.

“Don’t dribble too much, 2001 to 2010 is too long for a decisive President to clinch an agreement with the MILF to address the problem in Mindanao,” Jun Mantawil, another senior leader, said.

“The government will not be short of pretensions why the talks are not moving, but what it cannot hide is the fact the remaining term of President Arroyo is not far away and even the ancestral domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001 has not been hurdled by the two parties despite the excellent facilitation of the Malaysian government,” he said.

Peace talks have been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

Last week, Philippine and MILF peace negotiators held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur, but both sides failed to arrive at an agreement that would end more than three decades of insurgency in the southern Philippines.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, has brokered the talks in an effort to revive the stalled peace negotiations.

The rebels were insisting on the ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

Manila has previously offered the MILF the whole of the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989. The rebels rejected the offer.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF and signed a truce, but negotiations were slow and rebels said the government is only using the talks to prevent hostilities from erupting in Mindanao until her term ends. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 04 2007

MILF Criticizes Philippine Human Rights Records

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 04, 2007) – Muslim rebels negotiating peace with Manila have criticized the country’s human rights records, saying, the Philippines is no different from Burma.

“Both the Philippines and Burma have semblances in sharing poor records in the protection of the human rights of their citizens. They are also in the state of martial law, one declared and the other undeclared but both using the same iron fist policy of the state against their own citizenry,” said Khaled Musa, a senior Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The MILF is the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate homeland in the southern Philippines. It has, in the past, accused Manila of human rights violations, particularly among the Muslim minority in the country.

Arroyo has criticized Burma for its violations of human rights and called for the release of pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Musa said the Filipino leader has no moral clout to give lessons to the Burmese dictators, citing the hundreds of militants summarily executed during her time, aside from those picked up randomly by security forces on mere suspicion that they are “terrorists”.

Hundreds of innocent Muslims have been arrested over the years in the southern Philippines, particularly after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks in the United States and at the start of the so-called war on terror.

“It is better for President Arroyo to keep silent and start cleaning up his own turf by weeding out those human rights violators,” Musa said.

He said the worsening human rights abuses in the Philippines prompted the United Nations to intervene and sent an envoy, Philip Alston, to investigate the extra-judicial killings in the country.

Last week, militant groups also criticized Arroyo for calling on Burma to free all political prisoners while extra-judicial killings still continue in the Philippines.

”The economic and political crisis in Myanmar (Burma), which triggered series of protests tackling variety of issues from oil price increases and human rights violations, is similar to what the Filipinos are experiencing under the Arroyo administration,” said Jeppie Ramada, a spokesman for the group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in southern Philippines.

Ramada said Arroyo’s statements in the 62nd United nations General Assembly urging Myanmar “to go back to the path of democracy,” are mere rhetoric that contradict the human rights problems in the Philippines.

“With Arroyo’s speech in the United Nations General Assembly centered on Myanmar’s atrocities, it only manifests that she’s trying to evade and divert the issue of political killings in the Philippines.”

”Instead of answering allegations of political persecution in her own country, she managed to wipe the dirt into her fellow dictators in Myanmar. She has lost the moral ascendancy to talk about human rights violations since 2001, when hundreds of activists summarily executed,” Ramada said.

The militant women’s group, GABRIELA, also branded Arroyo’s statements as hypocritical and ironic.

“Mrs. Arroyo’s statements are attempts to cover up her regime’s murderous record on extra judicial killings and disappearances, amid much international criticism over the human rights crisis in the country.”

“This duplicitous show of support for Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement in Burma is mortifying. Mrs. Arroyo even had the gall to summon women power for the Burmese leader when in her own country, her repressive policies are the very hindrance to women power,” Rep. Liza Maza said.

Maza said that human rights documentation in the country since Arroyo assumed office in 2001 indicate that 96 women have fallen victims to extrajudicial killings and 31 have disappeared.

Under Arroyo, the Philippines have had 22 women political prisoners, many of them in conditions no different from Suu Kyi, she said.

“No different from the military junta in Burma, Mrs. Arroyo has led the violent dispersal of protests with her calibrated pre-emptive response. She has led attempts to silence critics with her Proclamation 1017 and deny Filipinos the truth behind the rampage of corruption in her administration with EO (Executive Order) 464. Certainly, her two-faced statements cannot hide her bloody record from the international community,” Maza said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 01 2007

Manila Fails To Sign Accord On Secret Talks With Muslim Rebels

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 02, 2007) – Government peace negotiators and Muslim rebels have secretly held talks in Malaysia, but both sides again failed to sign an agreement that would end more than three decades of insurgency in the southern Philippines.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, has brokered the talks in an effort to revive the stalled peace negotiations. The talks, held in Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 25-26, centered on the issue of Muslim ancestral domain.

Those who attended the talks were Filipino peace negotiator Rodolfo Garcia and lawyer Leah Armamento, Mark Ryan Sullivan and former government chief peace negotiator Silvestre Afable Jr., who was appointed by Manila as senior adviser to the peace process.

Mohagher Iqbal led the MILF delegation with lawyer Michael Mastura, Maulana Alonto and Mike Pasigan. The MILF described the talks as “exhausting” because it was held during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Peace talks have been stalled since last year after both sides failed to agree on the same issue of ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.

It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

“Still the same issue and we have not reached any agreement on the ancestral domain, particularly on the territorial aspect of the ancestral domain,” Iqbal, the chief MILF peace negotiator, told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner, on Tuesday.

The ancestral domain covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

Manila has previously offered the MILF the whole of the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989.

But the rebel group flatly rejected the offer and insisted on self-determination.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting for independence in Mindanao island, whose 16 million populations includes about 4 million Filipino Muslims.

“This is a high-risk negotiation, it can make of break the peace process,” Iqbal said, referring to the latest talks.

“We have been talking peace with the Filipino government the past seven years and apparently we are just going around in circle. The Presidency of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo will end in 2010 and yet we are still negotiating peace up to this time,” Iqbal said.

Another senior MILF rebel leader also accused Arroyo of wasting away seven years in peace talks.

“Don’t dribble too much, 2001 to 2010 is too long for a decisive President to clinch an agreement with the MILF to address the problem in Mindanao,» Jun Mantawil said.

“The government will not be short of pretensions why the talks are not moving, but what it cannot hide is the fact the remaining term of President Arroyo is not far away and even the ancestral domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001 has not been hurdled by the two parties despite the excellent facilitation of the Malaysian government,” he said.

But despite the failure of both sides to sign any major agreement, the MILF has praised Malaysia for its role in brokering the peace talks. “Malaysia has put so much effort into the peace process in Mindanao and we appreciate this so much,” Iqbal said.

Kuala Lumpur is maintaining a contingent of truce observers in Mindanao as part of the International Monitoring Team.

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

But despite the peace talks and a fragile truce signed seven years ago, sporadic clashes between soldiers and rebels still continue in Mindanao. However, the presence of the IMT prevented the clashes from further spreading. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sep 02 2007

Rebels Attack Military Base In Southern Philippines

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 03 Sept) – Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels attacked a government patrol base Monday and wounding two soldiers in the southern Filipino province of Maguindanao, officials said.

Officials said the attack on the patrol base occupied by Army’s 4th Reconnaissance Division occurred in the town of Datu Piang, where sporadic fighting between government militias and rebels were raging since Thursday.

At least 5 rebels were killed in the clashes in three villages, Pandi, Balanakin and Nimao.

“We are in heightened alert because of the skirmishes. Troops have secured power lines and vital government installations to protect them against terror attacks,” Col. Julieto Ando, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.

The MILF, which is negotiating peace with Manila, confirmed the hostilities, but said the fighting was triggered by family feud between the militias and rebels.

“There is fighting alright,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said in a separate interview.

The latest attack came two days after the MILF urged President Gloria Arroyo to resolve the problems in Mindanao before her terms ends in 2010.

Arroyo opened peace talks with the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, in 2001, but there have been no major agreement to end the insurgency in the troubled region, except for a cease-fire accord.

But despite the truce, sporadic fighting between rebels and soldiers still continue in Mindanao with both sides accusing each other of violating the accord. In July, rebel forces killed 14 soldiers in a fierce battle in Basilan island after security forces encroached inside an MILF stronghold while pursuing Abu Sayyaf militants tied to Al-Qaeda.

The MILF is fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in Mindanao island, whose 16 million populations include about 4 million Muslims.

The MILF accused Arroyo of wasting away six years in peace talks. «Don’t dribble too much, 2001 to 2010 is too long for a decisive President to clinch an agreement with the MILF to address the problem in Mindanao,» said Jun Mantawil, a senior rebel leader.

Peace talks was stalled since September last year after both sides failed to sign any agreement on the most contentious issue — ancestral domain – which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.

Ancestral domain is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement with the Philippine government.

The ancestral domain covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines.

Manila previously offered the MILF the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989.

Aug 14 2007

2 MILF Factions Clashed In South RP

IPIL, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 14 Aug) – At least two rebels were killed when two factions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front clashed Tuesday in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Norte, officials said.

Officials said the fighting erupted on a remote village in Siocon town and troops were sent in the area to protect the civilians.

“We have soldiers in the town to make sure the skirmishes between two MILF factions won’t affect the safety of the civilians. We still don’t know what triggered the firefight between the two groups.”

“Our concern is the safety of the civilians and the security of the town,” Col. Jovencio Magalso, commander of the Army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade in the province, told the Mindanao Examiner.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is currently negotiating peace with the Filipino government. It also signed a cease-fire agreement with Manila in 2001, but despite the truce sporadic clashes still continue in the troubled region.

The military also implicated the MILF in the killing of 14 Marines, ten of who were beheaded in fierce fighting July 10 in the neighboring island of Basilan. (Mindanao Examiner)

Aug 13 2007

RP Army Chief Flies To Jolo Island To Lead Fight Vs Terrorists, Insurgents

Philippine Army chief General Romeo Tolentino is welcomed at the Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 13 Aug) – Philippine Army chief General Romeo Tolentino flew to Jolo island to lead fresh offensive against the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya.

Thousands of soldiers are on the island, about 950 kilometers south of Manila, where two Jemaah Islamiya bombers Dulmatin and Umar Patek are fighting alongside with the Abu Sayyaf.

Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon on Monday said the two bombers helped local militants and other insurgents fight security forces that killed 26 soldiers since last week.

“We have a report that they were in the encounters,” Esperon said at news conference in Manila.

Jakarta tagged Dulmatin and Patek as behind the 2002 bombings in the island resort of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly tourists. They are believed to have fled in 2003 to the southern Philippines and provided bomb-making to Filipino terrorists.

The United States has offered as much as US$10 million bounty for Dulmatin’s capture and US$1 million for Patek’s and US$ 5 million for known Abu Sayyaf leaders under the Rewards for Justice System.

Jolo army chief Colonel Antonio Supnet said the two bombers and some leaders of the Abu Sayyaf were being protected by rogue members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace treaty with Manila in 1996.

He said as many as 40 gunmen were killed in fierce clashes in Jolo island. Troops were also pursuing an Abu Sayyaf faction and members of another rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, implicated in the killing of 14 Marines, ten of whom beheaded and mutilated in ferocious battle last month.

President Gloria Arroyo had ordered Tolentino to “pitch camp in Zamboanga” and oversee the theater of operations from the Western Mindanao Command headquarters.

“I am sending my army chief to the frontlines where he can be near my soldiers,” she said.

Esperon on Sunday accompanied Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro to Jolo and Basilan island where they inspected troops and visited the wounded. (Mindanao Examiner)

Aug 12 2007

New RP Defense Chief Visits Troops In Frontlines Of War In Volatile South





Philippines Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro arrives in Zamboanga City and is escorted by Western Mindanao military commander Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo. Teodoro is accompanied by Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and inspected troops in Jolo and Basilan islands and visited wounded soldiers in Zamboanga City. Esperon has odered troops to intensify the hunt for terrorists in the troubled southern region. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 12 Aug) – New Philippines Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro inspected troops Sunday in two southern islands where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf militants tied to al-Qaeda, blamed for the killing of dozens of soldiers.

Teodoro, who assumed his post on Wednesday, flew to Jolo island with Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and several army generals on a military transport plane.

They were briefed by local military commanders about the progress of government offensives against the terrorists in Jolo, about 950 kilometers south of Manila.

Hundreds of U.S. troops are also stationed on the island and helping Filipino forces defeat terrorism.

Teodoro spoke briefly with soldiers. About 5,000 troops are in Jolo and hunting down hundreds of militants and Moro National Liberation Front rebels, blamed for the killing of 26 army soldiers in fierce clashes since Wednesday.

From Jolo island, the group flew by choppers to nearby island of Basilan, where some 4,000 are also pursuing a faction of the Abu Sayyaf and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, implicated in the beheading of ten of 14 Marines in daylong clashes July 10.

Marines Col. Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military chief, also briefed Teodoro’s group about the hunt for some 130 mostly MILF rebels and Abu Sayyaf militants tagged as behind the grisly killing.

Esperon has ordered troops to intensify their hunt for the terrorists and their allies in the two islands.

“There will be no letup in the pursuit operations. The hunt for the terrorists and their allies will continue until they are neutralized,” he told the Mindanao Examiner in Zamboanga City, where they visited and pinned medals to more than a dozen wounded soldiers.

After visiting the soldiers at a military hospital, Esperon and Teodoro comforted family members and relatives of slain soldiers whose flag-draped caskets were flown to Manila late Sunday afternoon.

The fighting in Jolo and Basilan has already displaced more than 20,000 people and is also threatening the government peace talks with the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.

The MILF denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to the Abu Sayyaf instead, although it admitted killing the Marines in fierce clashes after they entered a rebel stronghold in Al-Barka town.

Esperon said talks are underway to prevent further involvement of the MILF rebels in the ongoing punitive actions in Basilan island.

«There are ongoing talks about that, to put the MILF in one place,” he said.

President Gloria Arroyo has earlier ordered the military to pursue offensive operation against those behind the killing of the soldiers in Basilan and Jolo island.

“The military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf must continue, not as an act of vengeance but as a strategy to win the peace,” Arroyo said. “We cannot allow terrorists to hold the South hostage to their agenda of mayhem and blood sport.”

She also ordered Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, the chief of the army, to lead the operation in the volatile region. Tolentino arrived in Zamboanga City on Sunday.

”I expect General Tolentino, considered as a soldier’s soldier, not just to orchestrate punitive actions against those who wantonly maim and kill, but also to evaluate peaceful overtures of those who will demonstrate remorse,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo commended the bravery of the soldiers “even as we grieve for those who offered their lives in the line of duty, while pursuing our quest for peace and justice.”

”There can be no letup in our fight against terror. The Abu Sayyaf deserves condemnation for its acts of violence that have stalled peace and progress in the southern Philippines.” (Mindanao Examiner)

Aug 09 2007

Suspect In Beheading Of Soldiers Yield In Basilan Island

Villagers look at policemen near the town of Al-Barka in the southern Philippine island of Basilan, where 14 Marines were killed, ten of whom beheaded, by Moro rebels on July 10. An international peace mission led by the Southeast Asia Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition and the Initiative for International Dialogue is expected to arrive on the island Friday, August 10, 2007 to inspect Al-Barka town and the thousands of Muslim villagers who fled their home for fear of an impending government offensive against the rebels in Basilan. Fighting erupted Tuesday between troops and Moro gunmen on the island. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 09 Aug) – One of four alleged Abu Sayyaf militants implicated in the beheading of ten Marines in Basilan island in the southern Philippines has surrendered Thursday and denied all accusations against him.

Regional police chief Joel Goltiao said Bujari Jamiri, accompanied by a GMA-7 television news crew in Basilan island, surrendered to authorities in Zamboanga City.

Jamiri denied all accusations against him and police wanted to question him after Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar tagged him and three others Nurhasan Jamiri, Jamiri, Suaib Kalibon and Umar Indama as behind the killings of soldiers in Al-Barka town on July 10.

Akbar said he has witnesses to back up his claims.

“We need to get Jamiri’s statement. He should have surrendered himself to the police or the court of law in Basilan,” Goltiao told the Mindanao Examiner.

But the military linked the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to the killings.

The MILF said the fighting erupted after some 100 soldiers entered a rebel stronghold in the remote village of Ginanta in Al-Barka town.

Police filed murder charges against 130 suspected MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants over the killing of the soldiers, but most of them had already fled their homes to evade arrest.

The MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with the government, denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to the Abu Sayyaf instead.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said some of those charged in the killing are innocent civilians.

“We have received reports that some of those charged in the killing of the soldiers are innocent civilians. We will investigate these reports to ensure the rights of the innocent,” lawyer Manuel Mamauag, CHR regional director for Western Mindanao, said.

Goltiao said two of those included in the arrest warrants, both Muslim clerics, are also willing to surrender. “Two more accused in the killings of the soldiers are set to surrender. It is now up to the court to determine their guilt,” he said.

The two also denied involvement in the grisly killings.

An international peace mission led by the Southeast Asia Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition and the Initiative for International Dialogue are expected to arrive on the island Friday to inspect thousands of Muslim villagers who fled their home for fear of an impending government offensive against the rebels in Basilan.

Fighting erupted Tuesday between troops and Moro gunmen on the island. (Mark Navales)

Aug 07 2007

RP Troops Pursue Sayyaf Militants In Basilan Island

Coconut farmers sitting on top of bags of copra look at a government soldier patrolling the southern Philippine island of Basilan, where security forces clashed with Abu Sayyaf militants blamed for the beheading of ten of 14 Marines in Al-Barka town on July 10. Troops are backing police forces in the hunt for more than 130 Moro rebels implicated in the grisly killings. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 07 Aug) – Marines on Tuesday were pursuing Abu Sayyaf militants tied to al-Qaeda after a firefight in the southern Filipino island of Basilan.

More than 3,000 soldiers are on the island, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, to pursue about 130 Moro rebels charged for beheading ten of 14 Marines killed in fierce clashes July 10 in Al-Barka, a mountain town southeast of Basilan.

Officials said Tuesday’s operation yielded negative results, but troops continue searching for gunmen in Basilan’s treacherous jungle terrain.

Government soldiers clashed Monday with some 50 Abu Sayyaf fighters, backed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, said Joel Maturan, the mayor of Ungkaya Pukan.

Security officials said the fighting erupted in the hinterland village of Sungkayat in Ungkaya Pukan town after marine soldiers attacked the hideout of the militant group.

But the mayor said gunmen attacked the soldiers, sparking a 15-minute firefight.

“Patrolling soldiers were harassed by the Abu Sayyaf and MILF rebels, about 50 of them. There were no reports of casualties,” he said.

The military said troops clashed with the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Indama Puruji, who was implicated in the beheading of the soldiers.

The MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to the Abu Sayyaf as behind the gruesome killings.

Police filed murder charges against 130 mostly MILF rebels and the military threatened to launch punitive action if the group do not surrender the murders.

Social welfare officials said more than 6,900 villagers have fled their homes since last month for fear they would be trapped if fighting erupts in Basilan island.

Many of those who fled have sought refuge from relatives, but local politicians insist they were refugees and asked Manila for funds to help them feed the evacuees.

Defense officials on Monday met behind closed door with the mayors and governors of Basilan and Jolo islands inside a military base in Zamboanga City to plan about helping those who fled their villages.

President Gloria Arroyo on Monday also sent a team of medical doctors to Basilan island to help the evacuees, but warned rebels not to harm them.

The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for independence in the troubled, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

Aug 06 2007

Fighting Erupts In Basilan Island

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 06 Aug) – Filipino soldiers clashed Monday with Abu Sayyaf militants, tagged as behind the beheading of ten Marines in the southern island of Basilan, officials said.
Officials said the fighting erupted in the hinterland village of Sungkayat in Ungkaya Pukan town after marine soldiers attacked the hideout of the militant group tied to al-Qaeda.The fighting lasted for 15 minutes, but sporadic clashes were reported later in the day. There were no immediate reports of casualties, officials said.Officials said troops, from the Marine Battalion Landing Team-8, clashed with the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Indama Puruji, who was implicated in the beheading of the soldiers, who were among 14 killed in fierce fighting with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) July 10 in the town of Al-Barka.The MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to the Abu Sayyaf as behind the gruesome killings.Police filed murder charges against 130 mostly MILF rebels and the military threatened to launch punitive action if the group do not surrender the murders.Some 3,000 soldiers are backing 300 policemen in serving the arrest warrants, but the MILF said it would not yield any of its members and insisted the fighting was a legitimate encounter after the marines entered a rebel territory.More than 6,900 people, mostly Muslims, fled their homes since last month for fear they would be trapped if fighting erupts in Basilan island.Defense officials on Monday met behind closed door with the mayors and governors of Basilan and Jolo islands inside a military base in Zamboanga City to plan about helping those who fled their villages.President Gloria Arroyo sent a team of medical doctors to Basilan island to help the evacuees, but warned rebels not to harm them.“Harm them and Hades will come to you,” Arroyo said in Manila.

In Greek mythology, Hades, god of the dead, was a fearsome figure to those who are still living and simply to say the word “Hades” was frightening.

”These medical professionals are on a mission of compassion. They will treat people whose lives you have worsened by your belligerence when the peace we have pursued would have allowed them to join the rest of the nation in productive pursuits,” she said, referring to Moro rebels.

The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for independence in the troubled, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. (Mark Navales and Juan Magtanggol)

Aug 05 2007

RP Military Vows To Pursue Killers Of Soldiers





Some 500 Marines arrive Saturday Aug. 4, 2007 in the southern Philippine island of Basilan to help police forces hunt down Moro rebels implicated in the killing of 14 soldiers, ten of whom beheaded and mutilated, in an ambush July 10 in the mountain town of Al-Barka. More than 2,500 troops are already on the island searching for some 130 rebels charged with murder. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 05 Aug) – The Philippine military vowed to pursue Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels tagged as behind the killing of 14 Marines in the southern island of Basilan.

The soldiers were killed in fierce fighting on July 10 after they strayed inside a MILF territory in the hinterland town of Al-Barka. Ten of the soldiers were beheaded.

The military demanded the MILF to surrender the rebels behind the killings, but the rebel group said the fighting was a legitimate encounter. The MILF also denied beheading the soldiers and blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the grisly killings.

More than 100 mostly MILF rebels were charged with murder for the killing of the soldiers, but many also in the list provided by local politicians were either their enemies or innocent civilians.

As many as 6,000 people have fled their homes in Basilan because of an impending punitive action, although the offensive had been called off three times already to pave way for independent investigations.

“The operation will push through. We will go after the perpetrators. We will go straight to the frontlines. We will put our best-equipped and best-trained people in the frontlines and that is how we will achieve our mission,” Brigadier General Juancho Sabban, commander of military task force tasked to run after the killers of the soldiers.

He said more than 3,000 soldiers are in Basilan island and are helping the police hunt down those implicated in the killings.

Some 500 Marines, pulled out from Jolo island, arrived in Basilan on Friday.

“We have more than enough troops right now. If we need more men then other units can provide. We want justice be served and justice will be given to our Marine heroes,” Sabban said. “Our targets are the criminals who mercilessly ambushed and beheaded out Marines.”

The MILF, which is negotiating peace with the Arroyo government, said it will not surrender any of its fighters and alerted rebel forces on the island against military offensive.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said any attack on his group would violate a six-year old fragile truce and the fighting could hurt the peace talks. The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate homeland in the restive southern region. (Mark Navales)

Aug 02 2007

2 MILF Men Linked To Killing Of Marines In Southern RP

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 02 Aug) – The Philippine military on Thursday linked two Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in the killing of 14 Marines in the southern island of Basilan.

The two men were earlier reported to have surrendered to authorities on the island, where thousands of troops are joining the hunt for some 130 others charged with murder for the grisly killing of the soldiers, ten of them beheaded and mutilated in the village of Guinanta.

Security officials identified the rebels as Nasser Tauh and Hajan Sapii, both from the hinterland town of Al-Barka where the soldiers had been killed.

The duo surrendered an M203 automatic rifle with an attached grenade launcher belonging to one of the slain marine.

Officials said the two men surrendered to Mayors Karam Jakilan, of Al-Barka town and Tahira Sansawi, of Lantawan town, after a series of negotiations.

Tauh is a native of Guinanta village and Sapii, from Kuhon village.

Police have filed murder charges against 130 MILF rebels and Abu Sayyaf militants implicated in the killing.

The MILF, which is holding peace talks with Manila, denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to four Abu Sayyaf militants — Nurhasan Jamiri, Bujari Jamiri, Suaib Kalibon and Umar Indama — as behind the beheadings.

The fighting in Al-Barka erupted after some 100 Marines entered an MILF stronghold. The MILF said the soldiers violated a fragile truce signed in 2001 between the rebel group and the government.

(Mindanao Examiner)

Aug 02 2007

Two Alleged Marine Killers Yield In Basilan Island

BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 02 Aug) – Two suspected Moro rebels involved in the killing of 14 Marines in the southern Philippine island of Basilan surrendered to authorities, officials said Thursday.

The two men also handed over an automatic rifle they took from one of the slain soldier in the mountain town of Al-Barka, said Major Eugene Batara, a regional army spokesman.

The soldiers were killed July 10 after straying inside an MILF territory while searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi, held by rebels.

The priest, seized last month in Zamboanga Sibugay province, was freed in neighboring Lanao del Norte province in Mindanao island on July 19 and said he was never taken to Basilan.

“Two suspects have surrendered to the military and we are investigating their role in the killing of our soldiers,” he told the Mindanao Examiner without further elaborating.

Police have filed murder charges against 130 MILF rebels and Abu Sayyaf militants implicated in the killing.

The MILF denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to four Abu Sayyaf militants as behind the grisly murder. (Mindanao Examiner)

Aug 01 2007

MILF Tags Abu Sayyaf In Beheading Of 10 Marines In Southern Philippines




Marines in Basilan island in South RP where security forces are preparing for a punitive action against Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels behind the beheading of ten soldiers in Al-Barka town on July 10. The MILF denies beheading the marines and blamed Thursday August 01, 2007 the gruesome murders to the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service/Mark Navales)

BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 02 Aug) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Thursday tagged members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group as behind the beheading of ten marine soldiers in the southern Filipino island of Basilan.

The ten soldiers were among 14 killed in fierce fighting on July 10 after they strayed inside an MILF camp in the mountain town of Al-Barka. Police and military authorities have blamed the beheading to the MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

The MILF denied beheading the soldiers and for the first time has tagged the Abu Sayyaf in the grisly murder after finishing a weeklong joint investigation with the government.

Von Al-Haq, head of the MILF cease-fire committee and part of the investigating team, has identified four Abu Sayyaf militants involved in the beheading as Nurhasan Jamiri, Bujari Jamiri, Suaib Kalibon and Umar Indama.

“The four Abu Sayyaf are responsible in the beheading of the ten marines. They chopped off the heads of the soldiers after MILF forces have withdrawn from the battle scene in Al-Barka (town).”

“They are the same people that Basilan Representative Wahab Akbar mentioned in his privilege speech (Tuesday) in Congress,” Al-Haq told the Mindanao Examiner in an exclusive interview.

Akbar tagged the same Abu Sayyaf militants as behind the beheading of the ten soldiers. He previously implicated the son of an Imam — who was allegedly killed by troops in Al-Barka town – as behind the decapitation to avenge the death of the Muslim preacher.

Akbar said he has witnesses to back up his claims. The four Abu Sayyaf men were also involved in previous kidnappings for money in Basilan.

Al-Haq said the MILF is willing to help Filipino authorities hunt down and arrest the four Abu Sayyaf militants involved in the beheading. He said the investigating team also recommended the reactivation of the joint ad hoc action group. The ad hoc joint action group, renewed annually, had expired last month.

The MILF forged an agreement in 2004 that paved the way for rebel forces through the ad-hoc joint action group to help government hunt down terrorists and criminal elements in areas where the rebel group is actively operating.The MILF previously said other armed groups were behind the beheading of the soldiers.

Sattar Alih, head of the MILF cease-fire monitoring team in Basilan island, said rebel forces withdrew from the battle scene, leaving the bodies of soldiers behind, after military and rebels agreed to a cease-fire.

Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon previously threatened to launch punitive actions in Basilan if the MILF fails to surrender the rebels involved in the beheading.

But President Gloria Arroyo on Friday called off the planned attack to give way for the joint investigation. The postponement of offensives came days before the start of a three-day ASEAN summit in Manila on July 29.

The MILF warned that any attack on rebel forces in Basilan is a violation of the cease-fire agreement and could spark sympathy attacks against government targets.

Police filed murder charges against 130 suspected MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants over the killing of the soldiers, but most of them had already fled their homes to evade arrest.

Some 300 policemen were searching for the rebels since Tuesday, said Senior Superintendent Salik Macapantar, Basilan police chief. “We have our police forces searching for the accused in all corners of Basilan. They should surrender peacefully, but if they resist arrest and fight us, then we will also fight them,” he said.

About 2,000 soldiers are now on the island and hundreds more are their way to help police arrest the murderers, said Marine Colonel Ramiro Alivio, commander of military forces in Basilan island. (With a report from Mark Navales)

Aug 01 2007

Muslim Solon Says Sayyaf Behind Beheading Of Marines In Southern RP

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 01 Aug) – A former Muslim rebel leader-turned-politician has tagged four suspected Abu Sayyaf militants as behind the beheading of 10 government soldiers in Basilan island.

Wahab Akbar, now a member of the Philippine Congress, also has volunteered to run after the killers of the soldiers, who were part of 14 marines attacked in July 10 on the mountain town of Al-Barka.

Akbar, whose wife is the governor of Basilan, identified the suspects as Nurhasan Jamiri, Bujari Jamiri, Suaib Kalibon and Umar Indama. Akbar previously said that the soldiers were decapitated by a son of an Imam — who was allegedly killed by troops in Al-Barka town — to avenge his father’s death.

He said he has witnesses to back up his claims. The four men were also involved in previous kidnappings for money in Basilan.

But the military, which linked the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently holding peace talks with Manila, and the Abu Sayyaf in the beheading of the soldiers, said it would investigate Akbar’s allegation.

“We will investigate the report,” Marine Col. Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military chief, told the Mindanao Examiner.

The MILF, which admitted killing the soldiers in fierce clashes, denied beheading the soldiers.

Police filed murder charges against 130 suspected MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants over the killing of the soldiers, but most of them had already fled their homes to evade arrest.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said some of those charged in the killing are innocent civilians.

“We have received reports that some of those charged in the killing of the soldiers are innocent civilians. We will investigate these reports to ensure the rights of the innocent,” lawyer Manuel Mamauag, CHR regional director for Western Mindanao, said.

Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog, the Philippine military’s deputy chief, said there is an ongoing negotiation for the surrender of those who beheaded the soldiers. He did not elaborate.

But Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said he was not aware of any negotiations for the surrender of the rebels.

“There is no negotiation because the MILF will not surrender any of its members. The fighting was a legitimate encounter,” he said in a separate interview.

Iqbal said the fighting erupted after some 100 soldiers entered an MILF stronghold in the remote village of Ginanta in Al-Barka town.

President Gloria Arroyo has ordered security forces to hunt down the rebels involved in the killing. (Mindanao Examiner)

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