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Archive for August 2008

4 Marines killed, 10 injured in Sulu ambush

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By Joel Guinto, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 10:13:00 08/30/2008

ZAMBOANGA CITY/MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 3) Four soldiers were killed and 10 others wounded in an early morning ambush by suspected Muslim extremists in the southern island province of Sulu on Saturday, officials said.

At 6:45 a.m., a convoy from the 11th Marine Battalion Landing Team was in the vicinity of Bonbon village in Patikul town when they were attacked by the gunmen, believed to be members of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, Philippine Marine Corps commandant Major General Ben Dolorfino said.

“Four of our soldiers were killed in the fighting. Ten more wounded and operations are ongoing in the area,” Western Mindanao Command spokesman Major Eugene Batara said.

An unknown number of gunmen are also believed to have been killed in the fighting, Batara said.

The Marines were on their way to a brigade command post on Mt. Bayug in Talipao town when fired upon by the group armed with mortars and high-powered guns, said Navy spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo.

The firefight lasted for 10 minutes, after which, the gunmen retreated, Arevalo said, adding the fatalities and the wounded were airlifted to Zamboanga City.

Dolorfino said the soldiers were on a convoy transporting logistics when waylaid.

Two vehicles were hit by an explosion, which would explain the number of casualties, he said.

Dolorfino said it was also not clear if a firefight really took place because “the reports reaching me said the enemies made a quick withdrawal.”

“Cellular phone signal in Bonbon is limited that is why we are having difficulty in communicating with the battalion commander,” he said referring to Lieutenant Colonel Joselito Calimag, the MBLT 11 commander.

Batara said the Marines managed to put up a fight even as the armed men, whom he refused to call Abu Sayyaf extremists, were firing mortars and small firearms on them.

“The said unit could have engaged a bigger force (numbering) around 100 and we cannot determine if they are really ASG members,” he said.

Meanwhile, Major General Juancho Sabban, commander of the military’s Joint Task Force Comet based in Sulu, said continued “security operations” will be conducted in the island-province even during the observance of Ramadan to ensure peace and order.

But Sabban quickly added that “non-stop implementation of humanitarian undertakings” will be implemented alongside military operations.

To prevent the humanitarian action from being misconstrued as military action during Ramadan, which starts on Monday, Sabban said the military “has been in constant dialogue with the imams and ulama for better understanding and to prevent any situation that may be interpreted as a disregard of Muslim tradition.”

The Abu Sayyaf group has engaged in bombings and mass kidnappings for ransom, often targetting Christians and foreigners.

US military advisers have been training local forces to hunt down the group which has been involved in abductions and killings of Americans in the past. With reports from Ed General, Inquirer Mindanao and Agence France-Presse

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Gov’t woos MNLF as peace prospects with MILF hang in balance

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To pursue full implementation of ’96 peace deal

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:05:00 08/29/2008

MANILA, Philippines — With prospects of peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) hanging in the balance, the government said it will work for the full implementation of the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

“We have to clutch at points of certainty, and that is the Tripoli agreement and the 1996 agreement and all other subsequent agreements that can be made as terms of reference,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. told a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo Friday.

“While at the same time, we cannot proceed on the other side, on the MILF, because we don’t know what their position is,” he said.

Teodoro and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno met with Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, who is also MNLF chairman, on the disarming and demobilization of MNLF fighters and their integration into the military and police.

Sema, who was at the news conference, also denied allegations they connived with MILF forces who staged attacks on civilian communities in Central Mindanao that triggered ongoing hostilities in the south.

The fighting erupted after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against signing of a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) between the government and MILF which would expand the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) into the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

The ARMM was created under the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF.

“We begin by going back to the 1996 peace agreement, I don’t think well have a problem within the MNLF. What were trying to do is complete the obligations for everyone and ensure compliance of everyone to the terms of the agreement,” Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said.

Teodoro said the MNLF has “kept its peace, kept its side of the agreement,” and government would “make it work in the face of uncertainty.”

Referring to the Central Mindanao fighting, Teodoro said the MILF has not made its position on the “authority of the government to enforce its law” and on the “countenancing or non-countenancing of atrocities committed by some of its members.”

The military is pursuing two MILF commanders — Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo — blamed for the North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte attacks, respectively.

“Our message to the MILF is to surrender Bravo and Kato. If they don’t, we will get them,” the defense chief said.

Puno explained that “disarmament” and “demobilization” were not the exact wordings of the 1996 agreement but that these meant MNLF members’ turning in their firearms and their integration into the government security force.

While no estimate of armed MNLF members was given, Puno said 1,600 former rebels have been integrated into the Philippine National Police (PNP) and 5,000 others into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Denying that the MNLF was in cahoots with the MILF in the current hostilities, Sema said: “We would like to say that there is no truth to that. The MNLF remains to be a partner of the] national government in the implementation of peace and development for many, many years until today.”

While he admitted that his organization was not consulted when the government and MILF negotiated the terms of the MOA-AD, Sema said he hoped that the government would find a way to “harmonize” any agreement with the MILF with the one it forged with the MNLF deal.

“There was no consultation with the MNLF, we were not party to the talks, we were not involved. We [are] not opposed also to the peace efforts of the government,” he said.

“As to when finally there will be an agreement with government and the MILF, if it will work, how it will work with the present agreement between the MNLF and the government, ask the government, because we have to harmonize if ever there will be an agreement,” he said.

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Fri+00:002008-08-29T09:32:54+00:00+00:0008b+00:00Fri, 29 Aug 2008 09:32:54 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am08

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No survivors in C-130 crash–PAF

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US Navy ship to help locate downed plane

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 08:57:00 08/29/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The two pilots and seven crewmen of an Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo plane that crashed into the Davao Gulf Monday have been officially declared dead, Philippine Air Force (PAF) chief Lieutenant General Pedrito Caudngog said Friday.

The declaration, after three days of search operations yielded no signs of life, would speed up the delivery of benefits to the dead airmen’s families, Cadungog said in a phone interview.

The crew of the downed plane were Major Manuel Zambrano, pilot, his co-pilot Captain Adrian de Dios, Technical Sergeant Constantino Lobrigas and Staff Sergeants Gary Diñoso, Felix Pedro Patriarca, Patricio Claur Jr., Aldrin Illustrisimo, Petronilo Fernandez and John Ariola.

Cadungog said he could not confirm reports that two Army soldiers were also on the ill-fated aircraft, pointing out that their names were not on the flight manifest.

“We can’t find anything more but floating debris, that’s why this morning [Friday], we declared that there are no more survivors,” he said.

Aside from airplane parts, like the landing gear and a seat, search teams from the Navy and the Coast guard also fished out human body parts from the waters between Davao City and Samal Island.

The plane’s fuselage is believed to be on the seabed, up to 800 feet below the surface.

Cadungog added that the USNS John McDonnell (not McDonald, as erroneously given earlier by PAF spokesman Major Gerardo Zamudio), which the US Navy has dispatched to help locate the plane’s wreckage, will arrive Saturday afternoon, instead of Friday as originally scheduled.

“[The ship will help] determine the depth, position, and location of the airplane,” Cadungog said.

The ship’s findings would determine whether or not the fuselage can be salvaged.

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Fri+00:002008-08-29T09:31:03+00:00+00:0008b+00:00Fri, 29 Aug 2008 09:31:03 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am08

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Pilot of crashed C-130 chose to ‘save lives’

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 19:02:00 08/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines—A veteran of relief missions, the pilot of an Air Force C-130 cargo plane that crashed into the Davao Gulf chose to stay in the military service “to save lives,” instead of transferring to the more lucrative commercial airlines, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Thursday.

The pilot, Major Manuel Zambrano, who remained missing three days after the crash, was Teodoro’s student in the Air Force Squadron Officers’ Course.

Teodoro conceded that the chance for survivors was “very narrow.” Search teams only found body parts and debris. There was no trace of survivors or the fuselage of the aircraft, though sonar pointed to its possible location 800 feet below the surface.

“It’s quite sad form me, particularly with Major Zambrano… If you remember the mission to Brorongan, where we brought relief goods for the first time, Zambrano was the one who flew it. He was always smiling, very bubbly,” Teodoro told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Teodoro recalled an article on the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of, wherein Zambrano explained why he was staying in the military service despite the relatively lower pay.

“He said that he opted to stay in the Philippine Air Force than join the airlines because here he was saving lives. That was his character,” Teodoro said.

Among Zambrano’s recent missions was the relief efforts for victims of Typhoon “Frank” (international codename: Fengshen) in June, and the transport of the country’s humanitarian mission to cyclone-ravaged Myanmar in May.

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CPP: DILG’s Puno building RP version of Nazi ‘Brown Shirts’

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 17:12:00 08/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno’s arming of civilian “police auxiliaries” in Mindanao is a prelude to building a vigilante army along the lines of the Nazi “Brown Shirts.”

Following attacks by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on communities in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato provinces earlier this month, Puno announced that the Philippine National Police would arm civilian auxiliaries with shotguns to defend their home against the rebels.

The CPP said Puno’s plan, which news reports say could involve arming as many as 12,000 auxiliaries, was akin to an alleged attempt by the official to transform barangay tanod (village watchmen) into a “civilian army for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“Puno has, since the Marcos martial law days, been obsessed with building the local version of Brown Shirts storm troopers, [German dictator Adolf] Hitler’s loose ‘civilian’ army whose unabated, sanctioned rampage against Jews and communists and all remaining resistance to the establishment of Nazi power preceded the official fascist transformation of the German state,” the CPP said in a statement.

The CPP, which leads the almost 40-year old communist insurgency, claimed Puno established “secret training schools” for the alleged Marcos civilian army, including a facility in Tagaytay City.

However, the plan was scuttled by the 1986 People Power uprising that ousted Marcos, the CPP said.

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Defense chief: Flying transports back to 2 in weeks

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 16:15:00 08/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The military will hasten refurbishing one of its grounded C-130 transport aircraft to make it would operational within two weeks and fill the void left by the plane that crashed in the Davao Gulf last Monday, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Thursday.

The crash left the Air Force with only one C-130 to transport troops, ammunition, and disaster relief supplies around the archipelago, with three others in the maintenance bay awaiting spare parts.

“It’s not a question of procuring one more [C-130]. It’s just bringing in service some more, and, within next week, or a week or two, one will be in service, so we have two [flying] and one more will be in the pipeline,” Teodoro told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Teodoro said a brand new C-130 Hercules would cost around $80 million US.

The defense chief said he wants a “thorough” investigation into Monday’s crash, which happened after the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after takeoff from the Davao International Airport around 9 p.m.

The Air Force has ruled out sabotage as the cause of the crash and is looking at pilot error, material failure, or bad weather.

Teodoro said that while it was possible, the chances of sabotage were “slim.”

The ill-fated aircraft was carrying two pilots and seven crewmen when it crashed. No survivors have been found though body parts and debris were recovered near the Davao City coast.

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Troops overrun MILF camp, but fail to get Bravo–military

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By Joel Guinto, Richel Umel, Mindanao Bureau
First Posted 11:47:00 08/28/2008

ILIGAN — (UPDATE 4) Government troops have overrun a rebel Muslim stronghold in the south of the country after weeks of fighting that has left about 150 dead, but failed to catch one of the leaders of the Moro rebels’ attacks, military officials said.

In the wake of the capture of the Bilal complex, AFP chief of staff General Alexander Yano called on the troops to press on with the offensives and “show the MILF hierarchy that we are serious [in] punishing their members who refused to give peace a chance.”

The complex in Munai town, allegedly under the command of Abdurahman Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo, was abandoned by the time Army troops entered at around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday after days of fighting, said Lieutenant General Cardozo Luna, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vice chief of staff.

Major General Nehemias Pajarito, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said his troops engaged Macapaar’s men in a fierce firefight before capturing Bilal but by they time they entered the complex, the MILF commander and his fighters had fled.

Macapaar is the alleged brains of MILF attacks on five Lanao del Norte towns on August 18 that left at least 28 civilians and three government troopers, including an Army lieutenant colonel, dead.

But Captain Maamo Alonto and Brigadier General Mark Antonio Supnet, commander of the 104th Infantry Brigade, said the assault took place Thursday morning.

“Bravo did not put up a fight like what he promised in one of his interviews. He ran away before our troops entered Bilal complex,” Supnet said in a text message.

Brigadier General Hilario Atendido, head of a task force hunting the insurgents, said there were reports that a 300-man rebel unit had broken up into smaller bands of 50 men and scattered in different directions.

In Manila, military chief General Alexander Yano said the hunt for Bravo and fellow Kato must be pursued to its end.

Luna estimated that the Bilal complex was about the size of Camp Aguinaldo, the AFP general headquarters in Manila. He said the complex was previously overturned during the all-out war against the MILF in 2000, but was returned to the rebels when peace negotiations resumed.

Over the weekend, the military said it has overran 15 MILF camps and communities, including Camp Vietnam in Maguindanao province, a satellite training camp under MILF commander Ameril Ombra Kato, who led rebels who occupied several villages in North Cotabato early this month.

Since early August, fighting in Central Mindanao has left 55 people dead and 69 others wounded, while more than 220,000 have been displaced, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said.

Agence Frannce Presse

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Resurgent ‘Ilaga’ alarms defense chief

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:33:00 08/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said he was “alarmed” at the reemergence of the “Ilaga” (literally rats in Visayan) vigilante group, saying this would not help end hostilities in Central Mindanao.

The Ilaga, which gained notoriety in the 1970s for its savagery during the government campaign against the Moro National Liberation Front, threatened to kill 10 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters for every civilian killed by the secessionist rebels.

The group’s atrocities triggered tit for tat fighting with the Blackshirts and Barracudas, which Muslims organized to counter the Ilaga.

“It’s an alarming thing for me. I am quite alarmed by the resurgence of such kinds of groups. It does not help solve the situation,” he told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

“I think the policy of having police auxiliaries is sufficient just to protect the communities but the Ilaga, with their connotation of having some quasi-cultural significance in conflict, is quite alarming,” he added.

The Philippine National Police recently announced it had shipped 1,000 shotguns to arm civilian “police auxiliaries” and would send even more if the plan worked.

When asked whether the military would go after the Ilaga group if it pushed through with its threat to engage the MILF, Teodoro said: “Naturally that would be a consideration, not primarily, perhaps, for the military, but for the police.”

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Defense chief nixes halt to assaults vs MILF

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Military resumes attacks

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 14:09:00 08/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Thursday rejected calls to halt offensives against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, saying the secessionist rebels could not use the religious event as a “shield.”

“A total ceasefire is unacceptable because of the fact that we have a law [to enforce],” Teodoro told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Teodoro also warned that if it is proven that the MILF leadership connived with what government has tagged “renegade” rebels, they could be branded as terrorists, even at the expense of the peace process.

Even as he was saying this, the military resumed air strikes against the MILF’s 105th Base Commander under Ameril Ombra Kato in Maguindanao province. And in Lanao del Norte, troops overran a rebel camp under MILF commander Abdurahman Macapaar alias Bravo.

Colonel Marlou Salazar, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, which is involved in operations against Kato, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of that the air strikes were carried out between 8-8:30 a.m. against rebel positions in the Liguasan Marsh near Guindulungan town.

Kato led MILF fighters who occupied several villages in North Cotabato, triggering the current round of hostilities, which broke out shortly after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the signing of a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the government and secessionist group.

Government forces are also pursuing Bravo, who led rebels who attacked five towns in Lanao del Norte, which left around 40 people, mostly civilians, dead, about week after Kato’s men were driven back.

Asked if there would be restrictions on offensives during Ramadan, Teodoro said: “I think there will be tactical adjustments. It will depend upon the commander operating in one area.”

“But it also depends on how the fugitives will use Ramadan to shield their actions…I mean, what they have done are un-Islamic. How do you expect them to conform to Islamic norms when they have slaughtered people?” Teodoro said.

Nevertheless, the defense chief said ground commanders were expected to “balance” their tactics with the “sensibilities” of the civilian communities.

Teodoro said if evidence points to connivance between Kato, Macapaar and the MILF leadership, the entire rebel organization could be declared terrorist.

Earlier, the MILF dismissed government descriptions of Kato as a renegade, saying the rebel commander and his men had merely defended themselves against allegedly unprovoked attacks by government militias.

Asked if the government was willing to sacrifice the peace process by branding the MILF as terrorists he said, “If the evidence shows it, then the evidence will point out, too, that they have not been sincere in the peace process all along.”

“I mean, [the] question [of proving] sincerity and good faith now lies squarely on the shoulders of the MILF. I mean, coddling criminals is not a sign of bona fide [sincerity] in anyone’s book,” he added.

Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

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No survivors so far in crashed C-130–Navy official

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Air Force chief rules out sabotage

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:25:00 08/27/2008

MANILA, Philippines — No survivors from the C-130 that crashed into the Davao Gulf have been found, a Navy official said Wednesday as the commander of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) said he is “ruling out” sabotage as the cause of the incident.

On the second day of search operations, only a plane seat and more human body parts have been recovered so far.

But despite saying sabotage was a “remote” possibility, Air Force chief Lieutenant General Pedrito Cadungog said he would still wait for the results of the official investigation of the incident by a PAF fact-finding team.

Search teams from the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard also have not seen the fuselage of the ill-fated aircraft, which, according to sonar, lies on the seabed 600 to 800 feet below the surface, 2.5 nautical miles southwest of Samal Island, Captain Rosauro Gonzales said.

Asked if there were signs of life in the area, Gonzales said: “Sa ngayon, wala kaming nakikita. [As of now, we have not seen any]. Firstly, we have not confirmed the crash site.”

Gonzales said there have been no reports of survivors washed ashore in Davao City or Samal Island, between which the C-130 Hercules crashed shortly after taking off from Davao International Airport on Monday evening. The plane was carrying two pilots and seven crewmen.

Local search teams could only dive from 200 or 300 feet, Gonzales said, adding a submarine or a mini-submarine will be needed to inspect or salvage the wreckage.

The human body parts recovered on Wednesday were placed in three black plastic bags, he said.

Strong currents washed the body parts and the debris near the shore, a distance from where the sonar had located the fuselage, he said.

With sabotage ruled out, the possible causes of the crash are pilot failure, material failure, and bad weather, Cadungog said.

“I am ruling it [sabotage] our already,” the PAF commander said in a phone interview from Mactan Airbase in Cebu, where he met with the families of the C-130’s crew.

“As far as I am concerned, I can categorically say that it [sabotage] is remote,” he added.

Given the tight security at the Davao International Airport, Cadungog said it is unlikely anyone could have sneaked an explosive onto the aircraft.

An eyewitness interviewed on television, who claimed to have seen the crash, did not say that the plane exploded before it plunged into the sea.

The scattered human body parts and debris could be the result of the strong impact as the plane smashed into the sea, and not necessarily due to an explosion, Cadungog said.

The crash leaves only one C-130 in the Air Force’s fleet operational, although this was grounded soon after the crash was confirmed.

Three other C-130s are undergoing maintenance.

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