SOLDIERS CAPTURED BIGGEST BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS (BIFF) CAMP

Army combatants pose at the center of the 7-hectare camp of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town in the second district of Maguindanao, after hoisting the Philippine flag on its parade ground where the outlawed BIFF had trained child warriors and regular recruits. (John Unson) MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - Soldiers hoisted Saturday morning the Philippine flag at the center of the biggest enclave of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town in the province. The seven-hectare camp, which housed more than 500 BIFF bandits led by Ustadz Karialan, fell at about dusk on Friday, after five days of air, artillery and ground offensives by combined units of the Army’s 601st Brigade, the 1st Mechanized Brigade and combatants from the 6th Infantry Division.

ALSO: ‘Bangsamoro transition body has Noy backing’

President Aquino (photo) has expressed full support for the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to complete the draft on the Bangsamoro Basic Law as part of the peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said yesterday. Deles said Aquino has urged the Transition Commission to fast-track the completion of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to ensure its passage and ratification with enough time to complete the transition tasks in time for the 2016 elections. She said Aquino personally made the call to members of the committee during a courtesy call at Malacañang. “The meeting, which took place in a warm and relaxed atmosphere, gave the BTC the opportunity to update the President on the work they have been doing and the concerns they were trying to address,” Deles said. The BTC was created by an executive order to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro region in 2016.

ALSO: 3 BIFF child fighters die in clashes

Three child soldiers recruited by hardline Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were among 53 people killed in a five-day military offensive in Mindanao, an official said on Friday. Regional spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso said the offensive against fighters of the BIFF had resulted in the deaths of 52 rebels, including the children, and one soldier. “They are employing child soldiers with guns and camouflage uniforms. When we encounter them, we cannot discriminate if they are children or not,” he told Agence France-Presse. The BIFF is a small group of militants opposed to the peace effort with the MILF, which has carried out many deadly attacks in recent years in a bid to derail the peace process. President Benigno Aquino 3rd has vowed to crush militants opposed to an imminent peace deal, saying the army operations were meant to “seriously degrade their abilities to again act as spoilers.”

ALSO: Phl flag raised in BIFF enclave

Government troops hoisted the Philippine flag at the biggest enclave of the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front (BIFF) in Shariff Saidona town here yesterday, signaling the success of the weeklong military offensives against the outlawed group. Troops from the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, 1st Mechanized Brigade, and 6th Infantry Division hoisted the Philippine flag at the BIFF enclave in Barangay Ganta. The seven-hectare camp, which housed more than 500 bandits led by Ustadz Karialan, fell at dusk on Friday, after five days of air, artillery and ground offensives. The assault, however, resulted in 10 injured, including two journalists who came along with the troops to cover the event. Six soldiers and two unidentified civilians were also wounded in the blast. Jeff Caparas, a reporter of Manila-based TV-5, and his cameraman, Adrian Bulatao, sustained shrapnel wounds in different parts of their bodies. Officials said a homemade bomb that was likely set off by the rebels injured the two journalists.


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Soldiers capture biggest BIFF camp


Army combatants pose at the center of the 7-hectare camp of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town in the second district of Maguindanao, after hoisting the Philippine flag on its parade ground where the outlawed BIFF had trained child warriors and regular recruits. (John Unson)

MAGUINDANAO, FEBRUARY 3, 2014 (PHILSTAR) By John Unson - Soldiers hoisted Saturday morning the Philippine flag at the center of the biggest enclave of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town in the province.

The seven-hectare camp, which housed more than 500 BIFF bandits led by Ustadz Karialan, fell at about dusk on Friday, after five days of air, artillery and ground offensives by combined units of the Army’s 601st Brigade, the 1st Mechanized Brigade and combatants from the 6th Infantry Division.

Soldiers, led by Col. Edgar Gonzales and Col. Edmund Pangilinan, commanding officers of the 1st Mechanized and 601st Brigades, respectively recovered close to 3,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibers and about 300 kilos of blasting chemicals and other materials for improvised explosives in makeshift shelters scattered in the camp.

Local officials said the BIFF had used the camp as a springboard for its extortion and bombing activities in Maguindanao and nearby towns in North Cotabato.

Gonzales said they are thankful to barangay folks for providing them information on the exact location of the camp and its fortification details before soldiers began clearing the enclave from BIFF control.

The escape routes of the BIFF bandits the soldiers had forced out of the camp were heavily stained with blood, indicating that the group suffered heavy losses from the military assault.

Guns in the adjoining Datu Piang and Shariff Saidona towns have been silent since Saturday dawn, but the military remained on full alert, anticipating BIFF retaliations for the takeover of the camp.

The BIFF ran a shadow government in Barangay Ganta that levied excessive revolutionary taxes from local peasant communities.

The BIFF is also despised for imposing a ruthless Taliban-style justice system in areas where it operates.

‘Bangsamoro transition body has Noy backing’ By Jose Rodel Clapano (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 1, 2014 - 12:00am 3 27 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino (photo) has expressed full support for the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to complete the draft on the Bangsamoro Basic Law as part of the peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said yesterday.

Deles said Aquino has urged the Transition Commission to fast-track the completion of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to ensure its passage and ratification with enough time to complete the transition tasks in time for the 2016 elections.

She said Aquino personally made the call to members of the committee during a courtesy call at Malacañang.

“The meeting, which took place in a warm and relaxed atmosphere, gave the BTC the opportunity to update the President on the work they have been doing and the concerns they were trying to address,” Deles said.

The BTC was created by an executive order to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro region in 2016.

It is composed of a total of 15 members appointed by the President: eight recommended by the MILF and seven from the Philippine government.

“To ensure the broadest possible support for the passage of the law, the President stressed the need for the BTC to be transparent in its work and to reach out to the different sectors, including those initially resistant to the new political entity,” Deles said.

The BTC, with MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal also sitting as chairman, has been conducting consultations with various stakeholders.

Other commissioners include Maulana Alonto, Abdula Camlian, Raissa Jajurie, Said Shiek, Ibrahim Ali, Melanio Ulama, Hussein Muoz, Akmad Sakkam, Asani Tammang, Pedrito Eisma, Froilyn Mendoza, Johaira Wahab, Talib Benito, and Fatmawati Salappudin.

Deles added the President assured the BTC of the full support of the national government in terms of technical and political support, guidance and advice as well as budget.

“He said he would give as much of his own time as necessary to gain support for this undertaking,” Deles said. “He expressed full confidence that, with everyone’s hard work and due diligence, the vote for the new law would be won.”

The government and the MILF last week signed the Annex on Normalization, the last phase of the peace negotiations.

Congress will then enact the Bangsamoro Basic Law as the final peace agreement.

The signing of the last annex during the 43rd formal exploratory talks held in Kuala Lumpur last week would pave the way for the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The Framework Agreement envisioned the creation of the Bangsamoro government that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2016.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is currently being drafted by the BTC. The proposed law is expected to be submitted to Congress by May for deliberations.

Once Congress approves the basic law, it will be ratified through a plebiscite by the people in the proposed Bangsamoro territory.

Members of the BTC met with leaders of the House of Representatives last Wednesday and gained support from lawmakers on the peace process.

Malacañang said it would not be acceptable if nothing happens to Mindanao even after the conclusion of the peace process.

“Government efforts are focused on winning the peace in Mindanao. The alternative to change is the status quo and the status quo is not acceptable,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

This is the reason why the government has been forging a peace agreement with the MILF regarding the establishment of a Bangsamoro entity.

The failure to establish such a region, under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, will not be an acceptable option for Malacañang, he said.

At the very least, the government will continue to perform its task of ensuring peace and stability and protecting the citizens.

Coloma also assured the public that government has enough forces to maintain peace and order among various armed groups.

“It is still the primordial duty of the state to maintain law and order,” he said.

Urgent

Malacañang hinted earlier that President Aquino is bent on certifying the draft bill of the Bangsamoro Basic Law as urgent.

“All indications point to urgency, this is because our timetable is quite tight, or the timeframe by which we should pass this on time,” Coloma said.

Coloma noted that a plebiscite should be held in 2015 before it is fully realized in 2016. The national government aims to replace the ARMM with the Bangsamoro political entity before Aquino steps down in June 2016, after serving his fixed six-year term.

“All indications are geared toward that end (certifying the bill as urgent) precisely because this is a priority program of the administration,” Coloma said.

He also expressed confidence that despite the absence of pork barrel funds borne out of the Supreme Court’s ruling that Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers is unconstitutional, a majority of congressmen will still support the Bangsamoro measure.

“We’re hoping that our lawmakers will join us in this objective of achieving total peace in the whole of Mindanao. We’re also hoping that they will study meticulously the merits of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and that they will uphold their sworn duty,” he said.

Expressions of dissent are normal in a democracy, Malacañang said, but the true and real good intention of the bill will eventually prevail, contrary to what interests the lawmakers may have in the process, or when the measure is being deliberated. – Delon Porcalla, John Unson

FROM THE INQUIRER

3 BIFF child fighters die in clashes By Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem, Judy Quiros, Ryan Rosauro Philippine Daily Inquirer 3:31 am | Saturday, February 1st, 2014


http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/files/2014/02/BIFF-child-fighters-l.jpg
CHILD WARRIORS Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, some of them obviously in their teens, are shown in this photo taken inside the BIFF camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province on Friday.The death toll in the ongoing clashes has reached 53, including three child soldiers. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

MAGUINDANAO -Three child soldiers recruited by hardline Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were among 53 people killed in a five-day military offensive in Mindanao, an official said on Friday.

Regional spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso said the offensive against fighters of the BIFF had resulted in the deaths of 52 rebels, including the children, and one soldier.|

“They are employing child soldiers with guns and camouflage uniforms. When we encounter them, we cannot discriminate if they are children or not,” he told Agence France-Presse.

The BIFF is a small group of militants opposed to the peace effort with the MILF, which has carried out many deadly attacks in recent years in a bid to derail the peace process.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd has vowed to crush militants opposed to an imminent peace deal, saying the army operations were meant to “seriously degrade their abilities to again act as spoilers.”

Hermoso said soldiers and local residents confirmed the three child soldiers, aged between 15 and 17, were among the guerrillas buried soon after their deaths, according to Islamic custom.

“The armed forces is strongly denouncing [the use of child soldiers] and we have communicated this to the government’s Commission on Human Rights and to other organisations to take cognisance of these findings,” Hermoso added.

The website of the UN special representative on children and armed conflict said that it “continued to receive credible reports that the [BIFF] armed group was actively training and providing weapons to children.”

Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said that troops had captured the BIFF’s headquarters as well as their bomb-making factory in remote villages of Mindanao in a bid to prevent the rebels from derailing the peace process with the MILF.

“Our objective is to curb the use of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] so as to protect the people and the community and protect the peace process because by doing [these bombings], they are spoiling the peace process,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Fighting is likely to end by Saturday as part of an arrangement with the main MILF group, said Zagala.
The MILF had cooperated in the operations against the BIFF by holding back their own forces and not letting the hardliners seek refuge in MILF territory.AFP

FROM PHILSTAR

Phl flag raised in BIFF enclave By John Unson (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 2, 2014 - 12:00am 4 192 googleplus0 0

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – Government troops hoisted the Philippine flag at the biggest enclave of the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front (BIFF) in Shariff Saidona town here yesterday, signaling the success of the weeklong military offensives against the outlawed group.

Troops from the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, 1st Mechanized Brigade, and 6th Infantry Division hoisted the Philippine flag at the BIFF enclave in Barangay Ganta.

The seven-hectare camp, which housed more than 500 bandits led by Ustadz Karialan, fell at dusk on Friday, after five days of air, artillery and ground offensives.

The assault, however, resulted in 10 injured, including two journalists who came along with the troops to cover the event.

Six soldiers and two unidentified civilians were also wounded in the blast.

Jeff Caparas, a reporter of Manila-based TV-5, and his cameraman, Adrian Bulatao, sustained shrapnel wounds in different parts of their bodies.

Officials said a homemade bomb that was likely set off by the rebels injured the two journalists.

Regional military spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso said Caparas and Bulatao were reporting in Datu Saudi town near the site of an earlier explosion, which caused no casualties, when a second bomb exploded.

He said the two journalists were wounded in the legs but were in “good condition.”

The head of TV-5’s news division, Luchi Cruz-Valdes, however, said Bulatao’s injury was “serious” with shrapnel wounds over the right side of his body.

“Bulatao is in shock but conscious, in pain,” she said in a text message.

Caparas was also wounded but still on his feet, she added.

“It was a good thing they were wearing protective helmets and vests,” Hermoso said.

Caparas later said over the TV station that his crew had stopped to cover an earlier bomb blast when another explosion took place.

The bombs are typically fashioned from unexploded mortars and rocket-propelled grenades triggered electronically by cell phones.

“That is their signature based on what we have recovered from their (BIFF) camp,” Hermoso said of yesterday’s explosion.

“They just set off bombs in civilian communities and it does not matter to them who gets hit, and this is an example,” he said.

Malacañang condemned the use of improvised explosive devices and the recruitment of child warriors by the BIFF.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also called on journalists to coordinate their coverage with officials, particularly in high-risk areas.

“What happened (yesterday) morning was not good and we are not amused,” Valte said.

She said Malacañang was also disturbed by reports that troops discovered the remains of three rebels who were described to be in their early teens.

“We are outraged that this group used child soldiers. This violates not just our laws but international laws as well. We condemn the practice of using child soldiers. Minors have no place in the battlefield,” Valte said. – With Aurea Calica, AP

 


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