Category: United Islands of the Philippines

Tuesday, 28 November, 2017

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed on Monday to correct “historical injustice” against minorities in his country as the government seeks to reestablish a peace process in the southern areas.

Muslims have been waging a rebellion seeking autonomy or independence in the mainly Catholic southern areas of Philippines, since the 1970’s. They regard the areas as their ancestral homeland, however the conflict resulted in the death of more than 120,000 persons in several areas of the southern region of Mindanao.

Duterte made the remarks at a gathering hosted by the country’s main Muslim guerrilla group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and attended by several Christians and Muslim factions and tribal groups.

Duterte takes pride in having Muslim ancestry and warned that the region could see worse violence if the issue is not resolved.

“What is at stake here is the preservation of the Filipino republic and to correct historical injustice,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Duterte as saying.

In 2014, MILF, which includes 10,000 members, signed a peace deal that gave Muslim minority self-rule over parts of Mindanao, but the Filipino Congress didn’t approve the proposed law to implement the pact.

Duterte added that during the decades when the Philippines was under Spanish and then US colonial rule, Christian majority had taken control of vast parts of Mindanao, thus marginalizing native Muslims and other tribes.

He warned that the situation could aggravate if ISIS militants fled to the Philippines after losing their strongholds in the Middle East.

The President also indicated that he called the Congress to a special session where Muslim leaders could explain their plans to the legislators, adding that such a deal should include everyone and must be accepted by all groups in Mindanao.

MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Yusop Jikiri also attended the assembly, as well as archbishop of Cotabato and Mindanao’s highest Catholic Church official, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo.

In his speech, Murad said the government and the Moro groups must unite together to fight a common enemy, the violent extremists.

“We feel the obligation to assert for the enactment of the basic law not because it will win us votes but because it presents us a rare opportunity to be part of peacemaking,” Murad said.

Director of the government’s coordinating committee overseeing the peace accord Carlos Sol also said: “The importance here is that there is coexistence between Christians, Muslims and Lumads [tribal people]”.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended the gathering at the MILF headquarters.

MILF previously announced that half a million had registered to attend the assembly which was secured by unarmed MILF fighters accompanied by armed government soldiers and policemen.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.



Isabela, Philippines (AFP)

July 21, 2016

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte stepped up efforts to bring peace to the country’s insurgency-hit south during a visit there on Thursday, calling upon the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf to end its campaign of violence.

Speaking to local military and government leaders on the troubled island of Basilan, a base of the Abu Sayyaf group, Duterte said: “I am pleading for peace, even with the Abu Sayyaf. You have committed crimes, killing people… You are not thinking of anything but hatred.”

But Duterte, the first president to hail from the south and who claims Muslim ancestry, added that “every Filipino life is precious” and “we have to stop this war”.

The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a few hundred Islamic militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network that has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.

It is a radical offshoot of a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines that has claimed more than 100,000 lives. The main Muslim rebel groups do not generally engage in kidnappings-for-ransom.

Duterte is known for his hardline stance against crime, even boasting of killing numerous criminals, but he he has called repeatedly for talks with all rebel groups.

Despite his message of peace, Duterte warned that if the group did not lay down its arms “soldiers will keep coming. That is the response of government”.

His visit came as troops were battling the Abu Sayyaf in the hinterlands of Basilan.

The military has said at least one soldier and over 30 Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed in weeks of fighting there.

Although its leaders have pledged allegiance to Islamic State, analysts say they are mainly focused on lucrative kidnappings.

While Duterte addressed troops, his chief peace negotiator Jesus Dureza held meetings with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), elsewhere in the south.

The 12,000-strong MILF had hoped to seal a final peace deal under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, but legislators delayed passing legislation needed for the plan.

A ceasefire with the MILF, in place since 2003, has largely held but the Abu Sayyaf are not covered by the truce.

Source: Space War.


Manila (AFP)

April 12, 2016

The Philippine military has killed 25 Islamist guerrillas as it presses on with an offensive despite the loss of 18 soldiers, authorities said Tuesday.

Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin gave the toll of Abu Sayyaf fighters as fighting in the southern island of Basilan continued.

“Twenty-five are dead as of now,” he told reporters, adding that a senior Abu Sayyaf leader called Furuji Indama was among them.

“This is of major importance because the threat will now lessen because we have gotten one of their heads,” he told reporters.

The operation against the Abu Sayyaf suffered a major setback with the death of the 18 soldiers in an initial clash on Saturday.

However the government has said the drive will continue, adding it has already achieved a major objective with the killing of a Moroccan bomb-making instructor, Mohammad Khattab. He was said to be trying to link the Abu Sayyaf up with international groups.

Gazmin said he could not confirm if Khattab was affiliated with the Islamic State group that has captured large swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said that “even if we have suffered serious wounds, we are even more determined, so this fight will go on”.

The Abu Sayyaf, a small group of militants notorious for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms, was established in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.

Based in the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo, it has been blamed for the country’s worst terror attacks, including a 2004 Manila Bay ferry bombing that claimed 116 lives.

Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

However Padilla said that “up to now, we are still looking for firm proof directly linking them to a larger group” like Islamic State.

Local government offices said more than 500 villagers had fled the fighting in the heavily-forested island.

Source: Space War.


Manila (AFP)

March 27, 2014

The biggest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines signed an historic pact Thursday to end one of Asia’s longest and deadliest conflicts, promising to give up their arms for an autonomous homeland.

Following four decades of fighting that has claimed tens of thousands of lives; the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the peace deal with President Benigno Aquino’s government at a high-profile ceremony in Manila.

“The comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro is the crowning glory of our struggle,” MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim said at the signing ceremony, using a local term that refers to a Muslim homeland.

“With this agreement the legitimate aspirations of the Bangsamoro and the commitment of the government of the Philippines to recognize those aspirations are now sealed.”

The pact makes the MILF and the government partners in a plan to create a southern autonomous region for the Philippines’ Muslim minority with locally elected leaders by mid-2016.

“What is being presented before us now is a path that can lead to a permanent change in Muslim Mindanao,” Aquino said at the ceremony, attended by more than 1,000 people.

The Bangsamoro region would cover about 10 percent of territory in the mainly Catholic Philippines. The planned region has a majority of Muslims, but there are clusters of Catholic-dominated communities.

Muslim rebels have been battling since the 1970s for independence or autonomy in the southern islands of the Philippines, which they regard as their ancestral homeland dating back to when Arabic traders arrived there in the 13th Century.

The conflict has condemned millions of people across large parts of the resource-rich Mindanao region to brutal poverty, plagued by Muslim and Christian warlords as well as outbreaks of fighting that has led to mass displacements.

The conflict also created fertile conditions for Islamic extremism, with the Abu Sayyaf group and other hardline militants making remote regions of Mindanao their strongholds.

The MILF, which the military estimates has 10,000 fighters, is easily the biggest Muslim rebel group in Mindanao, and the political settlement was greeted with relief and optimism in the south.

“I am really happy. In the face of all the hardship of our parents, we the next generation hope and pray that Christians and Muslims will have peace,” Mona Rakman, 42, a mother of four who lives close to the MILF headquarters, told AFP.

The autonomous region would have its own police force, a regional parliament and power to levy taxes, while revenues from the region’s vast deposits of natural resources would be split with the national government.

It would have a secular government, rather than being an Islamic state. The national government would retain control over defense, foreign policy, currency and citizenship.

There are about 10 million Muslims in the Philippines, roughly 10 percent of the population, according to government statistics. Most live in the south of the country.

– Fragile peace –

However there are no guarantees the peace deal will be implemented by the middle of 2016, a crucial deadline as that is when Aquino is required by the constitution to end his six-year term.

Aquino needs to convince Congress to pass a “basic law” to create the Bangsamoro autonomous region, ideally by the end of this year to allow time for other steps such as a local plebiscite.

But even though Aquino enjoys record-high popularity ratings, there are concerns politicians could reject or water down the proposed law.

Powerful Christian politicians in Mindanao are regarded as potential deal breakers, while others elsewhere may see political advantage in opposing the deal to appeal to some Catholics ahead of the 2016 national elections.

The deal is also likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court, which in 2008 struck down a planned peace deal the MILF had negotiated with Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Arroyo.

Islamic militants opposed to the peace deal are another threat, and could continue to create enduring violence in Mindanao.

Among the potential spoilers is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an MILF splinter group of a few hundred militants that has carried out deadly attacks in the south in recent years.

“We will continue to fight against the government of the Republic of the Philippines because we are for independence and nothing else,” BIFF spokesman Abu Missry Mama told AFP by phone from his southern hideout.

The MILF leadership has committed to working with the government to neutralize the threat of the BIFF.

However the MILF will not give up its arms or the identities of its fighters until the basic law has been passed, highlighting the fragility of Thursday’s peace deal.

In his speech, Aquino warned militant and political foes alike that he was prepared to crush any challenge to the peace deal.

“I will not let peace be snatched from my people again,” Aquino said to applause.

“Those who want to test the resolve of the state will be met with a firm response based on righteousness and justice.”

Source: Space War.


July 8, 2013

The military has halted its operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)—the armed wing of a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)—in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, officials said Monday.

In a text message to reporters, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the military “will keep the peace during Ramadan” but “will act accordingly should harassment continue to persist.”

Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, meanwhile said that troops have already “called off” their operations against the BIFF since they were only allowed three days to conduct operations against the group.

“We have to abide by that kasi ayaw naman natin na ma-derail ‘yung peace process,” Gapuz said in a separate interview.

He, however, added that government troops are “prepared” to “react” if the BIFF launches attacks during Ramadan.

2 clashes

On Saturday, five soldiers were killed in two separate attacks launched by the BIFF in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the attacks may have been launched by the BIFF to derail the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF, which formally resumed on Monday.

Last October, the government and the MILF signed a landmark framework agreement that would pave the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro territory to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar earlier appealed to the BIFF to support the preliminary peace agreement with the government.

Not a holiday

Meanwhile, Malacañang reminded the public that July 9, the start of Ramadan, is not a non-working holiday.

The Twitter account of the Philippine government’s official gazette made this reminder on Monday morning in response to queries it has been receiving.

Based on Proclamation No. 495, which lists all holidays this year, the next non-working holiday will be on August 21, or on Ninoy Aquino Day.

The government gazette also noted President Benigno Aquino III will issue separate proclamations declaring two other Muslim religious holidays—Eid’l Fitr and Eidul Adha—as national holidays.

Source: GMA Network.


October 08, 2012

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group have reached a preliminary peace deal that is a major breakthrough toward ending a decades-long insurgency that killed tens of thousands and held back development in the south.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said the “framework agreement” calling for an autonomous region for minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation was an assurance the Moro Islamic Liberation Front insurgents will no longer aim to secede.

The agreement, announced Sunday and to be signed Oct. 15 in Manila, spells out principles on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory of the Muslim region. If all goes well, a final peace deal could be reached by 2016, when Aquino’s six-year term ends, officials said.

“This framework agreement paves the way for final and enduring peace in Mindanao,” Aquino said, referring to the southern Philippine region and homeland of the country’s Muslims. “This means that the hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations and opening doorways of opportunity.”

He cautioned that “the work does not end here” and that details of the accord still need to be worked out. Those talks are expected to be tough but doable, officials and rebels said. Rebel vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said the agreement provides a huge relief to people who have long suffered from war and are “now hoping the day would come when there will be no need to bear arms.”

The deal marks the most significant progress in 15 years of on-and-off negotiations with the 11,000-strong Moro group on ending an uprising that has left more than 120,000 people dead, displaced about 2 million others and held back development in the south. Western governments have long worried that rebel strongholds could become breeding grounds for al-Qaida-affiliated extremists.

One of the groups not party to the peace agreement is the Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for ransom kidnappings and terrorist attacks over the last two decades. Its small bands of militants, mostly confined to jungles in two southern island provinces, continue to battle U.S.-trained Filipino troops.

“The parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable,” the 13-page agreement says. It calls for the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region called “Bangsamoro” to replace an existing one created in 1989 which Aquino characterized as a “failed experiment,” where poverty and corruption have forced many “to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun.”

The accord also calls for the establishment of a 15-member Transition Commission to work out the details of the preliminary agreement and draft a law creating the new Muslim autonomous region in about two years.

Rebel forces would be deactivated gradually “beyond use,” the agreement says, without specifying a timetable. The Philippine government would continue to exercise exclusive powers over defense and security, foreign and monetary policy in the new autonomous region, where Muslims would be assured of an “equitable share of taxation, revenues, and the fruits of national patrimony … and equal protection of laws and access to impartial justice,” according to Aquino.

Philippine officials said the preliminary accord would be posted on the government’s website for public scrutiny, and would be signed in Manila in the presence of Aquino, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Moro rebel chief Al Haj Murad Ibrahim.

Malaysia in particular has played a key role as a facilitator. The neighboring, Muslim-majority nation has historically close ties with Filipino Muslims and fears a repeat of a refugee crisis from the 1970s and 80s when hundreds of thousands of Filipinos fleeing violence in the south fled to Malaysian state of Sabah.

“It’s been a long journey and this is an important milestone in our search for lasting peace,” presidential peace talks adviser Teresita Deles told The Associated Press. The United States, Britain, Malaysia and other countries welcomed the accord.

“This agreement is a testament to the commitment of all sides for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the southern Philippines,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “The next steps will be to ensure that the framework agreement is fully implemented.”

The new Muslim region would be built upon an existing five-province autonomous territory, among the country’s poorest and most violent, with more than 4 million people. The Moro rebels earlier dropped a demand for a separate Muslim state and renounced terrorism.

Their negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, earlier said his group would not lay down its weapons until a final peace accord is concluded. He said the insurgents could form a political party and run in democratic elections to get a chance at leading the autonomous region for which they have been fighting.

In Kuala Lumpur, Philippine government negotiator Marvic Leonen said both sides face the enormous task of working out the details. “We are not naive to say that there would be no obstacles. But the Philippine government will defend the agreement,” Leonen said.

The challenges are many. In 2008, the planned signing of a similar preliminary pact was scuttled when opponents went to the Supreme Court, which declared the agreement unconstitutional. Fighting erupted when three rebel commanders attacked Christian communities, and an ensuing military offensive killed more than 100 people and displaced about 750,000 villagers before a cease-fire ended the violence.

One of the hardline rebel commanders, Ameril Umbra Kato, broke off from the Moro rebels last year. Kato’s forces launched attacks on several army camps and outposts in August, prompting another army offensive that killed more than 50 fighters in the 200-strong rebel faction.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front itself broke away in the 1980s from the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal with the government. That peace accord did not lead to disarming of the group and many of the rebels have simply laid low in the south, still demanding that the government fulfill its commitments, including jobs, security and economic development.

Some former guerrillas also formed the Abu Sayyaf. They are mostly based in the southern provinces of Sulu and Basilan, where about 400 gunmen remain.

Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press writer Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila and Matthew Pennington in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Camp Darapanan, Philippines (AFP)
Sept 5, 2011

Muslim rebels waging a decades-long insurgency in the Philippines said Monday they would refuse to hold further direct talks with the government until it modified its peace plan.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Murad Ebrahim said his negotiators would not meet their government counterparts next week as planned because the two sides’ positions were too far apart.

“With this situation we feel that there is no point of discussion between the two panels,” Murad told reporters at Camp Darapanan, the MILF’s rural headquarters on the outskirts of Cotabato city, in the southern Philippines.

Murad said the MILF would instead ask the Malaysian facilitator of the talks to meet separately with both sides in an effort to have the government alter its peace plan, which he described as an “exercise in futility”.

“It is necessity (to have) facilitation in order to help the two positions of the panels get nearer each other, and create an atmosphere conducive to discussions,” he said.

Murad said the government’s offer, made last month during the last round of talks in Kuala Lumpur, focused too heavily on socio-economic reforms, while ignoring the MILF’s quest for an autonomous substate for Muslims in the south.

“We need them to understand that the problem is a political problem and the solution must be a political solution,” he said.

He said the determination of the Philippines’ Muslim minority population to have an autonomous homeland in the south was the “root cause” of the problem and the government must agree to discuss this for peace talks to continue.

The government has not released full details of its roadmap for peace, but said the broad principles focus on achieving socio-economic reforms in the impoverished south of the country and other “doables” in an initial phase.

The government has also offered what it has described as a form of autonomy for Muslims in the south.

But Murad said Muslims would have no real autonomy under the government’s plan and that a “substate” allowing much more freedom from the central powers in Manila must be created.

About 150,000 people have died since the MILF and other armed Muslim groups began their struggle in the 1970s, according to military estimates.

A ceasefire between the MILF and government troops has been in place since 2003, however this has been regularly broken.

Source: Space War.