AFP pondering limitation or suspension of air strikes

By Genalyn Kabiling/http://news.mb.com.ph

The military is considering limiting or suspending the air strikes in Marawi City following the death of 10 soldiers in a botched bombing run, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced on Thursday.

The possible change in military strategy aims to prevent a repeat of the mistake of hitting government troops battling terrorists in the area, according to Lorenzana.

“It will be the call of the ground commander if they need the strikes pero medyo limitahan muna natin ‘yung strike to the aircraft that can deliver accurately,” said Lorenzana, the martial law administrator in Mindanao.

“We are pouring more troops there that’s why I said a while ago baka we might suspend for a while the air strikes and let the ground troops do their thing,” he said in a Malacañang Palace press conference.

Lorenzana said it was “unfortunate” that 10 soldiers were killed and seven others wounded in a friendly fire air strike in Marawi City. Two trainer jets launched the bomb raid last Wednesday but the second one missed its target and hit several government soldiers, he said.

“There were two planes flying and the first plane dropped their ordnance accurately pero ‘yung pangalawa sumablay, tumama doon sa tropa natin,” Lorenzana said.

“There must be some mistake there – either the people directing the bomb run on the ground or the pilot on the air,” he added.

According to Lorenzana, the incident is now under investigation by a panel led by the Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año to ferret out the truth and hold accountable those involved. Among the factors that will be looked into, he said, are possible pilot error and lack of coordination.

“We are still investigating, conducting an investigation headed by the Chief of Staff on what really happened; kung nagkaroon ba ng miscommunication or was there an error by somebody there on the ground or on the air sa parte ng piloto,” he said.

Lorenzana said he expects the results of the investigation in the next three to five days.

He said PresidentDuterte has been informed about the incident. “I know that he feels very badly and he feels sad about this incident,” he said.

He said the ground commanders are now reviewing their standard operating procedures to avoid any more friendly fires. “It’s very sad to be hitting our own troops,” he added.

He admitted that the chances of hitting troops are “very big” since there are more troops operating on the ground. “And siguro we have to limit the air strikes to the aircrafts that can deliver accurately their ordnance,” he added.

Air strikes may no longer be needed once the troops have converged near the “strong pocket of resistance” in Marawi, said Lorenzana.

“If there are troops surrounding the area already, then the more we do not need the strikes. Maybe we will need the armored vehicles,” he said.

“Sometimes mistake happens. And we hope those mistakes do not happen and nangyari nga. And all we can do is to see to it that it will not happen again,” he said.

 

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House backs Du30 martial law but critics insist declaration without ‘credible’ basis

Philstar file photo of Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman
By 
Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, InterAksyon

MANILA, Philippines – Amid the overwhelming support that President Rodrigo Duterte received from his allies in Congress, lawmaker-critics of the chief executive stood firm in their opposition to his declaration of martial law in Mindanao to solve the crisis in Marawi. 

In a statement issued Wednesday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said there was no “credible factual basis” for Duterte’s proclamation, adding that Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had reiterated in his briefing with members of the House of Representatives that “he did not recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.”

The May 31 briefing was for all House members, who received inputs from Lorenzana and other Cabinet officials and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman about Duterte’s May 23 declaration of martial law. 

According to Lagman, Lorenzana told lawmakers during the briefing that “there was no prior consultation by the President with his officials entourage in Russia before the imposition of martial law.” 

“The military establishment also admitted that what precipitated the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi was the military operation to neutralize or capture Isnilon Japilon, a high profile terrorist leader,” Lagman added.

On Tuesday, the Senate minority bloc also disclosed that government security officials including Lorenzana during a May 29 separate briefing for the members of the Upper House admitted that they did not recommend the declaration of martial law to Duterte. 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon quoted Lorenzana as telling senators that the military could end the problem with the Maute rebels even without martial law.

On Wednesday, after emerging from the martial law briefing for House members, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said, “The executive seems to have no coherence as to a holistic assessment of what necessitated the declaration of martial law.”

“Some questions made were vaguely answered or not clear as to allay fears on martial law,” added Villarin. 

Meanwhile, Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano expressed fears that pronouncements that martial law would also allow security forces to go after other groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters could be laying the ground for extending military rule.

Iyon nga ang sinabi natin na noon pa man ang direction ng Pangulo ay magde-declare ng martial law at naghahanap lang siya ng kadahilanan,” he said.

[This is what we said that even before, the President’s direction was towards declaring martial law and he was just looking for a reason to declare it.]

Kung ganoon ang basehan ng pag-declare ng martial law [If that is the basis for declaring martial law], you cannot solve that in 60 days, even throughout the term of the President, you won’t be able to address the problem and considering the fact that the basis are existing also in other parts of the country,” Alejano added.

But the criticisms in Congress against Duterte’s martial law were drowned on Wednesday by the passage of Resolution 1050 by the House super majority, expressing full support for the President’s decision to place Mindanao under military rule. 

The resolution said “it finds no reason to revoke Proclamation No. 216 entitled “Declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao.”

The resolution was approved after the House convened into a committee of the whole, with all members sitting, for a briefing with members of the Executive department and security and defense officials, on the proclamation.

“During the said briefing and after interpellation, the members of the House of Representatives determined the sufficiency of the factual basis for the issuance of Proclamation No. 216,” the resolution said.

 
 
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Miscommunication, human error possibly caused botched Marawi airstrike

(philstar.com)

 

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has created a board of inquiry that will look into a "friendly fire" in Marawi City that resulted in the death of 11 soldiers and wounded seven others.

 

The wounded soldiers have been evacuated to Cagayan de Oro City following the incident, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

"We are still investigating, conducting an investigation headed by the [AFP] chief of staff what really happened kung nagkaroon ba ng miscommunication or there was an error of somebody there on the ground or sa air sa parte ng pilot," Lorenzana said.

The accident occurred during the military's operations in Marawi City on Wednesday noon. The Philippine Air Force was conducting surgical airstrikes to neutralize the defensive stronghold of the Maute terror group in the city.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that one of the military's SF-260 trainer planes was successfully hitting its assigned target during its airstrike.

"However, it was unfortunate that the last ordnance round it delivered went wayward for an unknown reason and accidentally hit and caused the lives of our ground forces," Padilla said in a separate press conference.

AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año immediately ordered the creation of a board of inquiry to ensure that such incident will be avoided in the future. He will also choose the members of the board.

Padilla added that possible equipment failure caused the botched airstrike.

"We can't say yet if the pilot erred," Padilla said.

The AFP spokesperson assured the families of the fallen soldiers that the military will attend to them and provide comfort and solace to them.

"We mourn the loss of 11 of our brave harbingers of peace and wounding of seven others. While the AFP leadership commits and takes the initiative to conduct a thorough investigation on the circumstances surrounding this unwanted development, the Armed Forces will remain focused on its mission," Padilla said.

Lorenzana said that the military may have to limit the airstrikes to aircraft "that can deliver accurately their ordnance" after the incident.

"I give those decision to the ground commander, si Gen. [Rolando] Bautista at saka si Gen. [Carlito] Galvez, to determine kung kailangan pa nila ng airstrikes doon especially now that there are more troops operating on the ground and the chances of hitting our own troops is very big," the defense chief said.

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11 soldiers killed by ‘friendly fire’ in Marawi

Military airstrikes aimed at Islamist militants in Marawi killed 11 of their own soldiers and injured seven others, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said in a news conference on Thursday.

In an earlier news conference, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana put the number of fatalities at 10. But Padilla updated the figure.

“A group of our military armed men were hit by our own airstrikes,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters in Manila, adding the incident happened on Wednesday.

Security forces have been battling militants flying the black flags of the Islamic State (IS) group in Marawi, a major Muslim city in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, since Tuesday last week.

The military has bombed and fired rockets from attack helicopters throughout the conflict with the militants, who have been hiding in residential areas holding hostages.

About 2,000 civilians are also trapped in the militant-held areas, according to the local government.

Fire rages at several houses following airstrikes by Philippine Air Force bombers to retake control of Marawi city from Muslim militants who lay siege for nearly a week, Saturday, May 27, 2017 in southern Philippines. Philippine military jets fired rockets at militant positions Saturday as soldiers tried to wrest back control of a southern city from gunmen linked to the Islamic State group, witnesses said. Civilians waved flags from their windows to show they are not combatants. AP

Military chiefs have repeatedly said the assaults involved “precision” and “surgical” airstrikes, and assured they were not harming any of the trapped civilians or hostages.

“It’s sad but sometimes it happens in the fog of war. The coordination was not properly done,” Lorenzana said Thursday as he announced the deaths.

He told Agence France-Presse (AFP) later via text message that seven soldiers had also been wounded.

The clashes erupted when security forces raided a house to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant regarded as IS’s leader in the Philippines. He is on the US government’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

Authorities said they were taken by surprise when dozens of gunmen emerged to protect Hapilon and then went on a rampage through Marawi, which has a population of 200,000.

Most of the residents had fled the city but the International Committee of the Red Cross has repeatedly expressed deep concern for those who remained trapped, and called for a humanitarian ceasefire

“I think it’s horrific for the civilian people who are in there and we really hope that both sides can agree that the civilians should be given the opportunity to come out,” the deputy head of the ICRC’s Philippine delegation, Martin Thalmann, told AFP in Marawi on Wednesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the entire southern region of Mindanao in response to the crisis, which he described as the start of a major campaign by IS to establish a foothold in the Philippines.

Eighty-nine militants have been killed in the fighting, and the gunmen have murdered 19 civilians, the military said on Wednesday.

The announcement of the friendly fire deaths brings the number of security forces killed to 31, and the combined death toll to 139./rga /atm

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Philippines president Duterte hits back at Chelsea Clinton

 

 

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at Chelsea Clinton who criticised his comments on rape. Photo / AP

 

by http://www.nzherald.co.nz

 

Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte has denounced Chelsea Clinton as he tried to defend a "joke" he made about his troops raping women.

The controversial president - who has overseen the murder of thousands of drug users and has now declared martial law as he fights an ISIS insurgency - used Clinton's father's affair with Monica Lewinsky to attack the former first daughter.

Chelsea joined a chorus of condemnation of Duterte's remark that his soldiers could rape up to three women each and he would "take responsibility" after declaring martial law in the city of Marawi.

uterte said today: "These whores, they hear 'rape'. Like, like Chelsea, she slammed me. I was not joking, I was being sarcastic. Listen to the speech. I do not laugh at my own jokes.

"I will tell her, when your father, the president of the United States, was f***ing Lewinsky and the girls in the White House, how did you feel? Did you slam your father?"

The former first daughter had tweeted "Not funny. Ever" in reaction to the news of Duterte's remarks on rape.

In a second post she wrote: "Duterte is a murderous thug with no regard for human rights. It's important to keep pointing that out and that rape is never a joke."

Duterte's troops are locked in battle with Isis fighters in the city of Marawi in the south of the country.

Amidst the fighting that has forced 50,000 people to flee, teenage Isis fighters are said to be shooting people dead for failing to quote the Koran.

Duterte declared martial law across the entire southern region of Mindanao last week, home to roughly 20 million people, in response to the crisis as he warned that local militant groups were uniting behind ISIS and becoming a major security threat.

Shortly after declaring martial law, he told his troops in a speech: "For this martial law and the consequences of martial law and the ramifications of martial law, I and I alone would be responsible.

"Just do your work. I will handle the rest. I will be imprisoned for you. If you rape three (women), I will say that I did it."

That remark was met with widespread condemnation, and yesterday Duterte tried to defend himself.

At the end of a long speech to naval officers and their families, Duterte said he was just being sarcastic as he took aim at people who criticised his rape remarks but particularly Clinton.

He then accused American soldiers of raping women in the Philippines and Japan, without giving details, before returning to Clinton.

"It is a crime actually committed by soldiers, mostly Americans in Okinawa," he said, referring to several rape cases involving US servicemen stationed in Japan, most recently last year.

"But, we never heard of a Filipino. But I am just warning them that anything they do, I have to answer for it. I take full responsibility for your foolishness. I speak sarcastically.

"You Americans, like Chelsea, be careful because you live in a glass house," he said.

"I repeat, when President Clinton was f***ing Lewinsky, what was your statement or your reaction?"

It was not the first time Duterte has made a joke about rape.

He caused outrage in the lead-up to his presidential election win last year when he recalled a 1989 prison riot in which an Australian missionary was killed, and inmates had lined up to rape her.

In what was intended as a joke, Duterte said the victim was "beautiful" and as mayor of Davao city where the riot took place, he should have been first in line. He later apologised and said he meant no disrespect to women or rape victims.

The Australian and American ambassadors to Manila voiced their disapproval at those comments, but Duterte reacted furiously then while insisting he had been taken out of context.

 

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Duterte threatens NDFP negotiators with arrest

By: Frinston Lim - Philippine Daily Inquirer

DAVAO CITY–President Duterte, angered by an announcement by communist rebels that they would step up offensives in reaction to his martial law declaration, on Wednesday told their peace negotiators he would order them arrested if they return to the country from the aborted talks in the Netherlands.

“I am warning the leaders whom I have released and who are now talking to the representatives of my government: Do not attempt to come home. I will arrest all of you and throw you to the slammer,” he said at the Philippine Navy’s 119th anniversary rites.

“I will arrest you and all the elderly [leaders]. I will arrest all of you again. And if needed, they will just die there inside the prison,” he said.

The President made the threat as Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), proposed to deploy New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas to fight the terror groups that besieged Marawi City.

Mr. Duterte imposed martial law on the entire Mindanao early last week after the Islamic State-inspired Abu Sayyaf and Maute group led by Isnilon Hapilon battled government forces that tried to capture the terrorist leader in his hideout in Marawi. Nearly 130 have been killed in the fighting in the predominantly Muslim city since May 23.

“The NPA have forces near Marawi that can be redeployed. There are also forces in North Cotabato, but they would really have to walk very far,” Sison said in the Dutch city of Noordwijk where the latest round of talks was to be held. He serves as chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the talks.

The proposed tactical alliance between the NPA and security forces would have to be discussed with the government peace negotiators and the President himself, Sison said.

“There are operational concerns. They need to discuss the division of areas,” Sison said. “It would be difficult to have a free-for-all. It’s dangerous.”

Sison also proposed “a positive common stand” against the terror groups gripping Marawi.

There would be no need for martial law to continue if the terror groups and their networks would be dealt with, he said.

The scheduled May 27-June 2 fifth round of talks between the government and the NDFP was canceled by the government on Saturday after the CPP ordered the NPA to step up attacks on government forces implementing martial rule.

The CPP issued the directive after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the NPA would be one of the targets of martial law.

Lorenzana later clarified that the NPA was not a specific target, but warned that rebels engaged in criminal acts “will be dealt with, with or without martial law.”

The NDFP later recommended to the CPP to reconsider its order, but because of communication problems this would take time to reach the guerrilla units concerned.

The President’s threat to arrest the communist leaders and NDFP negotiators and Sison’s proposed tactical alliance against the terror groups in Marawi came as Lorenzana and left-wing groups continued blaming each other for the stalled talks.

Lorenzana said in a statement on Wednesday the President suspended the peace talks “based not only on my input but the whole government bureaucracy.”

“I did not talk to the President about suspending the talks but I discussed it with some of the Cabinet members,” he told the Inquirer separately. “I do not know who recommended the suspension.”

Lorenzana was reacting to the militant fisherfolk group Pamalakaya (Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas), which blamed him for stalling the talks.

“While I am flattered by Pamalakaya’s assertion that I was to blame for the suspension of the fifth round of talks … the truth is that my participation in government decision-making is purely recommendatory,” Lorenzana said in his statement. “It is the President who makes the final decision.”

Lorenzana said Pamalakaya’s “narrow-mindedness” prevented it from seeing that the government’s withdrawal from the talks was due to the announced offensives by the NPA.

“To blame someone else is the height of naiveté,” he said.

On Monday, Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap called Lorenzana a “highly dangerous” threat to the talks and demanded the resignation of the “peace saboteur and warmongering secretary.”

“We can’t expect these peace negotiations to prosper when this antipeace is in the picture,” Hicap said. —WITH REPORTS FROM KARLOS MANLUPIG, PHILIP C. TUBEZA, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA

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Duterte might suspend habeas corpus in Visayas if violence spreads

(philstar.com)

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the troopers of the Joint Task Force (JTF) Sulu prior to his visit to the wounded soldiers at Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, Sulu on May 27, 2017. Joining the President are Presidential Adviser on Military Affairs Arthur Tabaquero, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa, JTF Sulu Commander Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, among others. PCOO/Released

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said that he would suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the Visayas as a “precautionary measure” if the violence spills into the Central Philippines as fighting between security forces and Islamist fighters continues in Marawi City.

Speaking during the 119th founding anniversary of the Philippine Navy, Duterte said that he hopes the deaths of Abu Sayyaf fighters who went to Bohol island to try to sow terrorist activities there would teach Islamist militants a lesson as he expressed fears about the possibility of the Visayas becoming the next theater of battle between security forces and bandit groups.

In April, 10 Abu Sayyaf fighters went to the tourist island of Bohol allegedly to kidnap vacationers and to sow terrorism. They were met by a strong military response, however, eventually leading to the arrest or death of the Islamist militants.

Duterte said that he would suspend the privilege of habeas corpus in Visayas should the fighting on the Philippines second largest island spill into the region.

The chief executive said he was worried about the Visayas considering that it  is just a short boat ride away from the shores of Mindanao.

The Philippine Navy and Coast Guard are already patrolling the waters between the Visayas and Mindanao.

“That’s why I mentioned in passing that if there is a transfer of venue from Mindanao to the Visayas and to make it easy for the Philippines to challenge the new engagements I will be forced to declare the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, not martial law,” he said.

The writ of habeas corpus means “to produce the body.” It is a court order for individuals or agencies to bring a detained person before the court and to explain a valid reason for that individual’s detention.

The 1987 Constitution requires that the writ’s suspension be done separately from the declaration of martial law. It states that the suspension of habeas corpus applies “only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in, or directly connected with, invasion.”

'Visayas a porous region'

The president also cited the fact that Visayas was a porous region because it is composed of several small and large islands.

“And the only reason why I am worried about the Visayas is it’s just a very short expanse of the sea. And as a matter of fact if you leave by ship or boat via Cagayan, by morning time, you are in the Visayas. It’s a group of islands. It’s very porous, and you cannot control any Filipino for that matter from going anywhere and everywhere. That is the constitutional right of every Filipino in this country,” he said.

The president has previously said that he might declare martial law over the entire country.

“I have a serious problem in Mindanao, and the (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has taken, their footprints are everywhere. And there are many, many foreigners and Caucasian-looking. Allow me to focus the problem sa Mindanao, and maybe the spillover in the Visayas and in Luzon,” the president said last week. “If I think the ISIS has taken foothold also in Luzon, and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people.”

He said that with the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus suspended, it would be easy for security forces to arrest suspected Islamist group fighters.

“But yung habeas corpus lang, so that I can arrest you anytime without a warrant. That is just a precautionary measure. I don’t it will happen. I hope it will not happen. But if it does we must be ready,” Duterte said.

Last week, the president was forced to cut his landmark official visit in Moscow as the battle between security forces and Islamist fighters raged in the Islamic City of Marawi in the Philippines’ troubled south.

According to the military, the firefight broke out when soldiers tried to arrest an Abu Sayyaf subleader, Isnilon Hapilon, and several Maute Group leaders.

The group then occupied pockets of the city from which they have been fighting the military since Tuesday last week.

The clashes have so far killed 89 Islamist fighters, 21 soldiers and policemen and 19 civilians. They have also turned the once bustling city of 200,000 into a virtual ghost town as most of its inhabitants streamed into neighboring cities and towns.

The battle has devolved into street-to-street combat as the military tries to flush out the remaining fighters out of the city.

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8 Maute Group members surrender – AFP

The 8 surrenderers provide 'very, very valuable intelligence' to government forces as they rid Marawi City of terrorists, says AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla.

by Pia Ranada

MANILA, Philippines – Eight members of the Maute terror group have surrendered to government forces, according to the military.

“There were 8 members holed up in Marawi who surrendered to forces,” said Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson, during a Palace news briefing on Wednesday, May 31.

Padilla received the information from Brigadier General Custodio Parcon of the Philippine Marines. Parcon said the terrorists surrendered on Sunday, May 28.

The 8 have been able to help military and police in ongoing clashes against the Maute Group, which continues to hold certain areas of the city under its control.

“These individuals have been talked to and debriefed and have provided very, very valuable intelligence,” said Padilla.

This is the first time members of the terror group have surrendered since the clashes began on May 23.

Padilla confirmed reports from ground commanders in Marawi that around 90% of Marawi had been cleared of the Maute Group.

As of Wednesday, May 31, 89 members of the group had been killed, said Padilla.

The AFP called on more terrorists to surrender. 

“Our message is, while you have time, consider deeply to surrender, lay down your arms and let’s just talk. We will treat you humanely,” Padilla said in a chance interview after the press conference.

The military is tapping religious leaders and scholars in backchannel talks to convince Maute Group members to surrender or let go of their hostages, including Father Teresito “Chito” Soganub, the vicar general of the Marawi bishop.

“The Muslim leaders have to help in convincing the Muslims holding him not to kill him because he helps not only Christians, but Muslims also,” said Padilla in a mix of English and Filipino.

“There are many religious leaders in the Muslim side who are interested that Father Chito come out of this alive because they have been working together on many good projects so if he is gone, who will be the connection of the Muslim leaders?” he added.

Soganub appeared in a propaganda video released on Tuesday, where he seemed to support the demands of the Maute local terror group. Bishop Edwin dela Peña said the priest was obviously "under duress" when he appeared in the video.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in Iligan City on May 26 that he had directed lawyer Abdullah Mamao, Presidential Adviser on overseas Filipino workers, to reach out to members of the terror group who are willing to "talk peace" with the government.

Martial law administrator and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has given government forces up to Friday, June 2, to end the Marawi siege. – Rappler.com

 
 
 
 
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AFP chief: Marawi City siege was start of extremist plan

MARAWI, Lanao del Sur — Militants who  occupied much of Marawi City over the past week were planning violent attacks during the holy month of Ramadan to earn recognition as a regional branch of the Islamic State group, Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said Tuesday.

Soldiers have taken control of about 70 percent of Marawi, where the gunmen have been fending off the army for a week, Año said. About 100 militants, troops and civilians have been killed.

“They wanted to show the world that there is an ISIS branch here which can inflict the kind of violence that has been seen in Syria and Iraq,” Año told The Associated Press, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The siege in Marawi followed an unsuccessful Army raid that attempted to capture militant commander Isnilon Hapilon, who has been designated by the Islamic State group as its leader in the Philippines.

Hapilon escaped and gunmen loyal to him besieged this mostly Muslim city of 200,000 people, torching buildings and taking hostages. Año said the gunmen were prepared to fight because of their Ramadan attack plot.

The unrest has boosted fears that the Islamic State group’s violent ideology is gaining a foothold in the Philippines’ restive southern islands, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao through mid-July, but lawmakers on Tuesday asked for a public session of Congress to determine whether martial law would still be necessary.

Duterte’s declaration unnerved Filipinos who had lived through the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who declared martial law in 1972 and used it to hold power for more than a decade.

The AFP insists the drawn-out fight in Marawi is not a true sign of the militants’ strength, and that the military has held back to spare civilians’ lives.

As of Tuesday morning, Año said the military, working house-by-house, had cleared 70 percent of the city and the remaining militants were isolated.

Still, the fighters have turned out to be remarkably well-armed and resilient.

In recent years, small militant groups in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have begun unifying under the banner of the Islamic State group. Solicitor General Jose Calida said last week that the violence on Mindanao “is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens.”

Three Malaysians, an Indonesian and possibly Arab extremists have been killed in the Marawi fighting, Año said, citing the latest intelligence on the matter. He said Hapilon was still hiding somewhere in the city and that authorities were working to confirm another top militant had been killed.

At least 65 militants have been killed and 15 Philippine troops, Año said. The bodies of 19 civilians have been recovered and local authorities have reported more civilian deaths still to be tallied.

Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert at Singapore’s S. Rarajatnam School of International Studies, said the fighting in Marawi, along with smaller battles elsewhere in Mindanao, may be precursors to declaring a province, which would be “a huge success for the terrorists.”

Last week, two suicide bombings in Jakarta, Indonesia, killed three police officers, an attack claimed by IS. While Indonesia has been fighting local militants since 2002, the rise of the Islamic State group has breathed new life into those militant networks and raised concern about the risk of Indonesian fighters returning home from the Middle East.

Experts have warned that as IS is weakened in Syria and Iraq, battered by years of American-led attacks, Mindanao could become a focal point for regional fighters.

Southeast Asian fighters fleeing the Middle East “could look to Mindanao to provide temporary refuge as they work their way home,” said a report late last year by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, predicting a high risk of regional violence. Marawi is regarded as the heartland of the Islamic faith on Mindanao island.

Año told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the extremists had plotted to set Marawi ablaze entirely to project the influence of the Islamic State. The extremists wanted to kill Christians in nearby Iligan City on Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, to mimic the violence seen by the world in Syria and Iraq, Año said.

The fighters’ support network in Marawi remains unclear, though the power of one militant group – the Mautes – has grown in recent years. Led by members of the city’s Maute clan, the group has become increasingly active in a number of towns across Lanao del Sur province, where Marawi is located, and has been instrumental in the fighting this past week.

Muslim rebels have been waging a separatist rebellion in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation for decades. The largest armed group dropped its secessionist demands in 1996, when it signed a Muslim autonomy deal with the Philippine government. Amid continuing poverty and other social ills, restiveness among minority Muslims has continued.

Hapilon is an Islamic preacher and former commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014. He now heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute./rga

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15 senators: ‘No compelling reason’ to revoke martial law declaration in Mindanao

By:  -

 

(Updated, 10:34 a.m.) Fifteen of 23 senators have filed a resolution supporting President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao, saying it was “constitutional” and in accordance with the law, and that there was “no compelling reason” to revoke it.

The 15 senators who filed Senate Resolution No. 388 Monday were Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Gringo Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Manny Pacquiao, Joel Villanueva , Cynthia Villar and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

The signatories are all part of the Senate majority bloc. Only two members from the majority group — Senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero — did not sign the resolution.

The resolution expresses “the sense of the Senate, supporting Proclamation No. 216 dated May 23, 2017 entitled ‘Declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao’ and finding no cause to revoke the same.”

It noted that on May 25, 2017, the Office of the President submitted to the Senate its report on the “factual and legal basis of the proclamation of martial law for Mindanao.”

“Part of the reason for the declaration was the series of violent acts committed by the Maute terrorist group, such as the attack on the military outpost in Butig, Lanao Del Sur in February 2016,” the resolution said.

“The said attack resulted in the killing and wounding of several soldiers and the mass jailbreak in Marawi City in August 2016 which freed and arrested comrades of the terrorist group and other detainees.”

The measure also cited Maute group’s takeover of a hospital in Marawi City, burning of certain government and private facilities and wounding of government troops last May 23.

“They started flying the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in several areas,’ it pointed out.

Citing Article 134 of the Revised Penal Code, the resolution said, the acts committed by the Maute group were an “open attempt to remove from the allegiance to the Philippine government the part of Mindanao and deprive the Chief Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce laws of the land and to maintain public order and safety in Mindanao, hence constitutes the crime of rebellion.”

“Now, therefore, be it resolved, as it is hereby resolved, by way of the sense of the Senate that the Senate finds the issuance of Proclamation No, 216 to be satisfactory, constitutional and in accordance with the law,” it said.

“The Senate hereby supports fully Proclamation No. 216 and finds no compelling reason to revoke the same,” it further said.

Also on Monday, the six-man minority group filed a separate resolution urging Congress to convene in a joint session and deliberate on the martial law declaration and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the entire Mindanao amid continuing fighting between government troops and the Maute group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.

The six minority members are Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Bam Aquino, Risa Hontiveros, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Leila de Lima, who has been detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City over drug charges. IDL/rga

 

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