by WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL AND AL JACINTO 
REPORTER AND SENIOR CORRESPONDENT
 
 
Malacañang is yet to begin reviewing the draft of the law that seeks to establish peace through a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao, but some kinks have emerged as members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have reportedly aided Abu Sayyaf rebels in engaging soldiers in fierce clashes last week in Basilan.
 

 
Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista confirmed that MILF members and Abu Sayyaf rebels fought side by side against the military. Two soldiers and 10 rebels were killed in the encounters in the towns of Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan. Reports said 29 soldiers were also injured.
The MILF on Tuesday admitted that four of those slain were its members. The group denounced the killing, which happened just two weeks after the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.
 
 
 
 
Bautista clarified that the decision of the MILF fighters to join the Abu Sayyaf was not made by the MILF leadership.
“It was not the MILF per se but only individual members because they are relatives [of some Abu Sayyaf members]. We are in touch with the MILF,” he told reporters.
Still, Bautista said the MILF members who fought alongside the Abu Sayyaf rebels are also criminally liable and “the MILF should deal with them.”
He added that military operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) will continue.
 
The ASG is behind kidnap-for ransom and extortion activities in the South. It was classified as a terrorist group by the United States Department of State.
The clash between members of the 104th Infantry Brigade and the combined force of the ASG and MILF took place on Thursday in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. It was followed by two days of sporadic fighting.
 
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the group engaged by the military was led by ASG Commander Fujuri Indama, one those responsible in the July 10, 2007 ambush of a military convoy also in Tipo-Tipo that left 14 Marine soldiers dead, 10 of them beheaded.
Fierce fighting erupted last Friday after troops stormed an Abu Sayyaf lair and clashed with about 60 militants.
 
“We were running after the ASG, and we told the MILF through our mechanisms that we are going to launch enforcement operations and they supported that. They have members in some areas where they [MILF] have no control, and these members have relatives who are Abu Sayyaf [members] [and] they probably joined [the fighting] in their individual capacity, not as MILF [as an organization], as relatives. The Armed Forces and the MILF are talking, so it’s very clear,” Bautista also told reporters while visiting wounded troops in Zamboanga City.
 
He defended the MILF, saying the country’s largest Muslim rebel group had no participation in the clashes.
“We have an agreement with the MILF and it is working and we are talking with their commanders during the operations and they support our operations. We know that the MILF is an irregular force, sometimes a member will have a relative who is a member of the ASG,” Bautista said.
Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said they are verifying reports that as many as 32 rebels were killed and wounded in the fighting.
“All these [reports] came from the ground,” Tutaan also told The Manila Times.
 
Despite the massive military assault, the militants escaped, but the military said operations against the Abu Sayyaf will not stop.
The Army said the offensive targeted Abu Sayyaf leaders Puruji Indama, Nurhasan Jamiri and Isnilon Hapilon, but there were no reports whether they had been killed. Some 200 soldiers had taken part in the offensive.
 
‘Martyred’
 
But the MILF also on Tuesday said four of its fighters were slain in the Basilan clashes.
“Four of our members were martyred,” MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar also told reporters.
The MILF has asked an international committee monitoring a ceasefire between the Philippines and the rebel group to investigate who was to blame for Friday’s violence, Jaafar said.
 
The fighting broke out two weeks after the MILF signed a political settlement to end more than four decades of an armed conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the mainly Catholic nation’s Muslim South.
 
The peace deal aims to create an autonomous Muslim area in Mindanao by early next year, with the MILF expected to disarm and put up candidates for a regional parliament in May 2016.
 
Jaafar said the government and the MILF are currently enjoying a “honeymoon.”
“We do not want this agreement to be disturbed by such unwanted incidents initiated by the military,” he added.
With AFP
 
 
Malacañang has again defended Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares and blamed the media for the uproar over talks about the tax liabilities of Sarangani Rep. and ring icon Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao.
 

 
Henares was on radio reminding Pacquiao of his tax obligation shortly after his victory over American boxer Timothy Bradley.
Critics and netizens criticized Henares, saying that the BIR chief was trying to be a “spoiler” to Pacquiao’s current happiness.
 
But, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. stressed that it was the media who asked Henares about Pacquiao’s tax obligations.
“Si Commissioner Henares po ay tinanong ng mga kagawad ng media at bilang isang public official tungkulin po niyang sumagot, lalong-lalo na kung ang isyu na tinanong sa kanya ay of public interest [Commissioner Henares was asked by media practitioners about it and as a public official, it is her task to respond, especially if the question is of public interest],” Coloma told reporters in a press conference.
 
 
 
“Kaya siguro kailangang linawin na hindi naman siya ang nagpasimuno o nagbukas ng usapan dahil meron tayong naririnig na ibang kuro-kuro na para naman daw spoiler si Commissioner. Hindi naman po yata ganoon ang pangyayari [That's why there is a need to clarify that she was not the one who started the discussion becuase we've been hearing comments on the Commissioner being a spoiler. That's not how it happened],” he added
It can be recalled that reports from the BIR last year showed that Pacquiao had unpaid tax liabilities for 2008 and 2009.
 
According to Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte,  the BIR has been working with Pacquiao on how they can best settle the liabilities.
“As far as I know from Commissioner Henares, they have been working with Congressman Pacquiao on his [unpaid tax liabilities],” Valte said.
She also defended Henares from criticisms, saying that the commissioner was just doing her job.
 
“I don’t think that she meant to be a spoiler [of] his victory,” the Palace official said.
She added that the BIR does not mean to be “hard” on Pacquiao and that Henares’ statement should not be taken to mean that collecting taxes from the lawmaker is more important than the honor he brought the country.
“What Commissioner Henares said earlier was that they are talking with the camp of Pacman to look for other remedies to his liabilities. We don’t mean to make it hard for Congressman Pacquiao,” she said. CATHERINE S. VALENTE
 
By Alexis Romero (philstar.com) |
 
MANILA, Philippines - The Army on Tuesday urged communist rebels to take advantage of the Holy Week to spend time with their families and to abandon the armed struggle.
 
Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, chief of the Army’s 3rd division, said the Holy Week is an opportunity for members of the New People’s Army (NPA) to embrace peaceful lives.
 

 
“This will also serve as their chance to spend a week of peace, freedom and tranquility in our democratic country,” he said in a statement.
 
Baladad also called on the insurgents to stop launching offensives and to “turn their backs from violence and armed struggle.”
 
 
“Your Army here in Western Visayas will continue to secure and protect the public, maintain its vigilance and intensify further its security operations in various parts of the region particularly in the countryside and places frequented by tourists,” he said.
 
The strength of the communist rebels stands at around 4,000 based on military estimates.
 
Baladad said their ground commanders are continuously assessing the security conditions in their respective areas.
 
“(Ground commanders) can make the necessary security adjustments to ensure that the week-long commemoration is safe and secure for our people,” he said. 
 
He said soldiers are coordinating with the police through the Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Centers to ensure a peaceful observance of the Holy Week.
 
Earlier, military officials said they did not receive reports about a threat that could disrupt the observance of the Holy Week.
 
Security forces, however, have been reminded to remain on alert to prevent any atrocities.
 
A total of 47 air assets and 40 naval assets are also ready to perform security missions when necessary. (with a report from Zaphyr Iral)
 
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