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Mario J. Mallari

17 BIFF members, soldier killed in Maguindanao encounters

Wednesday, 23 July 2014 00:00 Published in Nation

Seventeen members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and one soldier were killed during clashes between government forces and the rebel group in Maguindanao province yesterday.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), said that elements of the BIFF harassed military detachments in the towns of Shariff Saydona Mustapha and Datu Piang.
Hermoso said that first to be harassed was the detachment of the 61st Reconnaissance Company in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha at about past 12 midnight, sparking a firefight. Around 30 BIFFs launched the attack.
At around 1 a.m., another band of BIFF members also harassed the 62nd Recon Company based in Barangay Damablas, Datu Piang.
Hermoso said that the clashes resulted in the killing of 17 BIFF members and a soldier.
However, only 10 bodies were recovered from the BIFF side, only five of whom were identified.
One of the slain BIFF member, identified only as alias City Hunter was tagged as a right-hand man of BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato.
Other slain BIFFs were identified as Dris Salik, Mashud Ali, Nur Hassan and Mantawil Kaliga.
Hermoso said that the military is now coordinating with local officials and Imams to identify the other BIFF members killed during the clashes.
According to Hermoso, the clashes died down at around 2 p.m.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama disputed the military’s version of events, saying only four of his fighters had been killed.
“Only four have died. We would never lie about our casualties because it is an honor to die as a mujahedeen,” he said.
He said the BIFF had launched the attacks in retaliation for the military’s abduction of a Muslim father and son on July 3.
The military has previously denied his accusation, branding this as propaganda.
Regional social welfare agencies said that at least nine civilians were wounded and over 300 families had been forced to flee due to the new fighting.
The BIFF split from the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in 2008.
The 10,000-strong MILF has entered into a ceasefire and peace talks with the government for the creation of an autonomous region for Muslim-dominated areas in the south of this largely Christian nation.
However the BIFF, which is believed to have just a few hundred fighters, has rejected the negotiations and still demands a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines.  AFP

The Department of National Defense (DND) yesterday vowed to protect the exploration project in Recto Bank, which was extended for another year, in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the government is ready to provide necessary security to the project.
“Within our capability, we will be able to extend all the necessary protection,” vowed Gazmin.
The Department of Energy (DoE) last week announced that the joint exploration project of British company Forum Energy PLC (FEP) and Philex Petroleum was extended up to August 2016.
The drilling plan of FEP and Philex was supposed to kick off August 2015 but was reportedly deferred, apparently due to the dispute between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea.
In an official statement from China’s foreign ministry, it said that the exploration at Recto Bank does not have Beijing’s permission, and thus, illegal.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands (Reed Bank) and their adjacent waters. Without permission from China, oil and gas exploration by any foreign companies in waters under China’s jurisdiction is illegal and invalid,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
But this was quickly rebutted by his Filipino counterpart, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose, ignoring China’s latest statement and maintaining Recto Bank “is a completely submerged bank that is part of the continental margin of Palawan.
The DFA’s pronouncements were echoed by Gazmin, stressing that the Philippines does not need to get China’s go signal in any activities at Recto Bank or Reed Bank which is owned by the Philippines.
“If you ask permission from them, that means the area is theirs. (But) it is very clear that the area is ours,” Gazmin pointed out.
“Now, we are just awaiting decision by the arbitral court to know who has marine entitlement in this area. We will know,” he added.
Tension between the Philippines and China have been high over the overlapping claims in territories in the West Philippine Sea.
The DFA has filed a formal complaint against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea over Chinese incursions into Philippine-owned and occupied areas in the West Philippine Sea like the Panatag and Ayungin shoals where Chinese have maintained heavy presence despite protests from Manila.

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian yesterday said rotational brownouts in Metro Manila and adjoining provinces will likely be the start of a looming crisis next year as he urged President Aquino to report to the country in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) the government’s plans to prevent such from occurring.
Gatchalian noted that even after the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) has restored power in Metro Manila, which was severely stricken by typhoon “Glenda,” rotational brownouts are being carried out by Meralco simply because existing power plants cannot cope with the energy requirements in the National Capital Region.
“This is an indicator that we have a serious problem in our power supply and Malacañang should address this energy problem before it becomes a full-blown power crisis by 2015,” said Gatchalian, who is a senior vice chairman of the House committee on Metro Manila development.
While residential areas affected by the projected three to five-hour rotational brownouts can cope with power, business establishments will be harshly hit by these power outages and this will definitely stifle the country’s economic growth — touted as the fastest in Southeast Asia — and ruin the Philippines’ prospects as the next Asian miracle.
“An imminent power crisis will hurt the country’s investment climate and discourage likely investors while those who already put up shop here in the country might relocate elsewhere if they see that the government is not capitalizing on available remedies to solve the energy problem,” Gatchalian explained.
The said power crisis, the lawmaker added, does not help the Philippines’ already poor total electrification rate at 83 percent, much lower than Thailand at 88 percent and Vietnam at 98 percent.
Gatchalian, a member of the Nationalist Peoples Coalition allied with the House majority bloc, said a power crisis would also disrupt the country’s positive growth momentum and hamper government’s efforts to create more jobs.
“I expect President Aquino to include in his Sona the steps being undertaken by the government to avert a possible energy crisis starting next year. I think this should be one of the administration’s priorities and should be backed by Congress,” Gatchalian said.
Meanwhile, aside from the usual anti-government demonstrations, government security forces have not monitored any threat in connection to Aquino’s fifth Sona next Monday at the House of Representatives.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that government security forces are conducting continuous monitoring.
“The normal threats will be the demonstrations, those impeachment cases but physical threat, we have not monitored but we continue to monitor,” Gazmin told Camp Aguinaldo reporters.
President Aquino is set to hold his fifth Sona at the Batasan on July 28, with expected wide scale demonstrations from various militant and cause-oriented groups in protest of the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program.
Actually, the demonstrations and march-rallies have started since late June.
Meanwhile, Gazmin said that the President could cite accomplishments of the Department of National Defense in terms of the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Under the defense department, the President can cite the arrival of equipment for the AFP under the modernization program, those that have been repaired like the housing,” Gazmin said. 

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