|Militants begin handing over guns under Philippines peace deal|
|[DAWN] in the mainly Catholic Philippines began handing over their guns to independent foreign monitors on Saturday, as part of a treaty aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency.|
Just over a thousand in the country’s restive south were turning in 940 weapons in a single day, the start of a graduated decommissioning process that aims to turn the country’s largest rebel force into a regular political party.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters who were demobilised on Saturday represent a symbolic first step towards retiring what MILF says is a force of 40,000 in the coming years.
"The war is over... I have no firearms left," Paisal Abdullah Bagundang, 56, a self-described veteran of more than 100 s with government security forces since the 1970s, said.
But the disarmament will take time to make an impact in a place where violence is an almost-daily threat.
A bomb hidden in a parked near a market in Isulan town early on Saturday, just hours before President Rodrigo Duterte was to witness the decommissioning ceremony some 40 kilometres away in Sultan Kudarat.
Police said eight people in the attack that was later claimed by the group, according to SITE Intelligence, which monitors jihadist activities worldwide.
The decommissioning process "should not lead to expectations that it is going to result in a major deceleration in attacks", said Francisco Lara, senior conflict adviser for Asia at watchdog International Alert, noting that the public in the region is also armed.
Acquiring a gun is "like buying fish in the market" in the south-western provinces where most of the Philippines’ minority live, MILF commander Murad Ebrahim told s.
But "if people no longer feel they need firearms to survive then they will easily give them up", added Ebrahim, who is also chief minister of the area that has its own regional parliament, but no separate police force or military. About a third of MILF combatants and their weapons are to be initially retired over the coming eight months.
|Philippines: Tests confirm death of IS-linked chief Abu Dar|
|[DW] DNA tests have confirmed the death of the last known leader of an Islamist assault on Marawi city in the southern Philippines. Authorities feared that Abu Dar could use looted wealth to revivify the battered insurgency.|
Officials in the Philippines on Sunday confirmed the death of Owaida Marohombsar, who went by the nom de guerre of Abu Dar,
Marohombsar was one of few leaders to survive a 2017 attack on the city of Marawi, where he managed to escaped with large amounts of cash looted during the siege. Philippines authorities feared he would use the wealth to rebuild the Dawla Islamiya group, an alliance of pro- (IS) fighters.
Manila confirmed the Islamist leader as one of four killed in a clash with the Philippine military in March.
The Philippines hailed the killing as a significant development that would hamper efforts by IS to establish a presence in the region.
PURSUIT OF REMAINING FIGHTERS
"This is another milestone in our campaign to finish and defeat ISIS and local terror groups in the country," said Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano, using an acronym of the Islamic State group.
"For now, his group is leaderless. We are monitoring who will replace Dar," said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
The army's Brig. Gen. Romeo Brawner said troops would pursue Marohombsar's remaining fighters, based not far from Marawi.
LEADING FIGURE OF RESURGENCE
Marohombsar is believed to have escaped Marawi with a large amount of looted cash and jewelry. Regional official Zia Adiong estimated at the time that Marohombsar got away from Marawi with at least 30 million pesos ($580,000; €510,000) in stolen money.
According to a Philippine police profile, Marohombsar, a native of the Lanao del Sur region, which includes Marawi, underwent military and explosives training in Afghanistan in 2005.
MONTHSLONG URBAN BATTLE
The Philippine government has signed a peace deal with the largest rebel group in the country, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The agreement has this year seen fighters become administrators of their own five-province autonomous region. The southern Philippines is home to most of the Roman Catholic nation's minority s.
Remnants of the MILF , the , who earlier broke away from the main group, were responsible for the attack on Marawi.
Dawla Islamiya launched its attack on Marawi in May 2017 and fought within and around the city for five months. The assault was quelled after months of ground attacks and s by the military.
Among the Islamist leaders killed was Isnilon Hapilon, IS's anointed "emir" in Southeast Asia.
|20 BIFF militants killed in Maguindanao clashes|
|[Rappler] At least two foreign fighters are believed to be among the 20 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters killed in military operations that began on Monday, March 11.|
Philippine military spokesman Cirilito Sobejana said “more or less 20” were killed “including one foreign terrorist." He said the body of an Arab-looking fighter was seen among the dead.
Sobejana said Singaporean militant Muhamad Ali Abdul Rahiman, known as Mauwiyah, was also in the area along with BIFF subleader Salahudin Hassan during the air strikes. They are believed to be among those killed. He said they're still retrieving the body parts so the fatalities may be identified.
The 6th ID launched on Monday, March 11, air strikes and ground operations against BIFF fighters in the so-called “SPMS box” – the towns of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin, Mamasapano, and Salibo where the different BIFF factions operate. Up to 1,360 families or more than 5,000 residents were displaced in the military operations that was supposedly coordinated with local government units and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Captain Arvin Encinas, 6th ID spokesman, said the deaths resulting from the operations significantly reduced the number of BIFF combatants. He said they have names of at least 17 of the fighters killed in the operations, based also on information from the community. He said residents believe Mauwiyah was among those killed although only two bodies were recovered. Mauwiyah is a senior Jema'ah Islamiyah member reportedly associated with Moro militants.
The military estimates that over 200 fighters compose the three different factions of the breakaway group of the MILF, which now heads the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
|Grenade Attack Kills Two at Southern Philippines Mosque|
|[AnNahar] A grenade attack on a mosque in the troubled southern Philippines killed two people early Wednesday, authorities said, just days after a deadly Catholic cathedral bombing and a vote backing self-rule.|
"A grenade was lobbed inside a mosque killing two persons and wounding another four," regional military Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana told AFP of the attack in Zamboanga City.
The victims were sleeping inside the mosque at the time of the attack on the insurgency-plagued island of Mindanao, which is home to the Philippines' minority.
The blast comes as the country was on high alert after a cathedral bombing that killed 21 people at Sunday mass on the remote, -majority island of Jolo.
The group for the cathedral blast.
Besana told AFP it was too early to say whether the mosque blast was retaliation for the cathedral attack, adding police were hunting for those responsible.
The attacks have interrupted the joy spurred by voters' decisive approval of giving s in the south more control over their own affairs, which sparked hopes of quelling long-time separatist violence.
Rebels and the government in Manila have expressed hope the new so-called Bangsamoro area will finally draw the investment needed to pull the region from the brutal poverty that makes it a hotspot for radical recruitment.
hardline factions aligned with IS were not part of the decades-long with the nation's largest separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that culminated January 21 with the resounding approval of a new led-region in the south.
Jolo, which is home to hardline Islamist factions, is the only area in the southern Philippines that voted against the Bangsamoro. Its leader came out publicly against the region and even asked the nation's top court to halt the vote.
The grenade attack on Wednesday drew immediate condemnation from authorities.
"There is no redeeming such blasphemous murder. It is the highest form of cowardice and obscenity to attack people who at prayer," said regional leader Mujiv Hataman.
"We call on people of all faiths... to come together to pray for peace."
|Islamist jihadists prime suspects in Philippine cathedral bombing|
Two s tore through the cathedral on the -majority island of Jolo yesterday, killing worshipers at Sunday mass and security forces in an attack claimed by the terror group.
Authorities say the so-called Ajang-Ajang faction is a small band of several dozen that most likely carried out the bombing, the Philippines’ worst in years, in an act of .
"Last year their leader was killed. There have been persistent reports that they will retaliate," regional military Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana tells AFP.
"Yes, we saw them in the CCTV. It was the brother of the leader who was killed," he says referring to footage from outside the cathedral. "He was seen with two other members of Ajang-Ajang."
Security forces say the group is composed of relatives of Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group members who have been killed in with the government.
The vote was the result of negotiations started in the 1990s with the nation's largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and will give it considerable power over the so-called Bangsamoro region.
The IS claim, in a formal communique, said two s had detonated s, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activities.
But a military report said the second bomb was left in the utility box of a in the parking area outside the church. Police said they believe the explosives were detonated remotely, but did elaborate.
|Bombs kill |
|[IsraelTimes] Attack during Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel occurs on Jolo island, long troubled by terror organization.|
Two bombs outside a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island where are active, killing at least 19 people and wounding nearly 50 during a Sunday Mass, officials said.
The first bomb went off in or near the Jolo cathedral in the , followed by a second blast outside the compound as government forces were responding to the attack, security officials said.
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said that at least 19 people died and 48 were . Police and military reports said the casualties included both troops and civilians.
No one has immediately .
The attack came nearly a week after minority s in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation endorsed a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines in hopes of ending nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead.
Although most of the areas approved it, voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it. The province is home to a rival rebel faction that’s opposed to the deal as well as the Abu Sayyaf group, which is not part of any
As soldiers responded, a second device was detonated in the car park.
The local officials say the first blast happened at 08:45 local time (00:45 GMT) inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which has been hit by bombs in the past.
The second explosion was shortly afterwards on the doorstep of the church.
Local police initially put the death toll at 27 but later lowered it to 20, saying there was double counting in earlier official reports.
Most of the victims are civilians.
The referendum was the result of a peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
|Philippine police reveal detainees had planned holiday attacks|
|[Asia Times] Philippine police revealed that they detained two suspected terrorists during the Christmas holiday period who were part of a plot to detonate explosives and disrupt last week’s Black Nazarene procession.|
Sudais Asmad, said to be a member of Dawlah Islamiyah, an Abu Sayyaf umbrella group, was arrested at Binondo on December 20. Jeron Aba, also based in the southern region of Mindanao,was held in Barangay on December 25 after being seen with a pistol. He also had a grenade.
Manila Police spokesman Vicente Danao Jr said,“The suspect is a member of the Dawlaw Islamiyah and Moro Islamic Liberation Front and he was planning to conduct an improvised explosive device attack during the holiday season."
Danao said Aba had also admitted that he had fought during the five-month siege of Marawi. He said news of the arrests was suppressed at the time to avoid creating a public panic.
|Cotobato mall bombing suspects caught on security cam|
|[Inquirer] Philippine police on Friday released video images of two men suspected of carrying out the New Year’s Eve mall bombing in Cotabato City that killed two people and injured 34 others.|
Police spokesman Oliver Enmodias showed media the images of the two suspects, each carrying a bag, as they entered the mall. The male suspects placed a bag next to the lotto outlet and baggage counter on the second floor of the mall minutes before an improvised explosive device blew up outside the mall around 1:50pm. Bomb experts later discovered an unexploded second bomb on the second floor.
Enmodias said, “[The images of the two suspects] were clearly captured by CCTV and we have strong evidence they were behind the bombing.”
Police have appealed to the public for help in locating the suspects, which came days before the holding of a plebiscite on a law that will give Muslims an autonomous homeland in Mindanao. Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Murad Ebrahim condemned the attack, saying it was “an act of cowardice, inhuman and atrocious.”
Soccsksargen police director Eliseo Tam Rasco said the task force was still hunting seven cohorts of the suspects, three of them women. He did not reveal the cohorts’ roles in the blast.
|Philippines' chief peace negotiator steps down|
|[BenarNews] Philippine President Duterte said he had accepted the resignation of his chief peace adviser Tuesday, as the nation was preparing for a January 2019 plebiscite to ratify a Muslim autonomy law in the south.|
Duterte did not give any reason for Jesus Dureza’s resignation as presidential adviser on the peace process, but his surprise announcement came at the same time that he divulged that he had also fired two of Dureza’s top men on allegations of corruption.
He suggested in his speech that Dureza was not implicated in corruption in an anti-poverty program for residents in insurgency-wracked areas. Duterte said, “I am very sad that I accepted the resignation of Secretary Dureza.”
Dureza is considered one of the Duterte’s closest and trusted aides, having been a longtime friend and a former classmate of the president. In his November 27 resignation letter to the president, Dureza said he had informed Duterte as early as November 6 about allegations of corruption involving his two men.
Dureza’s resignation came more than a month before the south holds a special plebiscite aimed at ratifying the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). Duterte signed the BOL in July last year – four years after the previous government signed a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The plebiscite is to take place in the predominantly Muslim provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. It will also include six towns in Lanao del Norte and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan.
|Duterte expects Muslim autonomy law to end conflict in Mindanao|
|[Xinhua] Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on Monday expressed the hope that the new expanded Muslim autonomy law will finally end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao. In the signing ceremony for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), Duterte urged Filipino Muslims, the indigenous communities and Christian settlers living within the Bangsamoro areas "to actively participate in constructive discussions about the law in your homes, in your villages, and communities".|
"But more importantly, I encourage you to take part in the upcoming plebiscite so that you may express your sovereignty through the ballot," Duterte added.
The BOL is the result of decades-long, on-and-off peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MLIF) and the Philippine government. The law abolishes the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), established in 1989 after the government signed a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The BOL then creates the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), or simply the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. According to the BOL, the BARMM will have a parliamentary-democratic form of government, meaning that it is empowered to enact its own laws. Tribal laws will still apply to dispute of indigenous peoples within the region.
Under the BOL the new autonomous region gets a 75% share of the total national taxes collected within its territory. And the BARMM will also have an automatic allocation of the annual block grant, equivalent to 5 percent of the net national internal revenue of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.
On defense and security, the national government will be responsible for the defense and security of the BARMM. The Philippine National Police will also organize, maintain, and supervise a police regional office to enforce the law. The BOL also allows members of the MNLF and MILF to be admitted to the police force.
The Bangsamoro government will be headed by a chief minister and a ceremonial leader called a Wali. There will be a parliament composed of 80 members.
The plebiscite for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will be held within three to five months after the effectivity of the BOL or between November and January next year. After the BOL is ratified in the plebiscite, the second phase of decommissioning of some MILF combatants will begin.
|Daesh claims suicide attack in southern Philippines|
|[AA.TR] terror group claimed a suicide car that killed 11 people in the island southern province of Tuesday, according to the military.|
According to initial reports, a van was intercepted at an army checkpoint manned by government in Bulanting village in Lamitan City.
"A driver of a 10-seater van who looked like a foreigner and could not speak the local dialect was intercepted at Bulanting checkpoint," Lamitan City Mayor Roderick Furigay said as quoted by Inquirer News.
Furigay said the driver was held by government for further questioning while other members sought military backup when the vehicle suddenly .
Aside from the suspected bomber, five government militiamen, a military detachment commander, three women and a child were also killed.
Five scout rangers, including a young lieutenant, were also left critically .
An investigation of the incident remains underway; the military suspects that while usually claims such attacks, this particular one was carried out by the -linked group.
Basilan province is known as one of the strongholds of the group, which since 1991 has carried out bombings, kidnappings, s and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front expressed confidence early this week that the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law will soon end the decades-long insurgency in the country’s south.
|Hoping for peace, bracing for war in Mindanao|
|[IRIN] Mindanao is on the verge of a hard-won peace deal granting greater autonomy to minority Muslims. But on the edges of sprawling Liguasan Marsh, civilians like Tamano Bandila are bracing for more violence. He fled his home last year, after hearing rumours that militants linked to the Islamic State were near. He said, "I’m worried that ISIS will come back and recruit the youth and there will be more conflict,” he said, adding that civilians would be the collateral damage.|
Bandila’s home is in the middle of the central Mindanao marshlands that is also a stronghold of the island’s largest Muslim armed group – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. For more than 40 years, grievances among the island’s Moro Muslims have fuelled a separatist movement that has battled the Philippine army.
The backdrop is last year’s five-month siege of Marawi, where fighting levelled the city and uprooted 360,000 people. The destruction both deepened long-held frustrations and raised fears that further missteps in the peace process will fuel extremism.
The government declared an end to the Marawi siege in October, but clashes with Islamist militants continue in places like the Liguasan Marsh. Here, the MILF has done what was once unimaginable: formed an uneasy alliance with the Philippine army
Today, the MILF and the military coordinate operations in the vast marshlands: the army providing airstrikes while MILF fighters lead the charge on the ground. MILF spokesman Von Al-Haq said, “We are the one who assaults the enemy directly."
President Rodrigo Duterte is on the cusp of signing – as early as this week – the Bangsamoro Organic Law, implementing the peace accord and granting greater autonomy and fiscal powers to a Moro Muslim homeland on Mindanao. Sky-high expectations surround the peace agreement, but local community groups worry that in practice, the resulting law will be stripped back from what was originally negotiated in 2014.
The Philippine Congress has wrangled over matters of tax revenue, control over resources and waterways, and even the basic question of how outlying municipalities will accede to a new autonomous territory. While the MILF says the current agreement is an imperfect but acceptable new beginning, Islamist militants are likely to use any failings in the resulting deal as fodder in the future.