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Posts tagged ‘United Islands of the Philippines’

Philippine Congress votes to extend martial law in south

December 13, 2017

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine Congress voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in the south by a year after the military warned that terrorist threats continue to lurk despite the defeat of a disastrous pro-Islamic State group siege.

A majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives — with 240 approving and 27 opposing — voted to extend martial law across the Mindanao region through the end of 2018. The vote followed warnings by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other officials that pro-IS militants were trying to recover from their defeat in southern Marawi city and were plotting new attacks.

“The rebellion has not stopped, it has just moved to another place,” Lorenzana told the senators and House members in a joint session. Opponents argued that extending martial law in the south is unconstitutional and expressed fears that such a move can be a prelude for Duterte to declare martial law throughout the Philippines.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who heads the main opposition Liberal Party, rejected the martial law extension without a clear constitutional basis. “We will be in danger of becoming the monsters that we seek to defeat, those who have no regard for law, order or respect for the constitution,” he said.

The Marawi violence left more than 1,100 combatants and noncombatants dead, displaced about half a million people and turned mosque-studded Marawi’s central business and residential districts into a smoldering war zone.

The uprising, which began on May 23, prompted Duterte to declare martial law and reinforced fears that the Islamic State group was taking steps to gain a foothold in Asia and elsewhere as it faced battle setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

Some gunmen and commanders managed to escape during the fighting and are now recruiting new militants, while extremist groups in other southern provinces, including the brutal Abu Sayyaf group, continue to pose threats, according to the military.

Filipinos remain hypersensitive to threats to democracy and civil liberties more than three decades after they ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a 1986 “people power” revolt that became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide.

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Philippine President Vows to Correct Historical Injustice Against Muslims

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.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1097231/philippine-president-vows-correct-historical-injustice-against-muslims.

Philippine military pushes to defeat last Marawi fighters

October 17, 2017

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — Gunfire rang out sporadically and explosions thudded as Philippine soldiers fought Tuesday to gain control of the last pocket of Marawi controlled by Islamic militants as President Rodrigo Duterte declared the southern city liberated from “terrorist influence.”

The military, boosted by the deaths of two key militant leaders in a gunbattle the day before, hopes the current fighting is the final phase of defeating a dwindling band of fighters who are now trapped in an area the army says is about 2 hectares (5 acres).

Duterte visited the battle-scarred city on Tuesday where to cheers from rain-drenched troops he announced its liberation in a short speech from a stage at a ruined school campus about a kilometer from the fighting.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi city liberated from the terrorist influence,” he said. To the side of stage of the stage, a large banner displayed photos of the slain militant leaders. Military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano told The Associated Press that Duterte’s statement means the threat from the militants, who’ve occupied parts of the lakeside city for five months, is substantially over.

“They’re leaderless and they have no more organization,” he said. “There are still skirmishes.” According to military spokesman Restituto Padilla, there are 20 to 30 militants left in Marawi, including six to eight foreign fighters. They have about 20 hostages, including women and children, he said. As many as 80 buildings will need to be swept for explosives.

Marawi, a mosque-studded center of Islamic faith in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, has been devastated by the siege laid by the Islamic State group-allied militants who overran the city on May 23. More than 1,000 people have been killed, including about 800 militants.

The surprise occupation of the city and the involvement of foreign fighters set off alarms in Southeast Asia and the West. Analysts said parts of the southern Philippines were at risk of becoming a new base for IS as it lost territory to international forces in Iraq and Syria.

Philippine flags hung on Tuesday from pockmarked buildings and houses in Marawi, their roofs either blasted away or riddled with gunshot holes. Soldiers stood guard in front of some buildings and at intersections where battle debris has been shoveled to the side.

The Philippine government on Monday confirmed an Associated Press report that two key figures behind the siege, Isnilon Hapilon, who is listed among the FBI’s most-wanted terror suspects, and Omarkhayam Maute, were killed in a gunbattle.

A top Malaysian militant, Mahmud bin Ahmad, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Handzalah and is a close associate of Hapilon, has not been found and was among the remaining militants being hunted by troops.

At a public hall converted into an evacuation center just outside Marawi, there was joy among evacuees at news of the two men’s deaths and hopes of a return to some form of normality. Evacuees chatted about the news and looked at Facebook posts showing pictures of the dead Hapilon and Maute.

“We’re very happy because they have lost their leaders. I hope that all of them will be wiped out,” said Seima Munting, a 40-year-old mother of four who is among 750 people living at the hall in Balo-i township.

“My brother told me that finally we can return home, but when? When can we finally return home? What will we return to? Do we still have a house? Do we have jobs?” she said.

Duterte losing favor amid drug killings, wealth allegations

October 09, 2017

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Filipinos’ satisfaction with President Rodrigo Duterte has made its steepest drop since he took office last year amid an outcry over unabated drug killings and unresolved allegations that he has unexplained wealth, an independent poll showed.

The Social Weather Stations said its Sept. 23-27 nationwide survey showed Duterte’s satisfaction rating dropping by 18 points to 48, a level classified as “good,” compared from its last survey in June, when he got a “very good” 66-point rating.

The president’s trust rating dropped by 15 points to 60, which is classified as “very good,” from his “excellent” grade of 75 points in June, according to the SWS poll released Sunday. Although Duterte generally remains popular, the survey outcome immediately reignited calls by several groups for an end to the killings of mostly poor suspects under his brutal crackdown against illegal drugs and for him to sign a bank secrecy waiver to allow an investigation into allegations of undeclared wealth.

An alliance of civil society groups called Tindig Pilipinas said the steep drop in Duterte’s satisfaction and trust ratings means the “honeymoon is over.” “The huge drop in the president’s rating must serve notice to him: the people expect nothing but the truth on the allegations of corruption, ill-gotten wealth, and drug smuggling facilitation leveled against him and members of his family,” the alliance said. “Mr. President, we reiterate our call: sign the bank waiver!”

“The people are now seeing through the hype and fake news, and are realizing that change is not coming under President Duterte’s watch,” left-wing Rep. Emmi de Jesus said, citing “nonstop” drug killings, the rise in prices of commodities and the entry of a large shipment of illegal drugs through the Bureau of Customs in Manila.

There was no immediate comment from Duterte, but he has repeatedly denied that he condones extrajudicial killings of drug suspects even though he has publicly threatened drug dealers with death. He won the presidency with a wide margin last year on a pledge to eradicate widespread crimes, especially drug trafficking and use, and corruption.

Police officials said the arrests of more than 100,000 suspected drug offenders in 71,393 anti-drug raids since July last year help prove that suspects only get killed when they fight back and threaten law enforcers.

The drug killings recently came under renewed criticisms after police shot to death a teenage student they said was a drug dealer who drew a gun while being arrested. Witnesses, however, said the student was shot to death in a dark alley while pleading for his life.

Duterte has also denied stashing undeclared funds in joint bank accounts with family members, saying he would resign if the allegations were proven. He has refused, however, to heed a demand by opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV for him to sign a waiver to allow investigators to examine the bank accounts.

SWS polled 1,500 adults nationwide in face-to-face interviews for the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Philippines hails US as top ally, welcomes war games

Manila (AFP)

Oct 5, 2017

The Philippines’ military chief hailed the United States as his nation’s “number one ally” and announced a return of regular war games, following President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for warmer ties.

Duterte last week vowed to be “friendly” with the United States, signalling an end to relentless criticism that included a vow to end all joint military exercises and branding then US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore”.

Military chief General Eduardo Ano, returning from Hawaii where he met US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris last week, said Thursday the allies had agreed to increase joint military exercises for 2018 after they were scaled down this year.

“The president said: ‘I want to be friendlier to the US’. So we have a closer relationship and more exercises,” Ano told reporters in Manila.

“He (Duterte) said to continue engagement with the United States. They are still our number one ally.”

Ano said the joint exercises next year would focus on counter-terrorism, disaster response and even territorial defense.

As he sought to loosen his nation’s alliance with the United States, Duterte also looked to build warmer relations with China and Russia.

During a visit to Beijing a year ago he announced his nation’s “separation” from the United States.

He later explained he was angry at Obama for criticizing his war on drugs, which has since seen thousands killed and led rights groups to warn Duterte may be orchestrating a crime against humanity.

Duterte said last week the dispute was “water under the bridge” as he thanked the United States for helping the Philippines fight Islamic militants who have occupied parts of the southern city of Marawi since May 23.

The US has provided intelligence, weapons and training to local forces trying to retake Marawi.

The fighting has claimed more than 900 lives and raised fears the Islamic State group is trying to establish a Southeast Asian base in the Philippines.

Ano said on Thursday the Philippines would still pursue closer defense ties with China.

Ano was speaking at a ceremony at which China turned over 3,000 assault rifles and ammunition worth 168 million pesos ($3.2 million) to the Philippine military for use in fighting terrorism.

“The US is not our enemy. China is not our enemy. Our utmost priority is the interest of the country,” Ano said.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Philippines_hails_US_as_top_ally_welcomes_war_games_999.html.

Philippine troops declare 8-hour cease-fire in besieged city

June 25, 2017

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine military on Sunday began observing an eight-hour halt in its air and ground offensive against Islamic militants in southern Marawi city to allow residents, most of them displaced by the monthlong fighting, to celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the “humanitarian pause” in military assaults took effect at 6 a.m. Sunday in predominantly Muslim Marawi but will be lifted immediately if the militants open fire or threaten troops and civilians.

“If the enemy starts firing … anyone can exercise their right to self-defense,” Padilla said in a statement. It’s the first planned respite in the massive offensive after a month of daily street battles and military airstrikes that have left at least 280 militants, 69 soldiers and police, and 26 civilians dead. The intense fighting has turned large swaths of the mosque-dotted city, a bastion of Islamic faith in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation, into a smoldering war zone.

About 500 gunmen aligned with the Islamic State group, including several foreigners, stormed the lakeside city of 200,000 people, occupied buildings, burned schools and hoisted IS-style black flags on May 23.

Faced by his worst crisis, President Rodrigo Duterte responded by declaring martial law in the south and ordering a massive offensive. Padilla said the cease-fire will be observed by the military “as a gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world,” particularly to Marawi’s Muslim residents.

The fighting has forced more than 300,000 people to abandon their homes in Marawi and outlying towns and flee to evacuation centers, which rapidly became overcrowded, making it difficult for them to celebrate the Eid el-Fitr holiday.

Philippines says it learned of city siege plans in advance

June 14, 2017

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government learned days in advance of a plan by militants aligned with the Islamic State group to lay siege to a southern city and staged an army raid on a militant hideout that prevented a bigger and deadlier attack, officials said Tuesday.

Solicitor General Jose Calida said in a report that the government received intelligence information at least five days before the militants prematurely launched their bloody assault on Marawi city on May 23 after government forces raided the hideout of militant leaders led by Isnilon Hapilon.

Army troops failed to capture Hapilon in the raid, which sparked a gunbattle in a Marawi village, but military officials said the assault forced the gunmen to prematurely start their attack aimed at occupying the Islamic city of more than 200,000 people. The rebel plan was to launch the attack on May 26 or 27, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the country’s south.

“Specifically, on 18 May 2017, intelligence reports revealed that the ISIS-inspired local rebel groups were planning to occupy Marawi city, and to raise the ISIS flag at the provincial capitol,” Calida said in a report to the Supreme Court, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

“The said attack would have served as the precursor for other rebel groups to stage their own uprisings across Mindanao in a bid to simultaneously establish a wilayah in the region,” Calida said, referring to the southern Philippine region and the Islamic State province the militants aimed to create there.

Calida defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to declare martial law in the entire southern Mindanao region to deal with the Marawi crisis. Opponents have questioned the grounds cited by Duterte for the martial law declaration and asked the Supreme Court to invalidate his action.

Asked why the government failed to stop the Marawi siege despite its advance knowledge of the plot, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the intelligence information was still being vetted, but the military nevertheless planned a raid on the hideout of Hapilon and other militants behind the plot.

“From our point of view, we were able to stop something that could have been much, much bigger,” Abella told a news conference. Abella was also asked why top security officials led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. joined Duterte in a trip to Russia around the time the government received information about the planned Marawi attack. “They were all on top of the situation. They were actually monitoring everything,” Abella said.

When the military managed to verify some of the details of the plot, it staged the raid on Hapilon’s hideout, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said. He acknowledged, however, that the military was unaware of the number of armed fighters the plotters could muster.

In his report, Calida said “about 500 rebels marched along the main streets of Marawi and swiftly occupied strategic positions throughout the city” on May 23, adding that the gunmen had “strong combat capability, and seemingly limitless firepower and other resources.”

Army Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, a regional military commander, said 150 to 200 gunmen have been isolated in four of Marawi’s 96 villages, and dozens of militant snipers have been killed, setting back the militants’ lethal firepower three weeks after the bloody siege began.

With the remaining gunmen contained in just a few villages, Padilla said “the worst is over” in Marawi, but added that it was difficult to say when the government could regain full control of the devastated city.

Perched on buildings, some connected by tunnels that gave them mobility, the snipers have made it difficult for troops to wrest back areas under the rebels’ control. The gunmen have also used civilian hostages as human shields, Galvez said.

Philippine officials say 191 militants, 58 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians have been killed in the three weeks of clashes.

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