Monday, August 6, 2012

Islas al Poniente, Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at the Maguindanao Massacre, and how the Ampatuan family had controlled the province of Maguindanao for a decade. Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan, was going to challenge the Ampatuan family's control by running against the anointed member of the Ampatuan family, Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., son of the incumbent provincial governor, for the governorship of Maguindanao. Mangudadatu's family and supporters were targeted by a brutal ambush, leaving dozens of people executed, including Mangudadatu's wife, who had had her genitals slashed, her breasts shot, her eyes speared, her feet cut off, and had been shot inside her mouth.

We then briefly speculated on the underlying causes of the unrest, pointing out that the Philippines has had an active Islamic terrorist insurgency for quite a few years, and is a transshipment point for narcotics, trafficking Afghan heroin around the Pacific basin.

I recently opened a Twitter account, and noticed on the feed a link to Jihad in Philippines: Muslims armed with chainsaws and guns launch attacks, now occupy towns. Since I had never followed up on Part 1, I thought perhaps I would check into this.

So, we begin by continuing with the story begun in Part 1.

Andal Ampatuan, Sr., was the incumbent governor, and his son, Andal Ampatuan, Jr., was going to run for the governorship. Andal's brother Zaldy was the regional governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and is the former chairman of the ARMM's branch of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, a major ruling party in the Philippines. Andal, Jr., was accused of involvement in the massacre, and surrendered to his brother Zaldy. Andal, Jr., denied the charges against him, blaming the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and specifically Umbra Kato; the MILF denied this.

Andal, Jr., and Andal, Sr., have been indicted; at arraignment, Andal, Sr., pled not guilty. Zaldy and another member of the Ampatuan family, Akhmad, had presented alibis, so the government case against them was dropped. Currently, there are nearly 200 defendents in the case, and it is speculated that the trials could take from 100 to 200 years (!) to progress.

Ultimately, Esmael Mangudadatu won the election, and became governor of Maguindanao, assuming office on June 30, 2010. Later, on August 15, 2011, as Governor Mangudadatu was in a convoy cruising along a highway on the way to celebrate his birthday, he was targeted by a roadside bomb hidden in an old car. Though the governor was not hurt, two people were killed and six were wounded in the incident.

Now, the reason I choose some topics to write on as opposed to others is because I like the topics that have stories behind the stories, and even stories behind those. This is one of those topics.

Pamela Geller's article today says that the Muslim insurgency here began in the early 1970's; the article recaps today's news and provides links.

Actually, it is only this round of Islamic insurgency that began in the 1970's; the trouble there goes back quite a bit farther.

The Spanish arrived in what is now the Philippines in 1521, and in 1565 made the islands part of the Spanish Empire. With them, the Spanish brought Christianity. Prior to that, however, an Arab missionary named Shariff Kabunsan landed in what is now Cotabato City in Maguindanao, and introduced Islam to the natives. (Cotabato City is where one of the articles referenced in Pamela's post was submitted from.) Consequently, as the Spaniards spread their influence, Islamic sultanates that were there maintained independence by resisting them. As the Spaniards continued their colonization process, they established military outposts along with the Catholic missions. Needless to say, trouble ensued. The Moros began raiding coastal settlements, and for the next few centuries hostilities continued, including multiple wars. Ultimately, towards the end of the 19th century, peace was established; though both the Spaniards and the Moros understood the terms of peace differently, the net result was that the Moros had a degree of autonomy.

In the wake of the Spanish-American War, the United States took the Philippines from Spain. A translation error which had resulted in the misunderstanding between the Moros and the Spaniards carried over into the treaty between the Moros and the United States. Other issues included a view in America that the Moros had too much autonomy, and distaste that the Moro practice of slavery was allowed to continue, though it was explained that the entire treaty was temporary, to calm things in the south while fighting in the northern part of the Philippines could be concluded - this was the time of the Philippine-American War. The Philippine-American War was a bitter one, in which terrible atrocities are credibly alleged to have been committed by both sides, and peaceful relations with the Moros in the south during this time were considered important.

An additional complicating factor, however, is that the Moros were not totally united. The American treaty was with the Sultanate of Sulu. Other sultanates, however, were autonomous of him.

There were problems with bandits, but otherwise, the Moro area was largely quiet. American Brigadier General George Whitefield David established a friendly policy toward the Moros, and one of his officers, Captain John J. Pershing, was able to establish friendly relations with influential Moros. However, in the wake of three Moro ambushes of American troops, leaders who had inherited tough policies toward indigenous populations as a result of wars with the American Indians only a couple of decades before began to get the upper hand. Thus began the Moro Rebellion.

As an interesting historical sidenote, the US Army found that its .38 caliber revolvers did not have adequate stopping power against charging Moro insurgents, who had very high morale and often took drugs to keep from feeling pain. This prompted the US Army to re-introduce the .45 caliber cartridge, leading to adoption of the famous M1911 .45 automatic pistol as a standard US sidearm for the next four wars.

In the wake of World War II, the Philippines gained its independence, but by the 1960's, the Muslims were increasingly dissatisfied with Philippine rule. Though the Philippine government, with Catholic influence, had laws against polygamy and divorce, the Moros were exempted from these laws, since polygamy and divorce are important asects of Islamic law. By the 1970's, an Islamic insurgency had broken out, and groups on both sides were beginning to establish paramilitary organizations for local defense.

So, now we are ready to fast-forward to the news from today, and we begin with excerpts from Umbra Kato On A Rampage, by Elena L. Aben and Aaron B. Recuenco, August 6, 2012:

MANILA, Philippines — A breakaway group of Muslim rebels armed with chainsaws and guns launched simultaneous attacks in five towns in Maguindanao and North Cotabato on Monday.

At least three people were killed when the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) led by Ameril Umbra Kato attacked an Army detachment, touching off gunbattles, authorities reported.


Army officials said that on Sunday night around 500 of Kato’s fighters simultaneously attacked military detachments and outposts in Talayan, Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Shariff Aguak towns in Maguindanao; and Midsayap in North Cotabato.

Kato's group stormed the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade headquarters, three battalion headquarters, four company headquarters, and two detachments.

Maj. Harold Cabunoc, Army spokesman, said the clashes lasted several hours.


Kato is a Saudi Arabian-educated guerrilla who splintered from the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which had entered into peace talks with the government.

He had boasted of having about 5,000 armed fighters, though military officials believe he only has a few hundred under his command.

Kato has accused his former comrades of betraying the rebellion's ultimate goal of an independent Islamic state in Mindanao.

For more background, we look at an excerpt from Dead or alive in Mindanao by Jacob Zenn, December 15, 2011:

The MILF's founders broke away from the more secular MNLF [Moro National Liberation Front ] in 1977 after it accepted a Philippine government offer of semi-autonomy for areas in dispute. It was formally established as the MILF in 1984 and has long fought for the establishment of an independent state.

The MILF's goals have since softened, causing Kato to break away from the MILF in August 2011. He claimed that the MILF is "wasting its time" in negotiations with the government. Kato was widely viewed as the leader of the MILF's more hardline factions, which are fighting for an independent state and rule by Islamic law for Mindanao's Muslims. The MILF, in contrast, has pushed in recent peace negotiations with the government for what it now calls "strong local autonomy."

Kato had met with MNLF leaders, and this threatened to shift the balance of power among the Islamic insurgents. Kato was estimated to have about 1000 fighters, whereas the MILF was believed to have 12,000. This is significant; skipping down:

Kato's proclivity towards violence was witnessed in August when the BIFM clashed with MILF soldiers in rural villages near Maguindanao, leaving 16 people dead and forcing 3,000 civilians from their homes. In 2008, Kato's forces also targeted civilians after the Philippine Supreme Court overturned an earlier agreement that promised to give Mindanao's Muslims more autonomy over their ancestral homelands. In those clashes, 400 people were killed and around 750,000 civilians were forced to evacuate.

With Kato's BIFM fighting against the MILF, the MILF has Kato's men outnumbered about 12-to-1. But, if the BIFM were allied with the MNLF, that alliance, by some estimates, could be stronger.

Consequently, when it was rumored that Kato had died after having suffered a stroke, the MILF helped circulate those rumors, perhaps hoping to disrupt any emerging alliance.

Looking more closely at the recent attack, we now consider excerpts from Kato Striks Again, Occupies Maguindanao Towns, by Al Jacinto and William B. Depasupil, August 7, 2012:

ZAMBOANGA CITY: At least four people were killed when Muslim rebels belonging to Ameril Umbra Kato's Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) occupied several towns in Maguindanao province after a series of attacks which, government officials said, were aimed at derailing the peace process.

The fighting, which began before midnight Sunday, left at least two members of the BIFM and two civilians dead. Several people were injured, including an army commander.

Some 500 rebels split into several groups and held the towns of Shariff Aguak, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Talayan and Datu Unsay in Maguindanao; and in Midsayap in North Cotabato province, according to Col. Prudencio Asto, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division.


Abu Misri, BIFM spokesman, said that the offensive was in retaliation to recent government attacks on their forces in Basilan province, an accusation strongly denied by the military.

"That's absurd. The BIFM has no members in Basilan and the operation in the province is aimed at the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf which is being blamed for attacks on civilians and military [targets] in various towns in the area," Asto said.

Notice the reference to Abu Sayyaf, another Islamic insurgent group on a nearby island.

The BIFM forces deny harming civilians, and deny instigating this latest round of fighting, claiming it was in retaliation for an alleged unprovoked June killing of a BIFM member by government troops.

Colonel Asto has announced that 1st Brigade troops are being deployed to stop the violence, and MILF spokesman Von Al-Haq has stated that MILF fighters have been ordered to stay in their camps for fear of accidental firefights with government troops who are securing the area, though MILF has affirmed that if BIFM rebels enter the camps, MILF troops will fight them.

Skipping down:

Al-Haq tagged Mohamad Alih Tambako, deputy commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), as behind the series of attacks in the province. But Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said that Ustadz Carialan, a senior leader of BIAF chieftain Ameril Kato, led the violence.

Government spokesmen insist that communication with MILF is good, and that the attacks, which they characterize as an attempt to derail the peace process between the government and MILF, will not attain that goal.

What is interesting to me, though, is the photo that accompanies this story:

Notice the photo is not of government troops being deployed, but rather, of a pro-government militia taking up defensive positions.

Now, you might wish to review this post, looking for references to militias, because this is the tie-in to the Maguindanao Massacre.

More to follow...

1 comment:

  1. MMhh.
    Did not get it if you got my last reply.
    But I do appriciate your support- and I love to read your articles!