Philippines: Tug of war again in Mindanao

Updated On: Sep 16, 2008

Ever since the peace talks between the Filipino government and the Mindanao rebels broke down due to the intervention of the Filipino judiciary on 10 August 2008, Mindanao is seeing an escalation of conflict again.

In the latest tug of war, Filipino troops backed by artillery units claimed victory over a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel base in Maguindanao led by MILF commander Ombra Kato after heavy fighting. Kato himself is wanted with a 10 million peso (USD 217 000) reward offered for his capture. He is notorious for launching terror attacks in north Mindanao which has more than 500,000 civilian refugees.

Other smaller offensives were just as rewarding for the government troops. Two rebels were killed after 15 MILF guerillas armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades tried to attack a government military base in North Cotabato on Saturday 13 September 2008. Night vision goggles apparently alerted the government troops of the rebel movements.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu countered official versions of the event and said the rebels were observing fasting during Ramadan and did not attack government bases, maintaining that any counteroffensive was for defence purposes only. Regardless of MILF’s denial of the Filipino military’s recent advantage, government troops are now in fast pursuit of MILF leaders for pillaging a string of villages in Central Mindanao in August 2008.

Despite gains made by the military, Filipino President Macapagal-Arroyo ordered Armed Forces chief Gen. Alexander Yano to stop air bombings and strikes in Mindanao. President Arroyo’s request was said to be prompted by Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, who lobbied hard for a stop to bombing and air strikes. 400,000 evacuees from the Mindanao conflict are complaining that relief goods are scarce in delivery.

Mary Ann mobilized evacuees to tug at the President’s heartstrings. On 8 September 2008 Monday, six civilians were killed when ground attack aircraft fired at several boats in Maguindanao in retaliation for what the military said were rebel attacks on the aircraft. The military also categorically denied that any bombs were used. The Filipino government has launched an inquiry into this incident.

Confusingly, Arroyo’s no bombing no airstrikes order was categorically denied by the Filipino military which denied such an order had been given. They insisted that there were no alteration in the Ramadan policy staring on 1 Sept 2008 to reduce air strikes and artillery out of sensitivity to the Muslim fasting month. The final discretion, however, is left to the ground commanders.

Other than the recent government gains, perhaps, just as devastating for the rebels, in a bid to professionalize Mindanao counter insurgency operations, the Filipino government has decided to stop arming civilian volunteers with 13,000 shotguns and, instead, distributed them to fresh graduates of the Philippine National Police Academy.


Burgonio, TJ, Alcuin Papa, Michael Lim, "Arroyo: Stop air strikes" dated 14 September 2008 in the Philippines Daily Inquirer website [downloaded on 14 September 2008], available at   

Channelnewsasia, "Troops overrun Muslim rebel camp in southern Philippines" dated 15 September 2008 in the Channelnewsasia website [downloaded on 15 September 2008], available at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/375811/1/.ht...

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