Duterte asks BARMM officials to help gov’t deal with BIFF, terrorist groups

Robie de Guzman   •   May 12, 2021   •   390

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has appealed to leaders of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to help the national government deal with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other terrorist groups to prevent an “all-out offensive” against the militants.

Duterte made the appeal during his meeting with BARMM officials, police and military commanders in 6th Infantry Division (6ID) at Camp Brigadier General Gonzalo Siongco in Datu Odin, Sinsuat, Maguindanao on Tuesday.

“Nagmamakaawa ako sa inyo, tulungan ninyo ako. Because otherwise, if I give the order for an all-out offensive, it will be bloody and it will be sad,” he said.

The president also asked Bangsamoro authorities to refuse terrorist groups seeking sanctuary in their communities to stop any violence and prevent him from using force.

“This cannot go on. Kung hindi ko mapigilan and there will be an all-out offensive, yan na ang problema. If I give the order, I will no longer withdraw it,” he said.

Duterte visited Maguindanao following the clash between soldiers and some BIFF members last Saturday.

Around 20 BIFF members occupied the Datu Paglas public market but state security forces drove them away before they could attack civilian residents.

Senate approves bill resetting BARMM elections

Robie de Guzman   •   September 6, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday approved on final reading a bill seeking to reset the first regular elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Voting 15-3-1, senators approved Senate Bill No. 2214, which proposes to move the date of the BARMM elections from May 2022 to May 2025, synchronized with the national elections.

The measure amends Section 13, Article XVI of Republic Act 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Senator Francis Tolentino, chair of the local government committee and sponsor of the bill, said they saw the need to extend the BARMM transition period in order to implement the political and normalization efforts embodied in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

He noted that despite the accomplishments of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the global pandemic posed significant challenges to the execution of the priority programs and projects of the Bangsamoro government.

“However, it (the committee) is also mindful of the Bangsamoro people’s right to assert their democracy in the said region and exercise their right of suffrage. Although the BTA has considerably delivered some of its mandates under the Bangsamoro Organic Law, there is much work yet to be done,” Tolentino said in a statement.

The bill states that upon the expiration of the terms of the incumbent members of the BTA, the President shall appoint 80 members of BTA who will serve up to June 30, 2025, or until the election of their successors.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Richard Gordon, Aquilino Pimentel III, and Risa Hontiveros are co-authors of the bill.

In the House of Representatives, the Committees on Suffrages and Electoral Reform, Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, approved last week a committee report that consolidated proposals to extend the BARMM elections.

4 alleged BIFF members surrender in Maguindanao — WestMinCom

Robie de Guzman   •   July 28, 2021

Four alleged members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have surrendered to authorities in Maguindanao, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) said Wednesday.

In a statement, WestMinCom chief Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr. said the relentless focused military operations in central Mindanao have led to the starvation of some terrorists and prompted them to surrender.

Vinluan said the four members of the BIFF-Bungos Faction submitted themselves to the troops of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion (1Mech Bn) at about 11 a.m. on July 27.

“They handed over their firearm including one US cal. 50HB machine gun, one R4A3 Carbine with M203 grenade launcher, one cal. 30 Carbine, and one 7.62mm sniper rifle,” said 1Mech Bn Commander Lt. Col. Cresencio Sanchez, Jr.

Subject personalities were subsequently presented to Col. Pedro Balisi, Jr., Commander of 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade (1Mech Bde), and Shariff Aguak Mayor Marop Ampatuan at the unit headquarters in Barangay Kamasi, Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

The four are currently undergoing custodial debriefing at the 1Mech Bde headquarters, the WestMinCom said.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of Joint Task Force Central urged the remaining BIFF members to yield and avail of the government’s reintegration programs.

“Now is the best time for you to surrender,” Uy said.

Since January 2021, the AFP said that the JTF Central neutralized a total of 145 BIFF personalities; 69 of which were killed, 74 surrendered, and two were apprehended.

“The offensives of the Joint Task Force Central will continue despite the mounting number of BIFF members who are now deciding to return to the folds of the law,” Vinluan said.

“Rest assured that all our operations adhere to the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws,” he added.

First batch of J&J COVID-19 vaccine shots arrives in Bangsamoro region – NTF

Robie de Guzman   •   July 20, 2021

The first batch of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine doses have been deployed to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 said.

In a statement, the task force said a total of 30,000 doses of the single-shot vaccine arrived in Tawi-Tawi on Monday and will be rolled out in the municipalities of Sitangkai, Turtles Island, and Mapun Island.

Another 30,000 shots have also been shipped to the province of Basilan.

These Janssen vaccine doses are part of the 3.2 million shots donated by the United States government through the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX facility. The jabs arrived in the country last week.

According to BARMM Health Minister Basharay Latiph, the rollout of the Janssen vaccine will begin after the Eid-al Adha.

The vaccines will be distributed to the island-provinces beginning Wednesday, July 21, and that vaccinators from the BARMM Ministry of Health will also be sent to the areas to administer the shots, he added.

In coordination with the Western Mindanao Command, the NTF said that at least 40,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine allocated for Sulu will be deployed on Tuesday, July 20 through a military aircraft.

NTF chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr said that out of the 10 million doses of anti-COVID 19 vaccines received by the national government this month, more than 300,000 doses have been allocated to the BARMM.

The shipment is composed of 150,000 Janssen vaccines, 19,500 COVAX-donated Astrazeneca vaccines, and 130,992 Sinovac vaccines.

“Our commitment to COVAX and the US government is that the vaccine supply, particularly Johnson & Johnson will be deployed equitably to all regions. The first deployment in BARMM is particularly intended for geographically-isolated islands and those communities living in our borders and along the boundaries of the Philippines,” said Galvez.

“Priority should really be given in these areas. Our development partners like UNICEF, who have seen first-hand the difficult situation in BARMM, have also given the same recommendation. And we are happy to share the same views and approaches on how these vaccines should be deployed,” he added.

As part of the COVAX-donated supply, the Janssen vaccines are to be used to inoculate priority groups who are highly vulnerable to the disease, as identified by the WHO.

In particular, the vaccines will be administered to healthcare workers (A1), senior citizens (A2), and persons with comorbidities (A3).

Galvez said additional vaccine doses will be shipped to the BARMM in the coming weeks.

The NTF said that over 113,000 jabs have already been administered in BARMM. Around 80,478 residents received their first dose while 33,085 individuals have been fully vaccinated.

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