Monday, August 29, 2011

NPA Armed Contacts for the Third Quarter of 2011, Part IV: Davao Region, Quiet but NOT Sleeping

Up until the Spring of 2011 the Davao Region, or the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee was the most active of the NPA's five Regional Committees on Mindanao. Towards the end of spring, midway through the year's second quarter, Davao Region switched up its furious pace as NEMRC, or Northeast Mindanao Regional Committee and NCMRC, or Northcentral Mindanao Regional Committee both grabbed the baton and quickly picked up the pace. Building their own momentum both Regional Committtees re-established themselves in pacified areas. For NEMRC they have once again firmly established themselves in Surigao del Norte Province. NCMRC has done the same in Misamis Oriental Province.

Still, Davao Region isn't exactly sitting on the bench.

On August 14th, 2011 a blue compact automobile slowed down as it approached Task Force Davao's Sitio Mahayahay Checkpoint in Davao City's Barangay Mawab. Located in that city's Paquibato District the checkpoint is ground zero for the NPA Insurgency in that municipality. As I have well noted time and again Davao City's local warlord, Vice Mayor Rodrigo "Roddy" Duterte had long ago formed a mutually beneficial arrangement with local NPA leader Leonicio "Ka Parago" Pitao. In exchange for Parago's agreeing to keep the rest of Davao City insurgency free Duterte has graciously offered the NPA carte blanche in four of the city's poorest, outlying districts:

1) Calinan

2) Toril

3) Marilog

and of course

4) Paquibato

Duterte has honored the gentleman's agreement to a tee and with a couple of very notable exceptions (usually confined to adjacent Baguio District), so has Ka Parago. Task Force Davao was created in the Spring of 2004 after a pair of high profile bombings by ASG, or the Abu Sayyaf Group and its closely allied but now defunct RSM, or Rajah Solaiman Movement. The two bombings:

1) Davao International Airport, where the Arrivals Kiosk, a crude cinder block structure across the service road from the actual terminal where friends and family of arriving passengers congregate to wait was targetted by a very powerful IED, or Improvised Explosive Device (as in "bomb") that killed 21 people and wounded an astounding 145 more. The powerful device was concealed inside a common black backpack that was placed under a row of cheap aluminum framed seats for added shrapnel.

2) Sasa Wharf, Davao City's ferry wharf which like most ports in the Philippines is almost a city unto itself. Two young men ordered some barbecue chicken from a take away stall. As the stall workers were preoccupied with filling their order the youngmen deposited another black backpack under the stall's front counter and left with their chicken. The explosion killed 17 people and wounded 56.

In the aftermath Duterte, then serving as Mayor and fearing that the island's Islamic Insurgencies had brought their violence into Davao City had the AFP create a dedicated force to serve as the city's first line of defence against the envisioned threat by Islamic insurgents. The nascent Task Force, or TF as they are most commonly referred to, began life with some very notable Human Rights abuses against Davao City's Muslim minority. Initially Mayor Duterte blamed the two bombings on al Qaeda. The PNP, or Philippine National Police maintained that they were committed by JI, or Jemmah Islammiyah. After all, the Indonesian Islamo-fascist organisation had recently undertaken the equaly vile Bali bombing of a discoteque frequented by Australians. The group was the flavour de jour and so, JI it was. The AFP, or Armed Forces of the Philippines however were non plussed with all the grand theorising about Bin Laden and Indonesians swimming from Bali to Mindanao. They were absolutely sure that none other than Mindanao's very own MILF was responsible. For all his al Qaeda fantasies Mayor Duterte must have put stock in the AFP's version of events because he authorised raids amounting to little more than low intensity warfare against known functionaries of the MILF and BIAF, or Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the MILF military arm, who were unlucky enough to be residing in Davao City.

By the summer more rational thinking had returned, at least locally, since Manila was pushing through with the Department of Justice charging of MILF Founder slash Chairman Hashim Salamat and a number of his underlings for the two bombings. Though the charges wouldn't last long, just like the certainty of MILF involvement, TF Davao remained a part of the local landscape ever after.

The round fired by an occupant of the aforementioned blue automobile very narrowly missed striking the head of the AFP Corporal commanding the checkpoint and sending nearby food stalls and their customers into a state of pandemonium as the auto burned rubber speeding out of the city and into the adjacent municipality of Santa Cruz.

In the adjoining district of Paquibato's Barangay Paradise Embac is once again becoming the focus of the AFP's 69IB (Infantry Battalion) in its drive against the NPA. In early July of 2011 the 69th ensconced a detachment in one the barangay's two elementary schools, Paradise Embac Annex, under Second Lieutenant Tamayo with Seargent Garcia as his second in command. The barangay, like three fourths of its parent district Paquibato is under a parallel NPA Government so that an AFP garrison isn't well liked even if it wasn't living in an elementary school.

23 year old Redan Sumaria from the adjoining barangay, Paquibato Poblacion, claims that 2LT.Tamayo himself personally beat him when he was stopped at a 69IB checkpoint, after being told he "looked like NPA materiel." Likewise, 26 year old Dodong de Jesus of Barangay Paradise Embac's Sitio Upper Pandaitan claims it was Tamayo who pummeled his chest for no apparent reason at a checkpoint at that barangay's Crossing Guinobatan (Guinobatan Bridge in the sitio bearing that same name). On August 6th Tamayao and Sgt.Garcia allegedly beat Arim Maygon into unconsciousness for no apparent reason at the checkpoint immediately outside the school garrison. Others, like brothers Rudy and Cerilo Corbito complain that soldiers from the garrison have forbade them from working their own farms based upon allegations of support for the NPA.

In most NPA influenced areas these are run of the mill occurrences. On one hand the AFP and to a lesser extent the PNP harrasses and even tortures people it suspects of collusion with the NPA (those absolutely known to be in bed with the Maoists face a much worse fate). Yet the same holds true for those refusing to aid the NPA. Said to be agents of the state the NPA treats them even worse, usually expelling them from their own communities at the very least. The result being that one is damned if they do, damned if they don't.

Vis a vis the school garrison in Paquibato District, the Davao City Council has come out on the side of the villagers though one may also posit that they have come out on the side of the NPA, in which case, to be frank, it would be par for the course. Councillors Jimmy Dureza and Leah Librado Yap have co-authored a Resolution to bar the AFP from ensconcing itself within civilian institutions with a proviso expelling them from their garrison in Paradise Embac Annex. On August 25th Vice Mayor Duterte, on his television show "Ato ni Bay," (one of two weekly TV shows) urged the pair to follow through with their fight to neutralise the 69IB. Of course there is no suprise there, friend of the NPA that he is with nearly 35 years of scratching Ka Parago's back.

Duterte said that despite the Resolution passing unopposed on its first of three City Council Readings just that week, that they should still appeal directly to the Mayor, who of course is none other than Sarah "Inday" Duterte Carpio, his daughter. Duterte however tempered his support for the Resolution by noting that IF the underlying motive is to protect the well being of the students in the school slash garrison, the NPA would never attack a school even if full of AFP so that even in trying to appear fair and balanced Duterte ended up coming off like the NPA cheerleader he is, amazing, absolutely amazing.

Meanwhile, numerous residents of Barangay Paradise Embac's Puroks #6, 7, and 8 have filed yet another complaint with the City Council alleging that the 69IB's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Patarata personally went door to door and menacingly pressured them into signing newly formulated "waivers" allowing his battalion to ensconce themselves in schools and other public buildings. Anyone who wavered or dared to resist was then told that they would be considered to be in support of the NPA. Considering the gasoline enema administered to a suspected ASG member in Basilan Province just weeks prior, and well publicised on Mindanao because of the unusual prosecution of the soldiers responsible, I am sure that LTC.Patarata got exactly what he wanted.

Panabo City, in Davao del Norte Province sits immediately adjacent to Davao City and lies within the city's SMRC, or Southern Mindanao Regional Committee AOR, or Area of Responsibility (as in "Area of Operations"). The NPA's SMRC last targetted Panabo this past spring with the ballsy tactical strike on the municipality's CPO, or City Police Office. On Friday, August 26th, 2011 in the city's Barangay Tibungol, a powerful IED detonated at the rear of Sibubon Elementary School. The powerful blast took place before daybreak, just 10 meters from a stage spanning the rear of the school. The blast is a bit mysterious since nothing was scheduled to take place on the stage, let alone anything having to do with the AFP or PNP, the usual targets of NPA Tactical Operations. However, 50 meters of detonation cord was found near the blast site leaving little question as to whether or not the NPA was involved.

Despite AFP propaganda claims the NPA does NOT utilise landmines. A typical NPA ambush DOES utilise IEDs but ALWAYS command controlled. In other words, the IED is directly detonated by an NPA guerilla via an electrical cable extending from the IED. This allows a carefully controlled detonation and prevents inadvertant detonation by other, non-legal targets. In fact, the NPA is the only organisation in Mindanao utilising command controlled detonation. The MILF/BIAF swears it no longer employs IEDs but when it did they were detonated by cordless remote, and prior to 2002 had utilised VDIEDs, Victim Detonated IEDs, a fancy acronym for what essentially amounts to a self-manufactured landmine, pressure detonated devices of varying strengths. So, this was an NPA detonation, but why there and why then remain a mystery.

Two men were sighted running from the blast site and into a rice paddy before disappearing into the jungle. Upon responding the 10ID (Infantry Division) EOD, or Explosives Ordanance Detachment discovered four other primed IEDs in the general vicinity. If I wanted to play armchair theorist I would reckon that the two men seen exiting the scene after the blast were members of an NPA IED detachment in the vicinity to secrete a number of IEDs for three ambushes, present and future. With a novice member of the detachment aboard the detachment leader took the opportunity to teach the novice how to to prime an IED for detonation. The site, behind the school was out of the way and shielded from the road upon which the IED probably would have been placed. An inadvertant detonation spooked them and they quickly escaped without retrieving their four other primed IEDs. Anyway, just a theory.

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