Philippines Scores Big Victory Against Religious Insurgents

MANILA – The Philippines scored a major victory on its unrelenting war on terror, killing 37 Islamic terrorists, including four foreigners, during four days of fierce fighting in Mindanao. The army strike nabbed a ranking police woman with her terrorist lover at a checkpoint in Bohol while trying to rescue their comrades trapped in the forest on that island province.

Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año said the four slain foreigners – three Indonesians and one Malaysian - were members of the Jemaah Islamiya terrorist group, who were embedded with the Maute bandits operating in the hinterlands of Lanao del Sur in southern Philippines.

Año said the fighting took place in the town of Piagapo about 800 kilometers south of Manila.

Government forces were conducting combat operations when they clashed with the heavily armed Maute group on April 1.

“The Indonesians and Malaysian were part of the JI (Jemaah Islamiya) before, but when their existence diminished, they made other affiliations, particularly with the Maute Group, which took over the remnants of the JI and aligned with the Abu Sayyaf Group under Isnilon Hapilon hoping they will be recognized by ISIS,” Año said.

Three soldiers were wounded in the fighting. They were immediately evacuated by a helicopter.

Brig. Gen. Nixon Fortes, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Tabak Division, said troops overran the Maute Group’s main camp consisting of 100 fortified bunkers and trenches.

Herrera said the Maute group suffered a crushing defeat in the biggest fighting with the terrorists which have been terrorizing the people in Lanao del Sur and nearby areas.

Soldiers found fragmentation and rifle grenades, improvised explosive devices, cellphones, a video camera, assorted uniforms, three motorcycles, food stuffs and the passport of an Indonesian national.

“The government forces, local government units, and the communities will continue to work hand in hand to thwart banditry and terroristic activities and to ensure security, peace and development in Piagapo and adjacent municipalities,” said Army 1st Tabak Infantry Division commander Brig. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista.

Residents of Balindong and Piagapo villages told military officials that insurgents were recruiting teenagers at Barangay Tampo.

Of the 37 killed bandits, 14 have been identified, including Bantayao or Bayabao - alias Commander Bravo - a former leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front under Abdullah Goldiano Makapaar.

At the same time, Police Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza, deputy chief of the Crime Laboratory of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Region 11, and a certain Reener Lou Dongon, a bomb expert working with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and the boyfriend of Nobleza, were arrested at a checkpoint in the town of Clarin, Bohol, in Central Visayas last Monday. Bohol, a popular tourist destination, is some 650 kilometers south of Manila.

Nobleza and Dongon were in a vehicle when they ignored a police checkpoint in the town of Clarin, where government forces were conducting a mop-up operation against remnants of a 10-man Abu Sayyaf cell that had come to the island province to kidnap of foreign and local tourists.

Eight terrorists were killed in a running gun battle with army and police troopers.

Dongon was a suspect in the bombing of a hotel in Cagayan de Oro City in 2013 but was released on technical ground, saying he was “minor.”

PNP Chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa announced the arrest of Nobleza and Dongon. He said President Rodrigo R. Duterte was appalled upon learning of Nobleza’s story, and instructed him to make sure she would be under heavy guard.

Also with Nobleza and Dongon during their arrest were his mother and a 13-year old nephew.

Police records show that Nobleza, now 49, was the one who initially interrogated Dongon, then 21, when the latter was arrested in connection with the Cagayan de Oro hotel bombing. But after Dongon was released from police custody, she hired him as her driver and eventually initiated a romantic relationship with him. 

Dongon, alias Kudre, is a bomb maker for Abu Sayyaf, whose brothers-in-law include slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan, Abu Sayyaf chief Khadaffy Janjalani, Abu Sulayman and Akmad Santos.

“She (Nobleza) is romantically involved…she is sleeping with the enemy,” Dela Rosa said, adding he was not sure if the police colonel, who is married to the country’s police attaché in Pakistan, was living in with Dongon.

The policewoman, who is the deputy regional director of the crime laboratory in the regional PNP office in Davao, faces criminal and administrative charges.

“They fell in love with each other so kung ano yung ginagawa niya hindi na yun sanctioned ng PNP (whatever she is doing is not sanctioned by the PNP),” Dela Rosa said. “Siguradong tatanggalin natin siya sa serbisyo (We will surely dismiss her from the service).”

During interrogation, Dela Rosa said police found out that the pair’s companions in the vehicle were Dongon’s mother Judith, 62, and the 13-year-old son of Rajah Sulayman Movement leader Akmad Santos, who is detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan.

Love story

Nobleza was a member of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission when she was assigned to interrogate Dongon following his arrest for bombing a hotel in Cagayan de Oro in 2013.

Nobleza faces charges of illegal possession of firearms, harboring a criminal and conspiracy to commit terrorism.

She reportedly claimed she was working on a special case, but Dela Rosa said the PNP has no case operation involving the crime laboratory where Nobleza was assigned.

Dela Rosa said Nobleza was blinded by love and allowed herself to be used by the Abu Sayyaf. This weakness as a police officer required her dismissal from the service, he said: “Yan ang sinasabi namin sa Bisaya na nabuang sa gugma – yung naloko sa pag-ibig ba. Dahil sa pagmamahal niya doon sa lalaki na Abu Sayyaf nagpagamit siya. Kung talagang rescue attempt aSo mahinang klaseng opisyal siya. Dapat tanggalin sa serbisyo.”

However, the police and military learned about the plan and engaged the bandits, killing Askali and five others. On Saturday, four more Abu Sayyaf members including Joselito Melloria were killed by the military.

Government forces are hunting down the remaining Abu Sayyaf members who are trapped in Bohol.