AFP: No more ATS; last was in Al-Barka



SLEEP OF THE INNOCENT. Normalin Bernardo sleeps in a hammock of many splendid colors at an evacuation center in Barangay Naga-Naga, Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay, on Friday. RAFFY LERMA

To prevent mix-ups among combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups, an area is identified for MILF fighters to stay in while military or police operations are being conducted in MILF-influenced communities.

This “area of temporary stay” (ATS) is not “perpetual” and is designated for a given period and for a certain purpose, usually to allow for the pursuit of lawless elements seeking refuge in MILF-influenced communities, Col. Dickson Hermoso, head of the military’s Peace Process Office, told the Inquirer in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“An ATS is designed for a purpose. It is located on the map. It is established by the CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities) when there are police operations,” Hermoso said.

The ATS is “dissolved” after an operation and the MILF members go back to their communities, he said.

When asked about the current number and location of such areas in Mindanao, Hermoso said: “Negative.”

But MILF-influenced communities are currently located in the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Zamboanga Sibugay and Basilan.

Past ATS

Hermoso said the last ATS was in Al-Barka, Basilan, and was set up in the aftermath of the 2007 killing of 14 Marines—10 of them beheaded—in the province. MILF forces stayed in this ATS while government troops hunted down the attackers, who included Abu Sayyaf bandits.

The clash on Oct. 18, which claimed the lives of 19 soldiers, occurred 4 kilometers away from this former ATS in Al-Barka, Hermoso said.

He said an ATS was also established in 2005 to give government troops a free hand in their pursuit of Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani.

“[Janjalani] was allegedly in the proximity of an MILF-influenced area. So an ATS was established in Guindulungan, Maguindanao, near a swampland,” Hermoso said.

MILF fighters abandoned Camp Bader in Guindulungan and proceeded to the ATS, with the movement witnessed by government soldiers to dispel suspicion that Abu Sayyaf bandits in disguise had joined the group.

Hermoso said that in 2004, nine ATS were established in the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Davao Oriental in line with the visit of a Malaysian team monitoring the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF in June 2001.

4-point peace plan

The establishment of ATS for MILF rebels was part of a 4-point peace plan proposed by the government to the group in 2003. This was to avoid “misencounters” while peace negotiations were ongoing.

Other “talking points” included in that proposal were: the setting up of an acceptable monitoring team to monitor ceasefire mechanisms on the ground; the enforcement of a joint communique dated May 6, 2002, where the MILF agreed to interdict criminals taking refuge in its controlled areas; and the pinpointing of responsibility for the bombings in urban areas and destruction of power transmission towers in Mindanao.

In 2003, then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita was quoted as saying in an Inquirer report that he expected the item on the ATS to be the most contentious.

No longer ‘camps’

On July 18, 1997, the government and the MILF forged an agreement in Cagayan de Oro City to cease hostilities and to continue formal peace talks.

The implementing rules were signed four months later, on Nov. 14, 1997, paving the way for the acknowledgment of 7 of the 46 MILF camps—Abubakar in Barira, Maguindanao; Bushra in Butig, Lanao del Sur; Rajamuda in Buliok, Pagalungan, Maguindanao; Omar and Bader in Guindulungan, Maguindanao; Darapanan in Maguindanao; and Bilal in Munai, Lanao del Norte.

“But now, we refrain from using the words ‘camps,’ ‘territories,’ ‘stronghold.’ They are called ‘communities’ or ‘areas influenced’ by them,” Hermoso said.

After the fall of Abubakar in 2000 when then President Joseph Estrada waged an all-out war against the MILF, the group’s members dispersed all over the conflict areas.

But lawless elements also sought refuge in these areas, Hermoso said.

Joint action group

Under the 2002 joint communique, an ad hoc joint action group against criminal elements hiding in MILF-influenced communities was formed. This group works with the CCCH in monitoring the conflict areas.

“If government soldiers or MILF combatants move from one barangay to another with arms, there should be coordination,” Hermoso said.

“If there’s a report of violations, the CCCH will send a quick-response team. If there’s an active shooting war, it will serve as a mediator,” he said.

Article I of the Implementing Rules and Operational Guidelines and Ground Rules of the 1997 Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities lists the prohibited acts.

These include terrorism acts such as kidnapping, hijacking, piracy, sabotage, arson, bombings, grenade throwing, robbery liquidation/assassination, unjustified arrest, torture, unreasonable search and seizure, summary execution, burning of houses, places of worship and educational institutions, destruction of properties, and abuse of civilians.

Aggressive acts such as attacks, raid, ambuscades, land mines, offensive military actions such as shelling, reconnoitering and unjustified massing of troops, are also banned.

The establishment of checkpoints, except those necessary for the government’s enforcement and maintenance of peace and order and for the defense and security of the MILF in its identified areas, is also considered a violation.

Sources: Phone interview with Col. Dickson Hermoso; Inquirer Archives;

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  • Anonymous

    why is there MILF in Zamboanga Sibugay?  Zamboanga peninsula is ancestral land to Subanens.

  • DAR

    If we only leave this things to the military, way back then, and right NOW, the only influenced and territory for all this treacherous organized criminals is in history book period!

    • Meeney Miney

      You are right DAR. If only the military was given a free hand and no politician from the president down meddled, then the only territory these MILF bandits  would call their own are their burial plots.

  • Anonymous

    Too wide, too many places to hide their erring brothers.

    If you run after their erring brothers, they will shoot you at the back. That is how things are going to happen.

  • be honest

    Nice interview and concise. Kudos to Inquirer.
    As it turns out, there are 5 things –
    1 ) The attack and slaughtering of 19 sholdiers were way out of line for MILF, since its 4 miles away from MILF ” communities ” previously ATS ;
    2 ) Therefore supposedly there is no need to seek higher rank Commander approval. as well as coordination with MILF ;
    3 ) Now if we trace the agreement and the previous events, the sacking of 2 commanders by P-Noy was ill advised ;
    4 ) During the ANC interview, the commander said ” he informed MILF and his higher rank officer the previous night that Army will serve warrant to Asnawi. ” As it turned out the army were ambushed. So obviously MILF tipped off Asnawi and set a trap for the soldiers. MILF admitted on its website that they slaughtered the 19 soldiers ;
    5 ) I wonder if the current negotiating panel members know about the history of all those developments before their being appointed,

    • Loggnat

      ‘ 3 ) Now if we trace the agreement and the previous events, the sacking of 2 commanders by P-Noy was ill advised ‘ I do not agree with this one. As the persons in command of those greenhorn unit that was sent to an operation, these two officers were responsible for the lack of an experienced core in the unit and the almost criminal lack of logistic and back-up support for the mission. These commanders and/or officers should have prepared a contingency for the worst so they will be able to react if and when worst occurs. No agreements or external events is a valid excuse for being unprepared and tactically outmaneuvered  by the terrorists.

      • be honest

        I would like to think that this refers to my comment, even it does not mention reply to me.
        Oct 18 the 19 soldiers were slaughtered. On Oct 19 P-Noy sacked 2 commanders, of course based on initial report. At that time even rumors flied around that the troops were after the P2M bounty, they were students in scuba diving school. They did not coordinate with MILF.. etc…
        Then this week ANC has an interview with the sacked commander, as mentioned in my 4 ). He also said that 100 soldiers were fighting about 400 MILFs.
        Thats why I said ” P-Noy was ill advised ” by his advisors or generals just 1 day after the incident.
        Thank you.

  • Ja Badong

    MILF is all of the above: terrorist, criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah,

    • Anonymous

      tama ka ja badong!!!!

  • Anonymous

    {Article I of the Implementing Rules and Operational Guidelines and Ground Rules of the 1997 Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities lists the prohibited acts.
    These include terrorism acts such as kidnapping, hijacking, piracy, sabotage, arson, bombings, grenade throwing, robbery liquidation/assassination, unjustified arrest, torture, unreasonable search and seizure, summary execution, burning of houses, places of worship and educational institutions, destruction of properties, and abuse of civilians.
    Aggressive acts such as attacks, raid, ambuscades, land mines, offensive military actions such as shelling, reconnoitering and unjustified massing of troops, are also banned.
    The establishment of checkpoints, except those necessary for the government’s enforcement and maintenance of peace and order and for the defense and security of the MILF in its identified areas, is also considered a violation.}

    No wonder the MILF has many existing renegades, so that they can completely circumvent these prohibitions!


  • Anonymous

    These smart government peace negotiation people must have came from Academic institutions!

    1) It must be the purpose of the government to make them run continually to that they have no opportunity to regroup, retrain, rearm, reorganize and strengthen their seditious forces, and;
    2) The  dispersal is to force them to go into settlements so that they can be divided and controlled by government forces.  Because in civilian in settlements with presence government they cannot issue, store, nor manufacture guns and related armaments, as well as provide opportunity for government intelligence operatives to penetrate their groups! (in a place were all the people are either relatives, friends, as sympathizers of the enemy no government intelligence will ever prosper)

    Whereas isolating them giving them ATS, and impunity, the effect was giving them complete opportunity to develop and increase their forces, which is entirely opposite to needed military strategies. This is the fact they were able to acquire sophisticated weaponry and increase up to 12,000 men.  In effect this ATS was in totality contrary and a complete betrayal to the interest of the government.

    To me personally those people who initiated these idea must be hanged by court martial.

  • Anonymous

    In fact the way the muslim rebels reacts and demands this ATS was the thing that gave them the idea of state within a state!
    That man in the government panel that initiated this ATS idea must really be hanged!

    The effect of his ‘smart and benevolent ideas tragically forced away forever the presence of 19 young men from their loving families….

    Imagine! It was reported the entrails (internal organs) of some soldiers were removed from their bodies!

  • Anonymous

    In theory that ATS is good because, it appears out of kindness of government!
    But in reality that ATS is abused by the MILF (who is truly Islamic in character).
    That makes the ATS adversarial to the government as it cannot be implemented rightfully!

  • Anonymous

    Therefore in the case of Al-Barka, the murderers emerged from Al barka and ambushed, decapitated, executed, and removed the internal organs of some soldiers; instead of going to Al Barka for tactical refuge. 

    So this is how the MILF does, and the fruit of idi_cy of our peace panel people.

    But anyway the title of this news is somewhat improper…
    I did not read any specific statement from the AFP to that effect – the Al Barka was the last among the ATS.

    The report only implied that ATS technically does not exist in this Basilan as their was no large-scale offensive against the MILF.


  • Marlyn De vera

    The damage has been done, the peace negotiators/peace advisers led by Ging Deles are the culprits, their dumbness and foolishness are the reasons why the 19 soldiers were murdered. However, again just like Puno and Llamas, I don’t see any punishment to be given by President Noy because of the  Command Responsibility policy. So as usual, kahit PALPAK na adviser or staff sila,  they will be retained para hindi makita ng taong bayan ang ka-PALPAKAN na kanilang nagawa. 


    ayos na military operation ito ah publicly announced. paano maabutan ang mga rebelde nyan?

  • Bill Steffen

    Hers  an  idea.  If  AFP  troops  are  beheaded  and  their internal  organs  removed lets  have  the  “Peace Panel  go  out  there  and  clean  up  the  mess.   Maybe  then  they  can  get  a  good  dose  of  reality

  • Anonymous

    Calling Wikileaks. What’s the real score in Mindanao peace process? Perhaps you can leak pertinent information to us. Or that’s it: WYSIWYG?

  • ed0408

    To avoid conflict the MILF and all separatist groups should be given by the Phil. gov’t. an islet somewhere in the outskirts of Kalayaan island. They will be given a free hand and no financial assistance from the gov’t.. Why should they ask for more when they don’t like the Philippines anyway.

  • Anonymous

    Napakaraming established rule for MILF but none is implemented but rather misunderstood in translation by the MILF like the ATS. Walang implementation sa rule kasi puro kayo pasarap at kurakot, not to mention puro kayo tamad at ayaw magtrabaho ng tama. Yong mga bagong nagtake over sa gobyerno ay puro ignorant sa mga established rules at pinabayaan ng lahat. Wala talagang mangyayari sa mga pangkapayapaang usapin, wala kasing follow up na nagrereview ng mga implemented law and rules ng past administration. Pagtalikod pagkatapos ng USAPAN wala na, nakalimutan ng lahat at balik nanaman sa dating gawi. Heto ang ugali ng mga pinoy kahit muslim pa man. Ang problemang malaki ay puro ignorant behavior ang nananaig sa mga tao, puro siesta at lamon at pasarap lang ang inaatupag. Only few keep themselves educated by reading and keeping themselves informed of the past & present. Majority have short memories, that ended up in ignorance.

  • Brando

    This should be the case. If the outlaws are joined in by the MILF in a battle with the AFP, the MILF members in the fight become outlaws too. If the MILF cannot understand that and threatens to withdraw from the peace talk, then so be it! It is their own game! People are fed up with them! Why only us in the government side seem to be the ones giving primacy to the peace process? If the MILF is not sincere at all, stop talking peace with them. Let us then take a look of the other option – war!

  • agent_888

    it should be…we are a sovereign country, if we let this ATS…it comes that there is a territory within the Philippine sovereignty….any arming groups are treats to our sovereignty even npa’s…Once and for all, we must crashes this as it is root of chaos and destability of peace in our country. The government let this area inhabited by moros, they inhabited already this area free, what are they want? to have a substate?…it should be a’s a real agenda of this people….we must have only one SOLID Army, the AFP…the rest should be eliminated…I will glad if this MILF will not follow what their financiers want or they must help the Philippine government to reclaim Sabah land from Malaysia, here we have the right to reclaim it for them all moros to widen their ancestral domain…as the history speaks Sabah is under the Sultanate of Jolo but Malaysia grabs this land from moro people, here we have a real fight…to all moro don’t fight for the Philippine government and to the Filipino people since you are all also a Filipino muslims….

  • Anonymous

    How on earth you can tell who is a bandit and who are MILF?  whoever implemented this ATS was a jerk and a big moron. There should be only one on authority – Philippine Government. If there’s an armed group, its a legitimate enemy of the state, no conditions and should be crushed as soon as possible. We’ve been too lenient and considers human rights but all of armed group were abusing their rights. 

  • Anonymous

    To me, the AFP, should be the only government body that should define the ATS to avoid any confusion. Once the MILF crosses the line, then the AFP takes the necessary steps. This way maliwanag. Parang “patintero” lang yan. Sa loob ka guhit kung hindi “touch-taya.” Why should MILF define ATS? Ano sila hilo?

  • maria

    Good finally we have come to our senses! Abolish this so-called ATS after all it just provided sanctuary to lawless elements in Mindanao.

  • Mesc

    May naitala na bang kriminal na isinurender ang MILF? Iyong mga namugot sa Al Barka nung 2007 ay pinaghahanap pa rin.  Ngayong meron na namang mga sundalong pinagtataga sa parehong lugar, naniniwala ba si Penoy na susuwertihin na tayo at ibibigay sila ng MILF?  At bakit ginawa ang ‘all-out justice’ offensive 150kms away from the ambush site?  Malinaw, isa lamang itong palabas para i-neutralize ang galit ng mamamayan kay Penoy matapos ang kanyang malamyang sagot sa pagkamatay ng 19 na sundalo.

    Re serving of arrest warrants on ‘criminal elements':  Ang Muslim ay di nangiiwan ng kapwa Muslim, kesehodang kidnaper, extortionist, or rapist ka pa. Iyan ang rason kung bakit kinukupkop ng MILF sa kanilang ‘teritoryo’ ang ASG.  Kaya yung kundisyon nila na makipag-coordinate muna ang Army at sabihin kung sino ang hinahanting at saan sila maghahanap ay malinaw na pang-uuto lamang. Nagtataka pa ba ang mga heneral, si Deles, at si Penoy kung bakit may mga ambush na naghihintay sa tropa natin after the ‘coordination’ ?  

    Actually, common sense lang lahat ito. Kaya di ko maintindihan kung anong klaseng utak meron ang nakaupo ngayon sa palasyo.

  • Zeggie

    alam ko ang ATS na yan para lang sa mga MILF ang hindi alam ni “Pnoy at Deles” sa pinaka sentro ng ATS nandoon ang mg Abu Sayaf na mga pamilya at mga anak ng MILF members na naka paligid so paano galawin ng militar ang Abu Sayaf na di madaanan ang MILF ATS na yan.. mga kabayan kayo na mag husga..

  • Zeggie


    I’ve been working in Sabah for long time at alam ko kung paano minamalltrato ng mga Lokal Sabahan ang mga kapatid nating muslim doon na walang papel,,ni isa walang makatayo sa kanila para labanan ang gobyerno.. kasi walang umaamo sa kanila di kagaya sa Mindanao nandyan mga politiko na may hawak  at finaciers nila.

    • agent_888


      you can visit wwwdotroyalsuludotcom for more info, who is rightful over Sabah and who is illegal tenants of Sabah?…..Sana susuporta ang mga kababayan nating muslim dahil para din sa kanila yan “Reclaim Sabah for Philippines” under the Royal Hashemite of Sulu…Ang MILF ay ginagamit lang ng mga financier nila para guluhin ang Mindanao to divert the attention over Sabah and the same time they can exploit our natural resources once the so called “substate” for bangsamoro people granted by Phil. government..

  • Anonymous

    This ATS undermines the sovereignty of our country. It is like ceding our territory to these terrorist. Our country is a laughing stock in the international scene.

  • pepe

    Area of “Temporary” Stay, this is to relocate and segregate true MILF combatants from “Bandits” who were willing to infiltrate and reintegrate to the group so as to confuse the military finding the real target.

  • pepe

    The problem is you cannot trust MILF….

  • Anonymous

    The ATS should be abolished immediately as it is a precursor to miscommunications and loop sided excuses of hostilities by MILF. The president in 1997 was FVRamos, a politician who have lots of contacts in Mindanao, not for anything but for “winning” the future election purposes. A ceasefire was proposed not for peace but definitely for ensuring the winning the election of his protege, among them GMA. All agreements since 1997 of FVRamos and 2001 of GMA should now be scrapped and archived. The influential Malaysian observer or “commander” on the MILF side must be matched by Philippine gov’t deployment of a USA retired 4-star general in future negotiations. Philippine must declare that giving of Mindanao or Palawan under the MILF is non-negotiable. FVR and GMA wanted to negotiate a Ceasefire Agreement, I repeat , is not for peace, but to ensure the winning election as what happened in 2005 and 2007. So, AFP and P-Noy wake up!! ( News had it that Nur Misuari received a lot of pabaon during FVR’s time??)

    • Dana

      Romy Litz, Nur Misuari did not get pabaon.  I’ve learned that the money for ARMM only very little was spent on it.  I’ve heard that FVR and Nur Misuari helped themselves with the rest of the funds.  Nur Misuari deposited his share in Malaysian Banks and Saudi Arabian banks. FVR is under investigation and until today the investigation is still open until there is enough proof.  Nur Misuari, other tribes are mad at him that when he takes the wrong turn in Mindanao, those muslims he convinced to offer their sons to fight and die for him will eat him alive.  They helped him because he told them that the Philippine government will Christianize all muslims.  I’ve heard El Tabacco is CIA. Late Ferdinand Marcos knows. 

    • Anonymous

      Yes it’s true Misuari and his galamay received something during FVR’s time but that something came from CIA assisting the negotiation made possible. But for condition to surrender all arms (maybe just 90%) but that brought peace between MNLF and RP which is priceless to the people living there.

  • ed0408

    The MILF are lawless elements who can’t be trusted. They cuddle ASG and all other bandits in Mindanao to finance their separatist movement. They steal war materiel of our fallen AFP soldiers. They are cowards because they run when the AFP overran their camps. They’re not like our AFP who are brave and stand to the last man ready to die for their fellowmen. 

  • Ric Matti

    All territories within the Philippines are within the jurisdiction of the AFP!  ATS is unconstitutional and prone to deceit and abuse!

    Who are these MILF? They are all hindrance to peace and prosperity!
    Kaya hanggang ngayon ang hirap ng mga tao sa Mindanao gawa nila! Isama na din mga congressman na wala namang ginagawa kung hindi magpalaki ng itlog!

    Pathetic really….

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