Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members staged three attacks in Basilan, Lanao del Norte, and Zamboanga Sibugay on Saturday and Sunday, leaving at least eight people killed and 11 others injured, but the rebel group denied having any hand on the incidents.

Rubber tappers strafed

Around 5:30 a.m. Sunday, rubber tappers of the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. Dev’t. Cooperative (TARBIDC) and some militiamen were ambushed at Sitio Along-Along between Brgys. Upper and Sapah Bulak in Sumisip, Basilan, Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz said.

Civilians Renato Aligay, Junrel Langugon, Delord Johnson, Buenaventura Lugamay, and Fernando Tantalo, an “off-duty” Civilian Active Auxiliary (CAA) member, got killed in the attack, Ortiz said in a text message.

Eight others, identified as Alfredo Rojas, Danilo Tonghay, Adzar Madjakin, Abdul Mot, Julibert Dingkong, Francisco Taklindo, and CAA members Gilbert Guevara and Bonifacio Dagodog Jr., were injured, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said in a separate message.

Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc, said the Army headquarters has received information that the fatalities may have risen to six.

The attack was allegedly carried out by some 40 MILF members led by Hassan Asnawi, Ortiz and Cabangbang said.

“Nakasakay sila (rubber tappers and militiamen) sa isang TARBIDC-owned truck nang pagbabarilin nitong mga armado ‘yung sasakyan, that is clearly not a military target,” Cabunoc said.

2 soldiers killed in Lanao ambush

Meanwhile, Ortiz said two soldiers got killed while three others, including an Army captain, were injured when their convoy was ambushed by “suspected MILF” members in Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Lanao del Norte, around 11 a.m.

Cabunoc said the Army headquarters has yet to recieve the names of the fatalities, but those injured included a certain Capt. Barns who is in “critical condition.”

The convoy of 5th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Bagnus Gaerlan was fired upon by about five armed men while it was passing through Brgy. Payong.

Those killed and injured were on a KM450 military truck while Gaerlan, who was unharmed, was on a civilian vehicle, Cabunoc said.

“Colonel Gaerlan was on his way to facilitate the surrender of two MILF members. It is still unknown who did the ambush, but MILF forces are frequently seen in that area,” Cabunoc said.

Armed men seize 2 schools

On Saturday, around 120 “alleged lawless elements” of the MILF stormed a village in Talusan, Zamboanga Sibugay, and occupied two schools there after clashing with militiamen, police said.

Director Felicisimo Khu, head of the PNP Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Western Mindanao, said the lawless elements encountered Civilian Volunteer Organization members (CVO) in Brgy. Samonte around 2:30 p.m.

The armed men occupied the elementary school in the barangay while the CVO members withdrew towards Brgy. Cawilan after seeing they were outnumbered, Khu said in a text message late Saturday.

Chief Supt. Elpidio de Asis, Zamboanga Peninsula regional police director, said policemen were sent to the area around 5 p.m. to check on the presence of “alleged MILF lawless elements led by a certain commander Said.”

The group occupied and destroyed parts of the elementary school, took two large cattle, and other properties of residents there, De Asis said in a text message Sunday, citing field reports.

The armed men later moved towards the boundary of Brgys. Moalboal and Matim and were last monitored in an abandoned elementary school in Brgy. Bolingan, he said.

MILF denies attacks

Von Al-Haq, the MILF’s spokesman for military affairs, said in a phone interview that the rebel group did not stage the ambushes in Basilan and Lanao del Norte, as well as the occupation of schools in Zamboanga Sibugay.

“Hindi mga MILF ‘yun sa Basilan na pumatay sa plantation workers at sa Sibugay sapagkat kahapon may kautusan na, na hindi magsasagawa ng
atake at ambush,” Al-Haq told reporters.

The order was issued by the chief of staff of the MILF Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces on Saturday morning, he said.

Pursuit launched

A company of Scout Rangers, or about 100 soldiers, have been sent to pursue the ambushers in Basilan while Col. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the 104th Brigade, sent a platoon to chase the attackers in Lanao del Norte, Cabunoc said.

“A pursuit was launched because according to the GRP-MILF ceasefire agreement, there is no ‘area of temporary stay’ of the MILF in those places. We call these ambushers bandits,” Cabunoc said.

“Walang ‘area of temporary stay’ ang MILF doon (sa Sultan Naga Dimaporo), ang pinakamalapit na ATS ay nasa Butig, Lanao del Sur… Kung mapapatunayan na MILF itong mga nang-ambush, this is a clear ceasefire violation,” Cabunoc said.

Meanwhile, members of the Army’s 10th Infantry Battalion are now in Talusan to help policemen pursue the armed men. “Wala ring ‘area of temporary stay’ ang MILF sa lugar na yan,” Cabunoc said.

The attacks occurred just two days after members of the MILF staged ambuscades that killed five soldiers and three policemen, including two officers, in Zamboanga Sibugay mainland’s Alicia and Kabasalan towns.

The MILF owned up to those earlier attacks, saying these were in retaliation for the military and police operations against its 113rd Base Command in Payao town.

Military and police officials said the “law enforcement operations” were not aimed at the MILF, but against Waning Abdusalam, the alleged leader of a kidnap-for-ransom group.

On October 18, a total of 19 soldiers, including four Army lieutenants, died in a clash with members of the MILF’s 114th Base Command in Al Barka, Basilan. The rebel group said the soldiers “encroached” its territory and attacked its forces, a claim which the military strongly denied. (John Roson)

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