Tag Archive: Bangasmoro Islamic Freedom Fighters


About 2,000 residents of Datu Montawal, Maguindanao, have also fled their homes for fear of getting caught in the middle of fighting between members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), authorities said Wednesday.

This, as the ARMM Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-HEART) reported more evacuees and several houses were burned in Pagalungan because of the fighting.

A total of 468 families, or roughly 2,300 people, living in Brgy. Talitay, Datu Montawal, have been displaced as of Tuesday afternoon, Jo Henry, information officer at the ARMM-HEART, said by phone.

“Nag-escalate sa kabilang munisipyo… ‘Yung mga naglalaban, parang doon tumakbo, doon naghabulan sa Montawal,” she said.

Datu Montawal is adjacent to Pagalungan — where the clashes occur — as well as Pikit of North Cotabato.

Of the displaced families in Datu Montawal, 416 are now taking shelter in Sitio Pidtulangian, also in Brgy. Talitay, while 52 crossed to Pikit and Kabacan, where they have relatives, Henry said.

Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the last monitored fighting between MILF and BIFF forces occurred around 12 noon Tuesday in Pagalungan.

The military has not recieved reports of fighting in Datu Montawal, Petinglay said by phone.

Houses burn in ‘no man’s land’

Henry said the fighting in Pagalungan has left at least five houses burned while two barangays are considered as “no man’s land.”

“Ang report sa amin ngayon may limang bahay na ang nasunog sa Sitio Balungis, Brgy. Kalbugan, kung saan nangyari ‘yung bakbakan. ‘Yung bakbakan nagsimula sa Sitio Tatak, also in Kalbugan,” she said.

Members of the ARMM-HEART went to Pagalungan Wednesday to bring relief goods and check on the situation, but were only able visit evacuation centers in the town proper.

“Hindi kami makapasok doon sa looban, doon sa Kalbugan, nasa interior kasi ‘yun, malayo dito sa mga evacuation center… ‘yung Kalbugan saka Buliok dineclare na ‘no man’s land’ ‘nung mga nag-aaway. Wala nang tao ngayon doon,” Henry said.

20,000 flee in Pikit, Pagalungan

Henry said 1,502 families comprised of 9,742 individuals have been displaced in Pagalungan alone.

“Nanawagan ‘yung local government ng Pagalungan ng tulong kasi talagang hirap ang mga tao sa evacuation center. Marami naman nang tumulong, DSWD, UNHCR, at mga non-government organizations pero kailangan kasi masustain,” she said.

Aside from food and water, evacuees are currently in need of tarpaulins that they can use as tents or sleeping mats, Henry said.

The Pagalungan municipal gymnasium, which currently being used as an evacuation center, is already filled up so some evacuees are staying outside with no roof on their heads, she said.

In Pikit, meanwhile, a total of 1,982 families comprised of 10,664 persons have been displaced, Office of Civil Defense-12 director Minda Morante said.

The displaced persons are residents of Brgy. Kabasalan, Raja Muda, Barungis, Buliok, Bulol, and Bagoinged, Morante said in an emailed report. (John Roson)

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More than 8,000 people in North Cotabato and Maguindanao have fled their homes as clashes between members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) continued, authorities said Monday.

“The situation is escalating” as there are already evacuations in six barangays of Pikit and these are “continuing,” Cynthia Ortega, head of the North Cotabato Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) said by phone.

As of 2 p.m. Monday, a total of 1,702 families or more than 8,000 people were monitored to have evacuated in Brgys. Barungis, Bagoinged, Buliok, Rajah Muda, Bulol, and Kabasalan, Ortega said.

“‘Di lang sila makabigay ng update doon kasi sige ang evacuation… We can say nag-escalate na ‘yung situation kasi marami nang barangays ang affected,” she said.

About 500 families also evacuated in neighboring Pagalungan, Maguindanao, where the clashes are occurring, according to initial reports recieved by the Office of Civil Defense-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Senior Superintendent Danilo Peralta, North Cotabato provincial police director, said clashes between the MILF and BIFF are “continuing” in Pagalungan and have forced many residents there to evacuate to Pikit.

“Marami sa mga ito ay taga-Pagalungan, tumawid sila dito para makaiwas dun sa bakbakan ng MILF at BIFF doon sa kanila,” Peralta said when contacted by phone during his visit to an evacuation center.

Sounds of the ongoing clashes can sometimes be heard in Pikit, which is just adjacent to Pagalungan, he said.

“Minsan, ‘pag tahimik, nadidinig namin dito ‘yung mga mortar (explosion), mangilan-ngilan,” Peralta said.

The official, however, noted that policemen and soldiers do not interfere in the fighting because it is “internal” to the MILF and BIFF.

Peralta, meanwhile, said authorities in Pikit find no problem in hosting evacuees from Pagalungan and are even handing them relief goods.

“Welcome naman dito ‘yung mga taga-Maguindanao kasi ‘yang Maguindanao dati ring Cotabato ‘yan, nahati lang, so kahit taga-doon ang evacuees, kahit Bangsamoro sila at may Christians kami dito, welcome sila at binibigyan ng pagkain dito,” Peralta said. (John Roson)

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National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina on Wednesday called on Muslim rebels to explain why members of the Special Action Force (MILF) had to be “overkilled” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, amid an ongoing peace process.

Espina’s call came amid talk of lack of coordination between the PNP and Armed Forces, and between the SAF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with whom the government signed a preliminary peace deal last year.

“Ang aking punto rito eh doon sa mga nakalaban… Granting, for the sake of argument, hindi nag-coordinate ‘yung SAF troopers, was it enough reason for the overkill?” Espina told reporters in Camp Crame.

“Was it justifiable on their part na mayroon kaming usapan, magkaroon ng overkill? They did not have the intent to let anybody live,” Espina said, in an apparent referrence to the MILF.

Members of the SAF also clashed with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which is not engaged in peace talks with the government.

The clash in Brgy. Tukanalipao on January 25 left 44 police commandos dead and 16 others injured.

Eight of the slain policemen were members of the 84th Special Action Company (SAC), which carried out a raid against Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Abdul basit Usman, while 36 were from the 55th SAC which served as a “blocking force.”

According to Espina, some SAF members were already dead before they were shot to the head and stripped off of their uniforms and personal belongings.

“Pagkatapos patayin pinagbabaril sa ulo. Finishing touches… Bakit mo babarilin sa mukha? Tatanggalin mo ang uniform. Kukunin mo ang cellphone, tatawagan mo ang misis nung isa sasabihan na wala na ang mister mo?” he said.

Espina pointed out that the commandos had SAF markings on their uniforms, clearly showing that they are government forces.

“We behave according to the protocol, we expect the other party to behave. Forty-four na buhay ang kinuha ninyo. Meron tayong usapin. Remember those 44. But we will always abide by the peace talks,” he said.

‘Mission accomplished’

In a separate press briefing, former SAF commander Dir. Getulio Napeñas assured that Marwan was killed in the early morning raid in neighboring Brgy. Pidsandawan before the commandos clashed with MILF and BIFF forces in Tukanalipao.

“Mission accomplished. At tinataya ko, magre-resign na ako siguro kung hindi si Marwan… Napakalaki ‘yung kredibilidad na siya ‘yung target at namatay doon sa operasyon,” Napeñas said.

Napeñas, who was relieved as SAF commander following the death of 44 police commandos, revealed that the force started targetting Marwan in December 2010, but early attempts to get the Malaysian terror suspect failed.

Operations had also been planned in 2012 but were shelved.

Purisima OK’d plan

Napeñas said other operations were planned from April to November 2014 and these were approved by PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima before the later was suspended from office by the Ombudsman in December.

He said January 25’s operation in Mamasapano stemmed from the “go signal” that Purisima had given in November.

“Yung go signal na ‘yun ay nag-umpisa pa noong November. Tinuloy-tuloy namin ‘yan. Doon sa rule number 4 ng ating police operational procedure, ‘yung head of office ay puwedeng magsagawa ng operasyon lalung-lalo na may operation na ganyan dati pa,” Napeñas said.

He said Purisima, in November, also told him to inform Espina — then deputy chief for operations — about the raid only when the SAF commandos were already on the ground.

Two ‘chiefs’

So on January 25 — when Purisima is already serving suspension and Espina is officer-in-charge — Napeñas was reporting to both superiors.

“Dalawa sila na nire-reportan ko sa kadahilanang ang project na iyon inumpisahan ni Gen. Purisima noong April pa hanggang November, tuloy-tuloy, siya mismo ‘yung may hawak ng intelligence nung project na iyon,” Napeñas said.

Napeñas also said he did not report to President Benigno Aquino or even Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas because doing so goes against the “chain of command.”

“Doon sa chain of command ng PNP, chief PNP or OIC PNP ang aking unang sasabihan at hindi ako puwedeng lumaktaw,” he said.

Coordination clash

Meanwhile, Espina and Napeñas belied claims that the PNP did not coordinate the SAF raid with the Armed Forces so the latter failed to send reinforcements during the police commandos’ time of need.

Espina said he learned of Marwan’s reported killing 5:30 a.m. and the ensuing clash with BIFF and MILF forces by 6 a.m., so he sought help from AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.

Espina said Guerrero “mobilized” troops after that and he texted the latter some grid coordinates showing the SAF troopers’ location exactly 7:51 a.m.

The AFP and even President Aquino, in previous statements, pointed out that the military was not given enough time to prepare or send reinforcements for the SAF.

The AFP, in a statement earlier this week, said it did “all that can be done,” but only mentioned the extrication of wounded SAF personnel, not combat support.

Unnamed military sources, in some news reports, also claimed that soldiers manning helicopters, tanks, and Howitzer cannons, at the time did not know the beleaguered SAF troopers’ location.

Napeñas said evidences of coordination, particularly the grid coordinates, will be seen in the probe being conducted by the PNP Board of Inquiry.

He also explained that under police operational procedures, coordination can be done either “before or during” an operation.

“Kaya ‘yung coordination ay puwedeng before o during, sa kadahilanan na nagkakaroon ng compromise kapag nagko-coordinate kami doon sa lugar. Habang naghahanda sila (military), namo-monitor na kaagad,” he said.

Espina was quick to say that the AFP and PNP are “solidly together” and are “always coordinating.”

300 did not sit idly

Napeñas, meanwhile, strongly denied claims that the 300-plus other SAF troopers involved in the operation did not do anything to help their fellow commandos, especially those in the 55th SAC which was “pinned down” by Muslim rebels.

“Hindi po totoo ‘yun. Maraming attempt na dinig na dinig po namin sa radyo, ‘yung battalion commander po mismo nadidinig ko mismo na nag-uutos na pasukin ‘yun… Siya mismo ang nakakaaalam na ‘yung mga tao niya ay nandun sa looban at pinipilit nila na tulungan at reinforce-an ‘yung 55th Company,” he said.

The man on the radio is Supt. Hendrix Mangaldan, commander of the 4th Special Action Battalion that is comprised of the 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, and 45th SACs.

The 45th, 42nd, and 41st SACs were tasked to support the 84th SAC in its raid against Marwan and Usman, while the 43rd and 44th companies were positioned along the road to prevent ambuscades, Napeñas said.

“Ginawa lahat ng effort nung 45th, 42nd, at saka ‘yung 41st company na i-rescue sila (55th SAC) pero dahil sa dami at grabe ng volume of fire hindi na sila nakarating,” he said.

Wait and see

Napeñas, who had been silent since the incident, said he decided to speak in public after learning of statements derogatory to the SAF.

“Minabuti ko na hindi muna magsalita dahil gusto kong hintayin, bigyan natin ng galang ‘yung resulta ng Board of Inquiry pero dahil sa mga statement na lumabas ngayon lang, na sinisira na ‘yung puri ng director ng Special Action Force, pati na ‘yung Special Action Force at buong kapulisan, pagka hindi ako magsasalita, magkakaroon ng public opinion, magseset-in na. Para ito magkaroon lang ng balanse,” he said.

The former commander declined to reveal more and said he will just wait for results of the probe being carried out by the BOI.

“Ang pinakamaganda, hintayin natin ‘yung resulta ng Board of Inquiry para sa ganun ‘yun ang magpapatunay kung ano ang katotohanan sa mga nangyari,” Napeñas added. (John Roson)

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The Army provided reinforcements to members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) who were involved in a bloody clash with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, contrary to reports that it did not aid the police commandos, the military said Monday.

In its report to Armed Forces chief Gregorio Catapang, a fact-finding committee said the Army’s 6th Infantry Division organized a “quick reaction force,” AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

The force was composed of troops from different infantry units, including armored assets of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade which were deployed for the extraction of wounded SAF personnel, Cabunoc said in a statement.

“Unknown to most in the public, the 6th Infantry Division began providing support from an hour after being informed until the early morning hours of the following day,” Cabunoc said.

Members of the SAF conducted an operation in Brgy. Tukanalipao on January 25 against Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah operative Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman.

Marwan was reportedly killed in the 4 a.m. raid, but members of the SAF were engaged in a firefight by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as they withdrew.

The clash resulted in the death of 44 police commandos and wounding of 16 more, raising questions like what the Army — which has thousands of troops in Maguindanao — did to help the SAF.

“The Army was not remiss in its duties to assist and reinforce the beleaguered SAF elements in Mamasapano and did all that was possible under the circumstances when they received the request of help after the fact,” Cabunoc said.

A military source, meanwhile, said the 6th ID even had its Howitzer cannons readied and helicopters were sent by the AFP Western Mindanao Command, but these were not used because of “lack of information.”

“Nai-fly kaagad ‘yung helicopter, hindi lang alam kung san papupuntahin, nakabuo kaagad ng mga forces, hindi lang alam kung saan papupuntahin… Noong nagre-request ng kanyon, hindi naman daw makapaputok ‘yung mga forces kasi hindi naman nila alam kung nasaan ‘yung papapatukan,” the source, who requested anonymity, said.

The helicopters were eventually not flown, also to avoid an “escalation,” while cannons only fired rounds of “white phosporous” to determine the beleaguered SAF troopers’ location, the source said.

“There were appropriate preparations made as the events were unfolding, only that it appeared na limited ‘yung information [kaya] hindi talaga agad naibigay ang wastong suporta,” he added.

“The AFP categorically states that everything that could be done was done under the circumstance with due consideration to avoid fratricide and collateral damage,” Cabunoc said for his part.

The AFP will turn over all of the fact-finding committee’s findings to the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) once requested, he said.

“The AFP also appeals to the public to be circumspect on the matter and allow the BOI to finish its assigned task and await the final report of the Board,” he added. (John Roson)

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The government sacked the commander of the National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) following the death of more than 40 police commandos in a clash with Muslim armed groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, over the weekend.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina made the announcement then claimed that they did not recieve prior notice of the elite police unit’s operation, which eventually turned into the bloody clash.

Director Getulio Napeñas was relieved as SAF commander pending the result of an investigation by the PNP, Roxas said in a press briefing in Camp Crame Tuesday.

“He (Napeñas) was given chance to help recover body of his men, but today he was recalled back to Manila,” Roxas added.

Espina said in the same briefing that SAF deputy commander Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño will replace Napeñas, in an officer-in-charge capacity.

“His (Napeñas) administrative relief will pave the way for the start of the board of inquiry, I would like to get to bottom of things,” he said.

The inquiry will be conducted by Directorate for Integrated Police Operations-Western Mindanao head Dir. Edgardo Ingking, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Dir. Benjamin Magalong, and Directorate for Research and Development head Chief Supt. Catalino Rodriguez, Espina said.

Crame ‘not told’ of SAF operation

Roxas and Espina claimed that the DILG and PNP leadership were not informed of Sunday’s SAF operation in Mamasapano — which involved almost a battalion of police commandos in full battle gear — before it was executed.

“No… Ang masasabi natin, hindi ‘yan dumating sa command group,” Roxas said when asked if the operation was cleared with him.

“It did not reach the command group. That’s as far as I can say, everything will be tackled in the board of inquiry… It didn’t reach us,” Espina said for his part.

A total of 392 SAF members from different parts of the country participated in the operation, which targetted Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah operative Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman, Roxas said.

“It was a legitimate operation,” Roxas said in a televised press briefing in Maguindanao on Monday afternoon.

Bitter pill

Roxas on Tuesday maintained his careful stance on how the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — which just concluded peace negotiations with the government last year — was involved in the clash that followed the SAF raid.

As of Tuesday, 44 SAF members were confirmed killed while 12 are injured and 336 are unharmed and accounted for, Roxas said.

“Tuloy ang tiwala at kumpiyansa ng PNP sa peace process na bagamat napakalungkot, matindi ang kapaitan ng pangyayari, ang mas malawak na peace process ay mahalaga at kabahagi ang PNP sa pagsulong ng peace process,” he said.

The government and MILF signed a peace agreement March 2014 and are currently waiting for the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will implement their deal.

Congress’ deliberations on the BBL were suspended until investigations on the clash are completed.

Elements of the SAF were first attacked by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), then had a “misencounter” with members of the MILF, Roxas explained.

The DILG chief also said Tuesday that investigators still have yet to determine if Marwan, who is wanted by the U.S. government, had indeed been killed in the SAF raid as earlier field reports indicated.

‘Justice’

Despite their toned-down stance, Roxas and Espina vowed to give “justice” to the slain SAF members.

“‘Yung pagbibigay ng katarungan ay sa dalawang paraan – filing ng kaso versus sa mga pumatay sa SAF heroes, kabahagi na nito ‘yung kung may lapses at pananagutin kung meron man, and honors and benefits,” Roxas said.

Espina said full honors, awards, and promotion will be given to the slain police commandos while benefits will be extended to their families.

“I will recommend the highest possible medals to be given — equivalent to a Gold Cross medal — to our fallen heroes. I will also recommend spot promotion of those who died in this operation. Full state honors, benefits will be given,” he said.

Director Rolando Purugganan, head of the Directorate for Comptollership, was tasked to facilitate and ensure the distribution of awards and benefits to the slain policemen and their families, Espina said.

Central Mindanao police take strong stance

While the DILG and PNP leadership kept statements at a low key, the Central Mindanao regional police outrightly condemned the killing of SAF members in Mamasapano.

“The bloodbath brought about by the brutal and cowardly doing of heartless rebel groups was such inimical and condemnable act,” Chief Superintendent Lester Camba, director of the Region 12 police said in a statement.

Camba’s statement came along with one from North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza.

“The incident is condemnable, we must not forget the series of bombings that occurred in the province of North Cotabato… Our elite special forces were going after two notorious bomb makers,” the police statement quoted Mendoza as saying.

Marwan and Usman, along with members of the BIFF, are blamed for the recent bombings in North Cotabato and other parts of Central Mindanao.

North Cotabato and Maguindanao share a vast, marshy border where bombing suspects and rebels who conducted attacks in previous years are said to be hiding.

“While we support our peace initiatives, our government troops who set law and maintain order in this civilized society should be respected and not killed,” Mendoza added.

Blast kills 2

As Tuesday wound to a close, a still unidentified type of explosive went off in Pikit, North Cotabato, killing two people.

The explosion occurred near a convenience store along Manuel L. Quezon st., Brgy. Poblacion, around 6:11 p.m., said Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

Two persons on a motorcycle died on the spot because of the blast, Petinglay said in a text message.

The two are “suspected bombers killed by the premature explosion of the IED (improvised explosive device) they were carrying,” Senior Superintendent Danilo Peralta, director of the North Cotabato provincial police, said in a separate message.

Local police are still trying to identify the fatalities and the type of IED that went off, Peralta said. (John Roson)

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Maguindanao clash toll breaches 40

The number of policemen killed in a clash with Muslim armed groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, rose to more than 40 on Monday as authorities discussed repercussions of the fighting, which involved a group engaged in peace negotiations with the government.

An “actual body count” of 49 slain PNP Special Action Force (SAF) members was tallied 11:54 a.m., according to a report from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police.

Some of the bodies have brought to the headquarters of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Datu Odin Sinsuat town while retrieval operations for others went on in Mamasapano, according to a copy of the report received 1 p.m.

National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, in a televised press briefing in Maguindanao later Monday afternoon, said 43 killed SAF members have been accounted for while 11 were injured and one is missing.

Seven of the slain police commandos whose bodies have been recovered were officers, Espina said.

3 civilians hurt, 500 families flee

Meanwhile, the Office of Civil Defense-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao reported that three civilians were injured while more than 500 families fled because of the fighting.

Tot Panangulon, his wife Samra, and their 8-year-old daughter Sara were reportedly wounded during the encounter, OCD-ARMM officer-in-charge Myrna Angot said in an emailed report.

A total of 563 families from Brgy. Tukanalipao, where the clash occurred, and neighboring barangays of Pimblakan, Tuka, Pidsandawan, and Dasikil fled their homes, Angot said.

Of that number, 66 families from Tukanalipao are staying at a madrasah (Islamic school) in Brgy. Daladap, while 497 are taking refuge with relatives, she said. 

Gov’t careful on MILF involvement

Ranking officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently in peace negotiations with the government, admitted that members of the group were involved in the clash and defended their action.

Government officials, on the other hand, were careful in mentioning the MILF’s involvement.

“Hindi naman naka-uniporme ‘yung mga nagpaputok kontra sa ating kapulisan but in that area, halo ‘yung mga puwersa. We will know exactly,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas told reporters in Camp Crame.

Roxas made the remark when asked if the MILF were indeed involved in the fighting.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in a separate interview, said he received information that the members of the smaller Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which had broken away from the MILF, were also involved in the clash.

“Ang pagkaalam namin pumasok dito ‘yung BIFF so we have to run after them,” Gazmin told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Gazmin and Roxas, along with Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang and Espina, later flew to Maguindanao to discuss the situation with local authorities.

Cause of concern

The defense chief, without mentioning the MILF, admitted that the government is “concerned” on how the fighting will affect the peace negotiations.

“Hindi naman kami worried but it is a concern dahil may mga taong ayaw sumama dun sa majority, gagawa at gagawa nyan para mapansin,” Gazmin said, obviously referring to the BIFF.

In a phone interview with reporters, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal admitted that the group is wary of the clash’s possible effect on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“‘Yun na nga ang pinangangambahan,” Iqbal said.

Congress’ deliberations for the BBL, which will implement the peace agreement signed between the government and MILF last March, were suspended on Monday until authorities complete the probe on the clash.

“Ang importante dito, ‘yung dalawang panig, ‘yung partners sa peace process, mag-usap at tingnan how to move forward, kasi mas mahalaga ‘yung peace process, mahalaga ‘yung BBL,” Iqbal said.

‘Misencounter’

Iqbal defended the MILF’s involvement in the clash, saying policemen “attacked” an MILF area.

“Lumusob ang PNP so nagdepensa ‘yung MILF… Siguro higit na isang company ‘yun, may dalawang wings ‘yung umatake… ‘yung dalawang wings, ‘yun ang nakasagupa ng MILF kasi ‘yung area na ‘yun mga 90 percent MILF area,” he said.

“One hundred percent, 1,000 percent walang coordination sa ceasefire [committee], walang coordination sa Ad Hoc Joint Action Group,” Iqbal added.

Roxas, in the press briefing in Maguindanao, maintained that the SAF conducted a “legitimate operation” Sunday against Malaysian and Filipino bomb experts Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.

“Isa itong legitimate operation against Marwan and Basit Usman. Hindi ito para manggulo,” the DILG chief said.

What happened between the SAF and MILF appeared to be a “misencounter,” he added.

Members of the SAF were already pulling out of their area of operation in Brgy. Tukanalipao when they encountered “lawless elements,” Senior Superintendent Noel Armilla, officer-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional police, said Sunday night.

“When the Special Action Force
people were withdrawing, they were ambushed by members of the BIFF
and some allegedly, this as to be verified
and validated, had a misencounter with the MILF,” Espina said.

Iqbal said the MILF is conducting an investigation into the clash, but will also wait for the result of a separate probe being conducted by the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team.

Marwan death unvalidated; Basit Usman escaped

Security forces, meanwhile, admitted that they have yet to validate reports that SAF members killed Marwan during their operation.

“According to reports, they (SAF) were able to neutralize one, si Marwan. Although yung isa nakawala, si Basit Usman,” Gazmin said.

“We have no confirmation but that was the report we got last night… We will validate that,” the defense chief said, when pressed for a confirmation on Marwan’s reported death.

“It is most highly likely that he was killed in the process,” Espina said

Marwan, a ranking member of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah born in Malaysia’s Johor state, is wanted by the U.S. government who offers US$5 million for his capture.

He is said to have been hiding in the Philippines since 2003 and was previously reported to have been killed in a military air strike in Sulu in 2012.

Usman, linked both to the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf, is also wanted by the U.S. who offers up to US$ 1 million for his arrest. (John Roson)

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