Tag Archive: Maguindanao


More troops sent to Maguindanao

The military has deployed additional troops to Maguindanao amid continuing operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Members of the Samar-based 34th Infantry Battalion arrived in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Saturday, said Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

“The deployment marks the start of the ‘holding phase,’ where government forces will establish encampments in former lairs of the BIFF to prevent the armed lawless group from going back,” Petinglay said.

The battalion will also augment the 6th ID’s efforts in maintaining peace and security in Maguindanao, as well as parts of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Lanao del Sur, she said.

Rebel casualties rise

Meanwhile, Armed Forces public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said the number of BIFF members killed in military operations since February has reached 139.

Fifty-three members of the rebel group have been wounded and 12 more were apprehended, he said.

Cabunoc said the number of slain rebels rose from the last week’s count of 117, not because there were new clashes, but because of the military’s validation of intelligence reports.

“‘Yung ibang wounded namatay na, at saka mayroong iba na hindi listed as patay or wounded, pero patay pala. ‘Yung iba naman body parts lang, na-artillery, di agad nakilala,” he said.

Operation: Graduation

Cabunoc said operations against the BIFF members will continue even as soldiers are set to conduct peace and development activities in areas where clashes had occurred.

“Security forces will continue to conduct focused military operations against the armed threats like the BIFF and the terrorists that they have coddled,” he said.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said the hunt for the remaining BIFF members and bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman will be continued until June.

Local authorities in Maguindanao, however, expressed concern over the operations’ effects, especially on students, and even called for a halt to allow graduation exercises this month.

Cabunoc said Catapang ordered the 6th ID to “facilitate” graduation exercises, by helping government and school authorities identify areas where such events can be held.

“They will jointly identify specific places, ‘yung clear na of the armed group,” he said.

Cabunoc said ongoing operations will not affect graduation ceremonies, as BIFF members have already splintered into small groups that roam in the marshlands of Maguindanao.

“Itong BIFF nag-splinter na into small groups, nasa marshlands na ang mga ito, wala nang schools doon,” he said. (John Roson)

– end –

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)

– end –

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)

– end –

Army and Marines artillery personnel are undergoing training in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, to enhance skills in firing cannons amid controversies in providing fire support to ground troops, particularly in Mindanao.

The training for “fire direction center” (FDC) specialists was opened recently at the Artillery Training School and will run for four weeks, Army Artillery Regiment spokesperson Major Rosa Ma. Cristina Manuel said.

Ten personnel from Field Artillery Battalions based in different parts of the country and six from the Marines assigned in Sultan Kudarat are taking part, Manuel said in an emailed statement.

They were sent by their respective unit commanders to “further enhance” their competencies as FDC specialists, she said.

The retraining came in the wake of the January 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where 44 members of the National Police’s elite Special Action Force (SAF) were killed.

That clash became an issue for the military after it was learned that artillery units under the Army’s 6th Infantry Division failed to provide immediate fire support to SAF members who were pinned down by Muslim rebels.

The retraining also comes almost a year after six members of the Armed Forces’ elite Joint Special Operations Group hunting down Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed in Patikul, Sulu, on June 19, 2014 due to “friendly fire” from the Marines’ artillery units.

Last January 27, some of the Marines who served in Sulu were sent back to their mother unit which covers, among others, Sultan Kudarat.

The debacle in Mamasapano is currently being discussed at the Senate, where military officials claimed that the SAF did not provide information on the beleaguered police commandos’ location so artillery units did not fire immediately.

Military officials also said the artillery units only fired white phosporous, not explosive ammunition, to determine the SAF members’ location.

The retraining aims to “review and equip more” the FDC specialists so they can “deliver the needed artillery fire support timely and accurately,” Manuel said.

During the retraining, participants will have a live-fire exercise to test their speed and accuracy in computing required data, she said.

“The survival of our endangered troops lies in our hands. However, any inaccurate, lacking or error in the data, as members of fire direction center, it is your responsibility to recommend to your battery commander not to deliver the requested fire for security reasons unless sooner corrected,” training director Lieutenant Maria Theresa Babiera said at the opening ceremony. (John Roson)

– end –

An Abu Sayyaf member was killed when the bandit group clashed with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government troops who provided reinforcement, in Sumisip, Basilan, on Saturday, the military said.

This developed after security forces expressed disappointment over the MILF’s involvement in a clash that resulted in the death of 44 members of the National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25.

Members of the MILF encountered about 50 Abu Sayyaf members in Brgy. Pamatsaken around 10 a.m., said 1Lt. Sally Christine Magno, civil-military operations officer of the Army’s 104th Brigade.

Upon learning the incident, the 64th Infantry Battalion sent three platoons of soldiers and armored vehicles “to reinforce the beleaguered MILF members,” Magno said.

The troops proceeded to the encounter site with Brgy. Central chairman Marjim Barillo and other MILF members, she said.

The Abu Sayyaf members, led by sub-commanders Radzmil Jannatul, Juhaibel Alamsirul, and Pasil Bayali, withdrew towards Brgy. Baiwas, apparently sensing the large strength of the reinforcing troops and MILF, Magno said.

Members of the 64th IB then transported MILF member Sahid Liberal alias “Balinting,” who was wounded in the clash, to his relatives and later to Basilan Community Hospital in Isabela City, she said.

Other soldiers and some MILF members, meanwhile, pursued the Abu Sayyaf and cleared encampments and a jungle base of the bandits between Pamatsaken and Baiwas.

“It was reported that one Abu Sayyaf bandit was killed during the encounter,” Magno said.

The killing of SAF troopers in Mamasapano, which came shortly after a raid where the police commandos killed Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, raised questions on the MILF’s sincerity in the peace deal it signed with the government in March 2014.

National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina publicly criticized the involved Muslim rebels for the “overkill.”

The death of the SAF troopers also fueled talk of a rift between the PNP and Armed Forces which, some say, failed to reinforce the beleaguered policemen in their time of need.

Both the PNP and AFP have denied that such a rift exists, but only after military officials said the SAF failed to coordinate its mission and sacked SAF commander Director Getulio Napenas claimed otherwise.

President Benigno Aquino, in a televised speech on Friday, warned that it will be more dangerous for the country if the PNP and AFP were to clash.

The President, in what was seen by observers as a move to douse the “rift” issue between the PNP and AFP, vowed to pursue justice for the slain police commandos and warned that the combined strength of both agencies will be used to “run over” those who will again attack security forces who are performing their duty. (John Roson)

– end –

More than 4,000 people fled their homes in two villages of Pikit, North Cotabato, due to alleged sightings of members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) from Mamasapano, Maguindanao, a disaster management official said Friday.

A total of 895 families, or “100 percent,” of residents in Brgy. Kabasalan evacuated their homes while 210 families from Brgy. Barungis also fled, said Cynthia Ortega, head of the North Cotabato Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC).

“One hundred percent of the residents sa Kabasalan, nag-evacuate sila sa Brgy. Bulol,” Ortega said by phone.

“May sightings kasi ng BIFF, believed to be coming from Mamasapano ‘yung mga BIFF, parang pumunta sila sa may Pikit, particularly sa Brgy. Kabasalan, so may displacement,” she said.

Mamasapano is where BIFF forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas clashed with members of the National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) on January 25.

The clash resulted in the death of 44 members of the elite police unit and 18 MILF guerrillas, while it is unknown if the BIFF also suffered casualties.

To the west of Pikit lies the Liguasan Marsh which, has on its other shore, small villages connected to Mamasapano.

The internally-displaced people are currently staying at a Madrasah (Islamic school), a high school, and relatives’ homes in Brgy. Bulol, Ortega said.

The total number families, 1,105, can be multiplied by four or five to determine the number of displaced individuals, she said.

Ortega said the PDRRMC is currently waiting for the official report on the displacement from the Pikit Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which will conduct relief operations Saturday.

“Bukas sila (Pikit MDRRMC) magre-relief, kami naman, mag-relief kasi sila bukas, mga three days after. That’s the time for the province to come in, augmentation sa relief nila,” Ortega said. (John Roson)

– end –

The military on Friday denied that fighting erupted between forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pikit, North Cotabato, on Thursday but said there is “tension” in the area.

“It was [first] thought to be a firefight pero later it was found that it was a burst of gunfire from an unknown group,” Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said in a text message.

Petinglay was earlier quoted in reports that a firefight between the MILF and BIFF erupted 5:50 p.m. in Brgy. Kabasalan.

The fighting supposedly involved 1,000 members of the 108th, 109th, and 110th base commands of the MILF and BIFF forces led by commander Kagi Karialan.

Karialan’s forces were said to have come from Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where the BIFF and MILF clashed with members of the National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) and killed 44 police commandos on January 25.

Despite Friday’s denial, Petinglay admitted that there is “tension” in Brgy. Kabasalan.

“May tension kasi na ongoing dun sa area at mga two days na,” she said.

Petinglay also maintained that some residents have already evacuated their homes.

“May mga nag-evacuate pero wala pong firefight,” she said. (John Roson)

– end –

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)

– end –

Marwan escaped in 2012 — AFP

The Armed Forces on Monday admitted that Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah operative Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan escaped a military air strike in 2012, contrary to its previous claim.

Then AFP chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa did not endorse the release of the reward on the Malaysian bomb expert’s head “because there was a validated report that Marwan was able to escape unharmed,” AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

Marwan — for whose capture the U.S. government offers a whopping US$5 million — was reported by the AFP as killed after Air Force planes dropped bombs on Brgy. Duyan Kabao, Parang, Sulu, on February 2, 2012.

“The AFP announced the death of Marwan in February 2012 based on the existing intelligence data during that time,” Cabunoc said.

Cabunoc’s remarks came amid reports that Marwan had indeed been killed in the operation by members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25.

Forty-four SAF members were killed in a clash with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as they withdrew from Marwan’s hideout.

“The DNA testing that is currently undertaken will prove his (Marwan) reported death in Mamasapano,” Cabunoc said. (John Roson)

– end –

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)

– end –