Tag Archive: Mamasapano


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 –

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)

– end –

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)

– end –