Tag Archive: peace process

Alleged members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have reportedly been promising to give lands to tribal folk once the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is passed, a military official said Friday.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said the military learned of the offer through tribal leaders who had protested the MILF’s “new” camp in Brgy. Rogongon, Iligan City.

Alleged members of MILF 103rd Border Command’s 305th Guerilla Unit recruited Higaonon and Maranao tribesmen to train at the camp, then asked them for an P800 “membership fee,” Cabunoc told reporters.

“At in return diumano ay bibigyan sila ng five hectares of land once na maipasa na ‘yung BBL at ma-establish ang Bangsamoro,” he said.

A total of 85 Higaonon and Maranao tribesmen were recruited at the camp in May 2014 then 90 more were recruited last January, Cabunoc said.

Cabunoc said the offer is an “issue,” considering that tribal folk, particularly the Higaonons, own ancestral lands around the camp.

“Issue talaga ‘yun dahil yung ancestral domain ay para ‘yun sa Higaonon tribe mismo at sila ang talagang kinikilala na may karapatan sa naturang lupa, tapos may biglang magpapakilala na sila ang magbibigay ng lupa na ‘yun para sa mga nagpa-affiliate o nagpa-train. Magkakaproblema ang komunidad,” he said.

Cabunoc made the remarks after confirming that the military endorsed protests by Higaonon tribal leaders against the “new” camp in Brgy. Rogonon.

Colonel Gilbert Gapay, commander of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, had recommended that the camp be dismantled because of the tribal leaders’ protests and because it was built while the ceasefire between the government and MILF is in effect.

Cabunoc said the issue about the camp is a “challenge” to the MILF sincerity in upholding provisions of the 18-year-old ceasefire.

“Challenge ito sa kanila… Alamin nila kung sino ‘yung mga tao na ‘yun, kung talagang tao ba nila na member talaga ng Moro Islamic Liberation Front or nagpapagangap lang na member ng MILF para magkapera,” he said.

“‘Yung pag-recruit at saka pag-training at saka pag-expand ng area, bawal po ‘yun ayon sa usapang pangkapayapaan na pirmado ng government at saka MILF,” Cabunoc noted. (John Roson)

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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)

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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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Two Army personnel, including an officer, and six suspected Abu Sayyaf members were killed as government troops clashed with bandits who ambushed them in Al Barka, Basilan, on Monday, military officials said.

Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade, identified the fatalities on the government side as Maj. Alin Kannung, executive officer of the 32nd Infantry Battalion, and Tsgt. Ferdinand Costan.

Six suspected Abu Sayyaf members were killed but only two bodies, identified to be those of a certain “Mingkong” and Mardan Sapilin, were recovered, Galvez said.

Four other soldiers, including Cpl. Julambre Sabri of the 18th Infantry Battalion, were injured during the clash while three Abu Sayyaf members wer reportedly wounded, he said.

The clash occurred around 3 p.m. while members of the 32nd and 18th IB were passing through Sitio Pagtawanan, Brgy. Magcawa, on military vehicles.

The soldiers were on their way to Brgy. Bohe Piang to distribute livestock and inspect future projects of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), when they were ambushed by about 30 fully-armed men, Galvez said.

The armed men are members of the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters led by Basir Kasaran alias Commander Basir and Musana Jamiri, he said.

“The government forces were subjected to mortar and sniper fires for three hours,” Galvez said.

“Naka-dismount naman ‘yung mga tropa natin during that and were able to fight back,” he said.

Kannung, a native of Tipo-Tipo, was a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander who was integrated into the Armed Forces after the government signed a peace agreement with that rebel group in 1996, Col. Rodrigo Gregorio, AFP Western Mindanao spokesman, said.

After joining the AFP, Kannung had been “very active” in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and this is believed to be the cause of the bandits’ hatred on him, Gregorio said.

Kannung’s group was to distribute goats and other livestock as part of the 104th Brigade’s livelihood assistance to residents of Brgys. Kambug and Bohe Piang, when they were ambushed, according to the regional military spokesman.

The area is the “home base” of Commander Dan Asnawi, Gregorio said.

Asnawi commands an armed unit of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with whom soldiers figured in a bloody clash on Oct. 18, 2011. Nineteen soldiers and five MILF guerrillas died in that fighting.

Gregorio said all the soldiers who were injured in Monday’s clash have been airlifted to the Camp Navarro Station Hospital in Zamboanga City.

Members of the 18th IB, backed by members of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion, continued distributing livestock to residents of Brgy. Magcawa on Tuesday, despite the ambush, Galvez said. (John Roson)

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One militiaman was wounded as government troops clashed with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Kabacan, North Cotabato, early Monday, authorities said.

Soldiers, militiamen, and police clashed with an “armed lawless group” led by a certain commander Kadatuan, in Brgy. Lower Paatan, around 6:30 a.m., Col. Prudencio Asto, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said.

Lt. Col. Benjamin Hao, commander of the 7th Infantry Battalion, said he sent 30 soldiers after police sought military assistance over reports that BIFF members were harassing farmers in the area.

“May isang nagko-complain na community because more or less 20 BIFF [members] ay nagsasaka raw ng mga lupa ng may lupa. Because of that sinamahan namin ang police… at around 6 o’clock e binaril ‘yung mga tropa, wala kaming nagawa kundi lumaban,” Hao told reporters.

A militiaman, identified as Romeo Pizarro of the Civilian Active Auxiliary, suffered a bullet wound to the leg during the 15-minute fighting, Senior Supt. Roque Alcantara, North Cotabato Provincial Police director, said.

It was was the first time for security forces to get involved in a clash with the BIFF since the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed their “framework agreement” for peace last week.

Hao and Alcantara said the fighting had nothing to do with the recently-signed agreement, which the BIFF strongly opposes.

The BIFF was formed by Ameril Umbra Kato in 2010 after failing to settle disputes with the MILF leadership. (John Roson)

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Followers of Moro rebel leader Ameril Umbra Kato launched attacks in different towns of Maguindanao early Monday, firing at military installations and cutting off powerlines, authorities said.

Colonel Prudencio Asto, public affairs chief of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the attacks started around 12:30 a.m., with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) “harassing” detachments in Brgy. Cabengi, Datu Saudi Ampatuan; Brgy. Bagan, Guindulungan, and Brgys. Meta and Maitumaig in Datu Unsay.

All four detachments are located at the fringes of Kato’s mountain stronghold, Camp Omar, located at the boundary of the three towns.

Armed BIFM members also fired at the 1st Mechanized Brigade headquarters in Shariff Aguak and the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion headquarters in Brgy. Cabengi, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Asto said.

The 1st Mechanized Brigade is currently housed at the former provincial capitol beside a mansion of the Ampatuan family, so bullets also landed on the house, he said.

Also “harrassed,” around 6:15 a.m., were soldiers manning the detachment in Brgy. Salman, Ampatuan, near the site of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

“Lalapitan nila (BIFM members) ‘yung detachment o kampo, paputukan, saka aalis and then pagkatapos ng ilang minuto puputukan uli, ganun ang ginagawa nila, parang hit and run,” Asto said.

At least two BIFM members were killed as government troops repulsed the attacks while a soldier, identified as Cpl. Romel Mantos of the 603rd Infantry Brigade, suffered minor injuries.

Skirmishes were still going on until noon as troops conduct clearing operations near the attacked military installations. The BIFM deployed an estimated 500 fighters to carry out the attacks, Asto said.

Power posts cut down, hundreds flee

Senior Supt. Marcelo Pintac, Maguindanao provincial police director, said 11 municipalities were affected by the attacks as BIFM members cut electric posts.

“Pinutol nila ‘yung linya ng kuryente, ‘yung mga poste, pinutol nila,” he said, adding that even the provincial police headquarters has no power.

A military official in the area, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak, said the BIFM members used chainsaws to cut electric posts.

Loreto Rirao, head of the Office of Civil Defense in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said fighting was concentrated in the towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, Guindulungan, Ampatuan, and Shariff Aguak.

As of Monday noon, the OCD-ARMM has “validated” an initial 189 families as having been affected by the fighting. Classes in all the affected areas were suspended, he said.

Also, the affected areas are located along the Cotabato City-General Santos highway, so motorists were advised to take different routes, Rirao said.

“Closed pa ang kalsada, kini-clear pa ng military at wala pang makadaan ngayon,” he said, adding that this was also the reason why OCD employees could not validate the other families.

Asto, for his part, said all military units in the province were ordered to be on a “defensive posture” to prevent further attacks.

“Defensive action kami, we will punish those who committed these atrocities, we will also make them suffer the consequences, at ito’y inumpisahan nila,” he said.

Peace talks not affected

In Manila, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles condemned the attacks, but said these will not affect peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Kato was formerly a commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, but broke away and formed the BIFM after failing to settle differences with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

The attacks, led by BIFF chief of staff Ustadz Carialan, were initiated during the Ramadhan “only demonstrate their disrespect for this holy month,” Deles said in a statement.

“The BIFM is not part of the MILF, and thus is not covered by any ceasefire agreement… Definitely, our government forces are ready for necessary defensive actions to protect and ensure the welfare of communities should the perpetrators launch attacks again. Pursuit operations against Carialan and his men are being conducted to bring them to the bar of justice,” she said.

Deles believes the BIFM’s attacks were meant to derail the peace process between the government and the MILF.

“We assure the public that these incidents will not affect the substantial gains that we have carefully and persistently built with our counterparts… we remain firm in our resolve to continue engaging the MILF in the negotiation table until we are able to reach an agreement to finally resolve the conflict in Mindanao,” she said. (John Roson)

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

Rubber tappers strafed

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 soldiers killed in Lanao ambush

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

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

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

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

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

Armed men seize 2 schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILF denies attacks

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

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

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

Pursuit launched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AFP denies shelling MILF

The Army admitted conducting “combat operations” in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay, but denied allegations that mortar and bombs were dropped there Saturday forcing civilians to flee.

“Tuloy pa rin ang combat operations, ang pakay ay ‘yung grupo ng mga kidnaper sa area at hindi ang MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front)… Wala pong shelling na naganap ngayong araw,” acting Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said in a phone interview.

Cabunoc made the remarks when asked on a report posted at the MILF website www.luwaran.com that “scores” of ammunition from 105-millimeter howitzers and a Naval vessel of the AFP were fired at forces of the MILF’s 113th Base Command in Sitio Talaib, Brgy. Labatan, as early as 5 a.m.

“Forces of the 113th Base Command BIAF-MILF were praying Subuh, early morning prayer for the Muslims, when the heavy bombardment started toward them,” the report said.

The military’s OV-10 bomber planes also dropped “at least two dozen” bombs in Labatan on Friday, forcing more than 3,000 civilians to flee, according to the MILF website.

Cabunoc, however, said there were no such activities as the ground troops’ artillery officer 1Lt. Wilfredo Ancog was already dead.

5th Army lieutenant dead

Ancog, assigned with the 9th Field Artillery Battalion, died in the hospital Friday after getting seriously injured in an ambush by MILF forces in Alicia town on Thursday night, according to the Army spokesman.

Ancog’s death brought the number of fatalities in the ambuscades in Alicia and Kabasalan to eight.

He was the fifth Army lieutenant killed after 1lts. Colt Alsiyao, Frank Junder Caminos, Vladimir Maninang, and 2lt. Jose Delfine Khe died along with 15 other soldiers in a clash with MILF forces in Al Barkah, Basilan, two days earlier.

Not an ‘MILF area’

Meanwhile, Cabunoc said that as far as the ceasefire rules are concerned, Sitio Talaib, Brgy. Labatan, is not recognized as an “area of temporary stay” (ATS) of the MILF.

“Ang mayroon doon ay yung mga pusakal at pirata na pinangungunahan ni Waning Abusalam, sila ang hinahabol, hindi sila MILF, ang ATS ng MILF ay nandoon sa Tungawan,” he said.

“Sila (MILF) pa nga ang masasabi nating nag-violate ng ceasefire dahil dun sa mga ambush noong isang gabi, lumabas sila ng kampo at pinaputukan ang mga tropa natin,” Cabunoc added. (John Roson)

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Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members ambushed military and police forces in Zamboanga Sibugay Thursday night, leaving seven soldiers and policemen dead and at least eight others wounded, officials said.

Colonel Santiago Baluyot, Army 102nd Brigade commander, said the attacks prompted the military to raise the “red alert” status in the province.

According to the official, the first attack occurred past 7 p.m. while convoy of his men and some members of the 9th Field Artillery Battalion (9FAB) was passing through Brgy. Gulayon, Alicia, on the way to their headquarters in Ipil.

“Nagdala lang ‘yun (convoy) ng tropa, tapos bumalik na sila sa headquarters namin, medyo maliblib na lugar ‘yun, dun sila tinambangan,” Baluyot said in a phone interview.

An undetermined number of armed men fired upon the M35 and KM450 trucks carrying the soldiers, so the troops retaliated and called for reinforcements, according to Capt. Arthur Eamiguel, Army 1st Infantry Division spokesman.

“Nag-reinforce ang elements ng Division Reconnaissance Company kaya nag-disengage ang nang-ambush… suspected MILF ang ambushers,” Eamiguel said in a text message shortly after the incident.

Baluyot declined to name those killed, but a police report identified three of them as Msgt. Saidale Dimasar, Tsgt. Jin-nurain Ajijul, and Cpl. Reynaldo Salazar.

Six soldiers, including a certain 1lt. Angcog of the 9FAB, were wounded, Eamiguel said.

One Sgt. Antonio Gerangue was initially reported as missing, but Baluyot said the soldier was found Friday morning.

“Napahiwalay lang siya, lumabas na siya at ‘yung mga sugatan naidala na kaagad kaninang madaling araw sa Zamboanga City,” the military official said.

Chief Superintendent Elpidio de Asis, Zamboanga Peninsula regional police director, said the attack prompted policemen and soldiers in nearby towns to conduct patrols but suspected MILF members staged another ambush in Kabasalan around 11 p.m., leaving three cops, including an officer, dead.

Killed were Insp. Jose Calibugar, SPO1 Lito Arcenal, and a certain PO2 Tayan. Those injured were identified as Pfc. Hermes Sagario of the Army 53rd Infantry Battalion and a PO1 Capitana of the Kabasalan Police.

“Mayroon kasing initial na naambush sa Alicia so ‘yung lahat ng mga station para mai-strengthen, nag-red alert. Ang lapit lang nung ambush mga 1.5 [kilometers] lang from the police station ‘yung pinangyarihan, along the National Highway pa,” De Asis said

The ambuscades occurred just five days after members of the 53rd IB and police units clashed with MILF members in Sitio Lukarang, Brgy. Labatan, of neighboring Payao town.

Three members of the 53rd IB and a militiaman were injured in that fighting.

On Tuesday, 19 Army troopers were killed in a clash with MILF members in Basilan province, just off the Zamboanga Peninsula. (John Roson)

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Peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) may be “delayed” following the clash that left 19 soldiers dead, Defense Department spokesman Zosimo Jesus Paredes said.

“In spite of this, the peace process shall continue, but when exactly that has yet to be decided. This could provide a lag,” Paredes said in a briefing Thursday afternoon.

The Armed Forces, as well as former military officers, are “demoralized” with the death of the soldiers, he said.

“When demoralization sets in, all encompassing ‘yan, all the elements of negative feelings of a person comes out, may nalulungkot, kasama na diyan ‘yung galit, of course kabaro mo ‘yan eh, it can be anyone of them,” Paredes told reporters.

“Everybody is practically demoralized… myself included,” said Paredes, a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1971 who served at the now defunct Philippine Constabulary.

Suspend ceasefire, Army officer says

Army spokesman Col. Antonio Parlade, for his part, said he personally wants the ceasefire with the MILF suspended.

“Kung ako po ang tatanungin, maliwanag po na dapat gawin dito ay i-pursue ang mga MILF na ito, temporarily i-suspend ‘yung cessation of hostilities specificially sa Basilan… I’m sure hindi po ito ang huling pagkakataon o huling insidente na mangyayari,” Parlade said in an interview over DZRH radio early yesterday.

“I think this is the 8th or 9th time na ginawa nila (MILF) ito everytime na meron kaming ma-engage na Abu Sayyaf, suddenly nagkakaroon ng MILF dun sa lugar,” he said.

“Sana makinig ang mga nakakataas pagbigyan natin na ma-impose ang ating mga batas sa lugar na ‘yan,” added Parlade, a former battalion commander of the Army Special Forces, the unit where the slain soldiers belonged to.

“When are we going to learn?” Parlade said in a television interview. Six of those killed were found with “hack wounds all over their bodies,” he added.

Paredes, however, said a suspension of the ceasefire only depends on the President.

President Benigno Aquino is set to meet with military officials on Friday in Camp Aguinaldo to be briefed on what transpired in Basilan.

Last soldier found alive

Meanwhile, the last soldier who was declared missing after Tuesday’s clash in Al Barkah was found alive yesterday (Thursday).

Private first class Michael Natividad was found floating in the sea near the Special Forces detachment in Brgy. Bohelebong around 8:30 a.m., Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz said.

“He is confined at the Westmincom hospital and in stable condition… he suffered only shrapnel wounds on his feet, arms, and face,” Ortiz said. (John Roson)

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