Sunday, March 8, 2015

NPA torches trucks in Bukidnon town

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Mar 8): NPA torches trucks in Bukidnon town

Seven cargo trucks were burned by members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in a town in Bukidnon Sunday morning, authorities said.

Inspector Jiselle Longakit, information officer of the Bukidnon provincial police office, said around 200 Maoist fighters flagged down the vehicles in a portion of the highway in Barangay Palacapao, Quezon, Bukidnon around 6 a.m. Sunday.

Longakit said the vehicles that were set on fire were three prime movers and three wing-vans loaded with processed food packs and a ten-wheeler hauler containing cases of beer.

Two of the prime movers were empty while the other one was loaded with bananas.
Longakit said the NPA rebels, who were scattered along the side of the highway, signaled for the trucks to pull over and took away some items inside the vehicles before they were burned.

The Maoist rebels had also set up a checkpoint beside the road, she added.

“There was no casualty. The drivers and their aides were told by the rebels ‘Naug kay wala moy labot (step out of the truck, you have nothing to do with this),” she said in a phone interview with Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro on Sunday.

After burning the trucks, the guerillas went to different directions, she added.

A few minutes before the flagging down of the trucks, Longakit said a military patrol base some three kilometers away from where the crime scene was harassed by the insurgents, purposely to deter the army from responding.

At press time Sunday, the police are conducting investigation on the incident, she said.

Soldiers killed in Agusan del Sur

Meanwhile, two soldiers, engaged in peace and development missions in Agusan del Sur, were slain by suspected communist rebels in La Paz town, Friday morning.

The soldiers, both unarmed and on civilian clothes, were on their way to get their subsistence allowance when they were waylaid by the rebels, said First Lieutenant Krisnen Peter Sarsagat, 26th Infantry Battalion civil military operations officer.

They were aboard a motorcycle around 8:20 a.m. when at least five suspected rebels attacked them at San Patricio village.

"The two Army personnel were part of the Peace and Development Team (PDT) who are conducting Bayanihan activities or Community Organizing for Peace and Development in the said area," said Sarsagat.

Sarsagat declined to name the slain soldiers.

Lieutenant Colonel Rolando Dumawa, 26th IB commander, said he has deployed troops to go after the perpetrators.

"These were my men, they never meant any harm in that place and they are in non-combat posture when they were killed," said Dumawa.

"We will not stop pursuing these criminals until justice is served to the perpetrators of this dastardly act," Dumawa added.

Dumawa said the incident would not hamper peace and development projects in the area.

2 cops, 1 civilian wounded in NPA attack in Davao City

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 8): 2 cops, 1 civilian wounded in NPA attack in Davao City
Two policemen were wounded following an ambush by suspected communist rebels in a hinterland village here on Sunday, police said.

A civilian was also wounded when New People’s Army guerrillas opened fire on policemen providing assistance after a traffic accident along the Davao-Bukidnon highway at Sitio (Sub-village) New Calinan Baganihan in Marilog district around 1:25 p.m., Supt. Antonio Rivera, spokesperson of Southern Mindanao regional police, said.

Rivera identified the policemen as SPO2 Roger Sevillano and PO1 Marlon Comprada who were aboard Mobile 65 of the Marilog Police Station.

“An ambulance was already sent to get the wounded as an augmentation force, the Davao City public safety company (DCPSC) in coordination with the Philippine Army’s 84th Infantry Battalion were conducting follow-up operations,” Rivera told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by text message.

Sunday’s attack was the latest by the NPA in Mindanao. Last Friday, suspected rebels also ambushed two unarmed soldiers in La Paz, Agusan del Sur.

Lt. General Aurelio Baladad, Eastern Mindanao Command chief of the military, has condemned the Agusan attack, accusing the communist insurgents of engaging in plain banditry for allegedly robbing the slain soldiers of about P25,000 cash and other valuables.

“This incident only proves that NPA (rebels) are plain criminals, who are anti-people and anti-development. Our soldiers are facilitating development in the area when they were killed and robbed,” Baladad said.

Army captain, 3 others killed in clashes with BIFF

From Rappler (Mar 9): Army captain, 3 others killed in clashes with BIFF

20 other troops are wounded in gun battles in central Mindanao

ATTACK. In this file photo, an Army officer  stands beside a house set on fire by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in central Mindanao as fierce gun battles continue. File photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler

ATTACK. In this file photo, an Army officer stands beside a house set on fire by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in central Mindanao as fierce gun battles continue. File photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler
A captain of the elite Scout Ranger and 3 other soldiers died in a series of firefights in Maguindanao between government troops and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
At least 20 troops, including several junior officers and a Huey chopper co-pilot, were also wounded in the past days as central Mindanao witnessed the worst conflict since the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last year.
A source told Rappler that the Scout Ranger captain was the executive officer of the unit of elite soldiers deployed to run after BIFF rebels and wanted terrorist Abdul Basit Usman in the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
The military has orders from President Benigno Aquino III to neutralize Usman, who reportedly managed to escape the January 25 attack in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that killed top terrorist Zulikfli bin Hir (Marwan).
The US government has Usman on its most-wanted list with a $1 million bounty on his head. Washington and Manila say he has links to Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf, two groups of Southeast Asian militants.
The military believes Usman is being sheltered by the BIFF, which broke away from the MILF and is opposed to the peace process. The MILF earlier vowed to run after Usman, too.
In two recent encounters, government troops killed at least 4 members of the BIFF – one of whom wore a Special Action Force (SAF) uniform.
Mounted more than a week ago, the military and BIFF attacks have dislocated at least 75,000 civilians.
The military claimed killing 14 rebels in the series of attacks against the BIFF, but only 4 bodies have been recovered from the area.
Reports from ground forces also said that about 30 BIFF rebels were injured in these battles.
Evacuating the wounded
The identities of the slain Army troops are being withheld as the military wants to inform their families first.
Among the injured was 2nd Lt Anthony Puebla, who was hit by an M203 round which exploded after he opened the hatch of his armored vehicle while evacuating wounded soldeirs from the encounter site last Friday, March 6.
"He was going in and out of the area. Instead of evacuating wounded soldiers, Puebla himself was also evacuated by his fellow troops after he sustained injuries from the blast," said Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the military's 6th Infantry Division.
Medics at the military division headquarters in Datu Odin Sinsuat rushed to assist Puebla. But his condition worsened, prompting them to bring him to Manila last Saturday, March 7, for surgery, Petinglay said.
A co-pilot of a Huey chopper was also hit by sniper fire while inserting ground troops somewhere in Datu Saudi Ampatuan on Friday.
The pilot was on his third trip along with another chopper to bring government soldiers to a fortified position of the BIFF in the area.
The plan was to make quick trips just enough for the troops to jump off and maneuver their way. On their 3rd trip, however, BIFF rebels opened fire while a sniper aimed his shot at the pilots.
Two other soldiers were hurt after their convoy of military ambulances was hit by a roadside bomb.
Human rights groups have expressed concern that the military offensive is taking its toll on civilians and will eventually drain the resources of the government, which now has to feed and shelter thousands of evacuees.

40 BIFF rebels, 4 soldiers killed, 3 civilians hurt in continuing all-out offensive in Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): 40 BIFF rebels, 4 soldiers killed, 3 civilians hurt in continuing all-out offensive in Maguindanao

A house in Maguindanao was destroyed due to a firefight between the BIFF and the military, 8 March 2015, Maguindanao. KILAB MULTIMEDIA

About 40 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and four soldiers were killed, and three civilians were injured in the continuing all-out offensive in Maguindanao, said 6th Infantry Division spokesperson Army Captain Joanne Petinglay.

Apart from those killed, a number of BIFF rebels were also injured, she added.

Four BIFF bodies were recovered Saturday afternoon in Barangay Pusao Mamasapano.

It is said that a BIFF rebel was wearing a uniform of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force, believed to be from among those killed in the January 25 Mamasapano encounter.

Also recovered from the BIFF were an M60 machine gun, two M14 rifles, one grenade, two binoculars, and bullets.

Among those killed from the government side was an Army captain. Also wounded were five soldiers.

The fatality was identified as Capt. Gromel Auman, an Army Scout Ranger assigned with the 33rd Infantry Battalion.

Apart from the BIFF and military casualties, three civilians were injured, according to information relayed by Suara Bangsamoro.

Jerome Succor of Suara Bangsamoro identified the injured civilians as Boyong Unggla, 36, of Barangay Madia, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, who was hit in the head; Alon Maytula, 60, of Barangay Elian , Datu Saudi Ampatuan, and Farhenan Panigas.

Aside from elements of the 6th ID and Marines, anti-BIFF law enforcement from the Special Forces and the Army Scout Rangers also fought.

The continuous firefight has resulted in evacuations from Maguindanao.

Elite Army officer, 3 soldiers killed in clash with BIFF

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 9): Elite Army officer, 3 soldiers killed in clash with BIFF
At least four soldiers, including a Scout Ranger captain, were killed as military operations continued in Maguindanao, the military here said.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, confirmed the military fatalities but refused to identify them until their first of kin are officially informed.

The military also refused to say when and how the soldiers were killed.

But local officials confirmed the death of a Scout Ranger captain belonging to 33rd Infantry Battalion and three of his men after they clashed with about 100 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rebels in the borders of Mamasapano, Datu Piang and Shariff Saydona.

On Sunday, Petinglay said at least 10 BIFF members were killed in Barangay Pusao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao.  One of the four was wearing a SAF uniform, indicating he could be involved in a clash with police commandos the January 25 encounter that left 44 elite policemen dead.

Petinglay said the law enforcement operation is now focused within the so-called SPMS box.

This area is within the towns of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Saudi), Mamasapano and Shariff Saydona.

“Our troops on the ground are encircling this area, soon we will neutralize them (BIFF),” she said.

2 UZ students nearly kidnapped along Nuñez Ext., Camino Nuevo

From the Zamboanga Today (Mar 8): 2 UZ students nearly kidnapped along Nuñez Ext., Camino Nuevo

Unidentified men on board a van tried to pull two coeds into their vehicle Thursday night along Vitaliano Agan Sr., Nuñez Extension, Barangay Camino Nuevo of Zamboanga City, police said.
But they were able to resist and manage to get inside the premises of Ciudad Medical Zamboanga hospital thus, preventing the suspects from chasing them, according to the police.
Almost abducted were identified as 21-year-old Gizel Liao y Dellosa of Barangay Sta. Maria and 20-year-old Celyne Prill Fernandez y Hugo of Crispin Atilano, Barangay Tetuan, both are  Radiological Technology students of Universidad de Zamboanga (UZ).
Police investigation showed the two were walking along the said road when a color white vehicle suddenly stopped in their midst and attempted to drag them into the vehicle.
Case investigator of Police Station 11 conducted an ocular investigation and gathered information from witness and secured a copy of the Close Circuit Television (CCTV) of the hospital to possibly identify the suspect’s getaway vehicle. 
The incident is under thorough investigation.

MILF report blames govt for Mamasapano clash

From the Manila Times (Mar 8): MILF report blames govt for Mamasapano clash

The result of the investigation by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the Mamasapano tragedy will conclude that the government was at fault over the clash that resulted in the death of 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF).

“This [executive summary] contains the substance of the MILF probe and I want to reiterate that what happened in Mamasapano on that fateful January 25 was a violation of the ceasefire agreement by the Philippine government because there was no prior coordination with the MILF as far as the SAF [Special Action Force] operation was concerned,” said Mohagher Iqbal, a senior MILF leader and the group’s chief peace negotiator.

The Philippines is also unlikely to get the full report of the investigation by the MILF on the deadly clash between rebel and police forces on January 25 in Maguindanao province in the restive southern Muslim region of Mindanao.

The MILF launched its own probe into the January 25 clashes after lawmakers accused the separatist group of breaking the truce it signed with the Aquino government when its forces killed members of the elite Special Action Force in the remote village of Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town.

The commandos had killed Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir in a top secret operation deep inside the MILF territory, but were ambushed by rebels that sparked daylong clashes that even President Benigno Aquino 3rd – who authorized the anti-terror mission – failed to stop. The fierce clashes also killed 18 MILF and 5 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Iqbal said they have completed the report and would submit an executive summary to the Malaysia-led International (Ceasefire) Monitoring Team. The IMT is also composed of representatives from Japan, Indonesia and Brunei, and supported by the United States and European Union.

The IMT will also forward the summary to Kuala Lumpur being the facilitator of the peace talks between the MILF and the Philippines, and also to the Aquino government through its government peace negotiator Miriam Ferrer, according to Iqbal.

He said the full report of the MILF on the Mamasapano clash will not be made public. “Internal ang full report ng MILF sa Mamasapano clash at ang tanging maibibigay namin ang executive summary. Sariling imbestigasyon ng MILF ito at hindi namin maaaring ilabas ito sa publiko [The MILF report on the Mamasapano clash is for internal use, and what we can provide is the executive summary. This is the probe of the MILF and we have no intention to make it public],” Iqbal told The Manila Times, adding they would release the summary report soon.

Many groups are demanding President Aquino’s resignation over his failure to prevent the fighting. He called the daylong clashes between commandos and rebels a “misencounter” between friendly forces.

The MILF signed a peace accord last year, but the peace process is yet to be completed with passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now pending in Congress following the carnage. Lawmakers shelved the BBL until investigations into the deadly clashes between SAF and MILF are completed. The BBL is important in crafting a new Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.

MILF: Editorial -- BBL not for MILF

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 8): Editorial -- BBL not for MILF

One very clear mistake of many people including lawmakers is equating the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) with the MILF, which only has a brief role in the formation of this entity.

First, the MILF is leading the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and also the yet-to-be constituted Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) if the BBL is passed by Congress and ratified by the people in the plebiscite.

In no other instance, the MILF would be at the helm of power, except indirectly, if its political party wins the majority seats in the Bangsamoro Parliament, for which reason, it will form the government of the day.

The BBL is for the people of the proposed Bangsamoro entity: Moros, Christians, and indigenous people. It is also for the entire country. One has to look at the proposed law crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to see the ultimate truth of this assertion. Therefore, to dilute the BBL for fear of the MILF becoming a “monster” is not only a misdirected comment but a veiled act of depriving the Bangsamoro people of their chance to run their life and develop themselves internally in an asymmetrical arrangement. Of what use an entity that has no power and resources like the “failed experiment” in the Autonomous Region in Muslim (ARMM)?

Serious efforts should also be exerted to separate the BBL from the Mamasapano Incident. The two issues are mainly disjoint. The BBL is meant to solve the Bangsamoro Problem or Question, which the two Parties agreed to be their sole agenda when they started the negotiation in 1997, while the Mamasapano Incident has to be appreciated through the optical lens of the GPH-MILF Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities and the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). The two protocols of the GPH-MILF peace process strictly require the two Parties to make “prior coordination” in case of movements of their troops particularly in relation to military or police actions including “high value “targets. That police operation on January 25 also undermined the “primacy of the peace process” policy of the Aquino administration, which already yielded praise and good results. Since 2011, there has never been a single reported firefight between the MILF and government forces. The peace negotiation also made strides after strides culminating in the signing of two major agreements, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

The tragic incident in Mamasapano also highlighted the complications brought about by the so-called “war on terror” which sometimes takes center stage especially when a foreign agenda and money are brought into the picture. It has been proved in Basilan in October 2011 and now in Mamasapano in Maguindanao on January 25 that whenever military operations are not coordinated with the MILF disasters would always ensue. It is not that the MILF would like to equate itself with Philippine government in terms of status, but this issue of coordination is operational or tactical, and more importantly, it is what the protocols of the ceasefire and AHJAG provided for. For the MILF, when we signed agreements with government, we signed them with solemn commitment to honor them. 

For those calling for all-out war against the MILF, no less than James A. Kelley, Assistant Secretary of State, upon the instruction of U.S. President George Bush, in his (Kelley) letter to the late MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim on June 16, 2003, restrained those of this view: “I note with satisfaction that the MILF has declared a temporary ceasefire, which I urge you to extend until a settlement is concluded. Both sides need to refrain from actions that merely perpetuate the cycle of violence. Neither side can win this conflict on the battlefield; however, both the MILF and the Republic of the Philippines can achieve a lasting victory for the people of Mindanao by coming to a settlement (highlight supplied).”

As repeatedly asserted, passing a diluted BBL will only prolong the agonies and sufferings in Mindanao. It can even breed-in more complications. This country will also suffer, depriving it of the chance to catch up with its progressive neighbors like Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.

Moreover, we shall not be ruled by our emotions, biases, prejudices, and hatred. If we examine how many of those in the media negatively twisted the unfortunate incident in Mamasapano against the BBL, MILF, and President Aquino, we can clearly see the bestial or to say the least, the illogical side of these writers and columnists. (Perhaps, many are paid by unseen hands that represent the ultra-conservative sector of the Philippine society who never want peace with the Moros happen in this country).

Finally, what is good, however, is that the voices of reasons are slowly gaining ground, although theirs is still an uphill fight against the well-oiled and orchestrated anti-BBL machinery. In the end, these voices will triumph, especially after the fit of anger subsides.

MILF: Statement of support by the Muslim legal assistance Foundation On BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 8): Statement of support by the Muslim legal assistance Foundation On BBL

Below is the statement of support issued by the Muslim Legal Assistance Foundation:

The Muslim Legal Assistance Foundation expresses its strong support for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in its most comprehensive text and language. 

The draft BBL is a product of more than a decade of peace negotiations. It embodies the ideals and aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-government, which check out with principles and state policies enshrined in the Constitution. Public and transparent consultations reached out to every representative sector of society, starting off with the hearings conducted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

 Needless to state, the proposed BBL defines the future of the Bangsamoro. It grants the Bangsamoro Government the political power to administer and govern its own affairs and insure to the Bangsamoro the enjoyment of the full measure of self-government under the principles of subsidiarity and self-determination. Specifically, it creates a Bangsamoro Government, with a Parliament empowered to legislate its own Shari’ah Legal System, encompassing civil law, commercial law and criminal law including penalties  applicable solely to the Muslims and to be administered by a hierarchy of Shari’ah Courts parallel to our civil court system, including a Shari’ah High Court equivalent to the Court of Appeals. 

Also, it assures fiscal autonomy and economic  prosperity  to the Bangsamoro with its grant in favor of the   Bangsamoro of the following powers and mandates, namely: the  preferential right to exploit, explore  and manage the natural resources within the Bangsamoro territory  and an equitable  share in the incomes and revenues  generated therefrom; to grant concessions relating to the natural resources within its territory to non-Moro entities in coordination with the Central Government; to join efforts with the Central Government on matters relating to the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf; and to contract loans on its own not requiring sovereign guarantee; to create economic zones and GOCCs within its territory; to trade with countries friendly to the Philippines; to appropriate yearly block grants automatically released to the Bangsamoro Government by the Central Government, equivalent to 4% of the yearly  revenues of the Philippine Government after all expenditures and obligations but not less than the internal revenue allocation for ARMM; to create its own revenues and impose taxes for real estate, business and transactions within the Bangsamoro and other incomes generated therefrom except income taxes, etc.; to appropriate all income taxes generated within the Bangsamoro territory for a period of 10 years, subject to review thereafter; etc.

Owing to the Mindanao Conflict, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and billions of properties destroyed. In recent years, more than a million of our people were displaced, a quarter of them still in refugee camps. More than 200,000 of our people have sought refuge in Malaysia since the conflict began in the 1970’s. In the economic totem pole, the Bangsamoro provinces occupy the bottom rung.  Since the 1960s, elections in the Bangsamoro territory have raised issues. The Bangsamoro people have not as yet experienced a good delivery of public basic goods and services. 

The BBL is a social legislation, a massive affirmative  action on the part of the  Aquino Government to address these social inequalities plaguing the Muslim society and to draw the  Bangsamoro  abreast of the rest of the nation.

We realized that the Mamasapano incident is a big hole in the road to peace. But it should not deter us from our pursuit of peace which includes specifically the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.  Peace as a vocation is a divine injunction. In Mathew, peacemakers are blessed and called children of God (5:9).  In the Qur’an, one of God’s name is “Peace”.  The concluding words of the daily prayers of every Muslim are words of peace.  The daily salutation among the Muslims is expressions of peace. Heaven in Islam is the abode of peace. This is how fundamental and dominant the theme of peace in Islam.

The MUSLAF, therefore, reiterates its vigorous support to the proposed BBL and call on all sectors of society to support it. 

We sincerely urge the SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES to move on the passage of the proposed BBL, notwithstanding the unwarranted Mamasapano, Maguindanao incident, for the sake of peace.

SIGNED ON FEBRUARY 15, 2015  in Metro Manila, Philippines.

Recognitions bestowed on 2 AFP woman officers

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 8): Recognitions bestowed on 2 AFP woman officers

In line with the observance of the 2015 Women’s Month celebration, two female military officers received recognitions for being the first female Battery Commander of the Philippine Army and for leading community activities.

The Artillery Foundation of the Philippines,  Incorporated (AFPI) bestowed the Noble Order of General Arturo T. Enrile on Maj. Lourdes Osias Guevarra and Maj. Leah Lorenzo Santiago during the celebration of its 78th founding anniversary on March 7 held at the Philippine Army Officers Clubhouse in Fort Bonifacio.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, Gen. Gregorio Pio P. Catapang, Jr. presented the awards to Guevarra and Santiago.

The said award is in due recognition for the accomplishments of the active, retired and reservist artillery personnel, who excel in leadership and management, as well as, in artillery operations.

Guevarra received the award for being the first female Battery commander of the Philippine Army in 1998, a position she held for two years during the all-out military offensives in North Cotabato.

As Battery commander, she was also bestowed the Gold Cross Medal, the highest military award for combat operations, for her astounding feat in combat support to the infantry units in providing timely and first-round “target hit” artillery fires.

Santiago was recognized for her performance as Battery commander in the province of Rizal.

“In the absence of fire support missions in 2005, Santiago led her unit to initiate community activities that integrated the efforts of local government units, agencies and the private sectors that alleviated its economic condition,” according to a statement released by the Army Artillery Regiment.

“Her efforts became a template which was emulated by various military units,” it added.

Santiago was also the first female Army officer who led an Infantry Company in 1998 during the all-out offensives in Lanao del Sur.

MILF: No report nor surrender of rebels

From the Daily Tribune (Mar 8): MILF: No report nor surrender of rebels

Full probe findings for MILF's internal use -- Iqbal

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has no intention of making public the findings on its claimed investigation into the Mamasapano clash between members of the Special Action Force and its rebel army along with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) nor does it intend to surrender any of its members involved in the massacre of 44 SAF commandos.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the most that it can give regarding its investigations is an executive summary of its findings to the Department of Justice (DoJ).

Iqbal said the full report on the MILF investigation of the Mamasapano incident was “for internal use” of the rebel group.

Iqbal issued the statement in reply to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who said she wanted to get hold of the MILF full report soon to complete the picture on the Mamasapano incident as the Board of Inquiry of the Philippine National Police is expected to issue its report on Monday.

The MILF added in its website that it will not surrender its members involved in the Mamasapano clash where 44 members of the elite PNP-Special Action Force, 18 MILF combatants and five civilians perished, as surrendering them is not part of the ceasefire agreement signed between the GPH (government of the Philippines) and MILF peace panels.

Iqbal said the MILF should not be blamed for the deaths of police commandos during the armed encounter.

“We were not at fault. They came without any coordination in full-battle gear. The encounter happened ... and then after that, we are to blame?”, he said.

Iqbal also called on the public to look at the big picture regarding the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which legislators said the approval has become doubtful as a result of the Mamasapano incident.

“The BBL is key to the achievement of peace and the development and progress in Mindanao,” Iqbal added.

Iqbal had said a diluted BBL would result to complications as it will not resolve the Moro question.

“It’s the decision of the central committee that only the summary report will be given to all as the substance and quality of the summary is good,” he said.

Iqbal said aside from the DOJ, the summary will also be submitted to the Malaysian government and the government peace panel in that order.

“I hope they will understand us,” he said.

De Lima had said the government would like to see the details of the MILF report such as the basis of the findings.

While the DOJ does not have any document from the MILF, De Lima said she would not yet make a comment as the DOJ investigation is ongoing.

Likewise, De Lima also said that aside from what happened to the “SAF 44”, they are also investigating the case of the members of the MILF who were killed in the said encounter as well as the death of some civilians who were caught in the middle of the clash.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II added that, upon receipt, of the BoI report, he will immediately submit a copy of it to President Aquino and to the Senate.

Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Director and BOI Chairman Gen. Benjamin Magalong had said the report will be submitted tomorrow to PNP Officer-in-Charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, who will then submit the report to Roxas.

Apart from Malacanang and the Senate, a copy of the report will also be submitted to the National Poloice Commission (Napolcom), Department of Justice (DOJ), Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other investigating bodies.

Roxas said that he suggested to Magalong, in the presence of the OIC and the chief of the Directorial Staff Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo, that the report should be able to answer the following questions: Was the plan well thought of?; Was everything done to ensure the safety of the troops?; Was the order of the President followed?; Was there any participation of the Americans in the operation?; Did the equipment, such as the radios, vests, guns, and bullets of the troops all performed efficiently?

“These are my questions and also those of the public,” Roxas said.

The BOI was created to look into the circumstances surrounding OPLAN Exodus, which was launched to neutralize two high-value targets: Zhulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and Basit Usman.

While Marwan was reported to have been killed in the operation, a total of 44 SAF operatives perished during the incident.

The BOI documented signed affidavits of SAF members, AFP officials, witnesses and other civilians, and conducted an on-site inspection of the incident.

Roxas himself submitted to the BOI as well as the Senate information about the exchange of text messages between him and the President.

Bangsamoro police part of PNP?

“The ?Bangsamoro police will not be a separate entity from the Philippine National Police (PNP). It will be set up as a regional command of the PNP similar to all other regional police commands in the country like the one in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),” government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer clarified, debunking allegations of unconstitutionality.

According to Ferrer, this is clearly stated in Article XVI, Section 2 of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“Consistent with the Constitution, the Bangsamoro police force will be under the command and direction of the PNP chief and the administrative control and supervision of the National Police Commission. The recruitment, training and promotion of personnel, the acquisition of firearms and other adjunct services shall remain under the PNP’s jurisdiction,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

The chief negotiator noted however that operational control of the Bangsamoro police will reside in the chief executive of the regional government.

“Operational control and supervision over the local police, including deployment of police units within the area or jurisdiction are powers given to local chief executives under the PNP law, or Republic Act 6975 as amended by Republic Act 8551,”

Coronel-Ferrer said. ?”In the proposed law, operational control and supervision of the Bangsamoro Police will be exercised by the Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro.”

According to House Bill 4994, the ?Bangsamoro government shall have the primary responsibility for public order and safety within the region. Defense and security, however, shall be the responsibility of the Central Government.

Coronel-Ferrer also debunked the allegation that the MILF will automatically become part of the Bangsamoro police.

“There is no truth to such claims. ?The MILF combatants will not become the police force for the Bangsamoro, unless they apply and qualify as individuals,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

The chief negotiator explained that the regular hiring process for police officers is expected to be followed in the Bangsamoro. “It is also clearly stated in the proposed BBL that the matters of hiring and recruitment of Bangsamoro police are under the jurisdiction of the NAPOLCOM and the PNP,”? she said.

The main add-on to the current system is the creation of the Police Board made up of elected members of the Bangsamoro parliament and sectoral representatives, the Government panel chief clarified. The NAPOLCOM shall exercise administrative supervision of the Bangsamoro police through this Police Board, which shall serve as NAPOLCOM’s regional unit.

“We urge everyone to read Article XI on Public Order and Safety of the bill and not rely on misinformation peddled by irresponsible critics of the peace process,” Coronel-Ferrer said.


9 hurt in separate NPA ambushes

From ABS-CBN (Mar 8): 9 hurt in separate NPA ambushes

Nine people were injured in separate ambushes by suspected members of the New People's Army in Davao City and Bukidnon Sunday.

Alleged members of the New People's Army burned several heavy trucks along the highway in Sitio Kipolot, Barangay Palakapaw, Quezon in Bukidnon past 5 a.m.

The rebels also attacked a Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) detachment in the area.

There were no reported killed or injured in the incident.

Meanwhile, suspected members of the NPA also ambushed members of the 1003rd Manuever Company of the Regional Public Safety Battalion, who were part of the responding team assigned to the burning incident.

Six policemen were injured in the ambush.

In yet another incident, a police car was ambushed by suspected NPA rebels in Sitio New Maharlika, Barangay Baganhan in Marilog Distric, Davao City Sunday afternoon.

A landmine was planted in the area where the police were on patrol.

Two policemen and a civilian were injured in the incident.

Army detachment sa Bukidnon, nilusob ng NPA

Army detachment sa Bukidnon, nilusob ng NPA

From ABS-CBN (Mar 8): Army detachment sa Bukidnon, nilusob ng NPA

Nilusob ng mga hinihinalang New People's Army ang army detachment sa Barangay Palakapao, Quezon, Bukidnon Linggo ng umaga. TV Patrol, Marso 8, 2015, Linggo

Mamasapano clash report must be sent to IMT but govt can get copy – MILF

From GMA News (Mar 8): Mamasapano clash report must be sent to IMT but govt can get copy – MILF

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is willing to share its report on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano clash with the Philippine government but only through the International Monitoring Team because of protocols in the peace talks.
In a telephone interview, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said its investigation panel is still finishing its executive summary of the report.
"Doon na lang kami magbigay sa IMT, International Monitoring Team, bahala na yung International Monitoring Team sapagkat ['yun] ang protocol ng peace process," he said.
The IMT is a multinational body headed by Malaysia, the facilitator of the peace talks, and is tasked with monitoring the implementation of agreements between the government and the MILF.
In a separate telephone interview, chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said that submission of the report has to be to the IMT.
"Sa proseso kasi yan e, ibibigay namin sa International Monitoring Team and we can also share with all groups and individuals yun ano, ganun yun e," he said.

He said that the IMT can then transmit the document to the Philippine government.
"In special cases, puwede rin kaming magbigay sa gobyerno yung ano, yung panel to panel, puwede kaming magbigay, special case," he added.
The MILF has maintained that the clash involving Special Action Force troopers and some of its men on Jan. 25 was a "misencounter" and that its men were acting in self-defense.
The SAF units had been in Mamasapano, Maguindanao to serve arrest warrants on Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan) and Abu Sayyaf bomb maker Basit Usman. The MILF has said its men did not know that they were engaged in a firefight with government forces.  
"Walang prior coordination, merong sinasabi diyan sa agreement on the cessation of hostilities, meron ding sinasabing prior coordination sa [Ad Hoc Joint Action Group], so violation talaga yun, sila nga ang pumasok eh," Iqbal said.
The MILF has said it will help look for Usman, who escaped during the operation, and is now believed being protected by a new group that has split from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, itself a breakaway group from the MILF.

Usman eludes military again in Maguindanao

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 9): Usman eludes military again in Maguindanao

FOR the nth time, Filipino bomber Abdul Basit Usman escaped but four of his 20-man Muslim protectors were killed after the group engaged Marines in a firefight Saturday night in Shariff Saydona in Maguindanao, an official said Sunday.

Armed Forces spokesman Harold Cabunoc said the Marines seized four high-powered firearms from the dead terrorists who were members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

He made his statement even as the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf on Saturday freed a Malaysian policeman that they abducted at a diving resort in Semporna, Malaysia, in July last year

Marine police constable Zakiah Aleip, 26, was released by his captors after being held captive for 16 months.

Usman is believed to have with him five foreign terrorists moving around the so-called “SPMS box” together with the group of Mohammad Ali Tambako, a self-styled leader of the Justice for Islamic Movement or JIM, a 30-man break-away group of the BIFF.

Based on the report of Lt. Col. Willy Manalang, commanding Officer of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 8, the firefight between his men and Usman’s group happened at around 10 pm.

“My troops surprised the enemy and engaged them in a firefight foir 15 minutes,” Manalang said.

He said Usman and his BIFF protectors left their dead behind.

Meanwhile, the military in Central Mindanao has asked for another 72-hour extension of its offensive as its soldiers continued to constrict the areas where Usman and his protectors had been hiding to avoid pursuing government troops.

“We have a new 72-hour extension to sustain the hunt for high-value terrorists and the BIFF that’s coddling them,” Armed Forces spokesman Joselito Kakilala said.

He said the second extension was requested from higher headquarters by Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, following Saturday night’s firefight between the Marines and the group of Usman in Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao.

Cabunoc said one of the terrorists killed in the clash on Saturday was in camouflage uniform of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National police.

Kakilala said troops on the ground were verifying if the dead suspect was one of the BIFF men who waylaid the SAF commandos on Jan. 25 and killed 44 of them.

The commandos were withdrawing after a successful mission to neutralize international terrorist Zukifli Abdhir when they were waylaid by combined fighters of the BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Usman and some of his men were able to escape during a firefight with the SAF commandos.

In 2008, the MILF expelled from the organization one of its commanders, Ameril Umbra Kato, who, in turn, formed the BIFF.

According to Kakilala, Usman was also being protected by the group of Ali Tambako, a former leader of the BIFF and now leader of a handful of Muslim militants who call their group Justice for the Islamic Movement.

4 BIFF rebels killed in Maguindanao firefights

From Rappler (Mar 8): 4 BIFF rebels killed in Maguindanao firefights

(UPDATED) A rebel killed in one of the encounters was wearing a SAF uniform, authorities say. Operations against BIFF to continue for another 3 days.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters members, some of them minors, are seen inside their camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town Maguindanao in this picture taken on September 2012.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters members, some of them minors, are seen inside their camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town Maguindanao in this picture taken on September 2012.

Government security forces killed at least 4 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) – one of whom wore a Special Action Force (SAF) uniform – in two separate encounters in Maguindanao province.

On Saturday, March 7, two BIFF rebels were killed after clashing with Philippine Marines in Barangay Pusao in Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc.

Lt. Col Willy Manalang, commander of Marine Battalion Landing Team-8, said his men figured in a 15-minute firefight against BIFF members, reportedly led by Basit Usman, around 10 pm.

He said the fighting erupted after a small patrol, composed of the 63rd Force Recon Company led by Cpt. Bernardo and the Special Operations Platoon 8, were dispatched to track down a 20-man group of BIFF members.

Manalang said the BIFF rebels withdrew as they cannot hold their position, leaving one 60mm Mortar and a US M14 rifle.

Among the fatalities on the enemy side was a rebel wearing a SAF uniform.

"I believe that this bandit is one of those who butchered the members of police last month in Mamasapano. Despite their crimes, we will turn them over to the community leaders to be given decent Islamic burial," Manalang said.

Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the military's 6th Infantry Division, added, "The dead cadaver wearing SAF uniform could be one of the BIFF forces who were involved in the Mamasapano incident and took the shirt of one of the fallen SAF troopers."

"Nobody was hurt among the Marines who clashed with BIFF bandits in Shariff Saydona. Pursuit operations ongoing," Cabunoc also tweeted.

Sunday encounter

Early Sunday, March 8, Marine troopers also clashed with another band of 30 BIFF guerillas around 7:15 am, about one kilometer from Saturday's encounter site.

Two more BIFF rebels were killed, the military said.

Lt Col Armando Custodio, Commanding Officer of Marine Battalion Landing Team-6, also said his men recovered one M1 Garand rifle and another M14 rifle.

The military will turn over the dead bodies to local authorities for proper identification and burial.

Meanwhile, 6ID commander MGen Edmundo Pangilinan gave instruction to the operating troops to pin down the engaged BIFF forces who are now constricted in the different encounter areas within Mamasapano and Datu Piang.

Since the military ordered an all-out-offensive against the BIFF last February 25, 4 camps of the rebels were already overrun by soldiers while 20 of them were killed.

"Law enforcement operations against BIFF in Maguindanao extended for another 3 days as clashes raged since [Saturday]," Cabunoc also said in his Twitter account.

"There is another clash with BIFF in Guindulungan town involving the 33rd Infantry Battalion and the 6th Scout Ranger Company," Cabunoc added.

The ongoing conflict has displaced over 75,000 people.

China asserts clout as diplomatic heavyweight; justifies South China Sea reclamation work

From InterAksyon (Mar 8): China asserts clout as diplomatic heavyweight; justifies South China Sea reclamation work

Considered China's most influential foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, a member of the State Council, or Cabinet, is seen in file photo. He was predecessor of Wang Yi as foreign minister. Wang Yi on Sunday spoke on a wide range of issues, asserting China's clout as diplomatic heavyweight, signalling it considered itself the US's equal and justifying, among others, the frenzied reclamation in the South China Sea. REUTERS FILE PHOTO

China asserted its place on the global diplomatic stage Sunday, pledging to steadfastly support Russia in the face of Western sanctions, scolding regional rival Japan, and making clear it sees the US as an equal.

Foreign minister Wang Yi, speaking to reporters at a packed annual press conference, staunchly defended China's national interests, while proclaiming that its rise is no threat to the international order.

He stressed that Beijing would not abandon old friends and allies such as Moscow, which is beleaguered under sanctions and international opprobrium, and Pyongyang, in recent years more often than not a headache for China's leaders rather than an asset.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to visit the US, the world's only superpower, later this year and Wang emphasized that the two countries are equals that must work to overcome tensions.

The two presidents were expected to "inject new momentum into efforts to build a new model of major country relations between China and the United States", Wang said, using Beijing's favored description of their ties, suggesting they are on the same footing.

"China and the United States are two large countries," he added. "It's impossible for there not to be any disagreements between us."

Wang vowed to deepen economic and diplomatic cooperation with Russia, even as it faces Western sanctions over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine.

Beijing and Moscow have regularly used their veto power on the UN Security Council to thwart Western initiatives such as on Syria's civil war, and Wang said they would "continue to carry out strategic coordination and cooperation to maintain international peace and security".

Sino-Russian relations were based on "mutual need," he said, and they would work to increase trade to an annual $100 billion a year while intensifying cooperation in sectors including finance and energy.

Oil and gas are crucial to Russia, which has suffered from the plunge in global crude prices, and Wang's comments suggest President Vladimir Putin -- with whom Xi has a strong personal relationship -- can count on Beijing's support.

Weight of history: Japan bashed

Wang stuck largely to Beijing's script, reserving his theatrics for traditional bete noire Japan, which received a finger-wagging denunciation over what Beijing sees as its recalcitrance over World War II history.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will only be welcome at commemorations Beijing plans for the 70th anniversary of the war's end if he is "sincere" about history, Wang said.

China-Japan relations have plunged over issues including territorial disputes and Japan's 19th- and 20th-century invasions, while China's Communist Party regularly stokes nationalism as part of its claim to a right to rule.

Abe is a nationalist who feels Japan has apologized enough and that after seven decades of peace has earned a right to be more assertive of its interests, including defense and sovereignty, as well as how it sees its own history.

"This issue has been haunting the China-Japan relationship," Wang said, pointing his index finger in the air and referring to the conflict, in which China says more than 20 million of its citizens died.

"Those in power in Japan should first ask themselves, what they have done on this score," he said.

Asserting claim on South China Sea

He was also defiant over Beijing's interests in the South China Sea, almost of all which it regards as its territory amid disputes with Southeast Asian countries.

Asked about reports Beijing was reclaiming land in the area, he said China was "carrying out necessary construction on its own islands and reefs".

"We have every right to do things that are lawful and justified," he added.

A career diplomat and expert on Japan, Wang assumed his position in March 2013 and is the face of Chinese foreign policy, the counterpart of officials such as US Secretary of State John Kerry.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's Communist-controlled parliament.

China's most influential foreign policy official, however, is Yang Jiechi, a member of the State Council, or Cabinet, who was Wang's predecessor as foreign minister.

Wang also stressed Beijing's close historical ties with Pyongyang, which go back to the Korean War when Chinese forces guaranteed its survival.

But he also illustrated the challenge of dealing with the nuclear-armed neighbor and its youthful, often unpredictable leader Kim Jong-Un, the third generation in his family to helm the country.

Three years after coming to power Kim has yet to meet Xi, but Moscow said in January that the North Korean leader would be among those attending ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany.

"As to when our leaders will meet it will have to suit the schedule of both sides," he said, implicitly acknowledging that no such encounter was likely soon.

'IMPORTING WAR?' US role in disastrous Mamasapano raid under scrutiny

From InterAksyon (Mar 8): 'IMPORTING WAR?' US role in disastrous Mamasapano raid under scrutiny

Two US soldiers in civilian clothes assist in the evacuation of a wounded SAF personnel from the PNP provincial office in Shariff Aguak Maguindanao, to the Army's 6th Infantry Division camp in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao. FERDINANDH B. CABRERA/MindaNews

A disastrous raid on alleged Islamic militants has ignited the worst political crisis yet for Philippine President Benigno Aquino -- and questions about the extent of any US role in the operation are deepening his discomfort.

Some Philippine lawmakers are asking whether the US military played a leading role in the operation in January, which ended with 44 police commandos dead in a field in the country's Muslim-majority south.

They point to reports that a US drone was overflying the area at the time, and said to be beaming back real-time images to US commanders as the fiasco unfolded. 

Senate President Franklin Drilon, a powerful member of Aquino's ruling Liberal Party, is one of at least five senators to have raised questions about what the United States knew.

"Did the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) know beforehand about this operation?" Drilon asked the head of the police commando unit Getulio Napenas, who lost his job over the affair, in one hearing.

"Or any US armed forces personnel, did they know about this operation beforehand?"

Under the terms of an anti-terrorism training deployment, the US is not permitted to engage in combat in the Philippines

A US government official told AFP that its troops helped evacuate casualties, but that the operation was "planned and executed by Philippine authorities," and declined to comment further. 

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, meanwhile, declined to give a direct answer when asked about any US role, speaking only in generalities about American help to Manila in suppressing militancy.

"With the United States, we have very close counter-terrorism cooperation," del Rosario, who has repeatedly said elsewhere that the operation was led by the Philippines, told AFP via text message.

The pre-dawn raid by police commandos on a secluded farming village controlled by Muslim rebels in the south was meant to be a surprise attack to capture or kill two men on the US government's global list of "most wanted terrorists."

Even though one of the alleged militants was reported killed, hundreds of rebels quickly outnumbered the police, trapping a big group in a cornfield and killing the 44 commandos during a day-long battle.

National security silence

The botched operation has seriously damaged Aquino, and also forced his national police chief to resign.

But many politicians, traditional media and netizens are broadening the net to encompass possible US involvement as they probe the affair.

Both Houses of Congress have launched inquiries into the raid, and those investigations have unsuccessfully sought to get specifics on US involvement.

In the hearings, broadcast live on television, authorities have declined to give a full explanation on the extent of any US role, citing security issues.

In one instance, Napenas began detailing some of the US involvement, stating that American "counterparts" provided intelligence, training and maps.

But before he could elaborate, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was at the hearing, quickly intervened to silence him.

"May I interject? May I just remind the officer that he is already dwelling on matters of diplomatic relations and military intelligence," she said.

In another hearing, Napenas confirmed a US helicopter was brought in to evacuate the casualties, although authorities have refused to disclose where it came from.

Philippine and US authorities have also said the severed finger from a corpse believed to be from the killed militant, Malaysian national Zulkifli bin Hir, was given to the FBI.

The FBI said it did a DNA test on the finger, which showed it was likely from Zulkifli.

US military involvement in the Philippines is not unusual, as the two nations are longtime allies. 

Until last month, the United States had a unit of about 500 to 600 special forces in the southern Philippines that trained local troops to fight Islamic militants but was itself not allowed to be engaged in combat.

Importing war?

Senator Grace Poe, another powerful Aquino ally and tipped by some to succeed him as president next year, sought answers in one of the congressional inquiries about the reports that a US drone monitored the battle.

Those reports said the drone fed footage back to a Philippine command center in which US authorities helped to direct the police commandos into, and through, the deadly battle.

"I am concerned because actual participation, if any, of US forces in the operation of a purely law enforcement operation, like service of warrants to accused, albeit known terrorists who are themselves wanted criminals in the US, should not be allowed," Poe told AFP via text message.

Aquino's critics have called on him to resign, but the biggest potential consequence could be the damage the affair has done to his efforts at ending a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion in the south that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

A plan to secure a peace treaty with the nation's biggest Muslim rebel group before his term ends in mid-2016 is in jeopardy, as some politicians in Congress use the botched raid to fan opposition to the deal.

Ramon Casiple, an independent political commentator, said Aquino needed to give a detailed response or risk allowing anti-US sentiment to build.

"The senators and the public are (also) asking if we were dictated upon... it's a question of sovereignty," he told AFP.

"Why was a foreign government allowed to bring their war here?"

Clash triggers new evacuation in Maguindanao town

From MindaNews (Mar 8): Clash triggers new evacuation in Maguindanao town

DATU SALIBO, Maguindanao -- Army soldiers clashed with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who launched a retaliatory attack on a military tactical headquarters in this town Friday night, officials said.

The gunfight, which led to shelling from nearby artillery positions, triggered new evacuations in three villages, Datu Salibo town Mayor Al Haj Samsudin Dimaukom said.

 603rd Infantry Brigade chief Col. Arnel de la Vega said they are verifying reports from their ground troops that nine BIFF guerrillas were killed in the clash.

“We are verifying this report because the fighting was very intense. There should be casualties on their side,” de la Vega said, adding 13 soldiers were wounded in the attack.

He said the military operation started at 1pm Friday and was aimed to flush out the BIFF believed to be hiding in the town’s marshy areas.

Local military commander Lt. Col. Ranulfo Sevilla said that by 4pm, the BIFF rebels put up a determined attack and even tried to surround the tactical command post of the 57th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Meta, also in Datu Salibo.

“We were surprised when the BIFF fired an M203 rifle grenade from the rear. They were trying to surround the command post,” Sevilla said.

He said the timely arrival of reinforcements and artillery fire provided by the 1st Mechanized Brigade forced the rebels to withdraw.

Mayor Dimaukom said the clash triggered a new evacuation in barangays Medea, Dapiawan and Kitango.

He said their town disaster response team was still trying to account how many residents evacuated last Friday.

“Anak ko lang ang nabitbit ko. Naiwan ko na lahat sa takot (I was only able to bring along my children. I left everything because I was scared),” 30-year-old Salerda Rashid said.

Rashid said artillery shells landed near their village and one even hit a nearby coconut tree, cutting it to pieces.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Health Secretary Dr. Ramil Masukat said an artillery fragment hit and wounded a resident, Barahana Abdullah, 25, on her left ankle in Barangay Dapiawan.

As of Friday, the week-long all-out offensive against the BIFF has driven 9,485 families or 47, 425 persons to evacuation centers.