Moro breakaway rebels stage simultaneous attacks; 3 deadPhilippine Daily Inquirer
DATU SAUDI, MAGUINDANAO—Avenging the loss of a comrade, Moro breakaway rebels simultaneously attacked Army detachments in seven towns in Maguindanao and North Cotabato shortly before Sunday midnight.
The strikes left a civilian and two rebels dead, four militiamen wounded, and thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.
Under cover of darkness, members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which split from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), assaulted bases of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Datu Piang, Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Ampatuan towns in Maguindanao and in Barangay Kapinpilan, Midsayap town in North Cotabato.
An Army-militia base in Pikit, also in North Cotabato, was similarly sieged.
Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu said a still unidentified motorist was killed in a crossfire along the highway in Datu Unsay.
Speaking for the BIFF, Abu Misry said over the radio that the attacks were meant “to retaliate [for] the death of our comrade … [in] the hands of the military.” He identified the slain rebel only as Mohammad.
“It was not an offensive; it was only harassment,” Misry said. “What we did was hit-and-run and no more.”
He said Army soldiers occupied Hill 224, a known BIFF area in the borders of Guindulungan, Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay, on June 23, which resulted in the death of Mohammad.
No civilian was killed in the “coordinated harassment against the military because we told our brothers and sisters to leave before we launch attacks,” he said.
Von al-Haq, MILF military spokesperson, told the Inquirer by phone that the BIFF offensive appeared to be “harassment attacks” because these targeted government troop positions.
“The attacks were 10 or 20 minutes apart from each other. Based on the radio interview of the BIFF spokesperson, they want to avenge the killing of their comrade and they point to an AFP soldier as the suspect,” he added.
The BIFF, the armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Movement (BIFM) led by Ameril Umra Kato, is composed of former MILF members who are not covered by the existing ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the government.
Kato is believed to be either dead or seriously ill after suffering a stroke in November last year. He formed the BIFF in 2010 due to political differences with top MILF leaders. By mid-2011, he formed the BIFM and was eventually expelled from the MILF.
Portions of the Cotabato-Isulan highway were closed to traffic while the military cleared the
areas under attack, according to Col. Mayoraldo dela Cruz, 1st Mechanized Brigade chief.
“We have no casualty, we anticipated their attacks because our intelligence units have already alerted all our troops in all detachments,” Dela Cruz told the Inquirer. He said two of the attackers were killed in Datu Unsay.
Babay Weng, 59, a resident of Barangay Iginagampong in Datu Unsay, said that three days before the offensive, the villagers were already told by their leaders to prepare for evacuation.
“We didn’t believe because we were happy with the prevailing peace in our area and because today is fasting month (Ramadan),” Babay said as she and several mothers waited for government assistance at an evacuation site near Crossing Salbu, Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
Babay said she was praying that her house be spared and the family valuables remain intact.
Miriam Kawit, Maguindanao schools division superintendent, said she ordered school principals in Shariff Aguak, Ampatuan, Mamasapano, Datu Unsay and Datu Piang to suspend classes to ensure the safety of pupils .
“We also advised parents not to send their children to school and wait for further notice,” Kawit said in a radio interview.
She said the teachers were told not to proceed to the schools for their safety.
Army Col. Roy Galido, commander of the 40th Infantry Battalion based in Aleosan town in North Cotabato, said BIFF rebels fired rifle grenades at a militia base in Barangay Kapinpilan in Midsayap. No casualty was reported.
“The Muslim residents did not leave the village despite advice from the BIFM,” Galido said. They told the rebels “to stop firing at the militia base and they ceased firing.”
In Pikit, four militiamen were wounded when BIFF members fired rocket-propelled grenades. Edwin Fernandez, Charlie C. Señase, Jeoffrey Maitem and Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao