What Went Before: The Al-Barka MILF-military encounter

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Despite a ceasefire, fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) clashed with military troops on Oct. 18, 2011, in Al-Barka town in the province of Basilan. The encounter, which lasted from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., left 19 soldiers and six Moro insurgents dead.

The two sides blamed each other for the clash. MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said it was a deliberate attack by the military and the MILF would protest it to the international monitoring team and the ceasefire committee.

The MILF charged that the Special Forces troops intruded into its “area of temporary stay.”

Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command at the time, said the troops did not intrude into the MILF area and were about 4 kilometers from it when they were fired upon by the rebels, prompting them to fight back.

The incident in Al-Barka was followed by an Oct. 21 clash between MILF forces and the military in Zamboanga Sibugay province, where seven people were killed.

On Oct. 23, suspected MILF guerrillas attacked in Basilan and Lanao del Norte provinces, killing five civilians and two soldiers.

Despite the attacks, President Aquino refused to declare an all-out war against the MILF.

Aquino said the government would not be forced into making hasty and irresponsible decisions while peace talks with the MILF were about to be resumed.

On Nov. 3, the government and the MILF peace panels held informal talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and agreed to continue the investigation of the clash in Al-Barka.

Six months after the incident, a seven-man general court-martial was appointed to arraign four senior Army officers for the deadly operation.

The officers, relieved of their posts and charged with the deaths of the 19 soldiers, were Col. Amikandra Undug, former commander of the Army Special Forces Regiment; Col. Alexander Macario, former commander of the Special Operations Task Force-Basilan; Lt. Col. Leonardo Peña, former commander of the 4th Special Forces Battalion in charge of the troops deployed to Al-Barka; and Lt. Col. Orlando Edralin, former commandant of the Special Forces Training School.

Macario and Edralin were cleared by a military court on Oct. 31, 2012, because of “insufficient evidence,” while the general court-martial late last year denied Undug’s motion to have the charges against him dropped.—Inquirer Research

Sources: Inquirer Archives

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