No rest for the wicked—and the weary—on All Saints’ Day.
The military said there would be no letup in its offensive against outlaws in Mindanao, particularly the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) regional terror network.
“For the whole Philippines, our law enforcement operations with the Philippine National Police (PNP) will continue despite the All Saints’ Day break,” said Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
In a briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, he said government troops were now clearing an area in Indanan, Sulu provinces, that had been the subject of aerial bombings and ground assaults, in which three suspected rebels were killed.
Burgos said the AFP, with the help of PNP scene-of-the-crime operatives, were verifying the identities of the three men, who died wearing camouflage uniform, especially if any of them were being hunted by the troops.
But Brig. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo, commander of Task Force Sulu, said five were killed in the operation and identified the fatalities as ASG subleaders Ben Wagas and Apo Mike, and Abu Abad, Sali Madarang and another known only as Andag.
Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said Marine soldiers who conducted ground operations following the bomb run recovered firearms, assorted military uniforms, civilian bags and laminated sacks.
Octavio Dinampo, a member of Bantay Ceasefire, said the aerial bombing was “flawless” and there was no civilian casualty reported by his people on the ground.
“Unfortunately, the top guns were able to scamper for safety, leaving behind their cows and other belongings,” he said.
The AFP earlier said its target in Indanan was Akmadul Jumdail, alias Doc Abu, who is wanted for his involvement in the beheading of troops, and JI members Marwan, a US-trained Malaysian bomber with a $5-million bounty, and Mauwiyah.
Burgos said it was possible that there could be a high-value target in Indanan.
“This is a known ASG lair, and we would not have conducted aerial bombings if we were not positive that this was an ASG lair. The corpses were in uniform and we recovered several personal belongings that might give clues about the occupants of the lair,” he said.
Asked if the military was bracing for retaliatory attacks, Burgos said: “Our security forces are proactive. The AFP and PNP are in constant coordination in terms of not only operation but in preventing any retaliatory attacks.”
“We know we must be a step ahead, so the most important thing is to have good intelligence,” Burgos said.
He said the lawless elements were now “on the run,” and that being scattered forces, they would take some time to regroup.
While government forces were clearing and mopping up in Indanan, Burgos said other troops were conducting continuous operations in other areas in Mindanao to gather information about the outlaws and hunt them down.
He said he could not reveal operational details.
Asked about reports of an impending military attack in Al-Barka town in Basilan province, site of the Oct. 18 encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) renegades that left 19 Army soldiers dead, Burgos said the information was sensitive.
“First of all, there’s a ceasefire mechanism. We will not just enter the area without coordination. There’s always coordination,” he said. No military action would be made on MILF communities without prior consultation with the peace panel, Burgos added.
Quoting a report from Abu Majid, MILF Basilan provincial political officer, Von al Haq, MILF spokesperson, said the military was preparing to launch offensives against MILF positions and had been deploying more troops in the island-province.
“If that happens, it will surely affect the peace process and our forces there will defend their positions with their blood,” he said.
The 19 soldiers killed in Al-Barka were said to be on their way to serve a warrant against an MILF commander wanted for the 2007 beheadings and mutilation of Marine troops in Al-Barka. But a government-led investigation blamed that incident on the ASG.
In Davao City, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Southern Mindanao, assailed President Aquino’s “all-out justice” policy as “all-out war against the Bangsamoro people.”
“The peace rhetoric of P-Noy could not conceal the militarist nature of such a declaration. Then again, thousands of civilians, including women and children, will be subject to forcible displacement, death and trauma—where is justice in this?” Franchie Buhayan, Bayan regional secretary general, said.
More than 30,000 people have fled clashes in Zamboanga Sibugay and Basilan. With reports from Edwin Fernandez and Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao