Government gathering bodies of policemen slain in Maguindanao
COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Police and military authorities have begun retrieving the bodies of about 30 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) slain in a clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Maguindanao.
Retrieval operations went on as the government moved to prevent the violence from spreading.
In Manila, Defense Secreatary Voltaire Gazmin said, “We will do what we can to prevent this from happening (again).”
Gazmin said he would go to Cotabato with Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina “to talk and assess these things so it will not spread.”
Senior Supt. Marcelo Pintac, PNP-ARMM chief of staff, said joint police, Army and MILF checkpoints were set up around a rice field in the village of Tukanalipao, Mamasapano town in where fierce fighting erupted Sunday morning.
The SAF members were to serve a warrant of arrest against Jemaah Islamiyah members Basit Usman and Zulkigli Bin Hir alias “Marwan” when they clashed with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members.
Pintac said the bodies of five policemen had been retrieved as of Monday morning.
“Our retrieval operation was still on going, our initial information was 15 policemen were confirmed dead,” Pintac told a local radio station.
Senior Supt. Noel Armilla, police regional director in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said scores were also killed on the side of the MILF and outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Armilla could not say exactly how many SAF were killed but initial information he received said the clash left at least 50 persons, including policemen, BIFF and MILF, dead.
Pintac also said it was a purely SAF law enforcement action and coordination was only made with the PNP-ARMM an hour before the operation or about 4:30 a.m. Sunday.
Capt. Joanne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said police and military officials could not ascertain the exact number of the dead.
“We have no data as to the total number of fatalities. We continue to provide assistance to the retrieval operation,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Von Al Haq, MILF military chief, said his group suffered five dead and “about six BIFF” were killed. Quoting reports from the MILF field officials, Al Haq said about 30 policemen were slain.
“The ceasefire committee of the government and MILF are now helping retrieve the slain policemen,” he said, adding that the MILF was dragged in the police action when they entered an MILF camp in Barangay Inug-og, Mamasapano, without coordinating with the ceasefire committee.
Police sources said about six of the slain policemen were officials of different ranks. Frances Mangosing
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