Gov’t forces on red alert in South
COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Government security forces in various parts of Mindanao have been put on red alert, anticipating retaliatory moves from Muslim rebels in the wake of the reported death of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” in the hands of police commandos in the botched Jan. 25 Mamasapano operation that tragically ended in the slaughter of 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF), an elite unit of the Philippine National Police.
Capt. Jo-anne Petinglay, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, said they were monitoring the movements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main Muslim insurgency which signed a peace agreement with the government last year.
The SAF commandos lost their lives in a 12-hour gun battle after large units of the BIFF and MILF surrounded them and trapped them as they were moving out after carrying out their mission.
“Our move [raising the alert levels] is meant to contain the situation and for us to prevent armed men from launching attacks,” Petinglay said.
Troops were put on alert in Sultan Kudarat province following sightings of armed men in the hinterlands of Isulan, Esperanza and Tacurong City, according to Senior Supt. Junie Buenacosa, the Tacurong police chief.
“Our place is close to Maguindanao and these people might sow terror here. We have strengthened our visibility,” said Supt. Joefel Siason, the Isulan police chief.
North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza-Taliño said police and military units in her province were also on heightened alert for the BIFF and other armed groups.
Just two days after the Mamasapano massacre, two suspected bombers were killed in Pikit, North Cotabato, when the bomb they were carrying prematurely exploded, said Senior Insp. Sindatu Karim, the town’s police chief.
Karim said their investigation showed that the two suspects, Asraf Mohammad and Jomar Palaguyan, both of Pikit, had trained under Marwan and the latter’s Filipino associate, Abdul Basit Usman.
“Witnesses said Asraf, 28 was driving the motorbike and Palaguyan, who was backriding, was carrying a box on his lap at about 6:20 p.m. Tuesday shortly before they were blasted to death,” Karim said. A bystander was injured in the explosion.
Karim said bomb experts recovered fragments of a 60-millimeter mortar shell and pieces of what used to be a mobile phone from the blast site.
“The bomb was similar to all other bombs set off in various parts of Mindanao,” Karim said.
“It had the signature of Marwan and Basit Usman,” he said.
In Davao City, regional police spokesperson Supt. Antonio Rivera said the entire police force of Southern Mindanao was also on red alert.
“The alert level is important to thwart any spillover of the PNP-SAF clashes with MILF and BIFF groups,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, chief of the Eastern Military Command, said checkpoints had been strengthened all over the region including “ingress and egress points”. Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez and Judy Quiros, Inquirer Mindanao