BIFF killed in battle wore SAF uniform – Army
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Four bodies of suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, one of them wearing a Special Action Force uniform, were recovered by government forces after hours of intense fighting in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Saturday.
Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said the firefight started at 5 p.m. in Barangay (village) Pusao.
“The dead rebel who was wearing a SAF uniform could be one of the BIFF forces who were involved in the Mamasapano incident and took the shirt of one of the fallen SAF troopers,” Petinglay said.
Lt. Col Willy Manalang, commander of Marine Battalion Landing Team-8, said the BIFF rebels withdrew, as they could not hold their position, leaving behind one 60mm Mortar and an M14 Rifle.
Manalang said one enemy fatality was clad in a SAF shirt.
“I believe that this bandit was one of those who butchered the members of police last month in Mamasapano. Despite their crimes, we will turn them over to the community leaders to be given decent Islamic burial,” he said.
Marine troopers also clashed with another band of at least 30 BIFF guerillas at 7:15 a.m. Sunday, about one kilometer from the encounter site Saturday night where four rebels were killed.
Lt. Col Armando Custodio, commanding officer of MBLT-6, said his men recovered one M1 Garand Rifle and another M14 Rifle.
The military claimed killing 10 rebels but only four bodies were recovered at the scene of the firefight.
On Friday, 2nd Lt Anthony Puebla was wounded when an M203 landed and exploded as he opened the hatch of their armored vehicle.
Puebla, a young officer from the 2nd Mechanized Battalion, was on his third trip to evacuate wounded soldiers and to bring in fresh supplies for the operating troops who were going after the BIFF rebels and other personalities linked with terror organizations.
“He was going in and out of the area. Instead of evacuating wounded soldiers, Puebla himself was also evacuated by his fellow troops after he sustained injuries from the blast,” Petinglay said.
Medics at the military division headquarters in Datu Odin Sinsuat rushed to give proper medical attention to Puebla, but his condition worsened, prompting them to recommend his transfer to a better facility.
“Because of his injuries, Puebla was airlifted to Manila on Saturday for his surgery,” Petinglay said.
Another young officer, identified only as Lieutenant Apilano, was also hurt Friday while escorting an ambulance carrying wounded soldiers from Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.
“Apilano and his team were on a KM450 military truck providing escort to a military ambulance from the scene of the firefight when they got hit by an improvised explosive device,” Petinglay said.
Two soldiers were injured in the blast while the ambulance was damaged by shrapnel.
Meanwhile, a co-pilot of a Huey helicopter was hit by sniper fire while inserting ground troops somewhere in Datu Saudi Ampatuan last Friday.
The pilot, whom the military refused to identify, was on his third trip along with another helicopter to deliver teams of government soldiers that assaulted a fortified position of the BIFF in the area. The plan was to hover for a short period of time just enough for the soldiers to jump off and maneuver, but on the third trip, a group of rebels opened fire while a sniper was carefully taking potshots against the pilots.
An M14 round found its target hitting the co-pilot on the right side of his body and his arm.
“The soldiers should quickly jump off the chopper but because of the sniper fire they were forced to fly back to base,” Petinglay said.
The helicopter also got bullet holes but it was still capable of flying, she said.
“He (co-pilot) is now stable and is recovering from the injuries,” Petinglay said.
More than a week has passed since the government launched its all-out offensive against the BIFF and Abdul Basit Usman and the numbers of casualties continue to pile up.
But militant group Suara Bangsamoro claimed that civilians were also wounded.
Jerome Aba, spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro, denounced the massive combat operations affecting eight towns in Maguindanao, asserting that it only caused more pain for, and stirred hatred among the people after the battles caused casualties and heavy displacements among the residents.
Contrary to their claims that the military operations in Central Mindanao would clear the region of insurgents and bring peace, the all-out war only succeeded in displacing communities and causing casualties among civilians, Aba said.
“True enough, each day that passes brings more accounts of destruction of property and endangerment of the lives of poor Moros in Maguindanao,” Aba said.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has documented more than 45,000 internally displaced persons currently taking shelter in various evacuation centers.
But what was more unacceptable, Aba said, were the cases of injuries to civilians allegedly caused by bullets that came from the guns of government forces.
Abas cited the case of Boyong Unggla of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, who was allegedly wounded when a bullet grazed his forehead on March 6.
Aba said that Unggla found it strange that his house was hit by bullets because the firefight between the soldiers and the BIFF was happening more than a kilometer away from his house.
“The area of encounter between the BIFF and the AFP was over a kilometer away, but another group of soldiers on standby fired in a direction different from where the actual battle was raging. The ineptitude and trigger-happy nature of the military has once again endangered the lives of combatants greater than those of the state’s purported enemies,” Aba said.
But Petinglay said the military has been implementing “calculated actions in order to avoid casualties among civilians and damage to properties.”
“We would like to investigate and know what is the nature and true accounts of the (March 6) incident. We are urging those who said that they were hit by stray bullets to come to either military camps or evacuation centers where there are ongoing medical missions so that they can be given medical attention the soonest,” Petinglay said.
Suara Bangsamoro also called for a stop to the all-out offensives in Maguindanao.
Amirah Lidasan, Suara Bangsamoro national president, said in a statement there was no other call that the Moro group issued on March 8, the international women’s day, but an end to the all-out war, an end to the administration of President Aquino, to end the sufferings of Moro women and Moro communities.
“With raised and clenched fists, Moro women in evacuation centers celebrate women’s day by calling an end to the all-out war in Central Mindanao and calling for the ouster of President Aquino,” Suara Bangsamoro said in a statement.
“As we celebrate the International Women’s Day, we call for a cessation of the military operations in Maguindanao,” the statement said. “No other call is more relevant in the spirit of pursuit of the betterment of women’s status in society today.”
Suara Bangsamoro said the declaration of an all-out war against the BIFF by Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang only showed “disregard” for the war’s consequence on women in Moro areas.
“It’s the clearest manifestation of government’s indifference towards women’s and children’s rights,” the statement said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.