Dredging project resumes in Maguindanao town after Army drives out BIFF rebels
COTABATO CITY – Construction work on a flood-control project in Datu Salibo town in Maguindanao, which was halted due to harassment by Moro rebels, has resumed over the weekend.
Lt. Col. Warlito Limet, commander of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, said the construction site has been cleared of improvised bombs left by elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the villages of Butalo and Tee in Datu Salibo town.
He said clearing of booby traps still continued in other areas, but the dredging site has been cleared so workers have resumed work there.
On Friday, dredging equipment like backhoe and dump trucks entered the village of Butalo.
Limet said the project would benefit the residents upon its completion. “We cannot understand why the BIFF is opposed to it,” he told reporters.
On Feb. 5, the military, with the backing of two MG-520 attack helicopters, launched offensives to drive away about 100 heavily armed BIFF men.
The month-long offensives claimed the lives of four soldiers and wounded about 30 others. Four civilians, including the town treasurer of Datu Salibo, were killed when the BIFF set off a roadside bomb.
Military officials could not say how many BIFF members were killed or wounded during the hostilities. Civilians in Datu Salibo claimed about 40 BIFF fighters were killed and 20 others wounded.
“But we cannot confirm that, we have no body count, but for sure they have casualties,” Capt. Joann Petinglay, regional Army spokesperson, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
On Thursday, a decomposing body of a man, believed to be BIFF fighter based on his fatigue uniform with BIFF logo, was found in the village of Tee.
Datu Salibo Mayor Norodin Salasal said the P58-million dredging project being implemented by the national government was to start in December but was delayed by road right of way (ROW) claims of residents.
“I have talked to all the lot owners where the project was to be built and the government have paid them,” Salasal told reporters.
After the ROW claims issue were settled, the project commenced on February 5, but the BIFF torched two backhoes, triggering a firefight between them and government forces.
“We torched the equipment because the contractor did not coordinate with us, and because the road right of way claim was not settled,” Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesperson, told the INQUIRER by phone.
But Mayor Salasal denied Mama’s claim. “All claims have been settled,” he said.
Members of Philippine Marines and Army Special Forces have been deployed in Maguindanao marshland as perimeter defense of the dredging project.
Limet said some of the displaced families have returned to their communities after the Army cleared the area of improvised bombs and the Philippine flag was hoisted there. Others may return later as de-mining operation is still on-going, according to Limet. SFM
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