Basilan officials ask to be told early of military operations
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Civilian officials in Basilan want the military to coordinate with them before launching any combat operations, particularly in the Al Barka area where 19 soldiers were killed recently in an encounter with guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Oban had said that the military was planning a combat operation in Al Barka against the group responsible for October 18 massacre of nine soldiers.
“The directive is to continue pursuit of lawless elements wherever they are. We are going to pursue them further, but then again, this should be driven by intelligence work because we are after personalities,” he said during a visit here last week.
Basilan Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul said prior information on any combat operation would enable them to evacuate civilians from targeted areas or establish peace zones so they would be out of the line of fire.
“We are asking them to give us enough time to move civilians out before they get inside to get lawless elements,” Sakalahul said.
Sakalahul said civilians would be placed in a designated peace area where “they can sleep, eat and where we can easily monitor their movements.”
He said during the October 18 operation in Al Barka that resulted in the death of 19 soldiers, villagers and officials alike were caught by surprise when the military suddenly shelled the villages of Cambug, Kailih and Batu-bato.
“There was no prior advice and we were at a loss how to deal with the evacuation because it was so sudden,” Sakalahul said, adding that it resulted in chaos, with evacuees occupying roadsides.
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad backed Sakalahul’s appeal.
He also said the military should make sure the objects of the manhunt are the real culprits.
“Not just anybody like what happened in 2007 when most of those on the list were not even involved in the July 10 beheading of the Marines in July of the same year,” Jumoad said.
He said local government officials could really help in the government’s efforts to hunt down armed groups involved in criminal acts if they are asked to.
Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, who visited Basilan along with presidential peace process adviser Teresita Deles and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo on Friday, said the government was doing its best to bring criminals to justice.
“May namatay, dapat may managot [People were killed, so someone should answer],” Sakalahul quoted her as saying.
During the visit to Basilan, Soliman also gave P2 million to Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar as aid for evacuees displaced by the recent hostilities.
She also gave P10,000 to the families of the rubber plantation workers killed in the Oct. 24 ambush by armed men in Sumisip town. Those injured got P5,000 each.
Sakalahul said he hoped that the impending military operation would not result in civilian casualties.
“There are many ways to avoid it,” he said.
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