Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fighting resumes in Maguindanao

AFP mounts air, ground attack vs. Moro rebels

Philippines — Fighting resumed Monday after a weeklong lull with the military mounting ground and air assaults against a band of guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Datu Piang town in the province of Maguindanao, military officials said.

At least six civilians, including two children and a pregnant teenager, were killed in the clash in the village of Tee, MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu said. Those killed were fleeing aboard a motorboat that was hit by a rocket from a helicopter gunship, said Mosib Tan, municipal administrator in the MILF-controlled town.

Kabalu identified the fatalities as Daya and Vilma, both surnamed Manunggal; 18-year-old newlywed and pregnant Aida; Kim, 7; Adtaya, 7; and Faiza, all surnamed Mandi. Two others, identified as Caharodin, 16, and Bailyn, 13, both surnamed Mandi, were wounded.

“There has been no fighting in Datu Piang since yesterday. What happened was that the military launched air strikes. There are many soldiers right now in Datu Piang,” Kabalu told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Col. Marlou Salazar, commander of the 601st Brigade, said his men killed at least seven rebels in the clash with the group of MILF commander Wahid Tondok around 9:55 a.m.

Salazar said about 50 guerrillas were sighted in Sitio Dagangin early evening of Sunday and they engaged the ground troops in a firefight Monday morning. He said the rebels, armed with cal. 50 machine guns, fired at two helicopters and air strikes were called.

Maj. Gen. Hernanie Perez, chief of the Philippine Air Force 3rd Air Division, said four planes dropped rockets as a “defensive move to prevent an escalation of violence.” He said no bombs were used and the measure was meant to scare off the MILF fighters.

No civilians in battle zone

Both Perez and Salazar could not immediately confirm the MILF report of civilian deaths.

“Those who claimed there were children fatalities were not in the area, [there were] no civilians there except government troops and MILF rebels,” said Salazar. “I think if there were children there, it would be the young MILF fighters, their child warriors.”

Government forces have been sent to hunt down Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Commander Bravo, after the two sacked towns in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, killing scores of civilians, including women and children.

MILF leaders said Kato and Bravo were protesting the delay in the signing on Aug. 5 of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on an expanded Bangsamoro homeland hammered out in secrecy in July in Kuala Lumpur in negotiations brokered by Malaysia. The Supreme Court stopped the deal after Mindanao executives denounced the move as unconstitutional, saying it would lead to the dismemberment of the republic.

Around 100 civilians and several dozen soldiers have died in the month-long violence, according to government agencies and the military. The military claims troops have killed more than 120 MILF fighters, but the MILF confirmed only seven deaths.

Guns fell silent after the start on Monday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan although small clashes were reported.

Number of evacuees swells

Salazar said civilians in Tee started fleeing again upon seeing armed MILF in the village Sunday evening. “They must have known that anytime there will be fighting.”

Tan said evacuees in the town center had begun returning home but the number was expected to swell again as a result of the fresh outbreak of fighting.

“I am so sad with the resumption of hostilities because it’s fasting month and the people are weak and tired of evacuating,” Tan said.

Salazar said fighting erupted after troops dispatched to Tee to verify MILF sightings clashed with an undetermined number of rebels under Commander Wahid Tondok, Kato’s top lieutenant.

“We were informed by civilians about the rebels’ sightings in the village of Tee. We have sent soldiers to the area and it’s positive. The enemy also strafed our plane S-211. It returned fire but we did not fire howitzers,” Salazar said.

But Kabalu insisted no clashes happened, just the military air strikes. “We have reported the incidents to the coordinating committee on cessation of hostilities but their function right now is limited,” Kabalu said.

Muslims denounce military

The Philippine Darul Ifta (House of Opinion), a collegial body of Islamic scholars and religious leaders, condemned the military operation.

“The military should have respected the rights of the civilians. They cannot perform their fast well because they have to run every now and then,” Ustadz Esmael Ibrahim, spokesperson of Darul Ifta, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“The issue in Maguindanao is police matters. And there should be no use of bombs, cannons and more troops,” he added. (With reports from Nash Maulana,Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez; INQ.net)

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