Violence rages

A soldier carries a wounded trooper from Basilan province as they land at the southern port city of Zamboanga, Philippines Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. Philippine troops are battling Muslim guerrillas in fierce fighting in volatile Basilan province that has killed at least 15 combatants. (AP Photo) Read more:

By ELENA L. ABEN and AARON B. RECUENCO — Three soldiers, an off-duty militiaman, and four civilians were killed, while 11 others were wounded in the latest attacks waged by armed men suspected to be members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Mindanao, the military said Sunday.

The eight new deaths increase to 44 the number of persons killed in atrocities involving alleged rogue members of the MILF in a span of five days in the provinces of Basilan, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Lanao del Norte.

In the list of fatalities were 27 soldiers, three policemen, one member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), four civilians, and nine “lawless elements” (LLEs).

Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, Philippine Army (PA) commanding general, said the first attack on Sunday took place around 5:30 a.m. in Sitio Along- Along between Barangays Upper Cabengbeng and Sapah Bulak, Sumisip town, Basilan.

Ortiz identified the fatalities as Fernando Tantalo, a CAFGU member; and farmers Renato Aligay, Junrel Langugon, Delord Johnson, and Buenaventura Lugamay.

The wounded were Gilbert Guevarra and Bonifacio Dagodog, Jr. – both CAFGU members; Alfredo Rojas, Danilo Tonghay, Adzar Madjakin, Abdul Mot, Julibert Dingkong, and Francisco Taklindo.

The military said the victims were rubber plantation workers of Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Incorporated Development Cooperative (TARBIDC) on their way to Maluso town when they were ambushed by about 40 suspected MILF members led by one Hassan Asnawi.

A second ambush happened at 11 a.m., with alleged MILF gunmen firing at elements of the Army’s 5th Infantry Battalion (5IB) led by Lt. Col. Bagnus Gaerlan in Barangay Payong, Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Lanao del Norte.

Major Harold Cabunoc, of the Army’s Public Affairs Office (PAO), said initial reports indicated that three soldiers were killed, and three others were wounded in the attack while they were traversing Takuran-Parang Road.

“Lt. Col. Gaerlan is safe and unharmed. Identities of the assailants are unknown, but the MILF has forces roaming in the area,” said Cabunoc, adding: “Ity (MILF) doesn’t have aan area of temporary stay (ATS) in the town.”

Col. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Army 104th Brigade,s dispatched a platoon of reinforcements backed by armored vehicles.

“They were on their way to visit troops when the incident happened,” said Visaya.

School occupied

Last Saturday, heavily-armed men occupied a school in Talusan town, Zamboanga Sibugay, escalating tension in the province, which had just been rocked by explosions and ambuscades of government troops in the past days.

Director Felicisimo Khu Jr., head of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Western Mindanao, said at least 50 armed men first clashed with government militiamen in Barangay Samonte around 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

The same gunmen, led by a certain “Commander Said,” later stormed the elementary school in Barangay Samonte, destroying classrooms and school supplies.

“They (gunmen) also took two large carabaos and other properties from local residents,” said Chief Superintendent Elpidio de Asis, Zamboanga Peninsula Police Regional Office (PRO) director.

Khu said the armed men left the area after sensing the arrival of government troops.

But De Asis said the same rebel group withdrew near the boundary of Talusan and Olutanga towns, but only to occupy another elementary school in the area.

“The latest report is that these LLEs (lawless elements) are now occupying the abandoned elementary school of Barangay Bolingan in Talusan” said De Asis.

The armed men appeared to have been joined by their comrades since their number grew as the day wore on from 50 to 120 at the abandoned school in Barangay Bolingan.

De Asis said Army troopers have started to arrive in Tulusan town to reinforce the police and government militiamen in the area.

It was recalled that last Thursday, seven soldiers and policemen were killed in two separate ambuscades in Zamboanga Sibugay. At least two explosions also rocked the province.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front owned up to the attack, saying it was a “sympathy initiative” to retaliate for the military shelling of their stronghold areas in Payao town, Zambonga Sibugay.

Last Friday night, an improvised explosive device also went off inside an elementary school in the nearby town of Margosatubig, damaging two classrooms.

Local security officials, however, would not categorically say that the armed men who occupied the two schools last Saturday are members of the MILF.

It can be recalled that 19 officers and soldiers belonging to the elite Army Special Forces were killed following the bloody encounter in Al-Barka, Basilan Tuesday last week.

The government troops were on combat operation when they engaged a group of lawless elements led by Dan Laksaw Asnawi, a jail escapee and deputy commander of the 114th MILF Base Command, and Abu Sayyaf commander Long Malat.

Lt. Gen. Ortiz said nine lawless elements were also killed during the encounter in Al-Barka, that has raised the issue of whether or not to launch an all-out war against the MILF, whose leaders are due to sit down with the government peace negotiating panel in Malaysia in November.

President Benigno S. Aquino III has stressed that the peace process will continue.

Find more like this: Government, Mindanao, Religion

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