24 killed in Basilan encounter
Clash threatens to derail peace talks with MILF
MANILA, Philippines - The spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said on Wednesday that government soldiers attacked their troops in a prolonged encounter in Sitio Bakisong, Cambug Village, Al-Barka town that killed 19 soldiers. Five separatist rebels died.
In an interview with ANC's On the Scene, MILF spokesman Ghadzali Jaafar debunked claims made by Western Mindanao Command spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang that government soldiers were fighting Abu Sayyaf bandits led by a certain Long Malat.
"Ang info na dumating sa amin kaya pumunta duon ang mga sundalo ay para i-serve ang warrant of arrest laban sa isang Laksaw who is a member of the MILF. If it is true, dapat may coordination dahil may mechanism na tinatag ang MILF-GPH para sa ceasefire-related issues like this but it was not followed," he said.
Jaafar said the fighting occurred inside a satellite camp of the MILF, debunking Cabangbang's statement that the area was 4 kilometers away from MILF territory.
He described the encounter as "a huge event" that may be used to further delay the peace talks. He said 5 MILF fighters were killed while 7 others were wounded in the hostilities.
"Matagal nang nade-delay ang pagresolve sa Mindanao conflict. The longer the delay to the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao, the more problems crop up even within the circle of government or the MILF," he said.
"Many leaders of the Bangsmoro people are discouraged and frustrated. They are losing hope that these negotiations will go somewhere," he said.
Jaafar noted that many encounters between government forces and MILF are passed off as just military operations against the Abu Sayyaf.
He said members of the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) should sit down and investigate how the fighting started.
"What we want is - this should be investigated at the level of the ceasefire committees so both sides will know what happened. Maybe what happened there had no backing by upper leadership. These peace negotiations should be supported by all government agencies including the military units in Basilan and Mindanao," he said.
Fighting claims 19 lives
The military confirmed Wednesday that 19 soldiers have been killed in the fighting.
Thirteen of the 19 fatalities have been identified. They are:
1LT COLT G. ALSIYAO O-135980 (INF) PA
1LT FRANK JUNDER P. CAMIMOS O-137398 PA
1LT VLADIMIR A. MANINANG O-15091 (INF) PA
2LT JOSE DELFINE E. KHE O-161110 (INF) PA
Pfc Alex C Recafranca 871984 (Inf) PA,
Pfc. Michael Miguel
Pfc. Dennis Bulan
Pfc. Jordan Magno
Pfc. Jonis Rigor
Pfc. Ervin Dequito
Pfc. Emerson Tugas
Pfc. Olivar Jonday
Pvt. Gerry Colonia
Rescue operation on for missing
Flags inside all major military camps including Camp Aguinaldo were flown at half mast Wednesday to mourn the deaths of soldiers killed in Tuesday's encounter.
Col. Arnulfo Burgos, AFP public affairs office chief, said the military has launched a rescue operation for soldiers that were reported missing after the clash.
The military said members of the 13th, 17th and 19th Special Forces company were on a mission to capture Dan Laksaw Asnawi and Long Malat when they encountered 10 armed men that swelled to 400 armed men during a firefight that lasted the whole day yesterday in Al-Barkah town.
The military said the encounter happened 4 kilometers away from the ATS or Areas of Temporary Stay of the MILF in Al-Barkah town.
Asnawi, who was the target of the operation, escaped the Basilan provincial jail on Dec. 30, 2009 with 30 inmates. He was also involved in the beheading of 10 of 14 Marines massacred in early 2007 at Brgy. Ginanta, Al-Barka, Basilan.
The AFP is set to form a Board of Inquiry to investigate if there were tactical, strategic, or failure of intelligence on the part of the commanders on the ground. Fourteen members of the Philippine Marines were also killed in the same town last 2007 where 10 Marines were beheaded.
Palace vows no whitewash
Malacañang earlier assured the relatives of the soldiers killed in Basilan that there will be no whitewash in the investigation of the clash between government and MILF forces.
“Nakikiisa po kami sa kanila. Alam ko po mayroong isang kapatid ng isang sundalo na nagpa-interview po at sinasabing natatakot daw po silang baka daw po magkaroon ng whitewash. Hindi po yun mangyayari,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Valte also conveyed the Palace’s condolences to the relatives of the soldiers. With reports from Jay Ruiz and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News