Fighting between MILF, soldiers starts anew in Basilan; 3 soldiers dead, 13 others wounded

Published November 10, 2022, 8:43 AM

by Aaron Recuenco 

Three soldiers died while 13 others were wounded when a fierce fighting erupted between government troops and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan.

While a ceasefire was already implemented using the mechanisms of the peace process on Wednesday night, a military official said some MILF members provoked the soldiers in the area by shooting at government troopers, which eventually triggered another gun battle past 8 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10.

Brig. Gen. Domingo Gobway, commander of the Joint Task Force Basilan, said the attack occurred while soldiers are waiting for the officials of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCHH), a joint committee composed of the military and the MILF in charge of the implementation of ceasefire.

“We thought that it was already over but the MILF provoked our troops, they opened fire at our troops there who were waiting for the arrival of the CCCH to mediate,” said Gobway.

How it started

It all started with the series of military operations to hunt down local terrorist groups tagged in at least two bombing incidents in Basilan and the planting of an improvised explosive device near the Lamitan City Hall after the May 2022 elections.

In September, Gobway said they conducted a military operation in Barangay Baguindan in Tip-Tipo town after receiving confirmed intelligence reports that those responsible were in the area.

Based on the report, the armed group has been seeking refuge either in Barangay Baguindan or in Barangay Ulitan in Ungkaya Pukan, two known MILF territories in Basilan.

“When we conducted clearing operations in Baguindan, they (armed groups) went to Ulitan so we conducted clearing operations anew in Ulitan,” said Gobway.

In the conduct of clearing operations in MILF territories, the military must coordinate with the MILF in order for civilians to be evacuated to prevent them from being caught in the crossfire.

This happened in Barangay Ulitan when local residents were asked to leave as the military was running after the armed group.

Early this week, residents of Barangay Ulitan requested the military for their return to their houses.

Gobway said they agreed but under the condition that the return must be on Tuesday morning, Nov. 8, and that the local residents must not bring any firearms.

“There is a program here in the province to prevent the transport of firearms because these firearms are usually being used in bloody and deadly rido (clan war). So we requested that as part of the program of the provincial government,” said Gobway.

Surprised

But when soldiers went to Barangay Ulitan to facilitate the agreed return of local residents, Gobway said they were surprised that the local residents were already there and were believed to have returned on Monday evening, Nov. 7.

Gobway said the battalion commander of 64th Infantry Battalion then requested for a dialogue with the local commander but the latter would not meet him.

Later, one of the MILF snipers allegedly shot one of the soldiers. This triggered the gun battle at around 12:25 p.m. on Tuesday.

Casualty

At least three soldiers died in the fierce gun battle involving more or less 100 MILF fighters and armed men from nearby areas. At least 13 other soldiers were wounded.

The MILF also suffered three fatalities with an undetermined number of wounded, according to Gobway.

Coddling

The problem with the MILF commanders in the two areas, according to Gobway, was that they have been coddling lawless elements being hunted down by the government troops.

He said that when the battle erupted between soldiers and the MILF in Barangay Ulitan, the lawless elements joined the fray.

Other MILF fighters and armed groups also joined, some of them were armed with high-powered firearms.

He said that the MILF and their allies have been attacking two positions of the military.

Call for sobriety

In a statement, President Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr. said the CCCH and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) are now working to deescalate the tension.

“The peace mechanisms are now on the ground and doing everything possible to diffuse tensions, and most importantly, prevent further the loss of lives. We would therefore like to call for sobriety, as we wait for the results of the CCCH and AHJAG inquiry to be disclosed,” said Galvez.

“The signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro ushered an era of unprecedented peace and security in the Bangsamoro, as it finally silenced the guns of war and put an end to decades of armed conflict. We cannot allow this latest incident in Basilan to negate the major gains we have achieved over the years. Let us rally behind the national government’s banner of peace, reconciliation and unity, and work together to restore peace in the province,” he added.



 
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