Philippines: 12 dead in clash with BIFF rebel group

Firefight occurs one day after president submits draft law on Muslim south to Congress after talks with MILF.

Philippines: 12 dead in clash with BIFF rebel group

World Bulletin / News Desk

A day after the Philippines’ president submitted a draft law on the Muslim south to Congress, clashes between government troops and breakaway members of the country's one-time largest rebel group have left 12 dead.

Brigadier General Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, said a military report showed that a two-hour firefight broke out at about 6:40 a.m. Thursday in North Cotabato province’s Palongoguen village after troops pursued at least 20 suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) members who harassed an army detachment Wednesday night.

According to the military, at least ten BIFF members and two soldiers were killed, while six other government troops were wounded.

Commander Pangilinan said the number of BIFF casualties was based on information obtained from community residents who were able to monitor the rebel group.

The army’s public affairs chief, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, confirmed the incident and said that soldiers were conducting clearing operations in the area when they encountered the BIFF members.

Operations in pursuit of the BIFF group involved in the clash are ongoing.

Senior Insp. Aldrin Gonzales, Central Mindanao regional police spokesperson, said the firefight forced over a hundred families in Midsayap town to flee their homes and seek refuge in safer grounds.

The BIFF opposes peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who signed a March 27 peace deal that brought to a close 17 years of negotiations and ended a decades-old armed conflict in the southern area of Mindanao -- the second largest and southernmost major island in the Philippines -- while granting Muslim areas greater political autonomy.

Since breaking away in 2008, the BIFF has vowed to destroy the peace process with its head Ameril Umbra Kato leading attacks in Mindanao.

The deal committed President Benigno Aquino III and the MILF to pass a law – called the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) - creating the Bangsamoro Region, which will supplant the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao once the law is passed and ratified -- before the 2016 presidential elections.

Aquino personally submitted a draft BBL to Congress leaders Wednesday during a ceremony at his office, the Malacanang Palace.

The submitted draft, however, carried no provision on decommissioning the MILF's armed wing, whereas a normalization annex of a peace deal signed in January covered the decommissioning process and outlined steps to disarm private armies in the proposed Bangsamoro area.

If ratified, the BBL will bring much needed wealth to a region that is among the most underdeveloped in the country due to the decades-old conflict.

On Wednesday, an alleged MILF member was arrested for extortion in the town of Tungawan in southern Zamboanga Sibugay province, police said.

Police Inspector Dahlan Samuddin, regional police spokesperson, said Aberin Jamad Pulalon, 39, was arrested during an entrapment operation at around 2:50 p.m.

An initial investigation showed the suspect had allegedly been extorting a prominent businessman in Baliguian town in Zamboanga del Norte province since July 2013.

According to Samuddin, the suspect repeatedly received money from the victim via a cash pickup money transfer on July 26, 2014 – the same day the Regional Intelligence Division informed them that another extortion victim, identified as Oscar Mendijar of Baliguian, was sending a protection money address to the suspect.

An intelligence-driven operation at a nearby Mlhuillier financial services branch led to Pulalon’s arrest.

Samuddin said evidence gathered from the suspect's possession included P1,320 (around $30) in different currencies, a copy of an MLhuillier payout form under the victim's name addressed to the suspect, provincial identification cards and a cellular phone.

The MILF - which has previously vowed to sternly punish members found guilty of extortion, kidnapping and other crimes - could not be reached for comment regarding the suspect’s alleged membership. 

Last Mod: 11 Eylül 2014, 13:59
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