Soldiers overrun rebel camp in Maguindanao

Posted on February 03, 2014

KIDAPAWAN CITY -- The offensive against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has ended on Saturday after government soldiers overran the rogue rebel group’s main camp in Ganta, Shariff Saidona, Maguindanao.

Officials, however, said the heightened alert earlier raised will stay for the meantime after a roadside bombing injured 12 individuals including two newsmen on Saturday.

The military’s 601st Infantry Brigade (IB), and the 1st Mechanized Brigade have penetrated the seven-hectare camp established to make ground assault from soldiers difficult. The Philippine flag was hoisted in the rebels’ camp after the military entered the area through a combined air and ground assault, Col. Edmund R. Pangilinan, commander of 601st IB told local reporters.

Reports said the camp served around 500 BIFF members led by a certain Ustadz Karialan.

Around 3,000 rounds of ammunitions for high-powered guns and some 300 kilograms of blasting materials used for making improvised explosive devices were recovered in the camp, Mr. Pangilinan said.

He said the soldiers were able to take over the BIFF camp with the help of the community who pointed to the location of the camp, which is hidden inside a forested area filled with tricky trails.

The current fighting left 41 rebels and one government soldier dead, a military report said.

Military officials said the hunt for the BIFF members were meant to capture its leaders and members with warrants of arrests for cases of murder, bombing, extortion and terrorism. Col. Dickson P. Hermoso, spokesperson of 6th Infantry Division, said the roadside bombing happened on Saturday morning but noted no fatal injuries were recorded.

He identified the two journalists injured as reporter Jeff Caparas and cameraman Adrian Bulatao from the news team of TV5. Regional police chief Lester O. Camba told BusinessWorld that the entire region also remains on heightened alert.

The intense fighting between soldiers and members of the BIFF in Central Mindanao will not derail the ongoing peace process between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a member of the government peace panel said over the weekend.

"The MILF continues to be with us not just in the negotiation table but even in the different forum that the government and the Transition Commission are doing," Mehol K. Sadain, head of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and a member of the government peace panel, told reporters.

On Jan. 25, peace negotiators of the government and the MILF signed in Kuala Lumpur the remaining Annex on Normalization to demobilize more than 11,000 MILF rebels. This is regarded as the last step before a comprehensive peace deal could be signed.

Aside from the Annex on Normalization, the parties also signed the Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters that sets the division of authority between the national and Bangsamoro governments over such areas. "[The government] is now committed to sign the comprehensive peace pact within two months after the signing of the normalization annex and the addendum on the Bangsamoro waters," Mr. Sadain said.

Mr. Sadain assured that the Bangsamoro Basic Law currently being drafted by the 15-man Bangsamoro Transition Commission will be within the bounds of the Constitution.

"What the Bangsamoro Transition Commission can include in the basic law are only those that do not need constitutional amendments, meaning they have to work within the Constitution," Mr. Sadain said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), an umbrella organization of evangelical Christian groups in the country, has urged Congress to give peace a chance by passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

In a statement, Bishop Efraim M. Tendero, PCEC national director, said the group will support the final peace agreement on the Bangsamoro that would establish the Bangsamoro government.

"We pray that this Bangsamoro Basic Law would pass the careful, responsible examination and deliberation in Congress," he said.

Mr. Tendero also lauded the government and MILF peace panels for clinching the normalization deal. "We pray that even now, those of us who truly seek genuine transformation towards the peace of the Moros, indigenous peoples, and migrants in Mindanao, would start praying for, and plan on supporting, Moro-led political parties that reflect the justice-oriented and reconciling peace for Mindanao and the whole Philippines," he said.

Mr. Tendero said his group envisions the 2016 election for the Bangsamoro government to pave the way for a new political leadership among Muslims in Mindanao. -- Louie O. Pacardo in Kidapawan City and Albert F. Arcilla in Zamboanga City