No Holy Week break for AFP in Basilan

David Yu Santos
Government forces remain on heightened alert due to tension, conflict in remote towns

Medical personnel assist in transporting on an Air Force chopper one of the 3 seriously wounded militias following an ambush by suspected Abu Sayyaf members in Sumisip town in Thursday, April 5. (Photo from Richard Falcatan)

MANILA, Philippines – Authorities in Basilan remain on heightened alert following Thursday’s (April 5) fierce encounter between militiamen securing a rubber plantation and suspected lawless groups in Sumisip town. Both groups suffered casualties.

Col Romy Yogyog, commander of the Army’s Special Operations Task Force-Basilan said a cadaver of one of the suspected attackers was recovered hours after the firefight, bringing the death toll to 5.

Around 8-10 alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) waylaid a group of military-armed civilians while the latter were conducting security patrols at a rubber plantation in Barangay Tumahubong, Sumisip town at around 5:30 am Thursday.

3 militia men died while 7 others were wounded during the attack.

One of the 3 militias wounded in an ambush by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sumisip, Basilan on Thursday (April 5) is being transported to Zamboanga City on board a commercial ferry. (Photo from Richard Falcatan)

Yogyog said 2 of those injured were in critical condition and were airlifted by an Air Force helicopter to a military hospital in Zamboanga City, while a 3rd victim was transferred through a commercial ferry.

The assailants, who have been targeting the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Incorporated Development Cooperative (TARBIDC) for their extortion activities, also suffered 2 dead and another injured.

“Another cadaver was recovered a few hours after the encounter, aside from the one fatality we earlier reported on the bandits side,” Yogyog told Rappler. “Another bandit was also reported wounded but he managed to escape.”

According to Yogyog, this is the second time in 6 months that the rubber plantation cooperative was attacked by the lawless groups for refusing to give in to extortion demands.

“Since TARBIDC won’t give in to the demands, the lawless groups would resort to violence out of desperation to scare the farmers away so they can do the rubber tapping themselves and earn from it,” Yogyog explained.

Owned and managed by the plantation workers as a cooperative, TARBIDCI accordingly maintains at least 5,000 hectares of rubber plantations mostly in the remote Sumisip town. Its location makes it vulnerable to threats from armed bandit and rebel groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, who have established domains in the municipality.

“Since extortion is a criminal act, hopefully the police, along with local government officials, will find a concrete solution to put a stop to these threats against the rubber farmers,” said Yogyog.

Way of life

In Al-Barka town, the military is verifying reports that followers of Long Malat Sulaiman, are planning to avenge his death.

Sulaiman, a bandit leader and was linked to the October 2011 Al-Barka attack which killed 19 elite members of the Army’s Scout Ranger Battalion killed in an ambush last April 1. Aside from his criminal activities, he has been entangled in a long-drawn clan war or rido, which the military believes, was the motive for his killing.

Reports from civilians indicated that “bombardments were overheard” emanating from Al Barka on Thursday night, but there has been no confirmation of casualties.

Yogyog said eradicating “close to 10,000 loose firearms” in Basilan to solve lawlessness in the island province remains a big challenge for government. Guns and ammunition, he said, have become “a way of life” for many local residents. – Rappler.com