Senior MILF leader, soldier dead in fierce clashes

Jeoffrey Maitem

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Senior MILF leader, soldier dead in fierce clashes
The incident happens amid unresolved issues on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, expected to pave the way for the establishment of a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – A soldier and a rebel field commander died as fierce fighting erupted Friday, July 11, between government soldiers and a band of Muslim rebels in Lanao del Sur.

This, amid unresolved issues over the government’s revision of the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, expected to pave the way for the establishment of a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) in Mindanao.

Army Captain Frank Suelto, spokesman for the military’s 1st Division, said by phone Saturday, July 12, that two soldiers and two followers of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Commander Abdullah Macapaar (a.k.a. Bravo) were wounded in hours-long clashes around 4:00 pm along the national highway at the border of Marantao and Balindong towns. 

Suelto said troops, who were requested to secure a news television firm, were waiting for the crew to finish an interview about cooperative operations when they were attacked by rebels led by Habier Macagaan, a sub-commander of Bravo. 

Residents, including Bravo, according to Suelto, were alarmed by the situation and feared possible retaliation from both sides. “We were saddened. The incident is not intentional. We don’t want to ruin what we have achieved in the peace process,” he said.

“We called the attention of those involved in the peace mechanism right away to explain the real situation. As of now tension subsided and the flow of traffic has normalized,” he added.

The military official refused to identify their fatality but maintained they did not fire the first bullet.

“I think there was a misunderstanding. Our men were in the area not to (arrest) Macagaan, who has a pending arrest warrant. He is inside their territory and for that he is covered by the peace process,” Suelto said.

Bangsamoro Basic Law

The incident occurred while the government and the MILF are in the process of ironing out revisions in the 4 annexes of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. (READ: Timeline: The long road to the Bangsamoro region)

On July 11, both parties, after a 4-day emergency meeting in Malaysia, achieved modest progress. The parties resolved to continue working together to come up with a mutually acceptable draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. 

The meeting provided the panels the opportunity to clarify misconceptions and affirm the intent and sincerity of the parties to abide by the signed agreements. They agreed to continue discussions on specific concerns in Manila within the next few days. Both parties also recognized the importance of these discussions to ensure that the draft law would be submitted to Congress at the soonest possible time.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law, if approved by Congress, would pave the way for the establishment of the BAR to be led by the Moro people.

The delay in the transmittal of the draft law to Congress prompted another closed-door meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim in Hiroshima, Japan, earlier this month.

After the meeting, Aquino vowed that the BAR would be in place before he steps down in June 2016. The President earlier said he would certify the bill as urgent.

The Palace is expected to transmit the draft law to Congress when it opens after Aquino delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28. – Rappler.com

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