17 BIFF rebels, 1 soldier killed in Maguindanao clashes
DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – At least 18 people were killed after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked two military detachments in the province of Maguindanao on Monday, a military official said.
Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson of the military's 6th Infantry Division, said on Tuesday, July 22, that more or less 17 rebels died – allegedly including the right-hand man of BIFF leader Ameril Umbra Kato – while a government soldier was killed in action during the incident.
At least 2 rebels and 3 soldiers were hurt in the firefight while 9 civilians were injured after suspected government artillery rounds exploded near their houses.
Based on official military reports, the rebels launched two simultaneous attacks targetting the 62nd Division Recon Company in Barangay Damabalas in Datu Piang town and the 61st Division Recon Company in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town.
Hermoso, however, divulged that only 5 of the killed rebels were confirmed visually and positively identified by the ground military forces. They are Dris Salik, Mashud Ali, Nur Hassan, Mantawil Kaliga and a certain "City Hunter" who is allegedly the right-hand man of the BIFF leader.
"Verification as to the identities of another 12 BIFF members who perished in the ensuing firefights are ongoing with the help of the barangay officials and Imams as they were hastily buried by their comrades," Hermoso said.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the BIFF, denied the claims of the military explaining that only 4 BIFF rebels were "martyred" in the incident.
"That is not true. Only 4 have died. We would never lie about our casualties because it is an honor to die as a mujahideen. If only the dead can talk they will talk," Mama said.
Displaced families, injured civilians
Meanwhile, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao's Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-HEART) along with the Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) immediately dispatched teams to investigate the cases of civilian injuries and displacement in the affected areas.
RHRC Maguindanao chief Abdulnasser Badrudin confirmed that about 335 families were displaced by the recent clashes.
"For this incident, we have 335 families more or less," Badrudin said.
The ARMM-HEART said the 9 civilians hurt by 105 Howitzer rounds were Kingao Omar, Muhamidin Omar, Saida Omar, Maxi Gumandal, Omi Akmad, Sadiya Akmad, Esmael Pendatun, Sandiali Guiamandal and Bohari Pirot – all residents of Barangay Penditen in Datu Salibo town.
The residents were shocked when the rounds fell near their houses and caused damages, ARMM-HEART said.
Out of the 9 victims, 3 sustained more serious injuries and were brought to a hospital in Cotabato City.
The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center earlier said that the victims were hesitant to go to the hospital for medical treatment because they feared that the soldiers would tag them as rebels.
The ARMM government is investigating why civilian communities were hit by the artillery rounds. Emergency responders are now attending to the needs of the displaced residents.
Attack caused by ‘abductions’
Mama confirmed that they initiated the attack in retaliation for the alleged abduction and enforced disappearance of Mohammad Abdulkarim and his 14-year-old son Mehad Mohammad in Shariff Aguak town on July 3.
MinHRAC quoted the family of the victims as saying that they went to the military to look for the two but were told that both had been immediately allowed to leave.
The military deemed the accusations as desperate moves and part of the BIFF’s strategic shift to propaganda to influence public opinion.
"We know that we have not wounded civilians because the initiative of the attack came from the BIFF," the military spokesman said.
Hermoso also asserted that there is no truth to allegations that the military abducted two civilians in Maguindanao.
The military would not do anything that would jeopardize the recently signed peace agreement because like the rest of the Bangsamoro the soldiers are also dreaming for peace in the troubled region, Hermoso said.
Brigadier General Eduardo Pangilinan, commander of the Philippine Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, said the military remains on “high alert” even during the observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“We are on high alert to protect the people. This has become their habit to launch attacks during Ramadan season,” Pangilinan said. – with reports from Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler.com