MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Government forces recovered in Maguindanao the mutilated bodies of two soldiers abducted by gunmen belonging to a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
In a statement, the Philippine Army said the bodies belonged to two of 3 off-duty soldiers who were abducted by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Lt Col Kit Teofilo, commanding officer of the 68th Infantry Battalion, said troops found the bodies of Pfc Dunhill Aragon and Pfc Henry Caunga along the Isulan-Cotabato Highway in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on Monday, August 6.
“The face of one soldier was mangled beyond recognition before he was shot in the head. The other had torture marks all over his body including hack wounds. It was a horrible crime committed by heartless individuals,” said Teofilo.
Recovered along with the bodies of the two soldiers were two other unidentified male victims. Their remains were brought to a funeral home in Sultan Kudarat also on Monday.
Teofilo said the soldiers were travelling on board a motorcycle to Cotabato City to withdraw money when armed men stopped them after passing through Shariff Aguak.
They were declared missing Monday morning after failing to reach their destination.
The Army said the third soldier, Sgt Sonny Estabillo of the 38th Infrantry Battalion, was also abducted by gunmen from the BIFF while taking the same route to Cotabato City.
Troops are trying to find the missing soldier in the outskirts of Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi Ampatuan towns.
The Army condemned the summary executions by the BIFF, which is headed by renegade ex-MILF commander Ameril Umra Kato.
In Zamboanga City, Muslim leaders condemned the Sunday attacks, lamenting that they happened during the Ramadan, a holy period for Muslims.
Gov Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said the attacks were “deplorable.” Maguindanao Rep Simeon Datumanong said the attacks were uncalled for especially since they occurred during the ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF.
Ghazali Jaafar, vice-chairman for political affairs of the MILF, said: “Regrettably many Muslims are still coping with the economic crisis, an offshoot of past armed conflicts, when the attacks took place.”
Hataman said he has instructed the region’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to assist 2,000 families who had been displaced by the fighting.
Sporadic fighting continues
The abduction of the three soldiers came amid a series of attacks of the BIFF in 11 towns in Maguindanao over the weekend. Fighting between troops and Kato’s men claimed the lives of a civilian, and two BIFF fighters.
The Army said sporadic gunfire still occurs in some areas of Maguindanao where the BIFF fighters are “[harassing] and sniping against dismounted troops.”
The BIFF confirmed the attacks, saying these were in retaliation for the death of a BIFF member and attacks against their Muslim brothers in Basilan.
The fighting was feared to result in the large displacement of villagers.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles deplored the attacks.
“This act of aggression of the BIFF is meant to derail the peace process between the government and the MILF. We assure the public that these incidents will not affect the substantial gains that we have carefully and persistently built with our counterparts, foremost of which is the ceasefire mechanism that continues to hold on the ground and kept the peace for our communities.”
The MILF has distanced itself from the attacks, saying it is not involved in the aggression and that the fighting will not stall the peace talks. – with reports from Amir Mawallil/Rappler.com