MILF rebels accuse military of violating ceasefire

MANILA, Philippines – On October 7 to 8, the military launched an operation in Basilan, resulting in the death of 2 soldiers and 3 suspected rebels.  

It occurred as the government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) resumed negotiations in Kuala Lumpur for a final peace pact that will give rise to the Bangsamoro political entity. (READ: Peace panels back in KL for power-sharing deal)

Government troops said they were pursuing suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) during the attack. But the MILF has a different version of what happened.

The MILF accused military troops under Army Col Carlito Galvez of violating the ceasefire agreement. 

Von Al-Haq, spokesman of the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, said government troops failed to coordinate with MILF forces manning their camps before they launched the operation.

The MILF will file a formal protest before the government-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), the mechanim earlier formed by both sides to address security issues, according to Rasid Ladiasan, head of the secretariat of the MILF CCCH.

The military denied its troops attacked the MILF. There were military operations in Upper Cabengbeng in Sumipsip, Basilan, but Armed Forces spokesperson Brig Gen Domingo Tutaan said it was directed against the ASG.

Debunking the MILF's claim, AFP public information chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala said there are no known MILF camps in Upper Cabengbeng.  

"Definitely we will not operate against the MILF. What we were against are lawless elements," Zagala added. 

Misuari's men, too

Zagala said followers of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari were also involved in the clash. MNLF forces were behind the three-week siege of Zamboanga City. (READ: Zambo crisis: The fog of war)

Zagala identified the group's commanders as Juhaira Aliman alias Botong, Sulayman Ajanti alias Ulay, and Mahdi Umangkat. They "ambushed" the 64th IB which caused the death of a Scout Ranger officer. (READ: Scout Ranger officer killed in Basilan) 

The military said it's the same group responsible for two attacks last year: the ambush of the 11th Scout Ranger Company last year that killed 11 Ranger troops and the attack against a rubber company that killed at least 6 workers and wounded 22. (READ: 6 killed, 22 wounded in Basilan ambush)

Defiant commander?

Abbas Salung, chairman of the MILF ceasefire committee, said the MILF called for an immediate ceasefire but Galvez was reportedly defiant. 

“We could not understand why the attack was irresponsibly conducted against our forces and the shelling not being stopped,” Salung said. "The government forces assaulted our troops and bombarded civilian communities. These are utter violations of the government and MILF ceasefire accord and agreement on civilian protection, human rights and international humanitarian laws by Philippine Army troops." 

Salung claimed this is not the first time Galvez "undermined the ceasefire accord and the primary of the peace process." 

Galvez could not be reached for comment.  

The Upper Cabengbeng clash also claimed the life of MILF member Kursi Umangkat. The firefight has forced at least 900 residents from the villages of Ulitan and Tongbato in Ungkaya Pukan to leave their homes, the MILF said.

“We hope that the attack was not meant to sabotage the peace process between the government and MILF,” Ladiasan said.

In the past, both the MILF and the government filed protests against each other for alleged ceasefire violations. But in general, the ceasefire continued to hold. with reports from Karlos Manlupig and Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com