Basilan Clash

21 Oct

This caught my eye as i thread upon and read news posted in my favorite newspaper site Philippine Star tuesday evening, October 18, 2011;


At least 1 soldier killed, 6 wounded in Basilan rebel attack
( October 18, 2011 08:00 PM

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) – At least one government soldier died and six others wounded early today following a fierce firefight with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf rebels in the southern province of Basilan, military officials said.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said based on official reports, one soldier died and six others were wounded after the firefight on the outskirts of Al Barkah town.

When asked if there were military fatalities left behind in Basilan, Cabangbang said, “Its appears there are. We are attending to them. We have no other details yet.”

Cabangbang said the soldiers were deployed to check on the presence of an armed group in the area when the clashed erupted.

Military sources said the fighting lasted for about six hours, in which the rebels reinforced, outnumbering the government troops.

“We are sure the MILF will project that the soldiers were inside MILF territory. I’m sure the soldiers operated outside. They know they are not allowed to operate inside MILF areas,” said a source.

A standing ceasefire between the government and the MILF prohibits government forces from conducting operations inside MILF areas without prior coordination. The MILF is negotiating a peace accord with the government.

The Abu Sayyaf, active in southern Philippines, was founded in the 1990s and has perpetrated a number of high-profile attacks, including kidnapping, bombing and beheading. The Philippine military estimates the group, which has links with external terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, currently has less than 400 members.


At first i thought that this was just an isolated case, news about the military against the mindanao rebels encounters were usual on everyday papers, to think that NPA Rebels has attack a mining company in Surigao just a couple of weeks ago. Three hours after an update has been flashed and this what was caught me by surprise, as the usual news of military and rebels encounter became a blood bath for the military;


(UPDATE) Soldiers clash with rebels; 19 killed
Updated October 18, 2011 11:31 PM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Troops battled Muslim guerrillas in a volatile southern province today in fierce fighting that killed at least 19 combatants and left 10 soldiers missing, officials said.

Regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said the fighting erupted at dawn today near Al-Barka town on Basilan island when troops were investigating reports of rebel incursions. Sporadic clashes continued late into the night in the remote region, he said.

At least 13 soldiers were killed and 11 wounded, and 10 others were missing, he said.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front spokesman Von Al Haq said at least three rebels were initially killed in the clash, but police reported at least six rebels were killed.

Al Haq said government troops provoked the fighting by attacking the rebels in their Al-Barka stronghold in violation of an existing cease-fire. Army troops shelled the rebel stronghold after the initial clash, trapping villagers in the fighting, he said.

“The Philippine army is continuously bombarding the area where innocent civilians are being caught in the middle of the ferocious artillery strike,” the rebels said in a statement on their website. “This attack of the government forces blatantly violated the existing ceasefire accord.”

Cabangbang said troops were deployed to check reports by villagers that a group of gunmen known to be holding kidnap victims had strayed in areas close to their communities. He said the troops did not intrude on the guerrilla stronghold, and were about two miles (4 kilometers) from it when they were fired upon by the Moro rebels, prompting the troops to fight back, he said.

Cabangbang said the military believes the gunmen included a former rebel commander identified as Dan Laksaw Asnawi, who escaped from a Basilan jail in 2009 with 30 other inmates. Asnawi was detained for his alleged involvement in the beheading of 14 marines during a 2007 clash in Al-Barka, Cabangbang said.

“When we’re running after a criminal and get near their area, they cannot just kill our soldiers,” Cabangbang told The Associated Press by telephone.

The Moro rebels who clashed with troops were with al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants, he said. Al Haq countered that rebels from his group do not operate with the violent Abu Sayyaf.

Cabangbang said special army forces were searching for the missing soldiers in Basilan, a predominantly Muslim island about 550 miles (880 kilometers) south of Manila.

Al Haq said an army general called him seeking the safe release of the missing soldiers if they were in rebel custody. Al Haq said he replied that his group could not immediately reach their fighters by phone to ask if they were holding military captives.

The 11,000-strong rebel group has waged a bloody insurgency for self-rule in the southern Mindanao region, the homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. The conflict has killed more than 120,000 people and stunted development of the resource-rich but impoverished south.

Malaysian-brokered peace talks between the rebels and the government received a major boost in August when President Benigno Aquino III met rebel chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo to bolster the negotiations.

The rebels, however, rejected a government proposal for Muslim autonomy when talks resumed a few weeks later in Malaysia but they said they will continue with the talks.


On the morning of October 19, 2011, news about the clash is already widespread. MILF has confirmed the Basilan clash though with a new saddening story, claiming that 22 soldiers were killed as against the military’s 13;


MILF confirms its fighters killed gov’t soldiers in Basilan
Home Updated October 19, 2011 10:00 AM

 MANILA, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) announced today that its fighters killed 22 soldiers, not 13 as reported by the military, in a nearly 11-hour firefight in Albarka town, Basilan province yesterday.

The MILF’s claim confirms the military’s report that its troops encountered MILF rebels.

The military said that its troops initially encountered suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits while patrolling a village in Albarka town. The numbers grew as the bandits were joined by MILF rebels stationed in the area, the military added.

The MILF said in a news item posted on its website,, its fighters also seized 22 high-powered military firearms, including four M203 rifles, four Mini M-60, an M-60, and 13 M-16 rifles.

The separatist group said six of its fighters were killed in the clash which started around 5:30 a.m. and lasted until around 4 p.m. yesterday.

The military said that the MILF rebels have taken hostage at least 10 members of the Philippine Army’s scout rangers. Massive search and rescue operations are being conducted by the military to recover its captured soldiers.

In the same news item, the MILF said that it will “help locate the soldiers and will return them if they are in MILF hands.” It said that it already made initial inquiries from its members, but it “yielded negative results.”

The MILF claimed that the clash happened as “government soldiers deliberately attacked an MILF area, without provocation at all.”

The military had denied that its troops provoked the firefight.

The blood clash happened as the government renewed its effort to bring back the MILF back to the negotiating table.

Last August, President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chief Al Haj Murad met in Tokyo and agreed to speed up the talks.


On October 20, 2011 or two days after the bloody clash, President Nonoy Aquino has made a statement and according to Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, the President was “really angry” when told by the Chieff of Staff about the situation, and the government has dismissed the incident as an isolated case.


Aquino ‘really angry’ over soldiers’ killing
By Jun Pasaylo The Philippine Star Updated October 20, 2011 11:14 AM

 MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III was “really angry” after learning that soldiers were killed by an armed group in Al-Barka, Basilan on Tuesday, a Malacañang spokesperson said today.

“He was informed by the chief of staff two days ago. Hindi pa alam that time sinong forces ang pumatay sa ating mga sundalo. Siyempre he was really angry that our soldiers were killed,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a radio interview.

Lacierda said that as President Aquino asked for information about the encounter, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Oban sent a military inspector general to Basilan to investigate.

He said that initial information sent to Malacañang was that there was “failure of communication” on the part of the military. He said that they were told that the military units that clashed with the rebels failed to inform the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) about the operation in Sitio Bakisung, Barangay Cambug.


Lacierda said that the action of the MILF members was “unacceptable.”

“Hindi porke may failure of communication, bakit biglang binanatan ng MILF ang AFP soldiers? That is not acceptable. Alam naman natin na may ceasefire agreement,” he said.

He added that the incident was “frustrating” for the government, which, he said, has been pushing for peaceful means to resolve the problem in Mindanao.

Lacierda said that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, led by Secretary Teresita Deles and peace panel to the MILF chief Marvic Leonen, will coordinate with the CCCH and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group before the government comes out with an official stand on the incident.

He said that the government will also make sure that the incident is tackled in the peace negotiating table.

The soldiers’ killing came two months after the meeting between President Aquino and MILF leader Al Haj Murad in Tokyo last August.

Leonen, who was present in the meeting, said that Aquino and Murad agreed to fast track the peace negotiations and “that the implementation of any agreement should happen within the current administration.”

No need to inform MILF

In a phone interview, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang told that the military did not see any reason to inform the AHJAG of the MILF about the operation in Al-Barka town.

“The place where the encounter happened is more than four kilometers away from the Area of Temporary Stay (ATS),” Cabangbang pointed out.

The ATS is an agreed designated area by the government and the MILF where forces of the separatist can stay to prevent a misencounter.

Cabangbang reiterated that the AHJAG coordination is “only needed” when government troops is conducting an operation within the identified ATS.

“Our troops are conducting combat operations in the area to verify the reported presence of armed men in the area, but it is not within the MILF’s ATS,” he insisted.

Charges vs MILF

The military is now conducting an investigation in the clash that killed 19 soldiers, and wounded 13 others.

“As of this time, we are already conducting a probe on the incident while some of our troops are conducting pursuit operations against the suspect with the coordination of the GPH-MILF AHJAG,” Cabangbang added.

The military spokesman said that the AFP will file criminal complaints and charges for violation of the ceasefire agreement against the MILF.

“Since the MILF admitted that they were the one who killed our soldiers, we will be filing appropriate charges against them,” he said.

Cabangbang, meanwhile, said that the AFP remains optimistic that the incident will not affect the ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF. He echoed Leonen’s earlier statement that the incident was “isolated.”


the government must make a stand regarding on what happened, they should be uplifting the morale of the military after the incident and at the same time not compromising the government stand on MILF-Government Peace talks. But the irony of it all came three days after the incident, the military now claims that 20 out of the total 41 soldiers sent to Al Bakra were first timers in clash and were not familiar with the place and was just been plucked out from scuba-training program. Now the military, even them were not spared by politics, has started pinpointing each other as per newspaper reports as to who ordered the assault and did not made any coordination from other authorities. On Wednesday, October 19, 2011, Colonel Leonardo Peña was relieved as Commander of the 4th Special Forces Battalion by Army Chief Lieutenant General Arturo Ortiz pending investigation of the clash incident. Here are the stories coming from the survivors on that fateful day;

source: Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 21, 2011

Before, during, after

Private First Class Renante Malinao of the 13th Special Forces Company said that as soon as his group entered the village at around 6 a.m., the firing from the MILF side immediately began.

“We scattered ourselves to avoid being hit. We crawled so we could survive,” he said, describing the bullets coming from all directions.

Malinao, who was positioned on a slope, said he was still hit despite his efforts to avoid the bullets.

Dark, four gunshots

Private First Class Arnel Malinao, a radioman from the 14th SF who was also injured in the clash, said it was quite dark when the soldiers reached Cambug.

While he and the soldiers were walking toward the target site, they heard four gunshots. “All of these were fired in the air,” Malinao said.

He said he and his comrades shifted to alert status and continued walking toward the target. It was at this juncture that they saw four men on two motorcycles but they were unsure if they were enemies.

Then shots rang out again and they saw about 10 men firing on them.

Falling one by one

“We dropped on our bellies and started crawling out of their sight,” Malinao said.

As the firing continued, he said he watched helplessly as his colleagues fell one by one.

Balili said the first to be hit was 1st Lieutenant Colt Alsiyao, followed by 1st Lieutenant Vladimir Maninang. They soon died.

“The last time I heard of Sir Khe (2nd Lieutenant Jose Delfine) was that he was wounded,” he said of the other official killed in the battle.

Reinforcements came in 3 hours

Malinao said he heard on the radio that Khe was calling for reinforcements before he was hit.

But he said the reinforcements only came around 9 a.m., about three hours after they were under fire.

“If the reinforcements came earlier, many would have survived,” said Private First Class Jestoni Layson, machine gunner of the 13th SF.

“The difference in time between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. was very significant,” he added.

Balili agreed with Layson’s assessment but he also said that even if the reinforcements arrived earlier, they would still be helpless because of the sheer number of the rebels.

Besides, they were all under fire and had to fire back while grabbing the wounded ones, he said.

Layson said even his previous stint in Al-Barka failed to help him protect his colleagues.

Private First Class Tonny Rey Espinida, one of the two missing soldiers found alive, said everyone was trying to escape and withdraw from the encounter site while pulling their wounded comrades out of the firing line.

In his case, Espinida said he was separated from the group when he fell down the slope during the first firing.

“It was very dark. I followed a river downstream before I realized that I survived. I reached the SF detachment (on Wednesday),” Espinida said.

Fame and death

Private First Class Michael Natividad, another soldier who had gone missing, was found Thursday slumped by the shoreline near the site of the encounter alive but drenched and cold.

A military official Thursday showed Balili a copy of the Inquirer, which showed a photo of him being carried by a soldier.

“Boy, you have become a real hero,” the official said in jest. But Balili curtly replied: “Sir, I could be a hero but at what cost?”

Layson was visibly hurting from the death of his colleagues—especially his classmates in the scuba diving sessions.

Scheduled graduation

“Only 16 of us remain should our scheduled graduation (on October 22) push through,” he said.

Macario said all the 41 soldiers involved in the Al-Barka clash had been recovered—either dead or alive.

He said there were only eight soldiers who went missing at the height of the clash. “Two of them were found alive while the other six were all dead,” Macario said.

When will this shall end? So many lives have been sacrificed, so many homes were destoyed, families fleeing, children’s studies affected and forced to stop from so many years of fighting between Government forces and Mindanao Rebels. Someday, though not in the very near future, these fightings are going to end reaching the lasting peace that has eluded Mindanao for so many many years. For the meantime all i can offer is hope and prayers to the people of mindanao.

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