12 killed in clashes as draft Bangsamoro law reaches Congress
MANILA, Philippines – Government troops clashed with members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) Thursday morning, September 11, leaving 2 soldiers and 10 rebels killed, the military said.
"We engaged them around 6:40 am. We suffered 2 killed and 6 wounded. The enemy suffered 10 killed. Our troops are now scouring the area," said Army Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao.
The residents reported the 10 fatalities on the side of the BIFF, Pangilinan said in a phone interview.
The BIFF reportedly started harassing troops of the 40th Infantry Battalion 10 pm Wednesday, hours after President Benigno Aquino III submitted to Congress the proposed law creating a new autonomous government in Mindanao.
The troops pursued the rebels and a 2-hour firefight erupted early morning Thursday. About 20 rebels were supposedly involved.
Pangilinan said the situation is now under control and there is no danger that the firefights will escalate. The military has coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) about the military operations.
"We told them that we are only after the BIFF," Pangilinan said.
The BIFF is the breakaway group of the MILF, the dominant Muslim group that negotiated a peace pact with the government.
Pangilinan said it was likely BIFF's way to protest the submission of the Bangsamoro draft law.
"Everytime there is a breakthrough in the peace process, they conduct these kinds of offensives and terroristic activities not only against our soldiers but against civilians," said Pangilinan.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has expressed its full support for the peace talks with their former enemies in the MILF and vowed to protect the process from "spoilers" such as the BIFF.
“The AFP welcomes the announcement of the President that the BBL will be submitted to Congress this week. We believe that the successful implementation of the peace process with the eventual establishment of the Bangsamoro will provide the political solution that will end the four-decade conflict in Mindanao,” said AFP chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.
Until the new Bangsamoro entity as envisioned in the proposed law is in place, the military and the MILF share the responsibility of securing large parts of central Mindanao. In February, cooperation between the 2 groups led to the capture of BIFF camps.
The BIFF has been identified as one of the biggest challenges that has to be addressed to make the peace agreement successful.
The BIFF should not be allowed to be the new MILF, according to officers, referring to the MILF's split from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) after it signed a peace pact with government in 1996. – Rappler.com