AT least 12 people, including two TV news crew, were wounded when a convoy of soldiers and journalists was hit by a roadside bomb early Saturday in a remote village in Maguindanao province, military and police reports said.
Initial reports reaching Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters in Manila, said the incident occurred at around 7:30 a.m. at Lower Salbu, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao province.
Military public information officer Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the area where the explosion occurred was near the site of an encounter between government troops and members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Zagala said six soldiers and six civilians, including a news crew of TV-5, were wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) left behind by retreating BIFF members.
The TV-5 crewmen were identified as reporter Jeff Caparas and cameraman Adrian Bulatao. The television network reported on its website that Bulatao was in shock, but conscious, while Caparas was wounded but was on his feet.
In the convoy were two pick-up trucks, one belonging to TV-5, escorted by Simba Armored Personnel Carriers from the 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion.
The wounded soldiers and news crew were immediately to a local hospital before being airlifted by Army helicopters.
Zagala said three Huey helicopters were sent to the headquarters of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion to pick up the wounded.
Journalists covering the fighting in Maguindanao are embedded with the military.
Col. Dickson Hermoso of the 6th Infrantry Battalion denounced the BIFF for the latest bomb attack.
“We will continue our offensive against the BIFF because they have been indiscriminate in their attacks. They attack the police, army and civilians,” Hermoso told Radyo ng Bayan.
“The BIFF does not follow any rules of engagement,” he added.
Fighting between government forces and the BIFF flared Monday last week, a day after the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the final annex that paved the way for a comprehensive peace agreement.
The 72-hour extension given by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines-MILF Adhoc Joint Action Group to the military and police to carry out operations against the BIFF ended on Saturday.
Clashes between government troops and BIFF members has killed 52 BIFF members, including 13 “child warriors” and soldiers, while more than a dozen combatants were injured.
Government forces on Saturday hoisted the Philippine flag at the main camp of the BIFF in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town, Maguindanao province.
Col. Edmund Pangilinan, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, and Col. Edgar Gonzales, chief of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, hoisted the flag in the middle of the seven-hectare camp.
Gonzales said his troops recovered about 3,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibers and 300 kilos of blasting chemicals and components for making improvised explosive devices.
“It’s like guerrilla camps in movies where there were so many running trenches and criss-crossing routes,” an Army lieutenant, who identified himself as Pentagon, told reporters.
Gonzales said it was a well-fortified camp difficult for ground troops to penetrate.
“Our air assets destroyed most of the fortification,” he said.
With Llanesca t. Panti and PNA