4 injured in fresh Mindanao blasts
FRESH explosions rocked two provinces in Mindanao Friday night and on Saturday as government troops battled rebel Muslim groups to stop them from taking over a major highway in North Cotabato province, forcing thousands of farmers to leave their homes.
On Friday night, four persons were injured in the blast from a grenade launcher in Kabacan town in North Cotabato. Authorities said the grenade went off at 7:30 p.m. at the house of Eddie Antolino, a member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), in Rizal Avenue. Antolino, his son Drazer Ezekiel, 9, and parents-in-law Benjamin and Lucena Ferrer, were hurt in the explosion. They were treated in a hospital.
North Cotabato police Provincial Director Danny Peralta said that the attack could be related to Antolino’s work or could be part of the series of bombings in Mindanao.
In Maguindanao, an improvised bomb went off on a roadside near the town of Upi early Saturday, but no one was injured. Police disarmed another bomb nearby.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesman, said the blast occurred at 7:10 a.m. in Sitio Payong-Payong, Barangay Kebleg in Upi town.
It was the third explosion in Maguindanao since Wednesday.
Upi Mayor Ramon Piang said the improvised explosive device was detonated by unidentified men in an open field in Barangay Kebleg.
Members of the 1st Marine Battalion Landing Team were deployed around the town center.
No one has claimed responsibility but an Army intelligence operative said the blast in Barangay Kebleg could be a test mission for new recruits of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
On Wednesday afternoon, nine members of an Army mechanized unit were injured when members of the BIFF set off a roadside bomb along a farm-to-market road in Barangay Nabundas in Shariff Aguak town.
It was followed by another blast on a bridge in Barangay Lintokan, Datu Piang, Maguindanao, which authorities blamed on the BIFF.
Meanwhile, about 2,000 farmers in Cotabato fled their homes after renewed fighting erupted between government forces and renegade Muslim rebels, officials said.
Families carrying bags of clothes and cooking implements dragged their water buffalo and cattle into the rural hamlet of Nalapaan, North Cotabato, on Saturday as exploding mortar rounds could be heard in the distance.
“We can hear the fighting from here,” said Tibungko Abdul, village chief of Nalapaan.
“As of now we feel we are safe here, but if this worsens we may have to leave for the town center as well,” he added, referring to Pikit, the town nearest to Nalapaan and to the villages where the evacuees had come from.
The villagers fled overnight Friday from fresh fighting between government forces and the BIFF, said provincial governor Emmylou Mendoza.
“We have about 2,000 people who have sought shelter at a local high school,” Mendoza told AFP.
Hermoso confirmed the operation but would not provide details.
“This is an operation against lawless elements,” he told AFP.
Mendoza said the fighting was centered in villages near the town of Aleosan on Mindanao.
“The soldiers are protecting the highway. We cannot afford to have it fall into the rebels’ hands, otherwise the economy of Cotabato and other provinces will be paralyzed,” she added.
The government is in advanced peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest of the insurgent groups, to end the decades-old conflict that had claimed 150,000 lives.
However, the BIFF opposes the peace talks, and the government alleges the group is mounting armed actions in a bid to derail the peace talks.
The series of deadly bombings in the South has so far killed 14 people and injured dozens more.
The explosions prompted the military and police to intensify their intelligence efforts.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Public Information officer of the Armed Forces, said that military and police intelligence units are prepared to thwart more attacks in Mindanao.
“Although our security forces are focused on intelligence and security operations, we call on every citizen to be alert and vigilant,” Zagala said.
“Preventing terror attacks is a shared responsibility and we encourage the civilian community to be perceptive of their surroundings and maintain immediate and constant communication with government authorities,” he added.
The bombings had also crippled the transport of villagers and farm products in two Maguindanao towns following the destruction of a bridge by one of four blasts that rocked Central Mindanao in four days last week.
Between Datu Piang and Datu Salibu, there are eight bridges connecting Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces. Lintukan Bridge is one of them.
The bridge was blasted twice—on July 3 and August 7. In the latest bombing, an improvised explosive device (IED) was planted in its spiral column, the military said.
Another bridge at Barangay Magaslong in Datu Piang was also damaged by a bomb last month. Only light vehicles can pass the bridge because the blast has weakened the structure.
The Department of Public Works and Highways said it will put up a temporary bridge for heavy vehicles.
The military blames the BIFF for the bombing of the bridges, but BIFF spokesman Abu Misri Mama denied it.
Business as usual
Despite the rash of bombings and fierce clashes, it’s business as usual in Mindanao, according to the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and other sectors.
“The more challenges surfacing along the way, the more Mindanao people become resilient in striving to see the fulfillment of the age-old promise in the region and bring it to greater heights,” PCCI Vice President for Mindanao Ricardo Arellano said in a radio interview.
Arellano helped organized Thursday’s 22nd Mindanao Business Conference that President Benigno Aquino 3rd attended.
Aquino called for patience from stakeholders, saying that solving security concerns and power shortage cannot be achieved overnight.
Six separate bombings rocked various parts of Mindanao since July 26 as floods displaced over 60,000 families in more than 40 towns in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and South Cotabato, including the cities of Cotabato, Zamboanga and Koronadal.
The violent incidents had been compounded by frequent power interruptions.
with AFP PNA