MAGUINDANAO: Alleged members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fired anti-tank rockets and assault rifles on Tuesday in a remote village where suspects in the killing of a 15-year-old boy on Monday reside, the military said on Wednesday.
Colonel Dickson Hermoso from the Army’s 6th Infantry Division said that the gunmen were believed to be relatives of the high school boy who was killed, and harassed the village of Dalimbong in Datu Saidona town in Maguindanao, to avenge the death of the boy.
The attack on Tuesday resulted in panic and had several families evacuate the area, fearing that the conflict may escalate into a full-blown war. After their evacuation on Tuesday night, the families were able to return home Wednesday morning.
The police said that the slain high school student was walking on his way home with two companions when two armed men riding in tandem blocked their path and opened fire on the 15-year-old boy, which had caused his death and injury to his companions.
Commanders Emram and Rasul, relatives of the slain boy and two of the 118th Base Command of the MILF, were believed to have led the attack, according to reports from Army units in Datu Saidona.
Hermoso said that the relatives of the suspects also engaged the MILF in a 30-minute firefight—no casualty was reported on either side.
The Army representative said that members of the First Mechanized Infantry Brigade have been deployed in the area to act as peacekeepers.
Datu Saidona, an area about 10 kilometers from the national highway, links Gen. Santos City and Cotabato City, making it an important route for local residents.
Hours after the Datu Saidona firefight, another erupted in Barangay Dalimbong, after government forces engaged a radical Moro rebel group in a clash in Barangay Kabingi, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, also in Maguindanao.
Hermoso explained that, the two incidents were not connected, pointing out that the latter skirmish was with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who were extorting farmers.
Kabingi residents have been complaining about the BIFF’s harassment and extortion during harvest season.
The Army launched mortar shelling and armored personnel attacks to more than 50 BIFF members in an attempt to drive them away from the Datu Saudi town. There were no reported casualties in the second incident.
About 1,000 members of the BIFF were formerly with the MILF, led by foreign trained Islamic preacher Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato. Hermoso revealed that the BIFF is considered an outlaw.
Datu Saidona, a fourth-class municipality in Maguindanao has a 23,000 population, according to the 2010 census. Its mayor is Bai Rebecca Ampatuan, a scion of former-Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. of Maguindanao and is included as a primary suspect in the Maguindanao massacre.
Sheila T. Mañalac