PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — ARMED Forces chief General Alexander Yano yesterday said the military is taking “aggressive action” against Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels who have occupied and attacked areas in Lanao and North Cotabato villages, saying military operations would not stop with the clearing of the areas.
In a press briefing, Yano said the military cannot accept the excuse offered by the MILF leadership that they did not sanction the atrocities by elements of the 104th and 105th Base Commanders under Commanders Bravo and UmbraKato, respectively.
“If they keep on saying that line, if they cannot control (their men), then the government will certainly control them and we will undertake our mandate to protect the people and the communities and we cannot renege on that constitutional mandate,” Yano said.
Yano said they have bent backwards too much in upholding the primacy of the peace process, citing the military actions in North Cotabato where the rebels occupied at least 15 barangays starting July 1, displacing at least 160,000 residents.
An Army general said troops have found the bodies of 25 civilians when government forces regained control of the towns of Kauswagan and Kolambugan Monday noon.
Most of the civilians who died in Monday’s clash were from the villages of Kauswagan town, where MILF rebels tried to seize Monday morning, said Brig. Gen. Antonio Supnet, chief of the Army 104th Brigade.
Supnet said 21 bodies were found in Kauswagan and another four were found in nearby Kolambugan town.
He said two of the bodies were found inside a Rural Transit bus in Kolambugan.
Supnet also said that the rebels burned at least 20 houses in Bgy. Lapayan, Kauswagan town when they fled.
Troops of the Army 5th Infantry Battalion regained control of Kolambugan town after suspected MILF rebels withdrew towards the town of Tangkal in Lanao del Sur.
Supnet said the troops also cleared the highway between Iligan City to the cities of Pagadian, Dipolog, Ozamiz and the rest of Zamboanga peninsula.
He advised the public to travel during day and said they could not guarantee of the rebels mounting attack at night.
“The rebel tried to impede our advance by blocking the highway with vehicles whose tires they have deflated,” he said.
Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesperson, admitted in a radio interview that the rebel forces that attacked the town of Kolambugan were members of the MILF, but said the attack was not ordered by the rebel group’s Central Committee.
“We were also taken by surprise. When the Central Committee established contact with the MILF commanders in Lanao del Norte, they ordered the withdrawal,” Kabalu said.
Kabalu also said the killings of civilians were “unfortunate,” but said this was not committed by the MILF forces.