PNP arming villagers in Mindanao

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE government is sending 1,000 shotguns to Mindanao to arm “auxiliary police,” who will help defend villages against invading members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

National Police spokesman Chief Supt. Nicanor Bartolome said the auxiliary police, which have yet to be recruited, would be similar to militiamen that the Armed Forces arm and train.

The creation of an auxiliary police force was authorized by executive order, he said.

‘‘As of now, we are ready to ship 1,000 shotguns and the needed ammunition. But we have yet to recruit the auxiliary police, screen them, train them and ultimately deploy them,’’ Bartolome told Standard Today.

He added that the 1,000 shotguns would be sent to the identified regions where auxiliary police were most needed, especially those susceptible to rebel attacks.

In the last two weeks, rebel forces led by Commanders Umbra Kato and Bravo attacked several towns in Cotabato, Saranggani and Lanao del Norte, killing civilians, taking hostages, looting stores and burning homes.

Early yesterday, a junior officer was wounded when government troops battled about 90 MILF rebels in Barangay Takipan in the town of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, said an Armed Forces spokesman, Maj. Armand Rico.

The Bravo Company of the 64th Infantry Battalion shelled rebel positions with 105mm Howitzers and mortar fire.

Fighting had begun the night before, when Army troops on patrol encountered about 30 rebels, who the military said were preparing to attack a camp in the area.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied the MILF was preparing to attack the military camp and insisted it was the government troops who attacked their men.

Soldiers pursuing rebels who attacked villages in Cotabato said Kato had been wounded in the armpit during a firefight Tuesday night in Northern Kabuntalan, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Rico said civilians in the area had said Kato, who carries a P5-million reward, was bleeding and might die.

Opposition senators batted for increasing in the Armed Forces’ budget in the wake of the renewed fighting.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the committee on national defense, said this did not mean declaring an all-out war on the MILF or abandoning peace talks.

The others who supported a higher budget were Benigno Aquino III, Panfilo Lacson, Jamby Madrigal, Aquilino Pimentel, Mar Roxas and Antonio Trillanes.

Opposition leader and former President Joseph Estrada has urged the government to cancel peace talks and wage an all-out war on the MILF.

But Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Dagupan and Lingayen said those who supported war should be sent to the frontline to experience what that meant.

“War in itself is not a moral option,” Cruz said.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said there were no plans to pull priests out of the areas under attack, saying in “trying times they should not abandon their people.”

Police yesterday filed 61 criminal charges ranging from murder to arson against Kato and other MILF rebels for their attacks in Cotabato.

In the House, party-list lawmakers denounced the MILF attacks on civilian communities, saying they were violations of human rights.

In a joint statement, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño and Anak Mindanao Rep. Mujiv Hataman urged the government to file a complaint before the United Nations or the Organization of Islamic Conference, instead of waging war.

In his briefing yesterday, Bartolome refused to identify the villages where the auxiliary police will be deployed, citing security reasons.