By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Soldiers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants who turned protagonists in the recent armed clashes in Basilan have buried their hatches and renewed harmony in a conciliation meeting held by the mediating authorities led by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU).
OPAPRU Sec. Carlito G Galvez, Jr. witnessed Lt. Col. John Ferdinand Lazo, commanding officer of the 64th Infantry Battalion, and Yakan Kumander Huram Malangka of the MILF-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) traded handshakes and hugs to gesture of peaceful settlement of misunderstanding-turned-atrocity that broke out on Nov. 8 in Unkaya Pikan in Basilan, an OPAPRU news release said.
Lazon and Malangka alongside their men also agreed to foster close coordination and enhance adherence to existing peace mechanisms to avoid hostilities and protect the island-province of Basilan from lawless elements, said the statement.
“What happened in Ungkaya Pukan is very unfortunate,” Sec. Galvez said in the statement released shortly after the conduct of the peace dialogue on Monday, Nov. 14 in Basilan’s Isabela City.
For the government side, State Peace Implementing Panel officials alongside military brasses led by BGen. Arturo Rojas, Western Mindanao Command acting chief, BGen. Domingo Gobway, head of the Joint Task Force Basilan and 101st Infantry Battalion; and BGen Eduardo Gubat, chair of the GPH Coordinating Committing on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), attended the dialog, it was learned.
The MILF-BIAF side was represented in the dialog by its high-ranking leaders led by Dan Asnawi, a Bangsamoro Parliament member and MILF base commander, Butch Malang, chair of the MILF-CCCH; and Malik Caril, officer-in-charge of the MILF-BIAF Western Mindanao Front and member of the MILF-CCCH, the OPAPRU said.
The peace dialogue came after the GPH and MILF’s CCCH and Adhoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) facilitated the signing of a ceasefire agreement on November 10, which ended a three-day firefight between government troops and MILF-BIAR forces in Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan.
Galvez said the local truce prescribed for the MILF to inform the military of the presence of the lawless elements in their area, for the military, AFP and the LGUs to work closely and ensure coordination to address the presence of the lawless groups in Basilan, and for both camps to bring about normalcy in the area, especially in the rehabilitation of a madrasah (Arabic school) partly damaged in the armed skirmishes.
The AFP and BIAF-MILF also renewed commitment to work together in bringing peace and development in Basilan, as they agreed to establish a Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) in Ungkaya Pukan, the OPAPRU said.
Brig. Gen. Rojas and Caril lauded the truce forging and expressed gratitude to the OPAPRU’s mediation, describing also the Nov. 8 incident as an “isolated case.”
“If there are issues (appearing) bit unclear (and) sometimes we can’t avoid it, let’s just convey (them) to both peace mechanisms. Let them talk to each other at the local level so that the problem can be solved immediately,” Caril said in the OPAPRU statement.
According to published reports, the Nov. 8 armed skirmish left two MILF-BIAF members and a 20-year old student dead, and at least five soldiers wounded.
The reports said soldiers had instituted tight watch on the movements in Unkgkaya Pukan of MILF-BIAF members suspected of being infiltrated by lawless elements such as Abu Sayyaf guerillas. The same MILF-BIAF members were to be decommissioned yet under the 2014 Bangsamoro peace process’ normalization track, it was learned.
Ground soldiers admitted having allowed the MILF-BIAF members to move in and out freely as long as they would not bring firearms. But the revolutionary cadres came in with guns on Nov. 7, prompting soldiers to accost them. In the process, a suspected sniper from the MILF-BIAF fired and hit in the chest a soldier wearing a Kevlar vest, news reports said.
The soldiers’ tight watch on Ungklaya Pukan was reportedly prompted by an ambush in September where three Army troops were killed, reports said. (AGM)