MANILA, Philippines - Army troops stationed in the area were aware of the encounter between guerrillas of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Special Action Force (SAF) troops in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Sunday, but failed to send reinforcements because their hands were tied by the government’s ceasefire agreement.
Sources said the police commandos, running low on ammunition, waited for military reinforcements that never came.
“When the heavy skirmishes started, our men fighting a lopsided battle requested for reinforcement from their Army counterparts but after hours of holding their ground nobody came,” a SAF officer said.
Several army units have forward bases at Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang, two towns near the encounter site in Mamasapano.
Capt. Jo-Anne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesman based in Awang, Maguindanao, said Army troops did not get involved in the fighting in the absence of prior coordination from SAF about operations against Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.
An official, who asked not be named, said no prior coordination was made on the SAF’s anti-terror operation, but that troops on the ground knew where the SAF commandos were headed.
“Yes, we did not coordinate as we don’t want any leak,” he said. “But was it correct to just let your brother-in-arms die in the hands of the enemy?”
A middle-grade Army officer said Army troops were ready to reinforce the police commandos, but that their hands were tied by the government’s ceasefire agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF).
If Army troops had joined the fighting, it could have resulted in more casualties on the government side, he added.
The Army officer said police commandos could have mistook the Army troops as the enemy and vice versa.
Army troops could not also just enter the area as the prevailing situation on the ground was then very fluid and could have resulted in a “mis-encounter,” he added.
Fighting stopped after the MILF panel initiated moves for a ceasefire to allow police reinforcements to collect and extricate the bodies of their fallen comrades with the help of US forces.
The official said US soldiers were seen on the ground helping retrieve the bodies of slain police commandos. The bodies were loaded onto US helicopters.
The MILF and BIFF used the ceasefire to retreat to their areas of control in barangay Pidsandawan, Mamasapano and barangays Linantangan and Lusay in Shariff Saydona.
An MILF brigade joined the BIFF in firing mortars and rockets against two companies of outnumbered SAF troops caught in a pinch in Mamasapano town, according to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
As of press time, MNLF field commanders reported heavy movement of MILF and BIFF guerrillas in the area, MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza told The STAR in a telephone interview.
“The situation is very fluid, anything can happen,” he said.
Cerveza said the MNLF field commander near the scene reported heavy fighting from 5 a.m. Sunday until noon.
The police commandos were pinned down with constant firing from some 300 BIFF snipers hidden among coconut trees and in tall grass, he added. – Jaime Laude, Perseus Echeminada