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AFP troops staying in camps during the bloody Maguindanao clash

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2015 - 7:23pm

MANILA, Philippines - Military troops were in their respective detachments during the bloody clash last Sunday in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that left more than 40 police commandos dead, an official said on Tuesday.  

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc was tightlipped on whether soldiers did something while members of the Special Action Force (SAF) were fighting with the numerically superior rebels. 

“Our soldiers were stationed in their respective posts when the clash happened that’s all I can say,” Cabunoc said in a press briefing

“They are in their respective detachments or camps. If they are members of battalions, they are in their detachments securing communities,” he added.

When asked what they did during the daylong gun battle, Cabunoc said: “I cannot answer that. What they were doing was operational in nature.”

Cabunoc could not say when the military learned about the firefight, saying the police has formed a board of inquiry to look into the incident.

“I cannot provide specifics. We know that a board of inquiry has been created and let’s respect that,” the military official said.

Earlier, sources revealed to The STAR that Army troops were aware of the clash between the elite police forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) but failed to send reinforcements because they were shackled by a ceasefire agreement.

SAF members staged an early morning operation in Barangay Tukana Lipao in Mamasapano town to arrest high-profile terrorists believed to be seeking refuge in the area.

The operation targeted Basit Usman, a bomb expert with connections to terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan. Usman was involved in several bombings and has a bounty of $1-million on his head.

Marwan, meanwhile, is a Malaysian bomb expert who is said to be the leader of JI in the Philippines. The US has offered $5-million for his arrest while the Philippines has put up a reward money of P7.4-million.

Marwan was believed to have been killed in an air strike in Parang, Sulu in 2012 but officials admitted two years later that he might have survived the raid.

Outnumbered 

Sources said the SAF entering party composed of about more than 50 policemen faced around 500 BIFF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front in a lopsided battle that started before dawn and lasted until the evening.

The police commandos who were running low on ammunition reportedly waited for military reinforcements but waited in vain.

The Army has units in the towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang, towns that are near the encounter site.

The MILF has blamed the SAF for the clash, saying the police commandos had failed to coordinate its activities with the joint ceasefire committee and the International Monitoring Team.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohaquer Iqbal said the encounter was “a misencounter that happened due to lack of coordination based on agreed security protocols.”

Cabunoc declined to comment on whether the peace negotiations is impeding the security operations against terrorist groups.

Half mast

Flags in all military installations in the country were lowered at half mast yesterday to express solidarity with the fallen police operatives.

“We mourn the loss of these brave policemen who paid the ultimate sacrifice while fighting for our country. They fought heroically and they have not died in vain,” Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang, Jr. said in a statement.

The General Headquarters and all other military camps, bases, and stations will fly the flag at half-mast for five days.

The Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, which has jurisdiction over military, police, and coast guard chaplains, urged the public to pray for the slain policemen.

A mass dedicated to the fallen SAF members will be held today at the St. Ignatius de Loyola Cathedral in Camp Aguinaldo. 

ABU SAYYAF AND JEMAAH ISLAMIYAH ARMED FORCES BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS BARANGAY TUKANA LIPAO BASIT USMAN CABUNOC CAMP AGUINALDO DATU SAUDI AMPATUAN AND DATU PIANG MARWAN MILITARY
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