Maj. Ramon David Hontiveros, Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) spokesperson
ZAMBOANGA CITY - Amidst the preparations Sunday for the celebration of Eid’l Fitr Al Mubarak or Hariraya Puasa on Sunday, the police and military and bandits of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) clashed in Sulu province, leaving 1 bandit killed and 5 soldiers wounded.
Maj. Ramon David Hontiveros, Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) spokesperson, in an interview said that policemen were supposed to serve warrants of arrest against ASG leaders Dr. Abu, Albader Parad and Radulan Sahirun following intelligence information that the 3 high-value targets were sighted in Sitio Talibang in Barangay Buansa in Indanan town in Sulu.
The 3 leaders of the bandit group are facing charges before the courts, including kidnapping. Parad was allegedly involved in the abduction of the three staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, two of them foreigners, last January.
Police reportedly requested for support from the Philippine Marines in serving the warrants of arrest. Sunday dawn, the Marines troopers reportedly cordoned off the area but Hontiveros said that when the police was about to serve the warrants they were fired upon by members of the bandit group.
“We received info regarding their presence in the area just this morning. We moved to confirm. Once confirmed, we moved to cordon off the area so that the warrant could be served. Unfortunately, they opened fire before the warrant could be brought in,” said Hontiveros.
Hontiveros said the soldiers were encircling the terrorists when they were fired upon. An estimated 200 armed ASG members were allegedly in the area.
Hontiveros also admitted that the ground commander saw the need to call for aerial support following the heavy firefight between the police and soldiers and the bandits.
An ABS-CBN News source disclosed that 2 OV-10 light attack planes and 2 MG-250 helicopters of the Philippine Air Force were dispatched to give support to the ground troops.
The aerial bombardment reportedly resulted also to evacuation by civilians.
Christopher Lee, Indanan municipal social welfare and development officer, told ABS-CBN News Zamboanga that around 300 families fled their homes following the bombardment.
Lee said the people who fled their residences in Taisan Hill, around 900 meters up Barangay Buansa, took temporary shelters with relatives in Lower Buansa.
No houses were damaged, and there were no civilian casualties.
Hontiveros said he is seeking the residents' understanding as the military is only doing its responsibility to protect civilians from these "menace" in society.
The 3rd Marine Brigate in Sulu also said that on Monday, there will be a flag raising ceremony in the ASG camp, before it will be turned over to the local government unit. A civilian emergency force will then guard the captured alleged bandit camp.
Indiscriminate aerial assault?
Meanwhile, Cocoy Tulawie of the Bangsamoro Civil Society, in a text message, condemned what he said were indiscriminate air assaults of the military in Indanan Sunday.
Tulawie said that the government forces did not pay respect to the Muslim “Ummah” on their most valued observance of Hariraya prayer. He said that the exchange of fires reportedly happened when Muslims were praying in different mosques.
Hontiveros said however that what the military and police did is for the common fight against those who are destroying Islam and disobeying the words of Allah.
Hontiveros clarified that the police and military operation was not a disrespect to the celebration of Hariraya Puasa. He said government forces are only doing their duty in the common fight against the evils in the society.
“Actually this has nothing to do with Ramadan, this has nothing to with religion, this has nothing to do with Islam. Basically, these people are accused of committing a crime. They have to answer these accusations in court,” said Hontiveros.
The military spokesman said that ASG bandits have already bombed and disturbed Sulu and its residents twice during Ramadhan including an incident when 2 Muslim soldiers going to a mosque to pray were hurt.
Open house in AFP HQ
Meanwhile the WesMinCom’s mansion house in Zamboanga City was opened to all on Sunday as part of the celebration of Harirya Puasa.
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Benjamin Dolorfino, WesMinCom chief and himself a Muslim convert, for the first time opened the mansion house for this special Muslim celebration.
Since Dolorfino however was in Sulu supervising operations, his wife Mary Ann welcomed the visitors who were both Muslims and Christians.
An estimated 1,000 visitors trooped to the mansion house to partake of sumptuous foods prepared by the military.
Muslim soldiers, during the occasion, called on all Muslims to continue the fight against terrorism. They said the name of Islam is being stained by some irresponsible Muslims who use the name of islam in their quest to do evil deeds.
Maj. San Juan Akkuh, WesMinCom’s imam, meanwhile said that Ramadhan or Harriraya is not the only time for Muslim to repent and do good things, but these should be done everyday.
He added, Islam means peace and Islam can never be mean terrorism. By Leila D. Vicente, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga