MILF: We were attacked, why blame us?

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 21 2011 12:14 PM | Updated as of Oct 22 2011 12:45 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Friday defended its deadly ambush of government troops last Tuesday, saying they had not choice but to respond to an attack by the military.

“We were the ones attacked and the Special Forces, who are highly-trained, were in full battle gear and their mission was to kill as many MILF forces including Commander Dan Laksaw Asnawi," the MILF said on its website, Luwaran.

Nineteen Special Forces members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were killed following an 8-hour battle in Al-barka town in Basilan province.

The separatist rebels also claimed they were prepared for the attack since they received an intelligence report from their agent within the Philippine military.

"We were only very lucky, because we have received an A-1 intelligence report earlier from our agent in the military that they are going to attack us that very early morning; so we prepared ourselves," the MILF said.

The MILF also claimed that the "scene of the encounter was deep inside MILF-held areas and far from the highway."

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on the other hand, said the encounter was outside MILF territory.

Soldiers demoralized

The bodies of 11 of the 19 soldiers killed are set to be flown to Manila today. They will be brought to Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City where they will be given military honors.

AFP spokesman Arnulfo Burgos assured that the Army will extend all the benefits due to all the slain soldiers.
 
"We will honor the personal sacrifices of our soldiers. We will extend all necessary assistance to their surviving families and loved ones," said Burgos.

Army spokesman Colonel Antonio Parlade said soldiers were demoralized after the bloody ambush especially since the government cannot retaliate against the MILF due to an existing cease-fire.

"Well, the soldiers are demoralized because of the incident but they understand the decision of the President (not to declare an all-out war)," he told ANC's Headstart.

Selective lifting of ceasefire

He reiterated that the Army does not want an all-out war but a "selective lifting of the ceasefire in that area to pursue and serve justice for the death of the soldiers."

Parlade said many officers are dissatisfied that the Army is always on the losing end when dealing with the MILF. "The sincerity of these people is in question specially with this incident now," he said.

The Army spokesman backed an impartial investigation on possible lapses of government forces during the operation last Tuesday. He, however, added that the inquiry should look at why the MILF expanded their Area of Temporary Stay (ATS) by 5-10 kilometers.

President Benigno Aquino has already ruled out an all-out war against the rebels, saying he would not judge the whole MILF organization because of "one rotten egg."

Ping backs all-out war

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, however, said Aquino should follow the example set by former President Joseph Estrada and mount an all-out war against the MILF.

"It's time for PNoy to do an Erap. Peace in Mindanao cannot be achieved unless a tactical victory is attained first by the Armed Forces. The belligerence of the MILF is something that we deserve because we continue to give them that status. It is time to untie the hands of our soldiers and authorize them to fight the MILF on equal terms and not handicapped by the so-called peace talks characterized by treachery and deceit," Lacson said in a statement.

The senator said it was odd that the country's territorial integrity is being threatened from within.

He added that it is difficult for soldiers to understand why they should not be allowed to patrol or conduct military exercises in any part of their area of jurisdiction.

"There is only one Armed Forces of the Philippines under only one Commander-in-Chief. Any other armed group outside AFP and PNP and other law enforcement agencies must be treated as enemy of the state and should be treated as such under existing laws of the Republic," he said.
 
Attack in Zamboanga Sibugay

Meanwhile, 3 government soldiers were killed and 4 wounded on Thursday in a fresh MILF attack in Zamboanga Sibugay province. Twelve men in the convoy are missing, a military report said.

Two army trucks in a convoy were ambushed by suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) men along a road in the town of Alicia, said an army report to the regional military headquarters.

The fresh fighting has further complicated efforts to end one of Asia's longest insurgencies, with the MILF and the military trading accusations of breaking a ceasefire in place to promote peace talks.

The 12,000-strong MILF has waged a rebellion since the 1970s for an independent Islamic state or autonomous-rule in the southern third of the mainly Catholic Philippines.

The rebellion has left about 150,000 people dead, with most of the deaths occurring in the 1970s when an all-out war raged.

Although the two sides signed a truce in 2003 that paved the way for peace talks, the ceasefire is frequently marred by clashes across the vast southern Mindanao region that Muslims claim as their ancestral homeland. -- with a report from Agence France-Presse