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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

AFP, MILF ceasefire declared in Basilan town

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A ceasefire has been declared between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government forces in Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan, B/Gen. Arturo Rojas, commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), confirmed.

The ceasefire was declared after the Joint Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) visited the province on Thursday.

There have been clashes between the MILF and government troops. Reports said the fatalities reached three on the government side and 12 wounded.

The military claims the MILF suffered five casualties, although this has yet to be verified.

The Wesmincom reported that government troops were resupplying fellow soldiers when they were allegedly ambushed by armed men in Barangay Ulitan.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Abdurasad Sirajan said the three military fatalities were from the 18th Infantry Battalion (18IB).

Aside from the three fatalities, seven soldiers—six from the 64th Infantry Battalion (64IB) and one from 18IB — were wounded in the clash, Sirajan said.

“They were about to resupply troops involved [in the initial fighting], especially the 64th IB. While on the way to the vicinity, they were ambushed,” said Sirajan, referring to the ambushed troops.

On Tuesday, Joint Task Force—Basilan commander Brigadier General Domingo Gobway said the clash started when the alleged MILF members and some of their cohorts fired at the troops when 64IB commander Lieutenant Colonel John Ferdinand Lazo tried to negotiate with them around noon on Tuesday.

According to Gobway, the MILF members asked the military to let them go to Barangay Ulitan. He said he allowed the MILF members to pass but told them not to bring their weapons.

Sirajan said a ceasefire was declared on Tuesday evening but “skirmishes” continued until Wednesday.

“Mula pa noong the night of Tuesday, ini-impose na ‘yung ceasefire pero meron pa ring skirmishes hanggang kahapon,” Sirajan said Thursday.

Despite the clash, Sirajan said the protection of the peace process is still being prioritized. He said MILF forces have already withdrawn from the area.

“Ang lesson learned dito is abide with the arrangement. Halimbawa, ang usapan dun is ‘yung balik barangay nila ay umaga o araw talaga ng Tuesday, ay dapat talaga sa araw ng Tuesday sila bumalik at hindi sa midnight ng Monday,” he said.

(The lesson learned here is to abide with the arrangement. For example, if the arrangement for their return to the barangay is morning or daytime on Tuesday, they should return during the daytime on Tuesday, and not Monday midnight.)

In a statement, the government’s implementing panel for the peace accord with the MILF, a former secessionist group, called the incident an “unfortunate untoward encounter” that occurred “despite progress and headways gained by the GPH (government of the Philippines) and MILF parties in the peace process.”

“We ask the cooperation of our partners from the MILF to stay the course and work together with the ceasefire mechanisms and government forces to uphold the ceasefire agreement which has been a product of arduous efforts from both parties in the interest of the welfare of our people and the preservation of the peace agreement,” the panel said.

Gobway said members of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) from both the government and the MILF are set to arrive in the area on Thursday morning.

In a statement, Western Mindanao Command acting commander Brigadier General Arturo Rojas said the military is in coordination with the committee to stop “the tension triggered by miscommunication.”

“I ordered the troops to strengthen defensive position to avoid casualties and collateral damage. Reinforcing units were already identified for contingency and deterrence, however, their redeployment (as the situation develops and warrants) shall be cleared with higher leadership,” he said.

“Nevertheless, my prime order is to protect the integrity of the peace process and abide by the ceasefire agreement.

Rest assured that we are on top of the situation and we are for peace,” Rojas added.

Rojas also advised the public to avoid spreading gossip and unvalidated information that may aggravate the situation.

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