Philippines: 9 MILF Fighters Killed in Anti-Drug War

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato City, Philippines
180528MILF-1000.jpg Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters gather in the southern Philippine town of Datu Salibo in Maguindanao province, September 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Philippine government forces killed nine members of a Muslim rebel group during a raid carried out as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drugs war, putting at risk the passage of a long-delayed law for expanded autonomy in the south, officials said Monday.

The raid, which took place late Friday in the town of Matalam on southern Mindanao island, was meant to arrest two notorious drug pushers, according to local police spokesman Superintendent Bernard Tayog.

But a huge firefight erupted after those inside the home resisted, instantly killing seven, Tayog said. Two others died hours later, according to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which claimed the rebel fighters thought they were being attacked by another armed group.

Several high-powered firearms, including sniper rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, were found at the site, police said, adding that no drugs were found.

Senior leaders of the MILF disputed the police version of events, saying those slain belonged to its elite jungle fighting force, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), which has been helping the army go against pro-Islamic State (IS) groups in the south.

“They were disarmed before they were shot at close range by policemen and soldiers,” said Butch Malang, head of the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, which had filed a complaint with the government peace panel.

The fatalities were part of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, which has been helping the government against other militant groups in the area, Malang said.

Jerome Succor Aba, a member of the rights group Suara Bangsamoro, condemned the killings as he urged the MILF and other Muslims to demand justice to their fallen comrades.

“The Duterte administration is jeopardizing the hard-earned gains of the Moro people towards just and lasting peace,” he said. “While Congress is discussing the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the military and the police are also busy killing the primary stakeholders of its approval.”

He was referring to the law that is supposed to give the MILF expanded autonomy in the country’s south. It was a key component of a peace agreement that rebels had signed with the government in 2014, but has been repeatedly bypassed by a Congress fearful of granting the MILF vast powers in the south.

The BBL, now up for deliberation by the Senate and House of Representatives, outlines the basic structure of the proposed autonomy in Mindanao, the country’s mineral-rich southern third where many areas remain mired in poverty because of the insurgency.

The 12,000-member MILF dropped its bid for self-rule to settle for an expanded autonomy when it signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014.

In February, Congress voted to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of this year, saying that military rule was needed as the government was still rounding up stragglers from IS-linked groups who fought in the city of Marawi.

More than 1,200 people, most of them militants, died in the five-month Marawi siege that ended in October.

Mark Navales also in Cotabato City contributed to this report.


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