Gunmen launch deadly attack on southern Philippine Muslim community

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
Gunmen launch deadly attack on southern Philippine Muslim community Moro National Liberation Front commander Nurudin Parnan (center), inspects weapons on display at one of the group’s camps in Maguindanao province, southern Philippines, May 23, 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Gunmen attacked a community of former Muslim guerrillas in the southern Philippines city of Cotabato before dawn on Wednesday, killing two people and injuring five others, police said.

About 20 armed men stormed the village of Tamontaka 2, a community of mostly former rebels belonging to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), city police chief Col. Querubin Manalang told reporters.

Manalang said a shootout erupted between the gunmen and MNLF members, resulting in the death of two former rebels, identified as Pacundo Pangilan and Razul Abdulla, and the injuries to the others.

“The situation now is back to normal. We have policemen deployed in the area,” Manalang said.

The chief said investigators have not determined what led to the attack.

“If this is a case of clan war, we ask the families of those fatalities to coordinate with us so we can take the necessary action.” 

Romeo Sema, a senior MNLF leader who is a labor minister in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), confirmed that his group’s members were involved in the gun fight. 

“We are still investigating,” he told BenarNews, but could not release additional details. 

In the Philippines, particularly in predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao island, it is not unusual for families to settle differences through clan wars or “rido.” Hostilities could last for decades until a peace pact is signed by the protagonists, usually through mediation by religious leaders along with a cash payment. 

Cycle of violence

Political rivalries, ancestral land claims, disputes on local fiefdoms, as well as election-related feuds often spur clan wars in Mindanao, the country’s mineral-rich southern third that has been locked into a cycle of violence for years. The island near the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah has also been saddled by decades of local insurgencies and separatist movements. 

The MNLF was the precursor of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The older group signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996, dropping its rebellion for a separate Muslim homeland in the south for autonomy.

The MILF had splintered from the MNLF in 1978 and continued fight with government forces until 2014 when it agreed to peace in exchange for limited autonomy, eventually leading to the BARMM.

While both groups had agreed to decommission firearms and retire their fighters, unlicensed weapons remain a concern in many areas in the south.

Under the MILF agreement with the government, each former combatant who turns in weapons is expected to receive a cash payment, including money for education.

Despite the agreement, Rommel Banlaoi, a counter-terrorism analyst at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said the proliferation of firearms in the south is a huge problem. 

Citing data, Banlaoi said 80% of the 600,000 unregistered guns in the Philippines are in the region.

“Illegal guns are mostly found in BARMM, not to mention the continuing homemade bomb training camps in the Bangsamoro region,” Banlaoi told BenarNews.


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