[NEWS] Standoff in 4 Maguindanao towns continues; Dureza off to Aguak

By Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews
(Courtesy of MindaNews news service)

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/05 July) — The Presidential Adviser on the
Peace Process will meet with Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan tomorrow
(Thursday) “to work out how to stop the skirmishes” in four
Maguindanao towns from escalating and threatening the peace process
between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Attempts by the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT),
Joint Ceasefire Committee and civil society groups to end the standoff
have failed and Ampatuan’s spokesperson, Engr. Norie Unas, warned
today that “this can escalate beyond Maguindanao.”

“Armed encounters are still going on. And the evacuees, there are a
lot of evacuees. We are attending to the sufferings of both armed
elements and the civilians,” Unas told MindaNews.

Asked how many persons had been killed in the clashes, Unas replied,
“no idea yet.”

“What is alarming now,” he said, “is the demonstrated sympathy of
mayors who sent their troops to fight side by side against the
terrorists.”

He said 16 of 28 Maguindanao mayors had “sent their troops,” referring
to CVOs (civilian volunteer organizations).

CVOs are supposed to be unarmed. The armed militia, known as the
Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), are territorial and
are supposed to be confined only within their specified area of
jurisdiction, e.g. their barangay.

The armed clashes started on June 28, five days after a bombing in
Shariff Aguak town, Gov. Ampatuan’s hometown. The governor was
unharmed but five of his aides were killed. The Autonomous Region in
Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), however, says in its press statements that
seven were killed.

Unas said “many are saying the target was the governor and his family.”

The governor’s camp named the suspects as Ameril Ombra, allegedly of
the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces’ 105th Base Command and
Said Pakiladatu, allegedly also of the same command.

Unas said Pakiladatu was also among the suspects in the December 2002
bombing which killed Datu Saudi, mayor-son of the governor.

Pakiladatu’s wife was gunned down in Cotabato City at noon today.

The police personnel, CAFGUs and CVOs were reportedly going to arrest
the two suspects on June 28, triggering the clashes.

Unas said “to a larger extent, the bombing was attributed to some
members of the MILF, not the organization but some members who are
linked to terrorists.”

If the two suspects are served their warrants of arrest, he said, they
would be given due process.

“But we should look at the broader spectrum,” he said, asking, “are
they (MILF) really sincere or are they blackmailing the government?”

Unas noted that the Ampatuans are “the last bastion of pro-government”
yet they are “being sidelined.”

“Time and again,” he said, “the regional and provincial governments
are in support of the peace process. Had we not been supporting the
peace process, things would have been worse.”

The MILF, Unas added, imagines itself as an organization undertaking
reforms “pero ginagawa na ng leadership dito sa province (but the
leadership of the province is already doing that) in a very civil and
non-violent way.”

Unas said they will agree to a ceasefire only if the suspects are
turned over to them, “justice is served” and the MILF elements “move
out of our territory.”

The ARMM’s Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) in a special
meeting on July 3, urged President Arroyo to “direct the Philippine
National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to
take an active and fast action against the perpetrators of the June
23, 2006 bombing in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.”

The resolution also called on the government peace panel “to implore the MILF to make good
their commitment to help bring criminals/terrorists to answer for
their acts.” The government and MILF peace panels, in a Joint
Communique on May 6, 2002, set up a Joint Action Group that would go
after kidnap-for-ransom groups and other criminal elements in the
so-called MILF areas. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

About mindanaw

A Journalist from Mindanao

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