SEIZED WEAPONS. Military officials from the Army’s 6th Infantry Division inspect the assorted high powered guns and explosives seized by government forces from private armed groups in Talitay, Maguindanao on Friday (May 17, 2019). The 6th ID is continuously pursuing the armed groups in the area. (Photo courtesy of 6ID)
COTABATO CITY -- The commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID) has ordered the 90th Infantry Battalion (90IB) to continue pursuing private armed groups (PAGs) in Maguindanao believed to be in possession of more high-powered guns and explosives.
The directive of 6ID chief, Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, came after the seizure of high-powered firearms, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, homemade bombs, a caliber 50 machine gun, and fatigue uniforms on Friday.
“The 6ID would continue to neutralize all the PAGs operating in Maguindanao if they do not surrender peacefully,” Sobejana said in a statement released also on Friday.
The Army-led Joint Task Force Central (JTFC) has been campaigning against loose firearms since 2018. To date, more than 2,000 assorted high-powered guns have been turned over to the military with the help of local government executives.
The soldiers were pursuing a band of gunmen in barangays Bentan and Kilalan, both in Talitay, after they repeatedly clashed since Tuesday over the results of elections when they discovered a trail of PAGs lairs in the area.
Soldiers found five M-16 rifles, four M-653 rifles, three Garand rifles, four M-203 grenade launchers, one shotgun, one Carbine rifle, one KG-9 automatic rifle, two Thompson rifles, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and a .50-caliber sniper rifle along the escape route of the gunmen who hastily left upon learning government forces were closing in on them.
Also recovered were t-shirts printed with the name and face of one of the local candidates.
Sindatuk Salilama Ubal, a resident of Talitay, told reporters that the armed hostilities involved the supporters of vice mayor-elect Montasir Sabal and Sedik Ameril, a former regional lawmaker of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Both local politicians are included on President Rodrigo Duterte’s narco-list in 2016. Ubal said one group, led by Commander Kalbo, were followers of Sabal while the other was led by Commander Sitti Mike that supports Ameril.
“They have internal arrangement before the elections but someone reportedly violated that agreement that led to firefight,” Ubal said, adding sporadic skirmishes lasted for three days until the military intervened.
Ubal said he was not privy to the agreement that politicians forged. The conflict sent about 70 families fleeing to safer grounds, he said, adding that the Army extended aid to affected families.
Lt. Col. Crizaldo Fernandez, commander of 90IB, said his men were sent to pacify the warring gunmen after civilians reported the hostilities.
When the soldiers arrived in the area Thursday afternoon, the warring groups silenced their guns and dispersed, forcing the soldiers to return to the headquarters.
“They thought the soldiers had already left the village of Bentan,” Fernandez told reporters, adding that government troopers actually hid in the bushes and stayed there overnight until Friday morning.
“The gunmen sped off on board motorized boats into the marshland after seeing the soldiers,” he added.
Fernandez said the soldiers are helping the police find Sabal, who went into hiding three years ago after denying he was into illegal drugs.
His name resurfaced after a relative filed his candidacy for vice mayor of Talitay during last year’s filing.
Sabal was not seen in town during the campaign period but got elected with the help of his brother Abdulwahab, the elected mayor of Talitay.
Fernandez said the Army will not stop in hunting down Sabal and the PAGs. (PNA)