Be alert when passing Maguindanao highway—police

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/ 11 Aug)- Travel with caution.

Authorities issued this warning to motorists Saturday after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked a detachment of the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces (PNP-SAF) guarding a major highway in Datu Unsay in Maguindanao province Friday night, resulting to the death of a policeman.

SAFE PASSAGE. A cargo truck passes by an Army Simba Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) parked on the highway in Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao on August 11, 2012. The Army has opened to motorists the vital highway linking Cotabato and Isulan cities after they recaptured rebel strongholds in Datu Unsay town. MindaNews photo by Froilan GallardoFor the safety of the motorists, Police Director Manuel Barcena, chief of the PNP Integrated Police Operations, said the highway linking Cotabato City and Isulan in Sultan Kudarat will be closed starting at 5 p.m. and will reopen at 6 a.m., especially the two-kilometer stretch between Crossing  Salbo in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Unsay towns.

That stretch of the highway was the scene of some of the fiercest clashes between the government troops and the BIFF, after the latter attacked military installations night of August 5.

“It is good to travel with caution. The rebels can strike anywhere despite our presence in the highway,” Barcena told reporters in a press conference.

The attack on the PNP-SAF detachment on Friday night came after the Army opened the Maguindanao highway to public transportation after clearing it from snipers and booby traps earlier in the day.

Police officer 1 Randy Dumaguing died after an estimated 80 BIFF guerillas attacked their detachment at Barangay Maitunaig in Datu Unsay.

Policemen and soldiers told reporters that Dumaguing was training his red-dot rifle scope at the attackers when a shot hit him in the throat, killing him instantly.

The PNP-SAF from Davao and General Santos cities had arrived in Datu Unsay town Friday afternoon to provide security along the highway.

Despite the danger, a few trucks and cars passed through the two-kilometer stretch yesterday under the watchful eyes of soldiers.

For the first time, journalists in three vehicles—including a MindaNews team– were able to cross Crossing Salbo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan to Datu Unsay town and were able to witness the collateral damage of the six-day fighting.

Signs of fierce clashes were visible like empty bullet shells that littered the highway and a burnt house.

Near Datu Unsay market, a huge “BIFF” sign was painted on two of the houses. Many of the houses also sustained damages from the fighting.

Barcena said they “have no idea when the situation will stabilize along the highway,” adding that the curfew will be sustained for as long as there is danger of guerilla attacks. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)