Gov’t troops clash with BIFF in SouthCot’s coal-rich town

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/ 13 January) – Government troops clashed with around 40 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the remote coal-rich village of Ned in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, leaving a militiaman dead, the military said Sunday.

1Lt. Betheul N. Barber, public affairs officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said the firefight ensued after government troops responded to report from civilians that armed men have been sighted in the area.

The government troops have been deployed in the area two days before the firefight that occurred around 5:50 a.m. Saturday, he said.

Barber identified the slain militiaman as Rene Amar Pernal. His body was recovered around 8:40 p.m., or around 15 hours after the encounter began, and later brought to the military patrol base in Barangay Ned, about four kilometers from the encounter site, the military official said.

Pernal was a member of the 7th CAFGU (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit) Active Auxiliary of South Cotabato.

Barber said the military has still no information if the armed group also suffered fatalities.

2Lt. Angelo Peralta, team leader of the troops that traded fire with the armed men, said the clash occurred in Ned’s Sitio Kumilat.

Peralta said they were conducting active defense patrol when the armed men fired on them.

He said the armed men are headed by a certain Udtog and a certain Mod, both from Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.

Barber said that additional troops were deployed on Saturday aboard a helicopter due to the remote location of the area.

Another team was deployed on Sunday also through a helicopter ride to help in the clearing operation in the area, Barber said.

Barber said the armed men could have been in the area for quite sometime already, noting that Barangay Ned “has been the highway of armed men going towards Maitum in Sarangani.”

Last year, military officials in South Cotabato said that the New People’s Army was trying to establish a presence in Barangay Ned.

San Miguel Energy Corp., a unit of San Miguel Corp., has set up a base camp in Barangay Ned in a bid to extract massive coal deposits in the area.

Studies showed that the Daguma Mountain Range, which straddles Ned, contains coal resources of 426 million metric tons. Initial exploration and drilling has blocked 55 million metric tons of minable reserves in 526 hectares of the mountain range.

San Miguel had announced plans to build a coal-fired power plant with Ned as the source of raw material. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)