COTABATO CITY (MindaNews /27 October) – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is investigating what happened in Barangay Tumbras in Midsayap, North Cotabato early morning of October 23, amid claims by relatives that six of the seven persons killed in an alleged encounter with government forces were not warriors but minors while the military claims they were ‘child warriors’ of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Frighters (BIFF).
Tumbras is one of 13 barangays of Midsayap that voted yes to inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) during the plebiscite in early February.
The BARMM’s Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) has referred the incident to the CHR Region 12 office pending formal turnover of the 63 North Cotabato villages that voted to be part of the BARMM. The formal turnover of these villages to the BARMM is expected before the year ends.
“We are coordinating with CHR 12 pending official turnover of the barangays to BARMM. We referred the incident to CHR 12 for appropriate action,” RHRC chair Abdulnaser Badrudin told MindaNews.
The Public Information Office of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) in a press release sent to the media on October 25 said that while conducting law enforcement operations at 5:05 a.m. on October 23, combined elements of the 34th Infantry Battalion and Midsayap Municipal Police Station encountered more or less 10 BIFF-Bungos Faction members led by Mama Macalimbol in Sitio Narra, Barangay Tumbras.
The Westmincom report said seven were killed — Macalimbol and “six of his followers.”
Manto Sema, grandfather of Angelo Bangon, one of the seven killed told reporters that his 13-year old grandson had gone fishing in the marsh with friends and stayed overnight in a friend’s house.
He said his grandson and friends were asleep when the alleged encounter took place early Wednesday morning.
Sema denied his grandson was recruited by the BIFF.
“I am deeply hurt,” he said. “We want justice but that is so elusive,” he added.
But Major Arvin John Encinas, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) maintains the slain victims were child warriors of the BIFF.
“This proves now the persistent reports” that the BIFF was recruiting minors and using them as combatants, he said.
“Hindi na bago yung mga child warrior” (There’s nothing new about child warriors), he added.
The military said soldiers and police were supposed to serve the search warrant on Mama Macalimbol in Barangay Tumbras on Wednesday. Macalimbol, allegedly a member of ta big time drug syndicate, was linked to the bombing in front of Sto. Nino Church in Midsayap on December 24, 2016. Twelve persons were injured then.
Lt. Col. Glen Caballero, commander of the 34th Infantry Battalion who led the operation, said the gunmen opened fire on government forces, triggering a 40-minute firefight that left seven dead, including Macalimbol.
Government forces seized high powered guns, including cal. 50 sniper rifle, Garand rifle, Armalite rifle and ammunition.
The BIFF, under Commander Bungos, denied through its spokesperson Abu Mama, that Macalimbol was a member. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)