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Military concludes probe into Basilan clash

The investigating panel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has concluded its probe into the clash between government troops and suspected elements of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Al Barka, Basilan early this month.

Authorities, however, said contents of the investigation will not be disclosed to the public.

Military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said the board of inquiry headed by AFP Inspector General Maj. Gen. Irineo Espino will submit the board's findings and recommendations to Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Oban on Saturday.

"He (Espino) told me that he’ll submit the report to the chief of staff tomorrow," he said during a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo on Friday. The board began its investigation into the clash two days after it happened.

The clash left 19 soldiers, including four junior officers, dead and 14 others wounded. Nine members of the armed group were also killed in the Oct. 18 clash.

In stressing that the results of the probe would not be made public, Burgos said: "The result of the board of inquiry is for our internal consumption but our troops, and I’m sure the general public, will notice the actions that will be taken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines."

He likewise assured the public that they conducted the investigation as part of their efforts to improve the military's organization and avoid similar losses in the future.

"On the side of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we want to assure you that the investigation was conducted fairly and we will do the corrective measures, depending on the results of the investigation. We will just have to have for the result of the investigation," he said.

Burgos said Oban is set to review and possibly approve the board's recommendations while President Benigno Aquino III and Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin may be furnished with the report.

The clash

On Oct. 18, nineteen Army soldiers, including four officers, were killed after a six-hour firefight with armed men led by fugitive Dan Laksaw Asnawi in Albarka town.

The military said the armed men were reinforced by members of the MILF, despite a ceasefire between the government and the secessionist group in connection with the ongoing peace negotiations.

But the MILF claimed it was the military that violated the truce by launching an attack within their area of temporary stay (ATS).

The ATS is a place designated by the government and the MILF Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) where forces of the secessionist group can stay to prevent encounters with troops pursuing members of the bandit Abu Sayyaf group.

However, the military insisted that the MILF violated the ceasefire by participating in the clash between the soldiers and the armed group.

But several reports have alleged that several military lapses, including the delay in the sending of reinforcements, contributed to the outcome of the encounter.

Aquino likewise expressed dismay at the performance of the military.

For its part, the Army leadership has relieved from their posts, 4th Special Forces Battalion chief Lt. Col. Leo Pena and Special Operations Task Force Basilan commander Col. Alexander Macario.

Meanwhile, presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles has maintained that despite the Basilan clash, preparations for the resumption of peace negotiations in November will continue.

Aquino has likewise refused to declare an all-out war against the Moro rebel group. Instead, he said that he will pursue "all-out justice" to address the successive attacks by some elements of the MILF against the military.

Former Army spokesman Col. Antonio Parlade Jr. had earlier admitted that the military was demoralized following the death of 19 soldiers in the clash. Parlade has since been relieved from his post. — RSJ, GMA News
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KIMBERLY JANE TAN, GMA News

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