Philippines travel advice

An ongoing clash between the Army and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao has sent thousands of residents fleeing their homes and shut down the highway passing through part of the province.

“There was massive evacuation of civilians,” Captain Joann Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said, although she explained that residents began evacuating early Friday after sighting BIFF fighters in Barangay Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, well before the rebels engaged troops of the 45th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Maytumaig, Datu Unsay town around 9:30 a.m.

The running gun battle continues to rage as of this posting near the stretch of highway between Crossing Salbo in Datu Saudi Ampatuan up to the Datu Unsay town hall.

Road closed

Because of the heavy fighting, the road from Dalican in Datu Odin Sinsuat town up to the provincial capital Shariff Aguak has been closed to traffic, with armored personnel carriers and artillery positioned beside the highway.

Petinglay confirmed that armored vehicles of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade have been deployed along the highway between Talayan and Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

What went before

Friday’s hostilities comes on the heels of last week’s clashes between the BIFF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters in Pkiti, North Cotabato and Pagalungan, Maguindanao that drove up to 30,000 persons from their homes.

The Army later entered the fray on the side fo the MILF, with whom government has signed a peace treaty.

The BIFF broke away from the MILF a few years back after disagreeing with the direction peace talks were heading.

Last year, the MILF and the government signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to end decades of fighting, but the peace pact and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would create a new autonomous homeland in Mindanao, have been put under question by the January 25 Mamasapano incident.

A Special Action Force mission to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” who is said to have been killed, turned into a disaster when a clash broke out between the police commandos and the MILF.

The fighting left 44 SAF commandos, 18 MILF fighters and at least five civilians dead.