On Oct. 18, 2011, a clash between fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government troops in Al-Barka, Basilan left 19 soldiers and six Moro fighters dead.
The encounter, which lasted from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., happened despite a ceasefire.
Both sides blamed each other for the clash. MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said it was a deliberate attack by the Philippine military and the MILF would protest it before the international monitoring team and the ceasefire committee.
The military said its troops did not intrude into an MILF stronghold as they were about 4 kilometers from it when they were fired upon by the rebels, prompting them to fight back.
On Nov. 3, 2011, the government and the MILF peace panels held informal talks in Kuala Lumpur and agreed to continue the investigation of the clash in Al-Barka.
Six months after the encounter, a seven-member general court-martial was appointed to arraign four senior Army officers for the deadly operation.
The officers, relieved of their posts and charged for the deaths of the 19 soldiers, were Col. Amikandra Undug, former commander of the Army Special Forces Regiment; Col. Alexander Macario, former commander of the Special Operations Task Force-Basilan; Lt. Col. Leonardo Peña, former commander of the 4th Special Forces Battalion in charge of the troops deployed to Al-Barka; and Lt. Col. Orlando Edralin, former commandant of the Special Forces Training School.
Macario and Edralin were cleared by a military court in October 2012 because of “insufficient evidence.”
In July 2013, the military tribunal found Peña guilty of bungling the operation. Peña was demoted and banned from handling a command for two years.
The tribunal convicted Peña of violating Article of War 97 (disorder and neglect to the prejudice of good order and military discipline). He was, however, acquitted of the charge of violating Article of War 84 (willful or negligent loss, damage or wrongful disposition).
The court-martial also found Undug guilty of violating Article of War 97. Undug, the most senior among the four officers who faced trial for the Al-Barka debacle, was likewise demoted.
Earlier, in April 2012, after months of keeping mum on the results of the investigation of the massacre, the MILF said in a statement posted on its website that the International Monitoring Team, which conducted the investigation with authority from both the Philippine government and the MILF, found the military liable for at least 10 ceasefire violations.
These included noncoordination with the MILF before the military launched an operation against a terrorist group that entailed passing through a rebel-held area.
According to the MILF, as far as the rebels were concerned, it has carried out the sanctions recommended against three guerrilla commanders “implicated for wrongdoing in relation to the armed encounter.”
Dan Laksaw Asnawi, deputy commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces in Basilan, and two other guerrilla commanders were suspended for three months and made to undergo education on the ceasefire provisions, human rights and international humanitarian laws. Inquirer Research (Source: Inquirer Archives)
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