Cotabato City – The Philippine Army’s 40th Infantry Battaion (40th IB) is set to accord posthumous awards on two Muslim soldiers slain in Thursday’s attempt by the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to take over Army detachments in Midsayap, North Cotabato.
The fatalities, Privates First Class Merham Dalimbang and Marlie Kalilangan were sons of former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerillas who enlisted with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) after the former rebel group signed a peace pact with the government in 1996.
They both belonged to the 40th IB, a component unit of the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division, and were described as “martyrs” by their superiors.
“These two soldiers fought for peace and ended up as martyrs so they deserve corresponding awards for their gallantry and dedication,” said Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of 6th ID.
Six other soldiers, Sergeants Jose Navarro and Dante Alfonso, Corporal Darwin Timbang, and PFCs Jeffrey Daza, Ronnie Abas and Melron Balolong, were wounded in the firefight ensuing encounters that also left 10 rebels dead.
The BIFF attacks on the detachments of the 40th IB in Barangay Polomogen in Midsayap and Makabimban village in nearby Northern Kabuntalan town in Maguindanao forced more than a thousand Visayan settlers and Moro villagers to seek refuge in safer grounds, government reports said.
Hermoso said firefight erupted when bandits encircled the detachments and opened fire with assault rifles and B-40 anti-tank rockets.
The soldiers manning the detachments returned fire and prevented their attackers from breaching the perimeter fences of their positions. And in that initial exchange of gunfire, three bandits were reportedly killed.
Another group of bandits blocked the road connecting the town proper of Midsayap to the detachments then ambushed a military truck carrying responding soldiers. It was in this 30-minute encounter that Dalimbang and Kalilangan.
Supt. Reinante Delos Santos, Midsayap municipal police chief, said the fleeing bandits planted powerful improvised explosive devices along their escape route.
“It was good that barangay folk discovered the IEDs enabling government bomb experts to deactivate them promptly,” Delos Santos said.
Barangay officials confirmed seeing seven dead BIFF bandits being carried away by their comrades who scampered toward Datu Piang town in Maguindanao after the soldiers started firing 81-mm mortars to prevent them from closing in.
Hermoso said the 6th ID received feedback from local folk that three other bandits succumbed to gunshot wounds while being carried to a makeshift BIFF clinic at the swampy border of Midsayap and Datu Piang.