Explosion rocks North Cotabato highway

KIDAPAWAN CITY -- A powerful improvised explosive device (IED) fashioned from an 81-mm mortar projectile went off along the Pagalungan-Pikit highway in North Cotabato around 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.

The explosion took place about seven hours after an IED, also fashioned from an 81-mm mortar, was recovered in Poblacion, Midsayap, in front of a vulcanizing shop, just a few feet away from the national road.

Inspector Sulayman Bakal, chief of Pagalungan police, said the explosion was so loud that it was heard around 400 meters away from his station.

The blast site, he said, is only 100 meters away from the Pagalungan Bridge, one of the oldest structures built along the Maguindanao-Cotabato highway.

The bridge connects towns of Pagalungan and Datu Montawal in Maguindanao to North Cotabato towns.

Sulayman hinted the roadside blast has something to do with the ongoing armed fighting between the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rebels, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the government troops.

No one, though, was reported hurt during the blast.

The explosion in Pagalungan town, reports from the police said, was the second since the fighting erupted on Monday.

Around 12:45 a.m. Monday, a grenade exploded at a para-military detachment in Pikit town, also in North Cotabato, wounding four Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) members and a civilian.

Senior Superintendent Cornelio Salinas, North Cotabato police director, believes another group could be behind the series of roadside blasts along the Maguindanao-Cotabato highway.

"This group, which is not in anyway, connected to the ongoing fighting, is out to wreck havoc and fear among residents of North Cotabato," Salinas said.

He refused, however, to identify such group.

Despite the blasts, the police and Army personnel manning the Maguindanao-Cotabato highway refused to close the road for traffic.

"There is no reason to fear. We have no reason to close the highway. We just want people in the community to be vigilant, to be extra careful while we’re experiencing this situation," Salinas said.

He assured the commuting public that the police in North Cotabato, including other law enforcement agencies and Army personnel, are always “on alert” to secure the safety of the commuters, government installations, and the community.

The fighting, which started Monday, resulted in massive displacement of residents from towns of Datu Saudi, Ampatuan, Guindulungan, and Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao, and towns of Midsayap, Aleosan, and Pikit in North Cotabato.

Data from the Philippine Red Cross (PRC)-Cotabato chapter said the internally displaced families from Datu Saudi town numbered to 1,023, most of them from the indigenous peoples’ communities.

The internal refugees are temporarily housed in two evacuation centers in Poblacion, Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

At least 693 families coming from Barangays Iginagampong, Maitumaig, Sitio Lapitus, and Sitio Bai are housed temporarily at Datu Pendililang Piang Elementary School; while 330 families from Barangays Babingi and Salvo sought refuge in the municipal covered court in the Poblacion, the PRC said.

The PRC Cotabato also recorded at least 689 internally displaced families in Barangays Poblacion and Dalingaoen in Pikit town in North Cotabato.

As this developed, Secretary Teresita Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp), assured war victims and residents from the affected provinces that government forces are ready for necessary defensive actions to protect and ensure their welfare should the perpetrators launch attacks again.

Deles, in a statement issued to media, said the BIFM is not part of the MILF, and "thus, not covered by any ceasefire agreement."

"This act of aggression of the BIFM is meant to derail the peace process between the government and the MILF. We assure the public that these incidents will not affect the substantial gains that we have carefully and persistently built with our counterparts, foremost of which, is the ceasefire mechanism that continues to hold on the ground and kept the peace for our communities," Deles said. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)

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