AFP-MILF 2000 War in Mindanao Remembered
March 15, 2006, was the sixth anniversary of the infamous invasion of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Even before that, there was already considerable saber rattling on both sides. After burning a Super 5 passenger bus and taking three employees hostages, Moro rebels strung together a series of attacks on passenger buses beginning on Feb. 25, 2000 in Ozamiz city, Bgy. Rizal, Tungawan, Zamboanga del Norte and Cagayan de Oro city, killing and wounding 36 people and wounding 42 others.
Unknown to the rebels, the 1st and 2nd battalion landing teams of the 1st Marine Brigade disembarked at Cagayan de Oro's Macabalan port on March 14, followed days later by the third battalion.
The stage was set for war in Mindanao.
On March 15, a combat patrol of the Phil. Army's 26th Infantry Battalion stumbled upon MILF guerrillas in Bgy. Inudaran, Lanao del Norte, killing two of the rebels. The following day, 700 rebels of the MILF 303rd Brigade led by Abdullah Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo, swooped down on nine Army detachments in Linamon, Bacolod, Kauswagan and Maigo towns.
On March 17, the rebels occupied the Kauwagan town hall, taking more than 400 residents hostage.
The Phil. Army's 4th Infantry "Diamond" Division under the command of Brig. Gen. Roy Cimatu (now Phil. Ambassador to the Middle East) immediately launched a counter attack.
Cimatu mobilized Task Force Inudaran from the Army 402nd Infantry Brigade and the 1st Marine Brigade under Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Teodosio which recaptured Kauswagan on March 18. The task force also cleared the Iligan-Dipolog highway where rebels had set up several roadblocks, and set up covering forces to protect vulnerable town centers while far-flung detachments were forced to hold their own against the enemy attacks.
On March 21, 2000, then Philippine President Joseph Estrada personally visited Kauswagan and declared an "all-out war" against the MILF. Estrada tasked Cimatu to carry out the offensive against the MILF in the Lanao area.
From March 16 to June 12, 2000, the 4th Division captured 15 major MILF camps, 49 satellite camps, a training base and control tower at a cost of 38 soldiers killed and 196 wounded. MILF casualties totaled 589 killed and 916 wounded.
Cimatu outlined five major operations against the enemy. The first of these was Oplan SOVEREIGN which called for Task Force Diamond III under Col. Felipe Berroya to attack camps and staging areas of the MILF 303rd Brigade near the highway.
"I did not want the MILF to have time to regroup themselves," Cimatu said. "Time was very essential."
Marines overran the MILF camp in Bgy. Inudaran on March 19 and Camp John Mack, headquarters of the MILF 303rd Brigade at Bgy. Delabayen, Kauswagan on March 20.
The following day, Task Force Diamond III captured Camp Bilal, the largest MILF camp in Lanao del Norte, located in the municipality of Munai.
Meantime, the Army's 402nd Brigade under Col. Samuel Bagasin successfully cleared Bgy. Pacalundo after a day of fierce fighting. Apo Hill, the major MILF communications center in the outskirts of Baloi, finally fell to Task Force Diamond III after a month of heavy air and artillery attack on April 26.
Following the success of Oplan SOVEREIGN, Cimatu next moved on to Operation FREEWAY designed to clear the Narciso Ramos Highway of rebels. The 1st Marine Brigade moved on to Pualas, Lanao del Sur while Task Force Diamond moved up to Marawi city. In a classic pincer movement, Task Force Diamond was ordered to clear the hilly portions of the highway, the 1st Marine Brigade the immediate vicinity of the highway while the 6th Infantry Division moved up from the opposite direction in Matanog town.
As the northern end of the pincer closed in, the Army's 302nd Infantry Brigade under Col. Allan Cabalquinto arrived on May 10 to secure the rear areas cleared by Task Force Diamond. On May 15, the Narciso Ramos highway was finally cleared of MILF rebels, in spite of stiff resistance encountered by the 6th Division from rebels entrenched in bunkers and trenches along the highway.
Next on the schedule was Operation SUPREME, aimed at capturing Camp Bushra in Butig, Lanao del Sur, the second largest camp and training center of the MILF. It is also the home of the Lanao Area Command headquarters under MILF Vice Chair Aleem Abdul Azziz Mimbantas and headquarters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces 3rd Field Division.
Task Force Diamond initially made a feint against MILF camps in Marogong, then moved right abreast of the 1st Marine Brigade which had moved overland from Balabagan. The 302nd Infantry Brigade and the newly arrived 802nd Infantry Brigade under Col. Nagamora Lomodag followed the two attacking brigades. On May 28, Camp Bushra finally fell to the combined air-artillery and infantry attacks of the four brigades.
This set the stage for Operation SWEEPER, aimed at reducing the MILF sphere of influence in Lanao del Sur, particularly in the Basak area around the eastern portion of Lake Lanao.
While the 1st Marine Brigade secured Camp Bushra and re-established government control in Butig, Cimatu ordered Task Force Diamond, the 302nd and 802nd Brigades to clear the municipality of Masiu and eastern side of Lake Lanao. This phase of the operation successfully defeated the rebels capability to wage in sustained a low-intensity conventional warfare in Northern and Central Mindanao.
Up next was Operation SUMMIT, which aimed to destroy all MILF camps north and west of Camp Abubakar. The 1st Marine Brigade and 302nd Infantry Brigade launched the attack on Camp Abubakar from the north while the 6th Infantry Division attacked from the south and west, with Task Force Diamond in reserve.
On July 12, 2000, the late MILF chairman Salamat Hashim called for a jihad against all government forces and installation but few of the Bangsamoro heeded his call. As the rebels forces broke up into smaller, disorganized units, MILF guerrillas went on a rampage against helpless civilians, killing 21 farmers in Bgy. Sumugot, Bumbaran, Lanao del Sur on July 16, 2001 and another 13 workers of the Maranao Plantation, Inc. in Matling, less than a week later.
With the fall of Camp Abubakar, the conventional warfare against the MILF came to an end and the process of reconstructing and rehabilitating the war-torn areas began.
High on the list of priorities was the plight of MILF guerrillas who were tired of fighting and had no camps left to report to. On October 5, 2000 the first massive surrender of 669 MILF mujahideen led by the renegade vice mayor of Marugong, Lanao del Sur Malupandi Cosandi Sarip and seven other battalion commanders, surrendered to former President Joseph Estrada at the 4th ID headquarters in Camp Edilberto Evangelista, Bgy. Patag, Cagayan de Oro city.
They were followed shortly by a second batch of 855 surrenderees led by MILF Commander Sayben Ampaso on Dec. 29, 2000.
The latest and biggest batch of surrenderees formally surrendered to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Tamparan, Lanao del Sur on March 14, 2001, one day to the date from the start of the Mindanao war last March 15, 2000 in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte.
The 931 surrenderees were led by Macabagol Paudak, brigade commander of the MILF Striking Force, 308th MILF Brigade, who also formally turned over some 506 firearms, plus 20 RPGs, three .50-cal. machineguns, three 60mm mortars and two pump boats.