By Ali G. Macabalang
Cotabato City – Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu narrowly escaped death on Saturday as the helicopter he was riding on was fired at by suspected Moro militants while flying over Datu Salibo town en route to an Army camp in the province with one of the bullets missing his head by just a few inches.
“A bullet that pierced through the chopper’s right window shield nearly hit me in the head,” Mangudadatu told reporters after they landed at the Maguindanao airport located in the vicinity of the Army camp.
The helicopter, owned by Aerworkz that operates aircrafts for rent, was hit by .308 caliber bullets, also known as the 762 millimeter round for M-14 assault rifles.
Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao provincial police director, said the governor and his brother, Mayor Freddie of Mangudadatu town, and pilot Dennis Figueroa were on their way to the Army’s 6th Infantry Division headquarters at Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat town when they were attacked.
Governor Mangudadatu was invited Saturday morning as keynote speaker at the closing program of a youth summit against violent religious extremism at the military camp, it was learned.
Maj. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, head of the 6th Infantry Division located in Barangay Awang in Maguindanao’s Datu Odin Sinsuat town, hosted the summit jointly with the governor’s office for selected youth participants from the 36 towns of Maguindanao, event organizers said.
The summit was part of a series of public forum on terrorism-bound extremism coordinated by civilian, police and military authorities through the provincial peace and order council (PPOC) chaired by the governor, Tello said.
Tello, citing initial reports from chiefs of municipal police offices in the second district of Maguindanao, said the attackers are said to be members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), one of outlawed militant groups in Mindanao affiliated with the jihadist Islamic State.
The BIFF has a strong presence in Salibo and nearby towns in the second district of Maguindanao. Nine troops of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion were wounded Friday during an ambush in Rajah Buayan town, not far from Salibo. The BIFF has claimed responsibility for the ambush through its spokesman, Abu Misry Mama.
The governor said he was not sure if BIFF gunmen indeed targeted the chopper carrying him and his brother, who is president of the league of mayors in the province.
“It is also possible that the attackers misconstrued the chopper as a military aircraft conducting aerial surveillance,” he said.
Mangudatatu, now on his third term as governor, has been actively involved in initiatives meant to prevent the spread of misguided Islamic militancy in towns under his jurisdiction.
He thrice survived roadside bombings during the 2010 and 2013 campaign periods. One of the bomb attacks killed a provincial board member and maimed another political ally while the governor was leading a convoy in Tacurong City to celebrate his birthday.
Tello said the governor has also been “very active” in law enforcement operations against illegal drugs.
“We would do our best to identify the gunmen who fired at the helicopter and bring them to justice,” Tello said.
Tags: 6th Infantry Division, Agustin Tello, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, Maguindanao, Mangudadatu narrowly escapes death as militants fire at his chopper, PPOC
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