2003-05-05 00:00:00

A seminary rector in the southern Philippines has reported that two seminarians were among some 25 people killed May 4 when Islamic rebels attacked a remote coastal town.

Father Gregorio Canonigo, rector at Cor Jesu Seminary in Dipolog City, 700 kilometers southeast of Manila, told UCA News that two seminarians on a summer exposure program were killed in the pre-dawn attack on Siocon, 60 kilometers further south.

Marino Acedo and Rhuby Mar Buagas had been assigned to Holy Cross Parish in Siocon as part of the summer pastoral exposure program. A third seminarian in the program as well as Fathers Edmundo Layan and Mamerto Dolera of the parish were reported "safe and unhurt."

Father Canonigo said by phone from Dipolog diocese´s chancery that Acedo and Buagas had just graduated from college and would have begun their theology studies in June. He noted that Holy Cross Parish celebrates its parish feast the first Saturday of May,

Military reports say some 70 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerillas attacked Siocon, in Zamboanga del Norte province, at about 2 a.m. May 4.

Father Canonigo said Bishop Jose Manguiran of Dipolog left May 5 for Labason, between Dipolog and Siocon, to "be with the grieving parents" of the dead seminarians.

Father Patrick Dalangin added, "We are waiting for (the) bishop to return with details of their deaths because the telephone lines in the diocese reach only up to Labason," a three-hour drive from Siocon.

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes told reporters May 5 in Manila that eight civilians, six guerrillas, six policemen and three soldiers died in the attack, but government sources could not confirm the seminarians as among the dead.

Major General Roy Kyamko, commander of the military´s Southern Command in Zamboanga City, some 90 kilometers south of Siocon, reported that MILF guerillas seized the town hall, bombarded the nearby military outpost and the local police station, and burned down the town´s public marker.

There are reports that suspected Abu Sayyaf Group extremists aided the rebels, who stormed Siocon when people were off-guard and the police station was undermanned, Kyamko said.

He added that rebels also took control of the local hospital until government troops regained control of the town hall, police station, hospital and telecommunications offices around 1 p.m.

Reports say the rebels took 15 hostages, including the mayor´s wife and child, who were rescued the same day.

Among the wounded -- reported by Kyamko as 14 civilians, eight soldiers and a policeman -- were Herminihilda Cudoy, 67, and her 1-year old grandson, who were airlifted to the Zamboanga City Medical Center.

Cudoy told reporters there that a barrage of gunfire had awakened her. "During the first shots I heard many of my neighbors and some relatives screaming for mercy," she said, "but later we had to keep quiet and hide."

She added, after telling how a mortar shell landed near their hiding place, "We were very lucky to survive the attack." The military, she said, "didn´t allow us to leave the area right away because the rebels were shooting indiscriminately." They were airlifted out that afternoon.

The day after the assault, MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told UCA News on the telephone that the attack was part of the front´s "defensive posture against the ongoing military offensive starting as early as Feb. 11."

He identified "the primary target" of the attack as the military command post in Siocon manned by the 44th Infantry Battalion, which he said had bombarded MILF strongholds in Buliok, Cotabato province, in February.

Clashes between government and MILF forces since then have led more than 100,000 villagers to flee their homes in Central Mindanao, on the main part of Mindanao Island, east of the Zamboanga peninsula.

"There was an existing cease-fire agreement when (the military) launched their attack and they disregarded this. What do you expect of the MILF? To defend itself, of course," Kabalu said. He added that the MILF is using force to defend itself because the military is "using all the might of the armed forces against the MILF forces and communities."

The MILF, formed in 1977 to fight for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines, began peace negotiations with the government in 1997. The negotiations stalled in April 2000 when the military under then-president Joseph Estrada attacked rebel camps Central Mindanao. A cease-fire agreement between the MILF and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo´s government was in effect when the military attacked the MILF camps in Buliok.


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