By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - A roadside bombing has injured at least one soldier in the Philippines’ Muslim south during an early morning patrol as locals prepared for the pre-fast meal during the holy month of Ramadan.
Capt. Joann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokeswoman, said in a report that the explosive was set off Tuesday in the remote village of Meta in troubled Maguindanao province as soldiers were providing security for the pre-dawn “suhoor” meal.
She said she suspected a breakaway group of the country’s one-time largest Muslim rebel group was behind the bombing since the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has been harassing troops of the 34th Infantry Battalion, to which the injured soldier belonged, since February.
The BIFF is opposed to an ongoing peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), from which BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato broke away in 2008.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama denied Tuesday that the group was responsible for the roadside bombing, but said the incident left four troops injured.
"We don’t know who set off the bomb but what I know four soldiers were injured," Mama told the Philippine Inquirer news website by phone.
In January, Mama had told Davao Today news website that the BIFF would be open to peace talks if then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won the May 9 presidential election, in which Duterte secured a landslide victory.
"If he plans to talk to us, we will entertain him because it is according to the Quran," Mama said, insisting that the BIFF would nonetheless continue fighting for an independent state.
Duterte has expressed willingness to negotiate with a number of armed insurgencies operating in the Philippines.
Duterte, a devout Christian, has backed the outgoing government's peace process with the MILF as well as indigenous peoples’ calls for greater autonomy.
He has also made overtures toward negotiating with a decades-old communist insurgency.
He is set to assume office June 30.