The Philippine military on Tuesday vowed to take "aggressive actions" against Muslim separatist rebels who killed 49 people in a deadly rampage that also displaced more than 36,000 residents in southern provinces, dpa reported.
General Alexander Yano, armed forces chief of staff, said government forces were hunting down Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels after a string of attacks in the southern region of Mindanao since the weekend.
The guerrillas on Monday burned homes and buildings, ransacked businesses and government offices, hacked civilians with machetes, gunned civilians down and ambushed passenger vehicles in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and Sarangani, killing 41 people.
On Sunday, the rebels ambushed a military convoy in Lanao del Sur, killing eight army soldiers and militiamen. They also bombed two budget hotels in nearby Iligan City, wounding four people.
"We will pursue and take aggressive actions against the perpetrators of these dastardly acts against innocent civilians," Yano said. "We will continue with the operations. It will not stop with the clearing of the areas occupied by them."
Yano also rejected statements by the MILF that the attacks were not sanctioned by the rebel group's leadership and that ground guerrilla commanders were frustrated over setbacks in peace talks with the government.
"We cannot forever take the convenient excuse from the hierarchy of a group that is supposedly talking peace with the government," he said. "It is their responsibility, if they are really sincere and well-meaning, to rein in their forces."
Yano added that if the MILF failed to pacify its forces, "then the government will certainly control them."
The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao.
Two weeks ago, the Philippine government and the MILF were supposed to sign a homeland deal that would have expanded an existing Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
But the Supreme Court stopped the signing of the agreement after Christian politicians in Mindanao filed petitions questioning the constitutionality of the deal. The high tribunal heard oral arguments on the case Monday, but it has yet to issue a final decision.
Since the aborted signing of the homeland deal, MILF rebels have intensified attacks in Mindanao, where they occupied dozens of villages in North Cotabato province and a town in Basilan province last week.
Fifty-three people were killed in the fighting in North Cotabato and Basilan. Nearly 60,000 residents were also displaced in North Cotabato. Half of them have so far been able to return to their homes.