TUBOD, LANAO DEL NORTE -- Government troops encountered an undetermined number of armed men in a hinterland town of Panatao Ragat in Lanao del Norte province Thursday morning.

Lt. Col. Allan Hambala, commander of the 15th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, said his troops encountered the armed men while on patrol in the town while the peace negotiation between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government is going on.

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”It's been two hours since the encounter and the firefight is still going on, yet we can not determine who the armed groups are," Hambala said in a phone interview.

He added that the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Pantao Ragat and the 5th IB Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) are now re-enforcing the government troops due the increasing number of enemies who wanted to move to the municipal hall building.

Hambala said so far, the civilians did not evacuate since the town’s mayor, Mayor Lacson Lantud, is in the area.

Hambala said the military forces are mandated to run after private armies and lawless elements who may attempt to disrupt the peace and order condition in the province, especially in the coming May elections.

It can be recalled that Pantao Ragat was recommended to be under Martial Law due to alleged presence of private armies but did not workout.

Hambala said no casualties have been reported yet since the firefight is still going on as of this writing.