COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Government forces launched a major assault against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao on Saturday, July 6.
Maj Gen Romeo Gapuz, commander of the 6th Infantry division, said recent “atrocities and threats” perpetrated by the rebel group prompted the military, Philippine National Police, and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to conduct operations.
Gapuz said the BIFF is “hell-bent on derailing the peace process” between the MILF and the government. The talks between both sides resume on Monday, July 8, in Kuala Lumpur.
Clashes are ongoing as of posting time.
Col Dickson Hermoso, 6th ID spokesperson, said the first encounter between forces from the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion and Moro rebels transpired in Sitio Dam, Barangay Damablas, Datu Piang town at around 10:40 am.
It was followed by a clash between the rebel group and elements of the 45th Infantry Brigade in Barangay Dasawao, Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, 20 minutes later.
Another encounter transpired 10 minutes after this in Sitio Mapagkaya, Barangay Paidu Polangi, in Pikit, North Cotabato.
BIFF members harassed the soldiers in Pikit to divert the attention of the military.
There are no confirmed casualties but the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) said the BIFF sustained casualties in Datu Piang.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the BIFF, claimed that their fighters damaged 3 government tanks and sank a speedboat. He also said they were able to confiscate one M60 machine gun from the assaulting soldiers.
Col Hermoso denied the claims, saying those were mere propaganda.
On June 19, the BIFF harassed a military detachment in President Quirino town, Sultan Kudarat, killing a militiaman and a farmer.
On the same day, the rebel group used sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to attack a patrol base of the 33rd Infantry Battalion.
Last June 21, 8 BIFF members were captured by government forces in Barangay Kulasi, Bagumbayan town.
Five were turned over to the President Quirino municipal police station and charged with illegal possession of explosives, while 3 more BIFF members, who were found to be minors, were turned over to Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Mama criticized the assault as an act of terrorism. He said the military trespassed on Moro land.
The BIFF spokesman said the objective of the government forces is to paralyze a major camp of the rebel group in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saydona Mustapha.
“We are using guerilla warfare and not conventional. Even if we have the capacity for direct confrontation we will divert,” Mama said.
Gapuz gave assurances that government forces are in control.
“We are on top of the situation. We are ready and committed along with our counterparts from the MILF to defend our communities from BIFF abuses and the massive displacements and lost livelihoods they cause, which are clear violations of the International Humanitarian Law, and to preserve and guard the primacy of the peace process in Mindanao,” Gapuz said.
Von Al-Haq, spokesman of the MILF’s BIAF, explained that the military is closely coordinating with the leadership of the MILF. “Our forces were already repositioned to avoid any misencounters,” Al-Haq said.
Led by former 105th Base commander Ameril Umra Kato, the BIFF broke away from the MILF after serious disagreements on the conduct of the peace talks. – Rappler.com