BIFF commander involved in Mamasapano killed

Carmela Fonbuena
BIFF commander involved in Mamasapano killed
4 soldiers are also killed in last Sunday's clashes

MANILA, Philippines – A notorious commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) was among the rebels killed in a series of clashes on Sunday, March 29, that also claimed the lives of 4 soldiers.

Yusoph Abesalih, better known as “Commander Bisaya,” was killed in a Sunday morning firefight with the Army’s 34th Infantry Battalion in barangay Pamalian in Sharif Saydona town, according to the military.

The military has yet to identify the 4 soldiers.

Commander Bisaya was involved in the deaths of elite cops in Mamaspano on January 25. He was identified by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front 105th Base Command as the leader of a group that supposedly raided the location of the 55th Special Action Force Company in the cornfields of barangay Tukanalipao after the MILF fighters were ordered to pull out because of a ceasefire agreement.

Budding BIFF leader

He was a budding leader of the BIFF. In his mid-20s, the young and aggressive BIFF lieutenant, said to be close to BIFF founding leader Ameril Umbra Kato, has led many clashes against the military in Maguindanao. 

“He had been involved in almost all the recent skirmishes before and during the conduct of all-out offensives,” said Captain Jo-An Pentingly, spokesperson of the Maguindanao-based Army 6th Infantry Division. 

Petinglay said the slain BIFF commander was also responsible for the death of an Army major last year.

Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr announced on Monday, March 30, the end of the all-out offensive against the BIFF. Military presence in Maguindanao and neighboring Cotabato will continue, however, to keep the BIFF from returning and to implement socio-economic projects approved by Malacañang.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the dominant Muslim group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is finalizing a peace deal with the government. Kato used to head the MILF 105th Base Command.

The peace process, however, was derailed by lawmakers’ distrust with the MILF following the bloody January 25 police operation in an MILF territory in Maguindanao.

The police Special Action Force (SAF) planned a stealth operation to get international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir or “Marwan,” who was believed to be protected by the BIFF. They got him but the extraction plan failed.

The two SAF groups were pinned down, pintakasi-style (free-for-all), by the many armed groups in Mamasapano including the MILF and the BIFF. A total of 67 Filipinos, including 44 elite cops, were killed in the bloodiest operation in the history of the Philippine National Police.

After the tragedy, the military launched an all-out offensive to drive away the BIFF in the area. The operations that will involve establishing military presence in areas they have not penetrated before. It also includes infrastructure development projects that will be carried out by soldiers. 

The firefight that started around 9am on Sunday in Barangay Pamalian lasted until afternoon when another BIFF leader known as “Commander Karialan” and about 70 of his men were engaged by the troops, too.

Aside from Commander Bisaya, the military claimed 2 other BIFF members were killed and 12 others were wounded.

The military said it won’t release the names of the 4 soldiers until they’ve informed their families.

The military said they also seized an enemy position another town, barangay Malangog in Datu Unsay town, after an early morning firefight between the 6th Scout Ranger Company and the BIFF unit led by a certain Commander Bungos. –

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