MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – The military announced it is ending its all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and will make way for the return of residents back to their homes.
“Effective today, March 30, the all-out offensive against the BIFF would be ended,” Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said early Monday morning, March 30.
Catapang said the military has “defeated” the BIFF, whose members are now supposedly hiding in the Liguasan marshlands and even in the mountainous areas.
He said the troops killed a total of 139 BIFF members or more than 50% of the ranks of the BIFF. Theyy also captured bomb factories and seized their encampments.
Up to 120,000 residents were displaced by military operations.
Military presence will continue
Military presence, however, will continue in Maguindanao and neighboring Cotabato to hunt down the remaining BIFF members including bombmaker Bassit Usman and to make sure they will not return to their previous lairs.
“They have splintered to small groups. We will also conduct small group operations. We do not call this all-out-offensive anymore. The word is pursuit operations,” Catapang explained.
The military launched on February 25 an all-out offensive against the BIFF in the wake of a bloody police operation that killed international terrorist Zulkifli bin hir or “Marwan” but also 67 Filipinos including 44 elite cops.
Aquino vowed in a televised speech in January that Usman, the other target of police operation but who was able to escape, will be caught.
Catapang said the military is now in control of the so-called SPMS box, referring to the areas of Salibu, Pagatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak that the military could not penetrate before.
“We now control the SPMS box. If they enter the box, just like what happened yesterday, they will be annihilated because all the troops here are now concentrated in this area,” Catapang said.
Catapang also announced a P67 million allocation approved by President Benigno Aquino III for “socio-economic” interventions in the war-torn areas.
“We are now entering the new phase of our operation which is peace and development. I want to emphasize that still, we will continuously deploy forces to secure communities and deny the BIFF entry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao. We will continue to hunt down the terrorists like Basit Usman and his cohorts who are now hiding outside the conflict areas,” Catapang said.
The BIFF is a breakaway group of the dominant Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the government last year. The peace process however was derailed after the bloody January 25 police operation in an MILF territory in Maguindanao.
The all-out offensive was launched after the tragedy. The military is accusing the BIFF of coddling terrorists who survived the January 25 operation. – Rappler.com