4 BIFF rebels killed in Maguindanao firefights

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Government security forces killed at least 4 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) – one of whom wore a Special Action Force (SAF) uniform – in two separate encounters in Maguindanao province.

On Saturday, March 7, two BIFF rebels were killed after clashing with Philippine Marines in Barangay Pusao in Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc.

Lt. Col Willy Manalang, commander of Marine Battalion Landing Team-8, said his men figured in a 15-minute firefight against BIFF members, reportedly led by Basit Usman, around 10 pm.

He said the fighting erupted after a small patrol, composed of the 63rd Force Recon Company led by Cpt. Bernardo and the Special Operations Platoon 8, were dispatched to track down a 20-man group of BIFF members.

Manalang said the BIFF rebels withdrew as they cannot hold their position, leaving one 60mm Mortar and a US M14 rifle.

Among the fatalities on the enemy side was a rebel wearing a SAF uniform.

"I believe that this bandit is one of those who butchered the members of police last month in Mamasapano. Despite their crimes, we will turn them over to the community leaders to be given decent Islamic burial," Manalang said.

Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the military's 6th Infantry Division, added, "The dead cadaver wearing SAF uniform could be one of the BIFF forces who were involved in the Mamasapano incident and took the shirt of one of the fallen SAF troopers."

"Nobody was hurt among the Marines who clashed with BIFF bandits in Shariff Saydona. Pursuit operations ongoing," Cabunoc also tweeted.

Sunday encounter

Early Sunday, March 8, Marine troopers also clashed with another band of 30 BIFF guerillas around 7:15 am, about one kilometer from Saturday's encounter site.

Two more BIFF rebels were killed, the military said.

Lt Col Armando Custodio, Commanding Officer of Marine Battalion Landing Team-6, also said his men recovered one M1 Garand rifle and another M14 rifle.

The military will turn over the dead bodies to local authorities for proper identification and burial.

Meanwhile, 6ID commander MGen Edmundo Pangilinan gave instruction to the operating troops to pin down the engaged BIFF forces who are now constricted in the different encounter areas within Mamasapano and Datu Piang.

Since the military ordered an all-out-offensive against the BIFF last February 25, 4 camps of the rebels were already overrun by soldiers while 20 of them were killed.

"Law enforcement operations against BIFF in Maguindanao extended for another 3 days as clashes raged since [Saturday]," Cabunoc also said in his Twitter account.

"There is another clash with BIFF in Guindulungan town involving the 33rd Infantry Battalion and the 6th Scout Ranger Company," Cabunoc added.

The ongoing conflict has displaced over 75,000 people. – With reports from Jeff Maitem and Karlos Manlupig/Rappler.com