Over 100 BIFF members occupy Maguindanao town market

Over a hundred members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) linked to the Islamic State occupied the Datu Paglas town market in Maguindanao for several hours on Saturday morning, May 8, forcing families to flee their homes.

Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Baldomar, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, confirmed in a pooled media interview shared with defense reporters that the BIFF-Karialian faction entered the town at around 4 am on Saturday and occupied the Datu Paglas market.

Baldomar said fleeing residents first alerted authorities about the incident, and the military helped other residents evacuate.

Baldomar said in Filipino that they "allowed the local government unit to engage with the group and dialogue with them so that the situation would be resolved peacefully."

He said the market was cleared by late Saturday morning, and that there were ongoing pursuit operations.

Local police earlier estimated that there were over 100 BIFF members who occupied the market, based on residents' reports, but Baldomar said the number might be closer to 80.

Food run?

Baldomar said that it appeared that the intention of the BIFF members was to just get food from the market, but their presence scared locals who reported them to authorities, and the group got stuck in the market in the process.

Responding to questions, the military officer said the BIFF group "did not fire their guns" when they went into the market.

"Kanila lang ginawa, na pinuntahan ang palengke, kumuha sila ng mga pagkain, naipit. Naipit lamang sila, tinreathen nila ang mga civilian. Naipit lamang sila noong nakita nila yung ating mga forces ay nadeploy na sa iba't ibang lugar at kanila na itong pansamantalang in-occupy because of the presence ng ating mga sundalo at kapulisan na hindi na nila makuha 'yung iba pang structures diyan sa poblacion," he said.

(What they did was they went to the market, they got food, and got stuck. When they couldn't leave, they threatened the civilians. They got stuck there when they saw our forces deployed in diffetent areas, so they temporary occupied [the market] because of the presence of our soldiers and police to ensure that they don't ccupy other structures in the town center.)

He said the only exchange of fire happened when some BIFF members fired shots at some civilian commuters who got stuck in the national highway, prompting the military to retaliate so that they could evacuate the civilians. Baldomar said no one was hurt.

"We have a strict instruction from higher authorities that as much as possible, there should be a peaceful resolution of the situation," Baldomar said.

Clearing operations

He also said the portion of the national highway leading to Datu Paglas had been temporarily closed to protect the community.

Baldomar said that during the clearing operations at the national highway, troops recovered four improvised explosive devices, and that they are checking the area for more IEDs to ensure the safety of residents and road users. By 10:30 am, clearing operations were completed and the highway was opened again to commuters.

Asked for a possible reason for the incident, Baldomar said in Filipino that according to troops, the BIFF "had no other intention but to cause trouble here in Maguindanao."

"Gusto nilang ipakita na they are still a force to reckon with despite the number of surrenders and nanuetralize na mga kasamahan nila for the past few months (They just want to show that they are still a force to reckon with despite the number of surrenders and their members who had been neutralized in the past few months)," he added.

"The situation in Datu Paglas is now back to normal [as of] the morning of May 8 without any civilian casualties and damage to properties," said Major General Juvymax Uy. The terrorists, however, remain at large and troops are on continuous pursuit of them, Uy added.

The military cited the BIFF’s involvement in several attacks earlier in 2021, including one in Barangay Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan on March 17, and a series of explosions on April 28 and 30 in the same Maguindanao barangay.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Chief General Cirilito Sobejana on Sunday, May 9, called on residents and local government officials in Maguindanao to remain vigilant.

“The situation has already normalized but we will not rest until the threat is neutralized,” Sobejana said. – Rappler.com