Palace, military: BIFF still a threat

Natashya Gutierrez

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The military says it is expecting retaliatory attacks from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), but there's no need to heighten an alert status

BREAKAWAY GROUP. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) standing guard during a clandestine press conference at Camp Omar, in the town of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao. August 2011. File photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – The military offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) may be over, but both the Palace and the military still consider the group a threat.

On Monday, February 3, a day after the military officially ended its week-long operations against the BIFF, Presidential Communications and Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma acknowledged the breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) still poses some danger.

“The government is working on making sure they don’t become a huge threat through appropriate actions, like practice intelligence, surveillance of their locations, and decisive action, when needed,” he said.

He vowed that the government would bring to justice those who committed illegal acts.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, also said it expects the BIFF to retaliate following the military offensive that killed 52 BIFF members and wounded another 49.

“We are expecting [it] because we hurt them. They’re likely to plant explosives like the one on Saturday that hurt a reporter and a civilian. Yesterday, they had an attempt in Guindulungan…they planted 3 IEDs on the highway. It’s a good thing people saw it right away and reported it so we were able to defuse it,” he said.

While the military said it expects retaliatory attacks, Hermoso said there would be no need to heighten an alert status because it continues to monitor roads, markets, church, and areas where masses of people converge.

Earlier, Lt Colonel Ramon Zagala, chief of the public affairs office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, also told reporters the military would continue to hunt down remaining splinter groups.

“They have split into smaller groups and further operations must be done to follow up,” he said.

These military operations will be “smaller in scale,” he said, adding that they would also be held in coordination with the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Last week, the Palace gave assurances all its action against the BIFF did not break any rules of engagement.

The military’s offensive started after the Philippine government signed the final annex that forms part of its peace agreement with the MILF last week. The agreement aims to give the MILF wider autonomy through the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity, and to put an end to 4 decades of fighting in Mindanao.

Led by commander Ameril Umra Kato, the BIFF splintered from the MILF and has rejected the peace talks with the government.

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.