WATCH | BIFF ends school occupation in Cotabato village but fresh fighting reported

June 21, 2017 - 10:36 AM
Military armored vehicles patrol the national highway in North Cotabato on Wednesday, hours after BIFF members occupied a school and were reported to have taken hostages as they fled. DENNIS ARCON, INTERAKSYON

COTABATO CITY – Tension continues to prevail over Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato hours after an attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who were also reported as having taken some hostages as they retreated.

Past 2 p.m. Wednesday (June 21), tension flared anew after the BIFF again figured in an encounter with soldiers, this time in a remote village in Midsayap town.

The military has gone on full alert in the entire North Cotabato, with military armored vehicles seen patrolling major roads, especially near the entry and exit points of Cotabato City.

According to a report by 6th ID Spokesperson Capt. Arvin Encinas, at least 50 armed BIFF members attacked Barangay Malagakit at 5 a.m. Wednesday. The attackers are under Kumander Abunawas, OB 10, Abu Saide and Sala, all sub-leaders of Kumander Bunggos.

Still unconfirmed reports said 15 civilians were still being held by the BIFF at the Malagakit Elementary School.

Some 100 families fled the fighting and took refuge at the Municipal Plaza.

One Cafgu member was wounded in the attack.

Despite the violence, the national highway remains passable, the military said.

BIFF withdraws

Earlier, the military said, BIFF members who occupied a village school in Pigcawayan town early Wednesday morning have withdrawn with no reports of casualties.

“It’s already resolved,” Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told reporters. “They’ve withdrawn, they are no longer there. The school area is again safe.”

However, Padilla also said the military was investigating whether five civilians were still being held by the militants, adding no children had been taken hostage.

Earlier, a spokesman for the gunmen said they had taken civilians to a safe place after a gunfight erupted with troops and did not intend to hold them.

Chief Inspector Reylan Mamon, Pigcawayan police chief, earlier said villagers had been trapped by the clash that erupted when the gunmen occupied the school around 5:45 a.m.

The BIFF, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front almost a decade go, is one of the armed groups in Mindanao that government claims have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Mindanao has been under martial law since May 23, when fighting broke out in Marawi City between government forces and extremist gunmen from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, who have been joined by a number of foreign terrorists.