SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is bracing for more attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who vowed to avenge the deaths of their members killed and wounded in encounters with soldiers in the past five days.
Supt. Bernard Tayong, chief of Midsayap municipal police, said they are tightly guarding villages that are vulnerable to BIFF attacks.
He added that the harassment of villagers and soldiers in Barangay Nabalawag, Midsayap town, last week was perpetrated by BIFF gunmen led by Commander Tong, wanted for heinous offenses and a known ally of two large-scale drug traffickers – Renz Tukuran and Mokz Masgal.
Tukuran and Masgal were both driven away from Midsayap, North Cotabato by policemen in a series of anti-narcotics operations between October and November last year.
At present, more than 500 families from Datu Salibo town in Maguindanao are in makeshift evacuation sites and houses of relatives in safer areas, after being displaced by BIFF attacks in the municipality last December 30.
The terrorists also attacked Barangay Nabalawag on December 31 where they fired assault rifles at houses and a nearby Army detachment, wounding a soldier’s wife identified as Norcel Bulay-Bulay.
The incident was preceded by the detonation of a roadside bomb along a thoroughfare in Talitay town in Maguindanao by bandits at noontime the same day.
No one was hurt in the bombing but the powerful explosion triggered panic among local residents.
Barangay (village) officials said the explosive was intended for a convoy of relief workers and soldiers frequenting Talitay to extend humanitarian services to villagers displaced by the government’s anti-narcotics operations in the municipality targeting Mayor Muntassir Sabal.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman has instructed the Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (HEART-ARMM) to immediately attend to the needs of the displaced families.
Sabal, who remains at large, had been tagged by President Rodrigo Duterte as among those on the list of “narco-politicians” allegedly involved in large-scale drug trafficking.
Meanwhile, sources from the municipal peace and order councils said seven BIFF bandits were killed while five others were wounded, mostly adolescents, when soldiers guarding the detachment in Datu Salibo they attacked returned fire.
The slain bandits, identified only as Salik, Ansao, Talib, Norodin, Tulas, Sahayde and Sahidali, were killed while trying to sneak through the fences of the Army detachment they attacked
Despite confirmation from local officials, the BIFF denied that seven of its members were killed in the encounters.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesman for the BIFF, said only two from their ranks were wounded and that none was killed in the ensuing firefights.
Mama said the attacks were mountted to avenge the death of Thamrin Esmael, chairman of the BIFF’s self-styled internal affairs group, in a recent clash with soldiers in a nearby town.