As far as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is concerned, the incident at Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato where Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked a school had been “resolved with no reports of casualties”.
In a press conference in Malacanang, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr., AFP spokesman, said the enemies have retreated after a gunbattle with troops.
“It’s already resolved actually. They have withdrawn from the area. They are no longer there. The school area is again safe. The patrol base is well-secured,” Padilla told reporters.
The military spokesman also denied reports that some children were being held.
However, Padilla said that the military was investigating whether around five civilians were still with militants.
“The troops that have responded quickly to this incident are now on the pursuit mode,” he said.
It had been reported that civilians were trapped when the bandits entered the Malagakit Elementary School early Wednesday morning.
Padilla confirmed that the BIFF members had taken hostages which they used as “human shields” as they fled pursuing government troops, but he had yet to receive information on whether they had been released.
“In the withdrawal phase of the armed elements, of the armed group, they used some civilians to cover their withdrawal,” Padilla said.
“So we are just ascertaining if they have released around five civilians that they have held. So once we get information regarding this, we will be more than glad to inform you. But there is no cause for alarm. It has been addressed,” he added.
Padilla also dismissed insinuations that BIFF’s action should be considered a spillover of the ongoing conflict in Marawi City.
He described the BIFF attack as an “opportunistic activity” rather than a diversionary tactic.
“They were taking advantage of the situation that we have a very lightly defended outpost and that they think our forces are elsewhere in the province,” Padilla said.
“But that’s not the case. Our forces are spread all over. We may be facing many fronts pero maayos na na-assign lahat ng puwersa na harapin ang mga banta [but all the forces have been properly assigned to respond to any threat],” he added.
The BIFF, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) almost a decade ago, is one of the armed groups in Mindanao that the government claimed has pledged allegiance to international terrorist group Islamic State.