COTABATO CITY — Government forces on Saturday hoisted the Philippine flag at the center of the main camp of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town in Maguindanao after five days of air and ground assaults.
Col. Edmund Pangilinan, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, and Col. Edgar Gonzales, chief of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, hoisted the flag in the middle of the seven-hectare camp.
After the government forces sang the national anthem, Gonzales and Pangilinan led in offering prayers for the fallen guerrillas and a soldier.
Gonzales said his troops, who first entered the camp, recovered about 3,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibers and 300 kilos of blasting chemicals and components for making improvised explosive devices.
Quoting local officials, Gonzales said the camp had been used by renegades (BIFF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as a “springboard” for its bombing and extortion activities in the towns of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
He lauded the civilians, some of them relatives of BIFF leaders, for guiding government forces to the center of the camp, through various trails booby-trapped with home-made explosives.
“It’s like guerrilla camps in movies where there were so many running trenches and criss-crossing routes,” an Army lieutenant, who identified himself as Pentagon, told reporters.
Gonzales said it was a well-fortified camp difficult for ground troops to penetrate.
“Our air assets destroyed most of the fortification,” he said, adding that many of the running trenches were bloodstained.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the military, said mortars, armored personnel carriers and small guns have been silent since Saturday morning except for two powerful blasts that wounded two journalists, 10 soldiers and civilians in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
“Government forces remain on full alert in anticipation of BIFF retaliatory attacks, including bombings in populated areas,” Hermoso said.
Earlier, the BIFF spokesperson, whom the military believed was hiding in Cotabato City or other areas of Maguindanao, had repeatedly denied one of the BIFF leaders was slain.
He said Hassan Indal, alias Tambako, one of BIFF chieftain Ameril Umbrakato’s lieutenants, has been ousted by the BIFF leadership for unIslamic activities.
Tambako led the campaign against government forces in Maguindanao last year which led to the evacuation of about 50,000 villages.