KIDAPAWAN CITY, North Cotabato: Authorities are eyeing members of the jihadist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for sabotaging a drug raid in Cotabato that resulted in the killing of four government forces and the wounding of eight others.
The predawn raid on Sunday on known lairs of the BIFF in Liguasan Marsh, along the border of the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao, was conducted in wake of reports that the jihadists and other radical groups have teamed up with drug syndicates to counter law-enforcement operations.
Combined forces of the police and the military swooped down on Sitio Ipil-Ipil in Barangay Nabalawag, Midsayap town at about 4:30 a.m., supposedly to serve search warrants for illegal drugs against Moks Masgal, alias Commander Mabrook, a former member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The raiding team was met with a volley of gunfire from .50 caliber machine guns, prompting them to fire back.
The team had to request air bombardment support at the height of the firefight.
Killed in the clash were Police Officer 3 Darwin Espallardo of North Cotabato police; Cpl. Jose Miravalles and Private First Class (Pfc) Jaypee Duran, both of Division Reconnaissance Company; and an unidentified military guide.
The military identified only five of the eight wounded in action as Sgt. Arinio Grafil, Cpl. Diocesar Espanola, Pfc. Romnick Clerigo and Privates Normel Grande and Edgar Gegone, all of the 6th Division Reconnaissance Company.
Col. Manolo Samarita, commander of the Philippine Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade based in Cotabato, said the suspects and Mabrook, who were able to escape, are members of the BIFF, not the MILF that has signed an interim peace agreement with the government.
The MILF had said it supports the government’s campaign against proliferation of illegal drugs.
The BIFF, which rejected the Mindanao peace process, is a splinter group of the MILF and among jihadist groups in the country that had pledged allegiance to the international extremist group Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).
Earlier, Director General Ronald dela Rosa, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, revealed that drug lords have tied up with the local affiliate of the ISIS and the BIFF allegedly to kill him and President Rodrigo Duterte.
The claim was, however, denied by the BIFF and other radical groups in southern Mindanao, saying drug addiction is completely haram or prohibited in the Islamic religion.
The radical groups, however, admitted that some of their members have a history of drug addiction but have since been subjected to “ideological reform.”