ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) has captured a military base used by militias in a raid on Wednesday in North Cotabato, a spokesman for the group said.
The raid came after the military claimed victory over the BIFM.
Abu Misry Mama, a spokesman for the BIFM, said militias fled the base in the town of Pigkawayan. “We overran the military base used by the government militias in the town. The militias fled during the raid,” he told The Manila Times.
Mama said they will continue to fight the military that he claimed was behind a recent roadside bombing that nearly hit a convoy of army and media vehicles in Maguindanao.
Security forces are battling the BIFM and its armed wing Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who the government says carried out the spate of attacks and terrorism in Maguindanao and surrounding provinces.
Mama said the bombing near Rajah Buayan town was the work of the military as part of its propaganda to justify the military offensive in Mindanao and draw support to the peace talks between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“The BIFF has nothing to do with the roadside bombing. It is the military which was behind the bombing and who blame us for the attack,” Mama said.
The Sixth Infantry Division said the powerful blast narrowly missed two armored vehicles escorting a truckload of soldiers.
There were no reports of casualties or injuries, but the army quickly blamed the BIFF and their sympathizers for the bombing.
Journalists who were trailing the military convoy witnessed the explosion.
“It was really powerful and from where we were, we can see a thick black smoke covered the whole highway and we are just lucky that we were behind—about 100 meters—from the military convoy,” said Mark Navales, regional chief of the Mindanao Examiner newspaper, who was with other journalists covering the fighting in Maguindanao.
The Sixth Infantry Division claimed it had killed over 50 rebels and captured several enemy camps. Mama strongly denied the death toll but admitted that seven BIFF members were wounded in the clashes that has displaced thousands of families in the province.
“We have no casualties in the fighting and the military reports are just propaganda. They cannot even produce a single dead body of our casualties and not even produced a captured freedom fighter,” he said.
The BIFF is headed by Ameril Umbrakato, who broke from the MILF in 2011 after accusing its chieftain Murad Ebrahim of abandoning their struggle for independence and betraying the MILF cause when he agreed to a secret meeting with President Benigno Aquino 3rd in Japan in August 2011.
Kato and another senior rebel leader, Abdulla Macapaar, were accused by authorities as behind the deadly attacks in Mindanao in 2008 after peace negotiators failed to sign a Muslim homeland deal because the Supreme Court declared the accord unconstitutional.
Kato suffered a stroke in 2011, and his condition remains unknown, although there were reports that a new commander—Sheik Mohidin Animbang—has taken over the command of the BIFF, whose members were mostly former fighters of the MILF and rival group Moro National Liberation Front.
The military campaign has forced thousands of families out of their homes. Many of the refugees said they have no food or did not get any assistance from the government.
The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC), which is at the forefront of humanitarian operations in Maguindanao, also appealed to the government and various organizations to help who have fled the fighting.
“MinHRAC doesn’t have resources. We don’t have rice or shelters to give out to the IDPs [internally displaced persons].
What we do have is our camera and our notebooks and our computers together with the willingness to face certain levels of risk just to be able to reach hapless civilians. We hope that by sharing the images of and stories from the IDPs, those agencies—governmental, United Nations or other foreign aid agencies, local NGOs [non-government organizations] who get funding from donors—with rice and other resources will actually act upon the information we share and provide desperately needed assistance to the IDPs,” the group said.