COTABATO CITY: Members of an insurgent group in Mindanao continue to extort and threaten farmers in remote villages in Sultan Kudarat province, officials said on Sunday.
Sancho Salamanca, chairperson of Barangay Katiku, said the Bangsmoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) continue to extort “protection money” from farmers who were also threatened if the demand was ignored.
Salamanca admitted that farmers used to provide share of their production to the BIFF so they will not be “disturbed.”
But the demand of the |BIFF on the hapless farmers continued to increased and were soon coupled with threats that no harassment will take place if the farmers shell out some sacks of palay [unmilled rice]to the insurgency group.
”Our farmers have no recourse then but to provide the bandits with few sacks of palay per hectare,” Salamanca lamented.
”However, recently, the BIFF were asking more and threatened to take over the rice fields by claiming its real owners belonged to the BIFF,” he said.
Many farmers in Sultan Kudarat whose rice fields are situated in the borders of Maguindanao have been arming to protect them from harassment, especially during harvest season.
”Its harvest time and the BIFF members are at it again,” he said.
Lt. Colonel Markton Abu, commander of the 33rd Infantry Battalion who has jurisdiction over President Qurino, Sultan Kudarat and part of Gen. SK Pendatun in Maguindanao, has deployed soldiers in the boundary to prevent BIFF members from returning and harassing farmers anew.
The military has launched all out attacks against the BIFF in the borders of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao which led to the capture of a major camp of the insurgency group.
A team of soldiers has been deployed in the village to help police in safeguarding the helpless farmers.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th Infantry Division Commander, has directed the Army’s three brigades in Maguindanao to help the local police secure communities from BIFF retaliatory attacks.
”The BIFF suffered so much during the 33rd IB [Infantry Battalion] offensive and we expect retaliation from them anytime,” Capt. Joanne Petinglay, chief of the 6th ID public affairs unit.
Since the fall of BIFF camp, the Army recorded three retaliatory attacks from the BIFF in the towns of Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano and Gen. SK Pendatun.
In those desperate attacks, Petinglay said, one soldier was wounded but is now safe.
Pangilinan, Abu and Petinglay reiterated calls for civilians to be vigilant and quickly alert the police and military should they see suspicious men in their midst.