KIDAPAWAN CITY: Twelve people were killed, seven of them farmers, in fresh simultaneous attacks staged by the radical jihadists Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato on Christmas eve, military and police officials said.
Relatives of the slain civilian farmers celebrated a black Christmas without their loved ones as they decry the hostilities perpetrated by the BIFF.
The BIFF, which had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying their targets in the simultaneous attacks were paramilitary forces.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama said the simultaneous attacks were carried out as part of their struggle for Jihad.
He belied claims made by the military that the civilians were farmers, insisting that the fatalities were actually paramilitary men.
Lt. Col. Ricky Bunayog, commanding officer of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, told The Manila Times that contrary to Mama’s statement, those executed by the BIFF were poor civilian farmers tilling their fields and doing other farm work.
“The BIFF spokesman (Mama) is telling a lie by not telling the truth on their atrocities. We found out that the slain farmers were mercilessly executed at close range as shown by their fatal wounds, which were mostly inflicted on their heads,” Bunayog said.
“The farmers were shot one-by-one at point blank after they were captured,” he added.
Bunayog said that the incident occurred in Sitio Sabaduan, Barangay Kauran in Ampatuan town at about 5 a.m. on Thursday, when BIFF fighters seized the farmers on their way to the rice field.
Bunayog identified the slain farmers in Barangay Kauran as Mario Estenote, Mark Anthony Templa, Ramosito Estoque, Empi Bolaes, and Henry Tuazon.
Another farmer was also killed by the BIFF in Sitio Kakal in Barangay Paitan in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat, where the BIFF practically used the civilians as human shields against the pursuing military forces.
Bunayog identified one of those victims as Muroy Caballero, who was earlier taken as hostage by the BIFF in Sitio Manilong. Caballero was later executed by the extremists.
Supt. Bernard Tayong, spokesman for the North Cotabato provincial police, said a firefight ensued at about 9 p.m. on Thursday in Pigcawayan town when members of the BIFF simultaneously attacked the patrol base of Citizens Armed Geographical Unit (CAFGU) Active Auxiliary (CAA) in Brgy. Simsiman and the Barangay Peace Action Team (BPAT) detachment in Brgy. Malagakit.
Barangay Kagawad (village councilman) Robert Lerado of Simsiman was among those who died in the attack.
The attacks on Thursday followed the recent clashes between the Moro and Ilaga movements in the borders of Maguindanao province of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato in Region 12.
The BIFF and other local radical groups and individual sympathizers of the ISIS claimed that Mindanao was grabbed from the Muslims, which is why they will continue to fight and recover their lost land.
Pamphlets from the BIFF said they will continue to seek justice for their fallen brothers and sisters who were massacred and whose deaths have not been given justice since the Ilaga movement was formed in the 1970s.
The BIFF, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), refused to participate in signed peace talks between their former mother unit and the Philippine government while rallying their support to the ISIS for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
In an earlier interview, Mama admitted their group had pledged support to the ISIS through their foreign militant contacts over the internet.
The BIFF has been in close contact with Khilafah Islamiyah (Islamic caliphate) Movement, a group behind the black flag movement in the country.
Authorities, however, deny the presence of the ISIS in the country.