THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) leadership has placed its troops in Mindanao on high alert following threats by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to bomb select targets in the region during the holy month of Ramadan.
On the eve of the holy month of fasting, a rifle grenade allegedly fired by BIFF rebels blew up a restaurant in Cotabato City, leaving one person dead and three others injured.
Lt. Col. Custodio Parcon, commander of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 1, on Wednesday expressed fear that similar incidents would follow as the BIFF had threatened to sow terror in Central Mindanao.
“Yes [we fear that there might be more bombings]because they [BIFF] declared it not only here in Cotabato but all over Central Mindanao, Kidapawan, Isulan, Davao, all areas here to include Cotabato,” he said.
Parcon said that government forces in Cotabato City and the rest of Central Mindanao have been placed on heightened alert.
“All SOPs [standard operating procedures]were in place but they were able to put one over us. It’s an isolated case,” he pointed out, adding “we put up quick reaction forces and tanks but they were still able to do it in Cafe Florencio.”
According to Parcon, the grenade exploded inside Cafe Florencio along Sinsuat Ave. at around 10 p.m. on Tuesday.
The lone casualty, according to Parcon, was the manager of the restaurant while those injured were a woman employee and two customers.
Other reports said there were twin explosions that night but it was not known if these were perpetrated by the same group.
Police confirmed that one of the explosions ripped through Café Florencio.
Just recently, a grenade exploded at a marine encampment in Cotabato City following an attack by unidentified two men riding on a motorcycle.
No individual or group claimed responsibility for the latest explosions but these occurred days after rebel forces clashed with troops in Maguindanao province that left dozens of people dead and wounded on both sides.
Prior to the incident, the 6th Infantry Division, which has jurisdiction over Cotabato and other parts of Central Mindanao, announced that it has intensified its security operations to ensure the peaceful observance of Ramadan.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6ID spokesman, said that additional forces were deployed to secure various areas throughout the observance of the Holy Ramadan.
“The Command will deploy security personnel in various convergence areas and strategic places to ensure the safety of everybody during the celebration,” Hermoso added.
Last year armed lawless elements simultaneously harassed civilian communities, military camps and government installations in North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces during the Ramadan period.
To prevent violent incidents, Hermoso said the military and the local police have also launched an operation to effect the arrest of lawless elements with pending warrants.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the Division, said the military joined the Muslim world in this year’s celebration of the Ramadan.
“Your soldiers will exert every possible effort to protect you and ensure your safety during the celebration,” Gapuz added.
“This is a manifestation of the Division’s sincere and honest offer of peace and harmony, no only with Christians and Muslims, but also with Lumads and other minority groups,” he further said.
Some 1,000 Muslim soldiers under the Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry Division have joined the observance of Ramadan.
Captain Jefferson Somera, a spokesman for the division, said Major Adzramien Sahisa, an imam, led the observance of the Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam and one of the most important holidays in the Muslim world.
“May this month of Ramadan cleanse your heart and your soul as you renew your faith to our Divine God [Allah]. May you include in your prayers and devotion the realization of peace in Mindanao and the whole country for the people, our brothers and sisters, and for our families. May Allah bless us all,” said Brig. Gen. Felicito Virgilio Trinidad, Jr, the acting division commander.
Somera said the soldiers belong mostly to the Tausug, Yakan, Maranao and Maguindanao.