ARMED Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. on Wednesday ordered an all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), whose violent attacks in the past days had displaced more than 20,000 civilians in the central part of Mindanao in southern Philippines.
The military chief gave the order to finish off the rogue group of former Muslim separatist rebels in an effort to protect local communities against armed attacks by the BIFF.
“I am saddened by the news that at least 20,000 people had been displaced by the violent attacks perpetrated by the BIFF in the hinterland villages. We will do our best to protect the people and allow them to go back to their homes,” Catapang said.
He reminded all military unit commanders in the area to conduct joint law-enforcement operations with the Philippine National Police (PNP) within the framework of ceasefire mechanisms in order to avoid clashing with the bigger but also separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which engaged police commandos in a firefight on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, leaving 44 troops dead.
Catapang said government forces must remain strong and united against a “common enemy.”
He enjoined his men to show the military’s might by running after all BIFF members to the last man.
“We must remain united in our common fight against lawlessness and terrorism. Let us show the enemies of the State that we are a formidable force that will continuously pursue them anywhere they go,” the AFP chief said.
At the same time, he also ordered the military commanders to support the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the local government units of Pagalungan and Pikit towns in North Cotabato in providing humanitarian assistance to the innocent civilians who were displaced from their homes because of sporadic attacks by the BIFF.
In recent encounters with the military, at least 20 BIFF members were killed.
Army artillery units fired at least 50 rounds of 105mm howitzer at known BIFF positions in the area.
The shelling started at about 6 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Soldiers from the 1st Mechanized Brigade seized seven firearms and assorted equipment during a clash with the BIFF in Barangay Mapayag, Datu Angal Midtimbang town, also in Maguindanao.
The offensives against the bandit group were launched in wake of the Mamasapano incident, where elite forces from the Special Action Force of the PNP, who were on a mission to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifi bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Filipino bomb maker and Abu Sayyaf member, Abdul Basit Usman, were killed.
Although Marwan was confirmed to have been killed, Usman managed to fight it out with the police officers and escaped.