Malacañang and the military on Monday admitted that members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) remain a threat to communities in Mindanao despite the apparent defeat of the group. Armed officials are also bracing for retaliatory attacks from the group whose main camp was overran by security forces over the weekend.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the BIFF is still considered a dangerous group and continues to be a threat to peace and order in Mindanao.
“Sabihin na lang nating panganib pa sila [Let’s just say that they are still dangerous],” Coloma told reporters.
“Iniiwasan ng pamahalaan na maging malaking panganib sila sa pamamagitan ng karampatang aksyon, ‘yung proactive intelligence, ‘yung pag-surveillance sa kanilang ginagalawan, at ‘yung decisive action kapag kinakailangan,” he added.
Coloma made the statement amid reports that the Moro National Liberation Front and the BIFF have joined forces.
The BIFF has been a constant threat in the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation for a final political settlement.
The military also admitted that the BIFF remains a potent force and a big security concern even if its members have been greatly decimated by the recent offensives launched by the combined force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, AFP spokesman, said on Monday that they expect retaliatory attacks from BIFF splinter groups, which may include terror attacks.
“They are sinister, they’re treacherous, they would do this at the least expected time and that is the reason why vigilance is needed and that is the reason why also that we have a continuing security operation,” Tutaan said.
He claimed that the continuing security operations will deny the remaining BIFF members the opportunity to consolidate, train and prepare for retaliatory attacks or stage acts of terror.
Tutaan said BIFF rebels are armed and they had the capability to manufacture improvised explosive devices that they may plant in communities or crowded areas and vital installations.
The military official said BIFF remnants can always go back to their communities.
“If they hide their firearms and mix with the civilian communities, you cannot just arrest them. We have to follow the rule of law on this,” he said.
Tutaan said they have identified the leaders of the remaining splinter groups, including BIFF chieftain Ameril Umbra Kato.
Sixth Infantry Division spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso said Kato is still alive but ill, as proven by the improvised wheelchair and assorted medicines recovered by government forces during a raid in the rebel leader’s hideout.
Hermoso also admitted that they were anticipating retaliatory attacks from the BIFF. He said security forces have heightened security measures on vital installations, road networks, markets, churches and other areas where people converge.
Last week’s heavy fighting between government troops and the BIFF caused the evacuation of 9,465 families or 33,334 individuals from the towns of Sharif Saydona, Raja Buayan and Datu Piang, all in Maguindanao and Pikit in North Cotabato.
It also led to the neutralization of 101 BIFF members.