GOVERNMENT forces remain on alert as troops conduct clearing operations following a clash with militants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in North Cotabato that left five rebels dead, two soldiers wounded and some 2,000 residents displaced.
Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the Sixth Infantry Division (6ID), said on Sunday that soldiers were clearing Barangay Pagangan of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by BIFF fighters to stall pursuing government troops.
“We are on alert and we are trying to address everything,” Gapuz said, adding that another clash may erupt soon as soldiers pursued fleeing BIFF militants.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6ID spokesperson, said that troopers of the 40th Infantry Battalion (IB) in the hinterlands of Aleosan town had been flushing out the remaining BIFF forces to facilitate the return of displaced residents
He said that Barangays Tubac and Pagangan were declared safe and the local government unit of Aleosan had been assisting the residents’ return to their respective communities.
Hermoso named he wounded soldiers as Sgt. Greg Sarte and Private first class Alexeis Amanda of the 40th IB.
Out of the five BIFF militants killed, four were already identified: a certain Sanday, Zainal, Dimasangkay and Kused, who are all residents of the adjoining town of Datu Piang in Maguindanao.
The bloody running gun battle between the soldiers and the BIFF forces took place on Saturday, just a day after the end of Ramadan, the most holy month in Islam.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala earlier said that the firefight was sparked by an explosion from a 40mm grenade launcher fired by the BIFF that wounded two civilians along the national highway in Kabacan, North Cotabato.
Fighting started in Barangay Luanan, Aleosan after a Ready Deployment Force of the 6ID was fired upon by the BIFF as it was conducting blocking operations.
The BIFF is believed to be behind the spate of bombings Mindanao.
Zagala said that military and police intelligence personnel are on their toes to thwart possible further attacks while pursuing BIFF forces.
“Although our security forces are focused on its intelligence and security operations, we call on very citizen to be alert and vigilant,” Zagala said, adding that “preventing terror attacks is a shared responsibility and we encourage the civilian community to be perceptive of their surroundings and maintain immediate and constant communication with government authorities.”
The BIFF is a renegade group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Its leader is Commander Umbra Kato, a former leader of the 105th MILF base command.
The BIFF made their presence felt days before the start of the celebration of the Ramadan last month and the resumption of the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
On the eve of the celebration of Ramadan, BIFF militants fired a rifle-propelled grenade at a restaurant in Cotabato City, leaving one person dead and three others injured.
Before the Cotabato bombing incident, the BIFF also engaged elements of the 6ID in two separate encounters that left one junior officer and four enlisted personnel dead.