COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao: The military stands ready for any further offensives by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a commanding officer said days after the rebel group launched simultaneous attacks in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat on Christmas eve, killing 13 people.
Lt. Col. Ricky Bunayog, commanding officer of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, told The Manila Times they have been on red alert status since December 22 and ready for any new attacks by the BIFF even beyond January 1.
“We expect more BIFF atrocities up to … beyond New Year,” Bunayog said.
As this developed, The Manila Times also learned that other military units in nearby North Cotabato province are closely monitoring isolated villages in Midsayap and Aleosan towns due to perceived threats of further attacks, especially on the villages.
The Army’s 602nd Brigade and its component battalions in North Cotabato have also sought the help of local government units and religious leaders in Aleosan and Midsayap in monitoring the movements of the BIFF in the two towns.
A village councilman who was among the victims during the simultaneous offensives by the BIFF on December 24 has also died, raising the death toll from the incident to 13, while hundreds of village people have been displaced as they were forced to leave their houses in the wake of the fierce fighting that followed.
The latest fatality was Robert Latosa, barangay kagawad (village councilman) of Barangay Simsiman, Pigcawayan, North Cotabato.
The BIFF, led by Commander Abonawas Alamada, reportedly fired a rifle grenade into the house of Latosa on Thursday night, after attacking the villages in the borders of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.
Similarly, barangay officials in the two beleaguered towns of Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat and in Ampatuan, Maguindanao have appealed to the military authorities for more soldiers’ visibility in their areas for fear of BIFF attacks in retaliation for the deaths of four bandits in an encounter with soldiers in Datu Abdullah Sangki town, Maguindanao.
Bunayog said the BIFF gunmen attacked their detachment in Datu Abdullah Sangki before dawn Thursday, provoking a firefight that lasted for more than an hour.
He said local officials in Datu Abdullah Sangki said villagers saw fleeing bandits carry four dead companions after attacking a military detachment west of the municipality before sunrise of the same day.
Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson said their forces have launched the attacks, rejecting a military claim that they have been weakened tactically by military offensives this year in Maguindanao.
The BIFF spokesperson claimed responsibility for the attacks, emphasizing that they only target armed military and paramilitary forces.
He said they spare civilians, but when informed that majority of the victims who were executed mercilessly by the BIFF combatants were innocent civilians, he was quoted as saying, “They (civilians) were collateral victims.”
Mama vowed the BIFF would launch more attacks as part of the group’s jihad for Islamic statehood.