THE Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has expressed concern over the safety of innocent civilians in conflict areas in Mindanao amid an ongoing all-out offensive launched by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo on Tuesday disclosed that the Cotabato archdiocese is already preparing for possible mass evacuation of thousands of residents at risk of being caught in the crossfire.
He said several roads between Cotabato City and Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, had already been blocked as clashes between government forces and BIFF rebels continue to intensify.
The safety of the civilians, according to Bagaforo, must be the primordial concern of the AFP before launching its attacks on the BIFF and the ASG.
He reiterated an earlier appeal by the Church leadership to the military to avoid causing collateral damage in the ongoing military offensive.
AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. also earlier said he has ordered the operation against the BIFF and the ASG to protect the communities.
Reports indicated that at least 20,000 people had been displaced by violent attacks of the BIFF, supposedly a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
According to Catapang, the all-out offensive is necessary to contain the capability of the two armed groups to inflict damage or terrorize civilians.