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AFP braces for more BIFF attacks; vigilante group to fight rebels

Malacañang on Wednesday warned the Ilaga and other vigilante groups in Mindanao not to take the law into their hands after the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front attacks in North Cotabato and Maguindanao, even as the military said that it is bracing for more attack and has deployed more troops in areas believed to be the next targets of “terrorism activities” by the BIFF. Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said there was no encounter since Tuesday night but troops continue to conduct pursuit operations on specific targets. “We’re not letting up on our pursuit operations. We received intelligence reports about their next move and we’re on active mode to ensure the safety of communities, civilians, roads, bridges, and vital installations,” Hermoso said. Malacañang, meanwhile, made the warning against the Ilaga amid reports that members of the vigilante group – a dreaded group of armed Christian settlers in the 1970s, had been massing up to fight the BIFF. “We would like to call on all these groups to let the military do its job. Let the law enforcement authorities do their job,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. In a radio interview, Ilaga commander Mike Santiago said his group has chosen to remain silent in the past to show support to the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. But Santiago said they could not allow the beheading of the farmer to go unpunished. The Ilaga group was formed to counter the problem of Muslim insurgency in Mindanao. The group’s horrifying trademark included mutilating their victims. Lacierda said the government has yet to determine if the attacks in North Cotabato and Maguindanao were related to the 17-day hostage standoff in Zamboanga City between state forces and the Moro National Liberation Front. Zamboanga City, meanwhile, is slowly returning to normal, with the resumption of commercial shipping to Tawi-Tawi and the opening of 149 elementary and secondary schools as well as the city’s biggest mall, Lacierda said. He also chided the camp of MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari for daring the government to arrest the rebel leader and file rebellion charges against him. “We will use government resources to do the right thing. And our Department of Justice prosecutors are on the ground. They will come up with an airtight case against those responsible,” he added. The standoff has claimed more than 100 lives since hundreds of MNLF rebels invaded the key trading center of Zamboanga. The government is preparing to release at least P3.89 billion to rehabilitate Zamboanga City, which will be sourced from the P6.1 billion contingency fund. The rehabilitation fund would cover relief assistance, the construction of temporary bunk houses, shelter and livelihood assistance, educational assistance, cash-for-work program, and supplementary feeding program for the affected residents. At least 118,000 people have fled their homes because of the heavy fighting between troops and MNLF rebels, prompting the government to call their plight a “humanitarian crisis.” The standoff has claimed more than 100 lives since hundreds of MNLF rebels invaded the key trading center of Zamboanga. Hermoso, meanwhile, said the last firefight between government troops and BIFF elements happened past 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Bgy. Mapagkaya Paidu Pulangi in Pikit, North Cotabato where a blocking force of soldiers engaged more than 50 BIFF fighters. No casualty from both sides was reported. The military said it continues to monitor the reported movement of some 50 BIFF rebels in the Reina Regente Complex in Barangay Dasawao, Sharif Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao. With Joyce P. Pañares
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