CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao—The military here has condemned the atrocities carried out by the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in three areas in Central Mindanao on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day even as it vowed to intensify its manhunt against the bandits.
Capt. Joanne Petinglay, spokesperson of 6th Infantry Division, said pursuit operations against the bandits would continue. She also appealed to peace-loving citizens to help authorities thwart destabilization attempts.
On Thursday, about 300 BIFF simultaneously attacked Christian villages in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat and three communities in Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao, killing eight civilians they took as hostages when government forces responded.
Four BIFF rebels were also killed when government forces chased the attackers in the mountains of adjoining towns of Esperanza and Abdullah Sangki. Four firearms of slain bandits were recovered by pursuing forces.
Army bomb disposal teams also defused four improvised bombs left by BIFF in and around the area where the civilians were killed.
Lt. Colonel Ricky Bunayog, 33rd Infantry Battalion Commander, said around 300 men carried the attacks and are now the subject of massive manhunt.
“We already warned the civilians in areas identified to be vulnerable to BIFF atrocities, I hope they will cooperate with the security sectors,” Petinglay told Radio DXMS-AM.
Almost simultaneously, separate band of BIFF attacked Barangay Simsiman, Pigcawayan, North Cotabato on Christmas Eve.
Led by Commander Alamada Abonawas, the BIFF fired a rifle grenade toward the house of Robert Lerado, village councilman of Barangay Simsiman, killing him on the spot, raising the death toll to 13, nine civilians and four BIFF.
After attacking villages in the borders of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, the BIFF also stormed the village of Malagakit, also in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, firing at a Catholic chapel where a midnight mass was ongoing. Churchgoers scampered for safety but nobody was hurt.
Also on Dec. 24, at around 9 p.m., another group of BIFF stormed a detachment of 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion in Barangay Dapiawan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao. No casualty was reported.
Colonel Bunayog said government forces had difficulty retrieving the remains of slain farmers due to improvised bombs planted by BIFF before fleeing.
“One of the field commanders of the BIFF was killed that is why they were so brutal on civilians,” Bunayog said.
Bunayog said the fatalities were all civilian farmers and not paramilitary troops as claimed by the BIFF.
Capt. Petinglay said the national highways linking Cotabato City to Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City to Davao remained passable and safe.
Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chief government peace negotiator, in a statement, expressed solidarity with the families of the slain civilians.
“We commiserate with the families of the nine civilians who were summarily executed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in separate incidents over the last few days,” she said.
“The BIFF’s sporadic attacks indicate an attempt to gain momentum for their bid to destabilize the situation in these areas and garner attention for themselves and their flagging cause,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said she felt sad that the soldiers had to cancel celebrating the holiday season to respond to situations. “We pray for the safety of our soldiers who, instead of humbly celebrating the holiday season in their remote posts, have been mobilized to prevent the hostile group from wreaking more harm on the populace.”
Ferrer said prayers are offered for strength and safety of civilians who are exposed to the danger of ongoing hostilities.
Ferrer also asked the BIFF “to reconsider their violent ways and take heed of the people’s desire for peace and normalcy in their lives.”