By Antonio L. Colina IV
Davao City – The military has maintained that the attack carried out by around 100 members of the terrorist group Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato on Wednesday was not related to the ongoing Marawi crisis.
During the Mindanao Hour at the Lispher Inn Friday, Gen. Gilbert Gapay, martial law spokesperson for the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), downplayed the assault by saying it was a “retaliatory and diversionary” tactic undertaken by the group after suffering from major setbacks during the last two weeks due to the intensified military operations in their stronghold in Maguindanao.
Although the BIFF and Maute Group have both pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Gapay said the Pigcawayan attack was the handiwork of the BIFF alone and has nothing to do with the Maute Group which has been fighting government forces in the besieged city of Marawi for about a month.
He said the attack was intended to create a noise in order to get the attention of the military that they remain to be a “force to reckon with.”
“Almost 100 of them attacked two barangays in Pigcawayan. They are expecting a result in furtherance of what they want to achieve – nagpapansin (attention). We’re still here. We are still a force to reckon with but it turned out to be otherwise,” he said.
He said BIFF fighters were “desperate” when they threatened that they will “shoot to kill” President Rodrigo R. Duterte and marked Davao City as the next target of their attack.
“That’s why, nung napahiya sila, before they fled, they destroyed some classrooms and even tore the picture of our president and uttered certain things. That’s a desperate move on their part,” he said.
Office of the President Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) assistant secretary Dickon Hermoso said that the members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were instrumental in blocking the BIFF fighters and in the successful operations of the military.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the government considered the attack as the BIIF’s attempt to recover from more than two weeks of setback as a result of the ongoing operations.
Abella said government troops rescued 31 hostages, 73 trapped civilians, recovered one wounded civilian and a cadaver of a victim of the BIFF.
He reported there were two government soldiers wounded and one killed while six were killed on the BIFF side with eight wounded.
The clash on Wednesday displaced 367 families or a total of 1,777 individuals.
Gapay said they received reports that BIFF fighters were engaged “in foraging and looting of some civilian houses.”
Police identified the civilian fatalities as Towan Dading Esmael, 61, farmer-resident of Barangay Simsiman, and 33-year -old Abraham Sakilan Cutay, a CAFGU trainee from Barangay Malagakit.
BIFF rebels stormed first the community defense detachments in Barangays Malagakit and Simsiman early morning of Tuesday and then holed out in school buildings when responding government forces fought them for about 11 hours.
A report attributed to the Army’s 6th Infantry Division said the rebels took 31 civilians including six pupils as human shields. The rebels freed the hostages before fleeing to unknown direction, the report said. (With a report from Ali G. Macabalang)
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