COTABATO CITY — The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) said it took in its custody an undetermined number of civilians after they harassed militia outposts in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, on Wednesday morning.
Abu Mama Misri, speaking for the BIFF, said the civilians were safe.
“We secured them,” he told the Inquirer by phone. “We protected them from the bullets from army. We will release them later. We did not use them as human shields.”
But Misri could not say how many civilians were in the hands of his men.
Capt. Arvin Encinas, spokesperson for the army’s 6th Infantry Division, said BIFF men raided a detachment in Barangay (village) Malagakit in Pigcawayan at 5 a.m., but government troops were able to repulse them.
“But as they (BIFF men) were escaping, they took some civilians hostage and [used them as] human shields,” he said.
Encinas said their reports indicated that the gunmen were holding five residents.
“But we could not determine so far if there were students and teachers (among the hostages),” he said.
Encinas said clashes were still ongoing with the army and police pursuing some 200 heavily armed BIFF men fleeing to the Maguindanao marshland with an undetermined number of hostages used as human shields.
Encinas said BIFF men led by Commander Abunawas Damiog, alias Commander Agila, attacked the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) outpost in Barangay Malagakit and later in Barangay Simsiman starting at 4 a.m.
Armed BPAT and militiamen engaged the attackers in a gun battle until sunrise.
“Pursuit operation is still ongoing,” Encinas said, adding that no casualty was reported on the government’s side.
Encinas said initial reports showed that the BIFF men took with them five civilians.
The rebels were withdrawing to the marshland in Maguindanao when they chanced upon the civilians in Barangay Simsiman, he added.
Mama confirmed to the Inquirer that the group was behind the attack.
Chief Insp. Realan Mamon, Pigcawayan police chief, said the group was led by one “Commander Agila.”
He said the local police, as of 9 a.m., had yet to receive reports on the number of casualties.
The village of Malagakit is 8 kilometers away from the town center of Pigcawayan.
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