Tag Archive: Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters

More troops sent to Maguindanao

The military has deployed additional troops to Maguindanao amid continuing operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Members of the Samar-based 34th Infantry Battalion arrived in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Saturday, said Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

“The deployment marks the start of the ‘holding phase,’ where government forces will establish encampments in former lairs of the BIFF to prevent the armed lawless group from going back,” Petinglay said.

The battalion will also augment the 6th ID’s efforts in maintaining peace and security in Maguindanao, as well as parts of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Lanao del Sur, she said.

Rebel casualties rise

Meanwhile, Armed Forces public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said the number of BIFF members killed in military operations since February has reached 139.

Fifty-three members of the rebel group have been wounded and 12 more were apprehended, he said.

Cabunoc said the number of slain rebels rose from the last week’s count of 117, not because there were new clashes, but because of the military’s validation of intelligence reports.

“‘Yung ibang wounded namatay na, at saka mayroong iba na hindi listed as patay or wounded, pero patay pala. ‘Yung iba naman body parts lang, na-artillery, di agad nakilala,” he said.

Operation: Graduation

Cabunoc said operations against the BIFF members will continue even as soldiers are set to conduct peace and development activities in areas where clashes had occurred.

“Security forces will continue to conduct focused military operations against the armed threats like the BIFF and the terrorists that they have coddled,” he said.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said the hunt for the remaining BIFF members and bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman will be continued until June.

Local authorities in Maguindanao, however, expressed concern over the operations’ effects, especially on students, and even called for a halt to allow graduation exercises this month.

Cabunoc said Catapang ordered the 6th ID to “facilitate” graduation exercises, by helping government and school authorities identify areas where such events can be held.

“They will jointly identify specific places, ‘yung clear na of the armed group,” he said.

Cabunoc said ongoing operations will not affect graduation ceremonies, as BIFF members have already splintered into small groups that roam in the marshlands of Maguindanao.

“Itong BIFF nag-splinter na into small groups, nasa marshlands na ang mga ito, wala nang schools doon,” he said. (John Roson)

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More than 4,000 people fled their homes in two villages of Pikit, North Cotabato, due to alleged sightings of members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) from Mamasapano, Maguindanao, a disaster management official said Friday.

A total of 895 families, or “100 percent,” of residents in Brgy. Kabasalan evacuated their homes while 210 families from Brgy. Barungis also fled, said Cynthia Ortega, head of the North Cotabato Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC).

“One hundred percent of the residents sa Kabasalan, nag-evacuate sila sa Brgy. Bulol,” Ortega said by phone.

“May sightings kasi ng BIFF, believed to be coming from Mamasapano ‘yung mga BIFF, parang pumunta sila sa may Pikit, particularly sa Brgy. Kabasalan, so may displacement,” she said.

Mamasapano is where BIFF forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas clashed with members of the National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) on January 25.

The clash resulted in the death of 44 members of the elite police unit and 18 MILF guerrillas, while it is unknown if the BIFF also suffered casualties.

To the west of Pikit lies the Liguasan Marsh which, has on its other shore, small villages connected to Mamasapano.

The internally-displaced people are currently staying at a Madrasah (Islamic school), a high school, and relatives’ homes in Brgy. Bulol, Ortega said.

The total number families, 1,105, can be multiplied by four or five to determine the number of displaced individuals, she said.

Ortega said the PDRRMC is currently waiting for the official report on the displacement from the Pikit Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which will conduct relief operations Saturday.

“Bukas sila (Pikit MDRRMC) magre-relief, kami naman, mag-relief kasi sila bukas, mga three days after. That’s the time for the province to come in, augmentation sa relief nila,” Ortega said. (John Roson)

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The military on Friday denied that fighting erupted between forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pikit, North Cotabato, on Thursday but said there is “tension” in the area.

“It was [first] thought to be a firefight pero later it was found that it was a burst of gunfire from an unknown group,” Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said in a text message.

Petinglay was earlier quoted in reports that a firefight between the MILF and BIFF erupted 5:50 p.m. in Brgy. Kabasalan.

The fighting supposedly involved 1,000 members of the 108th, 109th, and 110th base commands of the MILF and BIFF forces led by commander Kagi Karialan.

Karialan’s forces were said to have come from Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where the BIFF and MILF clashed with members of the National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) and killed 44 police commandos on January 25.

Despite Friday’s denial, Petinglay admitted that there is “tension” in Brgy. Kabasalan.

“May tension kasi na ongoing dun sa area at mga two days na,” she said.

Petinglay also maintained that some residents have already evacuated their homes.

“May mga nag-evacuate pero wala pong firefight,” she said. (John Roson)

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Police scour the RTMI bus that was bombed in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday. (police photo)

Police scour the RTMI bus that was bombed in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday. (police photo)

Authorities are looking at terrorism and extortion as possible motives in the bus bombing that left 10 people dead and 42 others injured in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday, security officials said Wednesday.

Lieutenant General Aurelio Baladad, chief of the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command, said investigation showed that the bomb had the “signature,” or make, similar to those assembled by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“‘Yung lumitaw, ‘yun na nga, ang signature ng bomb is BIFF,” Baladad told reporters by phone.

Police mark the spot at the overhead baggage carrier where the bomb is believed to have been planted. (police photo)

Police mark the spot at the overhead baggage carrier where the bomb is believed to have been planted. (police photo)

Another military official, who requested anonymity, said the make of the bomb – an 81-millimeter mortar ammunition detonated with a cellphone – points to the group of one Dawtin Gendang of the BIFF.

Gendang and new “graduates” of the BIFF appeared to have carried out the attack on the Rural Transit Mindanao Inc. (RTMI) bus as “test mission,” the official told reporters.

Gendang was previously identified as a suspect in the bombing of another RTMI bus that injured four people last November 6, Inspector Jiselle Longakit, Bukidnon provincial police spokesperson, said.

The bus door after the blast. (Army photo)

The bus door after the blast. (Army photo)

The BIFF, according to the military, has links with bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman who is connected with the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and is wanted by both the Philippines and United States.

The group has also recently expressed support to the Middle East-based jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Tuesday’s explosion occurred inside an RTMI bus around 5:40 p.m. while it was passing through Maramag, on the way to Cagayan de Oro City.

Police said on Tuesday that the bus came from Wao, Lanao del Sur, but stated on Wednesday that it came from Banisilan, North Cotabato.

The blast happened in front of the main gate of the Central Mindanao University (CMU), shortly after the bus picked up passengers at a nearby bus stop.

The blast killed Kim Valiente, 17; Anita Santillan, 54; Marielle Achacoso, 17; Niezel Dee Gonzaga, 22; Catherine Villahermosa, Johnrey Valdesco, John Bernard Cuhanap, Jonathan Balida, Michael Buctos, and a still unidentified person. Some of them are students of CMU.

Forty-two other persons, some of whom are also CMU students, were hurt and taken to different hospitals.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in a statement, called the bombing a “barbaric” act and called on people to help authorities identify the attackers.

“We condole with the families of the victims of this tragic incident. The DND thru the AFP is in full support and cooperation with the PNP to get to the bottom of this barbaric act,” Gazmin said.

The defense chief declined to say what angles are being looked into, stating that the DND was still waiting for results of the investigation.

Longakit said investigators are initially looking at extortion as a possible motive but have not set aside terrorism.

“We are still coordinating with the bus company on that (extortion angle),” she said, adding that terrorism has “not yet” been ruled out.

A statement released later by the provincial police said the management of RTMI “refused to give extortion fee,” but did not point to any group. (John Roson)

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A Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) commander and an Abu Sayyaf member were killed in a four-hour clash with Army soldiers and troops of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Al Barka, Basilan, Saturday, military officials said.

Killed were BIFF commander Basir Kasaran and Abu Sayyaf member Misuari Jamiri, Army 18th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Paolo Perez said.

Kasaran was the highest-ranking BIFF leader in Basilan and was also third in the Abu Sayyaf’s heirarchy in the province, Perez said in a text message.

One member of the MNLF, who worked along with government troops, also died in the fighting, he said.

The clash in Brgy. Kuhon Lennuh erupted around 5 a.m. and lasted until 9 a.m., Perez said.

Elements of the 18th IB “ambushed” Abu Sayyaf members with the help of MNLF members led by Ombong Malatin alias Commander Cobra, he said.

“Nauna sila (MNLF) with an intelligence team, then nag-reinforce ‘yung two platoons ko with mortars dahil naipit sila sa noong mag-pintakasi ‘yung ibang Abu Sayyaf,” Perez added.

Malatin is working with the Army because he has siblings who are among MNLF members integrated into the military, Perez said.

He said members of Kasaran’s BIFF group are also Abu Sayyaf members.

“Isang grupo lang ‘yan, same banana with different letters. Parehong suportado ng al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, pareho lang terorista,” he said.

Brigadier General Carlito Galvez, commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade, said the death of Kasaran is a “great blow” to both the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

Kasaran was responsible for a series of atrocities against residents of Al Barka, including a massive looting incident in 2013, Galvez said.

“Kasaran led the Abu Sayyaf in ransacking houses in Matata, Kuhon Lennuh, and Danapa during the barangay election last year. While the people were casting their votes, his group and the Abu Sayyaf looted all the valuable items and belongings inside the unattended houses. Kinatatakutan si Basir sa Al Barka,” he said.

Jamiri, on the other hand, was a cousin of Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Nurhassan Jamiri, Galvez added. (John Roson)

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Seven soldiers were injured as government troops clashed anew with Moro gunmen in Lamitan City, Basilan, on Friday, authorities said.

About 100 members of the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) carried out an attack on a building near the city’s port 9:55 a.m., Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade, said.

Members of the Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion and Scout Rangers who were deployed to the area due to a previous clash on Thursday engaged the attacking gunmen, he said.

“Nagsimula ang bakbakan and then we were subjected by the enemy to mortar fires, but we were able to repulse their onslaught,” Galvez said.

“Ang palagay ko ang target talaga nila (gunmen) is makapasok dun sa sentro ng Lamitan,” he said.

Galvez expressed belief that the attack is related to the ongoing “standoff” between government troops and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF) members in Zamboanga City, just a boat ride away.

“Most probably it is related sa Zambo issue saka alam natin na ang Abu Sayyaf gusto nyang magkaroon ng leverage to gain support from the BIFF and the MNLF para maganda ang broad base niya for another recruitment,” he said.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces public affairs chief, said the clash lasted for two hours before the gunmen fled.

“The gunmen failed to overwhelm a ARMM-DPWH satellite building,” he said.

A military helicopter landed at the nearby Claret High School’s open ground to fetch the wounded soldiers.

Galvez said clashes on Thursday and Friday prompted the Lamitan City government to order evacuations.

Thursday’s clash in Brgy. Colonia left a militiaman and three Moro gunmen killed, and 12 other persons injured, according to the military.

As of Friday morning, at least 120 families or 2,000 persons have already evacuated, Ramon Santos, Office of Civil Defense-ARMM director, said.

The number of evacuees were still rising as of Friday afternoon, Santos said in a text message.

The evacuees came from Brgys. Bulanting, Campo Uno, Colonia, Cabobo, and Balobo, Senior Supt. Mario Dapilloza, Basilan provincial police director, said.

The evacuees, mostly women and children, are staying at the Datu Dizal evacuation center while other residents are still staying in their homes, he said.

Dapilloza shared Galvez’s view that the attacks are related to the standoff in Zamboanga City.

“This is a diversionary tactic ng Abu Sayyaf at lost command ng MNLF para ‘yung attention ay ma-focus naman dito, para magkaroon ng division ‘yung operating units sa ground sa Zamboanga,” he said.

Dapilloza said security has been tightened in Basilan since the standoff started.

“In place na ang security since mangyari ‘yung sa Zamboanga dahil we received intelligence reports na isusunod ang Lamitan… parang sa Zamboanga, parang balak nilang pasukin din,” he said.

Dapilloza said more policemen and soldiers have been sent to Maluso, another coastal town on the opposite site of the island-province. (John Roson)

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2 killed, 5 hurt in Maguindanao blasts

(Update) Two improvised explosive devices (IED) went off in Maguindanao on Monday morning, killing two people and injuring at least five others, police and military officials said.

A “cellphone-triggered” IED went off in Sitio Layning, Brgy. Salvo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, around 8:23 a.m., Senior Supt. Jaime Pido, Maguindanao Provincial Police director, said in a phone interview.

“Motorcycles usually pass by that area,” Pido said, adding the bomb was made of an 81-millimeter mortar ammunition and appeared “similar” to other IEDs that went off in the province in the past.

Minutes later, around 9 a.m., another bomb went off in the neighboring village of Brgy. Iginagampong, Datu Unsay, injuring six people, Pido said.

“Dalawa daw ‘yung namatay dun sa anim na wounded, yun ang sinabi sa akin ng chief of police ko dun sa Datu Unsay” Pido said when contacted Monday evening.

“Ayaw lang daw magbigay ng pangalan nung mga tao dun… pagkaputok, kinuha agad, dinala (‘yung mga bangkay),” he said.

The police official, however, confirmed that both fatalities were members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Col. Prudencio Asto, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said one Basit Abas alias Basco, a member of the BIFF, was hit by shrapnel on the face in the blast in Brgy. Salvo.

Abas, along with other BIFF members under Mohaiden Animbang alias Karialan were passing through the area on motorcycles when the bomb exploded.

Animbang and his men were on the way to attend a “kanduli” or thanksgiving event hosted by a certain Tong in Brgy. Iginagampong, Asto said.

The explosion prompted the BIFF members to fired their guns at different directions for two minutes before they resumed their travel, he said.

However, as the group was nearing the “kanduli” venue in Sitio Kalot, Brgy. Iginagampong, another IED made of an 81-millimeter mortar exploded.

Karialan and five followers of a certain Tambako were hit in the second explosion, Asto said.

Meanwhile, Pido said the thanksgiving event in Brgy. Iginagampong is different from another “kanduli” that Mayor Zahara Ampatuan of neighboring Shariff Aguak was set to hold in her town on Tuesday. (John Roson)

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One militiaman was wounded as government troops clashed with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Kabacan, North Cotabato, early Monday, authorities said.

Soldiers, militiamen, and police clashed with an “armed lawless group” led by a certain commander Kadatuan, in Brgy. Lower Paatan, around 6:30 a.m., Col. Prudencio Asto, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said.

Lt. Col. Benjamin Hao, commander of the 7th Infantry Battalion, said he sent 30 soldiers after police sought military assistance over reports that BIFF members were harassing farmers in the area.

“May isang nagko-complain na community because more or less 20 BIFF [members] ay nagsasaka raw ng mga lupa ng may lupa. Because of that sinamahan namin ang police… at around 6 o’clock e binaril ‘yung mga tropa, wala kaming nagawa kundi lumaban,” Hao told reporters.

A militiaman, identified as Romeo Pizarro of the Civilian Active Auxiliary, suffered a bullet wound to the leg during the 15-minute fighting, Senior Supt. Roque Alcantara, North Cotabato Provincial Police director, said.

It was was the first time for security forces to get involved in a clash with the BIFF since the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed their “framework agreement” for peace last week.

Hao and Alcantara said the fighting had nothing to do with the recently-signed agreement, which the BIFF strongly opposes.

The BIFF was formed by Ameril Umbra Kato in 2010 after failing to settle disputes with the MILF leadership. (John Roson)

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Two people were killed while two policemen were wounded when a bomb exploded at a hotel in Cagayan de Oro City early Thursday, police said.

A few hours later, a second bomb was found in the city. Another exploded in front of a commercial compound in Imelda, Zamboanga Sibugay, Wednesday night, injuring a teenaged boy.

Senior Supt. Gerardo Rosales, Cagayan de Oro City Police director, identified the fatalities as Rudy Jote, an employee of the Willshire Inn, and a certain “Toto,” a passenger vehicle dispatcher.

PO1 Rogelio Canilanza and PO1 Dexter Daño were brought to the Polymedic Hospital because of shrapnel wounds to the legs and back, Rosales said.

The explosion occurred shortly before 2 a.m. beside the Maxandria Hotel at the corner of J.R. Borja st. and Aguinaldo st.

Around 1:50 a.m., a desk officer of the hotel called the local police, seeking assistance for what appeared to be a bomb left by three unidentified persons, Rosales said.

Canilanza, Daño, and some other policemen went to the scene, but the bomb exploded while they were conducting a “visual investigation,” the city police chief said.

2nd bomb found

Chief Supt. Gil Hitosis, Northern Mindanao regional police director, said another improvised explosive device (IED) was found under a pick-up in the city around 7:30 a.m.

The second explosive, which was apparently made by the same group that bombed the hotel, was disrupted by policemen, he said.

All police units in Northern Mindanao have been placed under “full alert” and directed to increase visibility on the streets and conduct checkpoints to prevent the proliferation of bombs and firearms, Hitosis said.

Boy hurt in Zambo blast

Meanwhile, another bomb exploded at the commercial complex in Brgy. Poblacion, Imelda, Zamboanga Sibugay, around 7:40 p.m. Wednesday, injuring 14-year-old Alraffy Barabadan Bano.

An improvised explosive device went off in front of the M&M Alrafhi garments shop owned by Merpha Barabadan Bano, a relative of the victim, Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command, said.

Local police are still trying to determine the bombers’ identities and motive, he said.

Peace deal detractors behind blasts?

Hitosis, whose office supervises the Cagayan de Oro City Police, said he is not discounting the possibility that the explosions were carried out by groups who oppose the recently signed “framework agreement” between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“Tinitingnan namin dyan ay ‘yung link ng explosion sa nearby areas namin… Alam mo naman na ‘yung govt natin ay may ongoing peace deal sa isang grupo at ‘yung isa namang grupo ay parang disgruntled. Bukod pa dun ‘yung isa pang grupo na mukhang ayaw din,” Hitosis told reporters in a phone interview.

The Moro National Liberation Front, who had signed a peace agreement with the government in Sept. 1996, warned that the accord with the MILF violates theirs and could result into unrest.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which broke away from the MILF, had also voiced opposition to the framework agreement.

Hitosis, however, noted that there was still no strong evidence linking the blasts to the peace deal. (John Roson)

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A police officer and two civilians were injured when a bomb explosion hit two vehicles near the Maguindanao provincial police headquarters in Shariff Aguak town early Wednesday, a police official said.

Insp. Marxdeo Aperocho, of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF), and civilians Said Akmad Minas and Sheiyd Balabadan were taken to the Maguindanao Provincial Hospital due to injuries on the different parts of the body, provincial police director Senior Supt. Marcelo Pintac said.

The incident occurred around 6 a.m. while a SAF troop carrier and passenger jeep were traveling along the road, just 100 meters from the provincial police headquarters in Brgy. Limpongo, Pintac said in a phone interview.

Aperocho, who was on the SAF truck, and the civilians, who were on the jeep, suffered wounds caused by shrapnels and glass shards.

Initial investigation by members of the Army’s 65th Explosives and Ordnance Disposal Team indicated that the bomb was made of a 105-millimeter ammunition, detonated using a 4-meter wire found at the scene, Pintac said.

The official believes the bombing was carried out by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who have been attacking military and police detachments since early this month.

“Mayroon na kasi silang (BIFF) threat sa amin na pag mag-file kami ng kaso (for the attacks), isusunod naman ‘yung mga station namin,” Pintac said, adding that he learned of the threat on August 13.

Pintac directed policemen in all stations in Maguindanao to be more vigilant after the latest attack. (John Roson)

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