THE military is verifying reports that Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFFs) have dispersed after the fall of the main camp and satellite camps in Maguindanao and quietly joined the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the province.
Col. Prudencio Asto, chief of the 6th Infantry Division public affairs office and division acting spokesperson, said they have received information that the guerrillas who suffered heavy casualties and nothing to go to after their camps fell to government hands have been hiding in evacuation centers.
“We are verifying that, and that is a possibility,” Asto said, adding that the military and the Task Force Omar are verifying it.
“We continue to run after them to let them face the bar of justice for the atrocities they committed against government forces and thousands of civilians,” Asto added.
However, Asto said the military will not attack BIFF members who are in evacuation centers.
The 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade and the 601st Infantry Brigade are now coordinating with the Deparment of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to determine who are legitimate IDPs and help the military expose the BIFF fighters who disguise as evacuees.
Followers of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Ameril Umra Kato who formed his own group after he was dropped from the MILF due to disobedience and insubordination simultaneously attacked Army and para- military troop detachments in Maguindanao’s five towns.
The attacked led to a five-day heavy firefight between the renegade rebels and government forces in the towns of Datu Unsay, Datu Salibo, Datu Hofer, Shariff Aguak, and Ampatuan.
The military said they suffered four fatalities and one policeman while about 25 rebels were killed based on body counts and information from ground troops. Four civilians were also killed in the process.
At least 35,000 civilians have been displaced and are now cramped in 39 DSWD recognized evacuation centers. Classes in five towns were also suspended affecting more than 7,000 pupils.
According to Asto, some of the guerrillas fled deep into the forest or toward the 220,000 hectare Liguasan masrshland which straddles Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and North Cotabato.
“Before the fall of their camp in Datu Hofer, the BIFF forces have splintered into smaller groups to avoid detection and never engage the Army,” Asto said.
“We know they are just there… we continue to hunt them down.”
An Army battalion was deployed in Camp Omar to prevent the guerrillas from retaking it.
Asto said the 6th Infantry Division is recommending to the local governments of Maguindanao and four municipal governments to convert the captured camp and its vicinity into an agricultural and economic zone.
“The area is very productive. The soil is very rich and the local government units in three adjoining towns can plant rubber, oil palm, or high-value crops there,” Asto said.
Now a lawless group after they were removed from the MILF ranks, the BIFF is the subject of joint manhunt between soldiers and MILF rebels, according to Von Al Haq,
Haq, speaking for the MILF, said under the general agreement on the cessation of hostilities, the MILF and the Army will join forces in tracking down lawless elements, kidnappers, terrorists, and lawless groups found hiding or within the vicinity of MILF identified camp.
He said should the military launches offensive against the BIFF, the MILF will be willing to reposition its forces to avoid misencounter.
“No BIFF members are hiding in MILF camps, rest assured we will not coddle them,” Haq said in response to reports that some MILF members coddle BIFF forces because they were related by blood.
“We are checking that, but that is impossible,” he added.
When asked where Kato is, Haq said as far as the MILF is concerned he is already gone. (EDWIN O. FERNANDEZ)