MIDAYAP, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 23 Sept) – Trouble erupted in this municipality when members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked two barangays early today and took civilians as hostages.
As of this writing, reports as to the number of casualties and civilians abducted are still conflicting even among military sources.
Capt. Antonio Bulao, spokesman of the 602nd Infantry Brigade, said in a text message that BIFF Commanders “DM” and Abas Kudanding harassed the adjacent barangays of Malingao and Polongoguen in this municipality around 7 a.m. and held hostage three school teachers of the Malingao Elementary School.
In another text message, Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said that BIFF first harassed an outpost in Barangay Rangaban 3 at 2:20 a.m. with unarmed members of the Civilian Volunteers Organization (CVO). But none among the CVOs were harmed, he added.
Pursuing elements of the 40th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Roberto Huet then “engaged the BIFF attackers in an intense firefight” at Barangay Tugal.
“Sensing that the government troops are superior in numbers, the BIFF attackers splintered into smaller groups and sporadic firefight ensued,” Hermoso said.
He said the BIFF members then abducted 15 civilians – 4 teachers and 11 farmers – in Barangays Malingao, Mirasol and Polongoguen to serve as their human shield.
“Barangay officials and residents of the affected barangays reported that they saw 4 BIFF killed and undetermined number of wounded carried by their comrades,” Hermoso further said, adding that there were no reported civilian casualties although two soldiers were wounded in battle, and one of them eventually died while being transported to the hospital.
Bulao said that as of noon today, the teachers are still in the hands of the rebels as firefights continue.
Another firefight erupted in Barangay Rangaban between CVO members and BIFF rebels although no one was reported hurt, Bulao said.
Midsayap Mayor Romeo Araña assured his constituents that the situation is under control as he appealed to the public not to panic.
“I am in the area. The situation is under control. Reinforcements have arrived. Do not panic,” the mayor said in a text message sent to the media.
Midsayap police chief Renante delos Santos said some classes in public and private schools have already been suspended.
Delos Santos claimed that an estimated 150 BIFF members are now in the area.
Meanwhile, Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said government forces are now on full alert due to these incidents.
In a statement posted in her Facebook page, Mendoza said she is now closely monitoring the situation on the ground as well as coordinating with the police and military to prevent the escalation of the incident.
She added that the priority of the LGU now is the safety of the civilians who have already fled to safer grounds.
DepEd has already cancelled the classes in affected barangays, said the governor.
The LGU is now validating the total number of displaced civilians, Mendoza said. (Karl Ballentes, Keith Bacongco and Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)