Residents say teenage boys were among those who attacked Datu Piang

DATU PIANG, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 04 December) –  Teenage boys were among those who attacked this town late Thursday nigh,  according to residents here and soldiers who engaged the armed group.

“Mga bata pa, nagsisigaw ng (very young, they were shouting) Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest, God is the greatest), Rahima, a resident, said.

Rahima and other residents interviewed Friday said they heard the  younger ones who were also carrying firearms, shouting they would burn the Sta. Teresita parish church but were stopped by the older ones.

Maj. Gen Juvemax Uy, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, inspects Friday (Dec. 4, 2020) the scene of encounter between troops from the 6th Infantry Battalion and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Datu Piang, Maguindanao. MIndaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

“May isa nagsabi ‘huwag.’ Medyo mas nakakatanda sa kanila. Mainit kasi ang mga bata gusto lahat pasukin pero sinabihan na huwag saktan ang sibilyan at atakihin ang simbahan” (Somebody said ‘don’t.’ Somebody older. The young ones were aggressive, they wanted to enter the structures but were told not to harm civilians or attack the church),  added Rahima.

Reports late Thursday night said the Sta. Teresita parish church was burned but it was not. What was set on fire was a police patrol car on the road near the church.

Residents said the armed  men simultaneously attacked the detachment of the Charlie Company near the highway and a police outpost between the Sta. Teresita parish church and Notre Dame of Dulawan at around 10 p.m. on Thursday.

In a press statement, Lt. Col. Anhouvic Atilano, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said an estimated 50 members of the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Dawlah Islamiyah were behind the attack, 20 of them “harassed the detachment of Charlie Company” while another 30 “attempted to enter Barangay Poblacion when they chanced upon the patrolling PNP patrol car.”

NOT BURNED. Soldiers guard outside the Sta. Teresita parish church compound in Datu Piang, Maguindanao on 4 December 2020., debunking earlier reports that the church was burned down. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

He identified the perpetrators as followers of Karialan Saga Animbang of the Karialan faction of the BIFF and Commander Sukarno Guilil alias Motorola, whom he described as “henchman of Karialan who leads offensive attacks on military and (police) detachments.”

Residents and members of the security forces here said  rumors had been circulating about an impending attack, so when armed men were seen at the back of the church and market, Capt. Israel Bayona, the municipal police chief, immediately led a team that proceeded to the area but they were fired upon.

The armed men then set on fire the new police pick-up vehicle and started firing, they said.

“May information  mag conduct-sila ng attack, we positioned our troops, we returned fire kaso sa sobrang dami nila nag manuever kami” (We received information that they would attack. We positioned our troops, we returned fire but there were too many of them so we had to maneuver), said a squad sergeant.

The aftermath of Thursday night’s attack in Datu Piang, Maguindanao by alleged members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Dawlah Islamiyah. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

Lt. Col. Charlie Banaag, commander of the 6th Infantry Battalion, said it was only their third week of deployment here but despite the attack, they remain undaunted.

Abu Jehad, spokesperson of the BIFF, in an interview over Brigada News radio, said  they had no intent to harm civilians and that they launched the attack because of the rampant gambling and proliferation of illegal drugs in the town.

Jehad said they had no plans to harm civilians or attack religious structures.

The  BIFF and Dawlah Islamicyah had earlier been declared persona non grata in Datu PIang .The provincial government also declared the groups persona non grata on December 2.

Maj. Gen. Juvemax Uy, commander of the 6th Infantry Division and Join Task Force Central, acknowledged there were threats of attacks but “maswerte lang kagabi naka depensa agad ang isang squad at hindi totally na sabotage ang buong town” (fortunately, last night, a squad immediately responded so the town was spared).

Atilano said Uy arrived here at 2:30 a.m. Friday. to assess the situation and plan the pursuit operations.

He said the firefight lasted 40 minutes. No casualties were reported.  (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)

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