DATU PAGLAS, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 08 May) — At least 20 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) under the Karialan faction were sighted in the market of Datu Paglas town in Maguindanao province at daybreak Saturday, causing tension in the area and the closure of a portion of the North Cotabato-Maguindanao highway, but armed confrontation was averted following a talk between the town mayor and the group’s leader.
Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said the group left the area after the military’s explosive ordnance team dismantled four improvised explosive devices planted in strategic areas before reaching the town. Baldomar said it was part of the BIFF’s tactical defense to prevent the military from getting closer to them.
Baldomar said the tension eased after the group’s leader and the mayor of Datu Paglas town, Abubakar Paglas, talked. The mayor is a Datu while the BIFF leader, is reportedly a former Sangguniang Kabataan chair in the town.
After the talk, the armed group left the market.
By 1:30 p.m. the closed portion of the highway was reopened.
In a radio interview over Brigada, Abu Jehad, spokesperson of the BIFF’s Karialan faction, said they had no plan to launch an attack. He said they went to Datu Paglas to rest as they were still fasting because of Ramadan.
Jehad added that when soldiers arrived, they were forced to defend themselves. “If they will try hard to push through, we will be forced to fight back,” he said.
Former Maguindanao Governor and incumbent Congressman Esmael Mangudadatu, went to the boundary of his hometown, Buluan, and Datu Paglas, to monitor the situation of the residents who fled their villages, most of whom are fasting.
The month-long Ramadan started on April 13 and is expected to culminate in Eid’l Fitr on May 13.
Mangudadatu said the group sighted in the area was led by certain Solaiman, a former SK chair who married a close relative of the BIFF under Karialan. The BIFF has two other factions.
Baldomar said sporadic gunfire was heard by residents but he was quick to clarify that it was not from their group but from the BIFF positioned inside the public market.
“We are just here to cordon off the area while negotiation is ongoing,” he said.
The military also deployed armored vehicles along the North Cotabato-Maguindanao highway as a preemptive measure.
Baldomar said the military used air assets only for reconnaissance purposes, to pursue the BIFF who were pushing towards Sultan sa Barongis town. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)