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AFP: Cotabato school safe as BIFF withdraws

Published June 21, 2017 12:05pm Updated June 21, 2017 1:43pm By TRISHA MACAS, GMA News

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has announced that the school in Pigcawayan, Cotabato where Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had holed up had been cleared even as government troops are conducting pursuit operations against the rebels.

AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. gave the update during the Mindanao Hour briefing in Malacañang on Wednesday.

“It’s already resolved,” Padilla said. “They’ve withdrawn, they are no longer there. The school area is again safe. The troops are in pursuit mode.”

It was earlier reported that civilians inside the building were trapped when the bandits entered the Malagakit Elementary School early Wednesday morning.

In an interview on GMA News TV's Balitanghali, Padilla said the military has prepared for the BIFF attack which was aimed at harassing their barangay augmentation team.

“Ang aming pagkawari ay harass-in ang outpost ng barangay augmentation team natin at siguro maaaring isama na nila dun yung isang outpost natin na hindi na kalayuan,” he said.

“Pero dahil nga alam natin, batid natin yung mga galaw nila, tayo po ay nakapaghanda at natugunan natin yung pangangailangan ng pagpapadala ng mga dagdag pwersa,” he said.

Padilla added the BIFF may have spurred the attack in retribution to the AFP, “Tuloy-tuloy itong mga attempts nila ng pangha-harass dahil nga sa kagustuhan nila na makaganti sa death tolls na na-experience nila sa mga nakaraang mga araw.”

No soldier or civilian was injured during the attack, according to Padilla.

Human shields

In the same television interview, Padilla confirmed that the BIFF used at least five civilians as human shields to cover their tracks, saying they are also the focus of the military’s pursuit operations.

“Nag-attempt sila to cover their withdrawal at gumamit sila ng human shield at limang katao po yung narinig nating kinuha nila para isagawa yun. Pursuit operation na po tayo ngayon, pero sana pinakawalan na nila ito,” he said.

Witnesses about a kilometer from the school said they could hear gunfire. Troops were preventing anyone from getting closer.

Abu Misry Mama, a spokesman for the BIFF, told Reuters that the militants had taken civilians to a place safe from the crossfire, and did not intend to hold them hostage.

Asked if they would be freed, Mama said: "Yes. We're not kidnappers."

Meanwhile, Padilla dismissed insinuations that the BIFF's actions in Pigcawayan should be considered a spillover of the prolonged conflict in Marawi City, where government troops have been battling the Maute terrorist group for over 20 days already.

"This has come from a group that has long committed harassment," he said.

“We don’t consider this as related to the Marawi incident. More or less ito ay isang opportunistic [act], nag-take advantage lang itong grupong ito,” Padilla also said in the Balitanghali interview.

He also assured that the AFP has enough forces deployed in the country, saying that they are not “overstretched” amid the ongoing Marawi crisis. “By-and-large, well spread out po tayo. Mainam po ang pagkalatag ng ating mga puwersa.”


Meanwhile, the skirmishes in Cotabato have resulted in over 500 Pigcawayan residents fleeing their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire, according to Supt. Romeo Galgo, spokesperson of Region 12 police office.

"As of this hour, a total of 513 individuals/evacuees from Brgys. Malagakit, Banucagon, and Panatan [have been recorded]," Galgo said.

Galgo also said clashes were ongoing as of 11 a.m. — with a report from Reuters and Joseph Tristan Roxas/RSJ/KVD/KBK, GMA News

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