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BIFF sets urban terror

Military braces for rebels’ shift in warfare strategy

The military said on Monday that it was bracing for more attacks from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters following reports that the renegade group may resort to sowing terror in ‘urban areas.’

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the military would deploy soldiers to vital installations and public areas part of its pro-active security measures and intensify its intelligence gathering to avert possible attacks.

“We’re heightening our proactive preemptive security measures especially on providing security to vital installations such as roads, public markets, churches, and all areas where people converge. We’ve also discussed with local government units to include in their security system to encourage residents to give information about activities of the BIFF and possible ally groups for immediate action,” he added.

Meanwhile, a Palace official said the military would continue its mopping operations against the BIFF, two days after it terminated ‘Operation Darkhorse’ in Maguindanao.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma said the BIFF remains a threat to the country’s security.

“We will do everything that needs to be done to neutralize elements that sow conflict, fear, and threat to our people,” Coloma said.

“They (BIFF) are still a threat that we are trying to stem. We will not allow them to become a bigger threat through proactive intelligence gathering, surveillance, and decisive action,” he added.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala said the military had successfully restricted the movements of BIFF rebels and prevented the spread of violence to nearby areas.

The military also captured a BIFF encampment in Barangay Ganta Shariff Saydona at the height of the fighting.

The military terminated its major offensive against the BIFF in Maguindanao on Sunday after the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (AFP-MILF) Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) did not extend the 72-hour extension for the military to defeat the BIFF.

The deadline ended on Saturday, Feb. 1.

As this developed, the Moro National Liberation Front-Nur Misuari faction, which declared on Saturday that it had forged an ‘informal’ tactical alliance with the BIFF, said that the Islamic Command Council also sought an alliance with the MNLF in its bid to boost its quest for an independent Muslim Islamic state in Mindanao following the abrogation of the 1996 final peace agreement.

MNLF spokesperson Absalom Cerveza said the Islamic Command Council under Commander Hashim Bogdabi signed the alliance with the MNLF last week.

Cerveza said the ICC is the largest Muslim armed group operating in the Zamboanga peninsula, which include Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay.

Cerveza, however, said the two groups were ‘still in the process of solidifying our ranks.”

Meanwhile, Cerveza said Misuari has instructed his political staff and supporters to reject any plea from the government for a renegotiation of the terminated 1996 peace agreement.

“His instruction is that there will be no more negotiations to take place and that the only possible negotiations should center on the closure of the tripartite review talks,” Cerveza said.

The clashes between government forces and BIFF members had killed 52 BIFF fighters, including 13 alleged “child soldiers” and a government trooper.

More than 130 were wounded on both sides and at least eight civilians were injured in crossfire.

The war also displaced more than 9,000 families.

The military claimed to have reduced the armed capability of the BIFF with the capture of three major camps including a “bomb-making factory.”

“We’d stopped the joint law enforcement operation of the 6th ID and the police in Maguindanao but we continue to enforce normal law enforcement operation to preempt possible retaliation from the BIFF. We are expecting this just like what happened to the convoy of soldiers and mediamen who were hit by a roadside bombing. Yesterday, there was an attempt by BIFF elements in Guindulungan town to bomb a road but because of information relayed by the residents, our soldiers and policemen quickly responded and diffused at least three bombs planted along the road,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso added that right after the military terminated its operation, they also assisted local government units in helping the displaced residents return to their homes and resume their normal lives.

The BIFF, which vowed to continue its attacks against the government ‘until the last drop of our blood,’ has reportedly sought refuge to their other camps in the hinterlands of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

The military launched an all-out attack against the BIFF two days after the government and the MILF signed the last two documents needed to complete the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The signing of the CAB will lead to the submission of the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law - a measure that would abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and replace it with a political entity to be called Bangsamoro - to Congress by June.

National Commission on Muslim Filipinos head Mehol Sadain, a government negotiator in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has assured critics of the BBL that it would only contain provisions that can be implemented within the bounds of the 1987 Constitution.

Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said the government is ready to provide a budget for the Bangsamoro which at least would be double of the current ARMM budget of about P14 million.

President Benigno Aquino III had appealed to members of Congress to put aside their “fear of the unknown” and deliberate on the BBL, which he would certify as urgent, with an open mind. With Francisco Tuyay and Joyce Pangco-Panares

 

 

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