SIX members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were killed in a clash with government troops in Barangay Malagakit, Pigcawayan, North Cotabato on Wednesday, a military official said Thursday.
Capt. Napoleon Alcarioto, spokesman for the 602nd Brigade, said civilians told the military that the BIFF rebels retrieved the dead bodies and fled on board a motorized outrigger on the Ligusan Marsh.
Civilians also saw eight BIFF members who were wounded, Alcarioto said.
On the other hand, two members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit were wounded during the exchange of gunfire.
“The situation is back to normal as most of the civilians particularly those residing along the highway are back at their homes while others are still in the evacuation centers,” Alcarioto said.
Classes at the Malagakit Elementary School, which the BIFF occupied for hours during the skirmishes, are still suspended.
Some 200 to 300 BIFF rebels swooped down on two military detachments in the villages of Malagakit, and Simsiman, and started firing at troops manning the posts on Wednesday.
The BIFF then forcibly entered and destroyed several houses in three villages, forcing civilians to flee to safer ground as fighting lasted for hours.
The BIFF withdrew under the cover of darkness, leaving a militiaman---Abraham Cutay and a civilian dead.
A military statement said 63 civilians were rescued by the Joint Task Force Central, which clashed with the BIFF rebels in North Cotabato.
Soldiers from the 602nd Brigade advanced towards the Malagakit Elementary School to rescue the hostages, who were used as human shields, and engaged the fleeing rebels at about 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The rebels left 31 of their captives behind as they fled.
Thirty-two residents trapped in the crossfire left their homes and joined the rescued hostages.
Members of the 34th Infantry Battalion provided mortar fire support to the Simsiman Detachment in Barangay Simsiman, Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, and blockaded Barangay Malagakit, while troops from the 7th Infantry Battalion and the 34IB attacked the rebels.
Two BIFF members were held by the troops of the 22nd Mechanized Company, 2nd Mechanized Battalion, Mechanized Division, at a checkpoint in Butilin, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao at 9:20 a.m. Wednesday.
Troops found two sachets of shabu on the BIFF members.
Also on Thursday, a spokesman for the Philippine National Police said all field commanders have been ordered to review their camp defense plans to thwart any attacks by the New People’s Army rebels and terrorists.
The reminder came after NPA rebels ransacked a police station in Maasin, Iloilo province on Sunday morning, taking away several firearms from the police station including eight M16 rifles, four Glock 9mm pistols, five handheld radios, a base radio, and two laptops. The rebels also took P25,000 from the police station and a patrol car.
Malacañang on Thursday said the attack by the BIFF in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato was not a spillover from the Marawi siege.
“It’s not a spillover,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella. “It was an opportunistic action coming from the BIFF group. So it’s not connected in that sense.”
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier warned that the Islamic State-inspired Maute group may engage in more bombing runs in the coming days in other parts of Mindanao.
In the aftermath of the Pigcawayan attack, Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones on Thursday said schools and learning spaces are zones of peace, and said the safety of teachers and students is the foremost priority in the event of conflict. With John Paolo Bencito
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