From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 18): BIFF rebels torch MNLF homes in Pikit, North Cotabato
Police on Wednesday said Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen set fire to 20 houses in one of the seven villages it had occupied in the town of Pikit in Cotabato province.
SPO3 Norudin Solaiman, the town’s chief investigator, said BIFF members torched the houses on Tuesday in Barangay Barongis, a village known to be populated by members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which was not a party to the violence.
The BIFF has been fighting with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under Commander Jack Abas, the highest-ranking rebel leader in the area.
Solaiman said the house-burning could draw in MNLF members.
More than 15,000 have fled Barongis and the adjacent villages of Kabasalan, Buliok, Bagoinged, Bulol and Raja Muda. Hundreds more have fled villages in nearby Pagalungan town in Maguindanao over the clashes that started last week.
Datukong Ampuan, also known as Commander Falcon of the MILF, and five of his followers, have reportedly been killed.
The BIFF has vowed to step up its attacks in Cotabato and accused Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza of funding the operation against them.
Abu Misri Mama, the BIFF spokesperson, alleged that Mendoza funnelled money to Abas to finance the MILF operation against the BIFF.
Cotabato governor’s hand?
“Lala uses her power and money to bribe the MILF and drive us out of our territory. The governor used thousands of pesos to earn the loyalty of the MILF,” he said.
“The local MILF units are now taking direct orders from her,” Mama said.
He said the BIFF would seize any chance to take on North Cotabato towns or the provincial capitol in Barangay Amas in Kidapawan City.
“If we will have the chance, we will not only raid the town or city halls but we will also attack the provincial capitol,” Mama said.
Mendoza denied the BIFF’s allegations, explaining that she could not command or even influence the MILF.
“Are they saying that I have now the right to give orders to the MILF? Am I a commander?” Mendoza said.
She said the BIFF might have maliciously misinterpreted her delivery of government programs in the communities that included MILF-influenced villages.
“My services include livelihood projects, electrification, construction of classrooms, road construction, water projects, scholarships, assistance for evacuees like food, medicine and clothing and dispersal of farm animals,” Mendoza said.
These programs are being implemented in the entire province and are being delivered without any discrimination regardless of the person’s or the village’s affiliations, Mendoza shared.
Von Al Haq, MILF vice chair for military affairs, also denied that Mendoza had a hand in the current conflict.
“This is a legit operation regularly being conducted by the MILF in its territories to enforce security most especially against criminalities,” Al Haq said.