Sunday, March 29, 2015

AFP concludes month-long offensive against BIFF

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 29): AFP concludes month-long offensive against BIFF

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) concluded on Monday the month-long military offensive focused against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao which resulted in the neutralization of more than 50 percent of the brigands' strength.

"Effective today (March 30), the all-out offensive against the BIFF would be ended. After the relentless operations against the BIFF, we have achieved our objectives, including the neutralization of more than 50 percent of their ranks, the capture of bomb factories, and the seizure of their enclaves or safe havens in different Maguindanao localities," AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said.

Operations against the BIFF started last Feb. 25 when the bandits started encroaching on civilian communities in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

"We have accounted for 139 enemies killed, 53 wounded and 12 captured. They are now splintered into small groups to evade the pursuing soldiers. They are defeated in the battlefield by our gallant soldiers, marines and policemen," Catapang said.

In the same effort, 10 troopers were killed and another 31 wounded.

"With the cooperation extended by the local government officials, residents and even our partners in peace, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the BIFF remnants have nowhere to hide," the AFP chief stressed.

Despite the cessation of focused military offensive against the bandit group, Catapang assured the public that the military continuously pursue them in their temporary hideouts inside the Liguasan marshlands and even in the mountainous areas.

"We are now entering the new phase of our operation which is peace and development. I want to emphasize that still, we will continuously deploy forces to secure communities and deny the BIFF entry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao. We will continue to hunt down the terrorists like Basit Usman and his cohorts who are now hiding outside the conflict areas," he added.

Starting this Monday, Catapang said that the AFPwill coordinate with the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the province of Maguindanao for the safe return of the residents back to their homes.

"It is very important to note that from as high as 120,000 evacuees last month, they are now down to about 90,000 people who have remained in various evacuation centers and houses of relatives. We understand the physical and emotional challenges experienced by the non-combatants who were among those who were adversely affected by the armed conflict with the BIFF," Catapang pointed out.

"Now that we have driven out the armed BIFF members and the small group of terrorists led by Basit Usman, we will focus our attention in rebuilding the affected communities. We will help the LGUs, other government agencies, and the national government as a whole in delivering public services to the people. We will support the implementation of development projects that are intended to spur the economic activities in these areas," he stressed.

President Benigno S. Aquino III has initially approved the release of PhP67 million that would be used for various socio-economic interventions for the people of Maguindanao, including the Bridge for Peace in Barangay Tukanalipao, Schools for Peace and Roads for Peace that will benefit the people.

Catapang said they are now calling on everyone to help the people in the affected communities to go back to their normal lives and support their pursuit for lasting peace.

He added that the AFP would like to see "Maguindanao as a highly-developed area where people enjoy peace, progress and prosperity that we all want for the whole of Mindanao and the entire nation."

"Rest assured that your Armed Forces of the Philippines will remain as your partners for peace and development. We will never abandon our constitutional mandate of protecting the people from any armed aggression," the AFP chief said.

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