THE Armed Forces of the
asked for a 72-hour extension of its all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro
Islamic Freedom Fighters after the Islamist fighters disappeared in the area of
operation in Maguindanao and allegedly sought refuge in areas controlled by the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Philippines
The Army’s Sixth Infantry Division made the request for an extension of the operation as the Maguindanao provincial board approved a resolution declaring the entire province under a state of calamity after 41,000 residents fled the operation which is now on its sixth day.
“[But] the BIFF camps are now empty,” said Absalom Cerveza, spokesman of the Moro National Liberation Front which also has former members in the area.
“The military cannot find the BIFF because they had already fled to different MILF controlled areas in Maguindanao,” Cerveza said, citing reports from MNLF commanders in the area.
Even military spokesman Col. Harold Cabunoc confirmed that the military also suspects that BIFF members have sought refuge with their relatives in the MILF.
“That is one of the challenges,” Cabunoc said when told of the information from the MNLF. “But we are closely working with the local government officials, up to the barangay officials, and also with the MILF. They committed to help us,” Cabunoc said.
The disappearance of the BIFF rebels was also a puzzle to the militray because they had earlier gained control of all key roads in Maguindanao and
Cotabato, including remote civilian communities, and they
encountered no BIFF.
But Cerveza explained that the BIFF, like the MILF and MNLF in past clashes, could easily have fled the area by stashing their firearms in hiding places and mingling with the thousands of civilians who have been moving out of the area.
After disarming themselves, he said the BIFF could have joined the preemptive evacuation of at least three barangays in Maguindanao before the military unleased air and artillery fire on known BIFF positions.
Lawyer Laisa Alamia, ARMM executive secretary and Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team chairperson, said they have recorded a total of 8,236 families, or 41,180 individuals, who were displaced by the fighting from 11 of Maguindanao’s 36 towns.
Maguindanao provincial board member Asnawi Sinsuat Limbona said they had already approved a resolution declaring the state of calamity that would enable the provincial government to use the provincial calamity fund.
Provincial Board Member Bobby Katambak said Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu was expected to sign the resolution on Wednesday even as the provincial government attended to the needs of the refugees through relief and rehabilitation teams led by provincial budget officer Lynette Estandarte.
At the same time, 6th ID commander Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan said he need a 72-hour extension of the operation because there were still 350 BIFF members in their area of operation.
Local bodies overseeing the ceasefire between the government and the MILF approved the extension, after which the military were able to clear a suspected BIFF training facility at a school in Brgy. Kitango in Datu Saudi town.