From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): AFP: North Cotabato school cleared of BIFF
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday announced that responding security forces have already cleared the school in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and are now conducting pursuit operations.
AFP spokesperson Restituto Padilla Jr. said that BIFF bandits who had earlier tried to harass a Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) outpost near Malagkit Elementary School have retreated with no casualties reported.
“It’s already resolved actually. They (BIFF) have withdrawn from the area. They are no longer there. The school area is again safe. The patrol base is well-secured,” Padilla said during the Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacañang.
The bandits staged the attack early Wednesday morning at the barangay augmentation team outpost before retreating to the nearby school after a firefight with quick responding Army troopers.
Padilla branded the attack as an “opportunistic activity” by the BIFF.
“They were taking advantage of the situation that we have a very lightly defended outpost and that they think our forces are elsewhere in the province,” he said.
“So sinubukan nilang pasukin ito at hindi sila nagtagumpay dahil simula’t sapul na nagsimula po itong Marawi crisis eh handa na po lahat ng pwersa sa buong Mindanao na harapin kung anuman ‘yung mga bantang nangyayari,” Padilla said.
However, the military official confirmed that five civilians are being held as human shields by the retreating bandits to slow down pursuing troops.
“Unfortunately, in the withdrawal phase of the armed elements, of the armed group, they used some civilians to cover their withdrawal. Ginamit nilang human shield kaya medyo pigil po ‘yung mga pwersa na humabol,” Padilla said.
Earlier, a BIFF spokesman said the civilians are safe and would be released later.
Padilla said state forces are currently ascertaining if the BIFF have already released the five civilians that they have held.
In the meantime, the AFP spokesman assured that the military have enough forces in Mindanao to respond to any threats posed by various rebel groups.
“Our forces are spread all over. We may be facing many fronts, ibig sabihin madami tayong kinakaharap na kalaban pero maayos po nating na-i-assign ang lahat ng ating mga pwersa para harapin po itong mga iba’t-ibang banta,” Padilla said.