From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 21): BIFF still holding hostage 15 civilians in North Cotabato
PIGCAWAYAN, North Cotabato -– Fifteen civilians remained in the hands of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and used them as “human shields” by responding government troops after the bandits harassed a militia camp Wednesday dawn.
Capt. Nap Alcarioto, spokesperson of the 602nd Infantry Brigade based in Carmen, North Cotabato, said the BIFF are still holding out at Malagakit Elementary School with the civilians.
Capt. Arvn Encinas, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said fighting in Barangay Malagakit is still going on as of 6:30 p.m.
”The Army could not assault the school because there were civilians inside,” Encinas said.
Chief Inspector Reylan Mamon, Pigcawayan town police chief, said undetermined number of families were trapped in their respective homes who were awakened at 5 a.m. when the bandits and government forces started trading bullets.
He said Muslim religious leaders have been tapped to negotiate for the release of hostages that the BIFF used as human shields against elements of the 34th Infantry Battalion.
Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr, speaking for police regional office, said the number of evacuees rose to more than 850 persons from three adjoining villages of Malagakit, Simsiman and Banucago.
Two militiamen, identified as Angel Verona and Resty Segundera, were wounded when firefight broke out at about 5 a.m. Wednesday.
Encinas could not say if the BIFF sustained casualties during the day-long sporadic exchange of bullets by the attackers and joint elements of 34th IB and Pigcawayan PNP.
More checkpoints have been set up along the Cotabato-Pigcawayan highway.
Abu Misri Mama, speaking for the BIFF, said his group which pledged allegiance to ISIS launched the attack against armed BPAT members and CAFGU “because they are our enemies.”
"The civilians are safe, we will release them later,” Mama said in radio interview.