CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao – The military and communities around the vast Liguasan Marsh in Maguindanao have forged an alliance to fight abuses brought by the IS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the area.
Lt. Colonel Harold Cabunoc, Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion commander, said local residents who catch mudfish and catfish in the marshland were denied by BIFF of livelihood, prompting villagers to pinpoint the terrorists’ location to the military.
“The communities were obviously angered by BIFF armed men preventing freshwater fishermen to catch fish in marshland that led them to cooperate with us,” Cabunoc told reporters here Friday.
He said the BIFF had made life difficult for fishermen the past several years and got fed up, encouraging them to report the location of a bomb-making factory of the BIFF in the border of Pagalungan and Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun towns.
Military airstrikes and artillery fire destroyed the BIFF’s bomb-making facility during a bomb run earlier this week that also resulted to the killing of 15 BIFF elements including 5 Indonesians and a Singaporean. The Army’s “surgical” operation also resulted to the capture of a couple allegedly involved in bomb-making.
Brigadier Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Army’s 6th Infantry Division commander, said eight other BIFF were killed in succeeding clashes in Datu Unsay and Datu Hofer towns, also in Maguindanao and in Midsayap, North Cotabato.
Despite evacuation that took place in some areas, settlers along Liguasan Marsh have expressed joy that the BIFF was gone in the vicinity of the wetland.
“There were Indong-Indong (Indonesians) armed men and they don’t want us to fish near their camp,” said fresh water fisherman Jamadel, 40 of Barangay Midpandacan, Gen. SK Pendatun, said in Maguindanaon dialect.
Cabunoc said Army ground troops, cruising on motorized bancas, continue to hunt down BIFF remnants in the 220,000-hectare marshland situated in the boundaries of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces.
“Our orders are to finish the BIFF for good,” he said.