From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 11): Military air strike kills 15 BIFF gunmen in Maguindanao, N. Cotabato
The military on Sunday claimed it has killed at least 15 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen when it launched air strikes against the group near the SK Pendatun, Maguindanao and Pikit, North Cotabato portions of the Liguasan Marsh.
Officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said hundreds of individuals near the area targeted by the air strikes had fled, but the exact number had not been ascertained so far.
Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the commander of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, said the BIFF casualty figure was based on reports they had been getting from the ground.
He said eight BIFF gunmen were also injured and that a BIFF bomb expert and his wife had been captured.
But Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesperson, said there were no casualties on their side.
“We are not affected by the air strikes,” he said.
Tahira Kalantongan, the Pikit, North Cotabato disaster officer, said in her town alone, at least 10,000 individuals from Barangays Buliok, Talitay, Bago-inged, Barongis and Rajamuda had fled.
The ARMM Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team said it was preparing provisions for the displaced individuals and could deliver it on Monday.
Capt. Arvin John Encinas, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, earlier said the target of the air strike was the group being led by Esmail Abubakar alias Commander Bungos.
Encinas said the bomb, which started at around 2 a.m., run was a “surgical strike” and that no civilian had been affected.
“It was surgical and the targets are specific and outside civilian areas,” Encinas added.
Kalantongan agreed that no civilian community was hit in her town but that residents had evacuated anyway.
“They feared for their lives, they hurriedly left their barangays after they had their early morning meal for the day’s fasting,” she said, adding that the vacated villages were known to be within an area of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Sobejana said the MILF had been told of the impending bomb run.
The MILF also maintains forces around the marsh, which straddles 29 towns in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
“Our operation was coordinated well with the MILF ceasefire panel,” Sobejana told the Inquirer.
Encinas said a ground operation was also being conducted against Bungos’ group.
“There is no let up in our manhunt against the BIFF. We want to be one step ahead of them,” Encinas said, adding that major highways remained passable despite the operation.
Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, the commander of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, said the bomb run also targeted a suspected BIFF bomb factory.
Sobejana said the bomb run had successfully destroyed the BIFF bomb factory.
“We ease the fear of our people and assure them that safety procedures were undertaken and deliberately planned by (the military) giving due concern to the safety of the civilian populace,” he said.