MANILA, Philippines – The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) released Monday afternoon four teachers and 11 farmers earlier abducted in Midsayap, North Cotabato, Radyo Inquirer 990AM said.
Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, was quoted as saying the 15 civilians were used as human shields by the BIFF gunmen, contrary to reports that they were taken hostage.
The report said the BIFF were retreating from an encounter with the military when they came across the teachers.
Meanwhile, students and teachers were trapped inside Malingao Elementary School as the gunfight continued.
The teachers and farmers are now in the custody of village officials while government forces pursue the BIFF fighters, who were last seen heading towards Mindanao River.
Hermoso said four soldiers were killed and another one wounded during the 8:30 a.m. clash with the BIFF. Reports also said at least four rebels killed and several wounded.
According to the military, the attackers withdrew towards the Mindanao River, which is bounded in the south by the town of Datu Piang, Maguindanao. The BIFF attackers abducted 15 civilians (4 teachers and 11 farmers) in the villages Malingao, Mirasol and Polongoguen and were used as “human shields.”
Hermoso said that villagers saw four BIFF killed and were carried by their comrades.
Early Monday, an encounter also transpired in Rangaban village between the BIFF and militiamen.
The BIFF, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), allegedly aims to derail the peace process between the MILF and the Philippine government.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama confirmed the attack, adding that the “offensive” has nothing to do with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City” although they “have the same battle-cry for the establishment of an independent state (in Mindanao).”
In August, the BIFF claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing in Maguindanao which injured seven soldiers. It was during this time that a series of explosions were reported in Cagayan de Oro City, Cotabato City and North Cotabato.