13 dead in BIFF attacks in Maguindanao
COTABATO CITY—The death toll in atrocities carried out by outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Christmas Eve rose to 13—nine civilians and four rebels—officials on Friday said.
After killing seven civilians in the borders of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces on Thursday dawn, the BIFF attacked a Catholic chapel in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, after killing a village councilman about 9 p.m.
Another farmer was found dead in the borders of the two provinces.
Led by BIFF Commander Abonawas Alamada, the armed men fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the house of Robert Latosa, councilman of Barangay Simsiman, killing him on the spot.
Two BIFF groups also simultaneously attacked a 38th Infantry Battalion detachment by firing rifle grenades and a Catholic chapel where a midnight Mass was ongoing, sending Mass-goers scampering for safety. Nobody was hurt in the chapel attack.
The attacks were over in five minutes, civilians said.
Almost at the same time, another BIFF group harassed a detachment of 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion in Barangay Dapiawan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao. The Army retaliated by firing rocket rifle grenades, forcing the bandits to flee. Nobody was hurt.
Soldiers of the 33rd Infantry Battalion spent their Christmas Eve in the battlefield in the mountains of Abdullah Sangki and Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
Soldiers and policemen admitted they had to hurdle threats of booby traps left by BIFF in and around the areas where five civilian farmers were killed.
Lt. Colonel Ricky Bunayog, 33rd Infantry Battalion commander, said another farmer was found dead in Barangay Paitan, Datu Abdulla Sangki, Maguindanao, on Christmas Day, or about 10 hours after the BIFF launched the offensive.
“One of their field commanders was killed that is why they were so brutal on civilians,” Bunayog said.
“We have recovered four improvised bombs in the area.
Relatives of the slain farmers said those who sprayed chemicals on the farmlands in Barangay Kauran were hired farmers who wanted to earn money for their noche buena, he said.
“Now they are all gone, and we celebrate Christmas here at the funeral parlor,” Reme Demo, a relative, told reporters in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat. He said the fatalities were all farmers and not Cafgu (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit) as claimed by the BIFF.
“They were all civilians, they were not armed,” Demo stressed.
Earlier, Abu Misry Mama, speaking for the BIFF, admitted to the atrocities but stressed they were only after paramilitary and soldiers in the areas where they carried out the attacks.
“We target the armed Cafgu and soldiers, we spare civilians,” Mama said. When told there were civilian casualties, Mama said they were among those considered “collateral damage.”
Salome Alsgar, wife of Gerard Alsgar who was killed by attackers in Paitan, said the BIFF assured her husband would not be harmed.
Alsgar and his son were taken hostage by the BIFF.
“They do not want us to leave, nine of us, my husband and four other farmers and my 5-year-old son,” she said. “The soldiers are running after us, if they stop, you can go,” she quoted the BIFF telling her.
She and her son were then set free and allowed to walk for about five minutes, then she heard a series of gun bursts. “They killed my husband and his companions,” she said. Edwin O. Fernandez and Williamor Magbanua, Inquirer Mindanao
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