Military downplays BIFF assassination threat against Duterte
DAVAO CITY – Authorities on Friday downplayed threats by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) against President Duterte and this city, saying the militants were desperate due to recent setbacks in the battlefield.
Brig. General Gilbert Gapay, military spokesperson for Mindanao, said the BIFF was now pushed back to their stronghold in the marshland of Maguindanao and could not mount an attack similar in scale to what happened in Marawi City.
At least eight people, six of them rebels, were killed and over a thousand fled as BIFF gunmen descended on the villages of Malagakit and Simsiman in Pigcawayan on Wednesday, briefly occupying a school and holding residents as human shield.
BIFF’s desperate message
Government troops have driven away the gunmen after more than 10 hours of fighting, but the attackers had scrawled on a blackboard in one of the classrooms in Malagakit a threat to kill the President and that his home city would be attacked next.
Gapay called the BIFF message a “desperate pronouncement.”
“The Pigcawayan incidents were diversionary attacks resulting from setbacks suffered by the BIFF in their stronghold in the SPMS Box,” Gapay said, referring to the adjoining towns of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Saudi), Mamasapano and Shariff Saydona, all in Maguindanao. “Our forces there have intensified operations,” he added.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the BIFF has no support from the local Muslim population, and therefore has no capability to
launch attacks outside of its stronghold.
“These are isolated groups that are brilliant at media manipulation.
However they do not have the necessary support coming from the ground,” Abella said.
Aside from pledging allegiance to the ultra-radical global jihadist group, Gapay said the BIFF has also forged a tactical alliance with other local terrorist groups, particularly the Maute Group which has been fighting against government forces in Marawi of over a month now.
The military spokesperson said necessary security measures have been set up since the declaration of martial law to prevent the spillover of violence in Marawi and in Cotabato.
PSG making adjustments
Amid the BIFF’s “shoot-to-kill” order against Mr. Duterte, Gapay said the Presidential Security Group (PSG) was making some adjustments to ensure the safety of the Chief Executive and that “security measures were being assessed from time to time.”
He said the military would be continuing pursuit operations against the BIFF with a dedicated unit tasked to address the rebel group’s threat.
Officials were also confident operations against the IS-linked group would not affect the on-going peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the 12,000-strong rebel group to which BIFF was once part, before it split over ideological differences.
Government peace panel member Dickson Hermoso said the BIFF depravation in Pigcawayan has no effect in the on-going peace process “because BIFF is not the MILF.”
In fact, Hermoso, a former brigade commander in Central Mindanao, cited the joint ceasefire mechanism for its role in helping diffuse
the situation Pigcawayan.
Hermoso said fighters from the MILF blocked the community of Simsiman from the intruding BIFF gunmen.
Meanwhile, Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, OMI, the archbishop of Cotabato, condemned the desecration of a Catholic chapel in Malagakit by the BIFF men.
“As the leader of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, I condemn in the strongest terms possible the wicked desecration of the Catholic Chapel of Malagakit in the parish of Pigcawayan and most especially of the Sacred Hosts that were kept there for the Catholic faithful,” he said.
“These are irreligious acts that cry out to heaven. Such acts are similar to the desecration of a mosque and the sacred Qur’an by non-Muslims. Both desecrations are gravely sinful,” he said.
He said if the BIFF wants to have “an image as a respecter of all religions, it must punish its members who perpetrated the odious desecration in Malagakit and educate all its members in strictly respecting other religions.”/ac