Thousands flee as military pounds BIFF bomb factory

COTABATO CITY–Thousands of residents fled to safer grounds as military helicopter gunships, backed by artillery fire, pummeled early morning Sunday positions of IS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the marshland bordering two Maguindanao towns.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) spokesperson, said the airstrikes were launched at past 2 a.m. after intelligence information confirmed the presence of terrorists under BIFF commander Bongos in the Liguasan marshland bordering the towns of Salipada K. Pendatun and Pagalungan, both in Maguindanao.

“No reported casualty as of yet as operation by Army ground troops still going on,” Encinas told the Philippine News Agency, adding that the “surgical” airstrikes had targeted specific positions outside civilian areas.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, 6ID commander, said target of the operation was a bomb-making factory of the BIFF south of the marshland.

“Our operation was coordinated well with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ceasefire panel,” Sobejana said.

Myrna Jocelyn Henry, information officer of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao-Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (ARMM-HEART), said the bulk of displaced families are from the villages of Buliok, Kudal, and Inug-ug, all in Pagalungan.

The evacuees are temporarily sheltered in at least three evacuation centers in Pagalungan, namely in Mahad, Poblacion Market and the town covered court.

ARMM Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia, concurrent regional social welfare chief, said relief goods are being readied for distribution on Monday as assessment on the total number of evacuees is going on.

Encinas, meanwhile, said there will be no let up on their manhunt against BIFF members.

“We want to be one step ahead of them,” he said.

Asked whether Muslims breaking the fast for Ramadan at the time of operation were affected, he said: “This is a precise operation as we made it sure our brother Muslims were not affected.” Noel Punzalan and Edwin Fernandez/