Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), urged residents and local government officials in Maguindanao on Sunday, May 9, to remain vigilant after the thwarted hostilities of the Islamic State (IS)-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) at the public market of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao.
“I enjoin the populace of and local leaders in Maguindanao to remain vigilant as we continue our watch until peace is stabilized,” said Sobejana, who spent years of his military career in the conflicted areas of Central Mindanao.
Around 4 a.m. Saturday, scores of BIFF extremists led by Mohiden Animbang alias Karialan occupied a public market in Barangay Poblacion while market-goers were buying food for Ramadan, which will end next week. According to civilians, there were around 80 armed men who occupied the market but the military has a lower estimate of 20.
Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of 6th Infantry Division (6ID), said the BIFF were attempting to gather food supply for the group after they retreated and were cornered by the soldiers in Datu Paglas due to successive operations by the military in the “SPMS Box” in the past two weeks.
The SPMS Box is a military term which refers to the adjoining towns of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin, Mamasapano, and Shariff Saydona in Maguindanao where the BIFF operates.
Troops from the Joint Task Force (JTF) Central successfully drove away the militant group around 9:45 a.m. but not before trading gunshots with them as they threatened trapped civilians along the highway in Datu Paglas.
In separate instances on March 17, April 28, and April 30 this year, six improvised explosive devices (IEDs) believed to be planted by the BIFF Karialan faction exploded in Maguindanao which resulted in the killing of two female civilians and injury of two others, said Lt. Col. JP Baldomar, spokesperson of JTF Central.
“The situation has already normalized but we will not rest until the threat is neutralized,” Sobejana said.
According to the military, the BIFF has around 200 active members who are operating in Central Mindanao.
“Let us continue to engage local government authorities, stakeholders, and civilians to ensure that peace and security in Datu Paglas and its neighboring towns are preserved,” Sobejana noted.
As of Saturday noon, the highway in Datu Paglas town was already opened to the public after the soldiers cleared the area of security threats.
Four IEDs left by the BIFF Karialan faction were recovered by the military in the area.