No 'Marawi-like' war even after BIFF attack in Maguindanao, military assures

Published May 10, 2021, 1:56 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

As an assurance that there will be no war in the offing as big as the Marawi City siege in 2017, the military has implemented strict security measures in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao following the occupation of a public market by Islamic State (IS)-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a ranking military official on disclosed Monday, May 10.

Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of 6th Infantry “Kampilan” Division (6ID) and Joint Task Force (JTF) Central, said the military is working with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ensure the safety and security in Datu Paglas after BIFF men occupied a public market last Saturday, May 8.

“Kasama ang inyong armed forces at kasama ang PNP, sinisigurado po namin na maigting ang seguridad sa Datu Paglas (Your armed forces, together with the PNP, assure you that there is a tight security in Datu Paglas),” Uy said in a virtual “Laging Handa” press briefing.

The BIFF attack happened exactly 15 days before the fourth anniversary of the infamous Marawi siege which occured on May 23, 2017. During the siege, Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group militants occupied several buildings and facilities in the Islamic City as the military tried to capture ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.

The five-month-long war, regarded as the longest urban warfare in the country in recent history, resulted in the killing of nearly 1,000 terrorists and 250 soldiers and civilians with more than 1,400 injured and 1.1 million residents displaced.

In the Datu Paglas attack, the military commander said the BIFF was “trying to project” that they are still a force to reckon with but “failed” since the 6ID and JTF Central were able to resist and drive them away.

Around 20 BIFF armed men stormed the Datu Paglas public market along a highway around 4 a.m. on May 8, trapping commuters and market-goers who were buying food for the end of Ramadan on May 12. They allegedly used the trapped civilians as “human shields” to prevent the soldiers from capturing them. Around 9:45 a.m., the soldiers eventually took back the market and forced the BIFF to retreat.

“Ang BIFF ay trying to project its strength na ganoon pa sila kalakas. In a very manageable situation, isa lang ginagawa nilang taktika: ang irregular warfare (The BIFF is trying to project its strength that they are still strong. In a very manageable situation, they only one use tactic: the irregular warfare),” Uy said.

In their irregular warfare, Uy said the BIFF often uses improvised explosive device (IED) to inflict damage not only to the military forces but also to the civilian population and communities.

General Cirilito Sobejana, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said pursuit operations were ongoing to trace the BIFF terrorists.

“We are doing pursuit operations since Saturday and their direction is towards Liguasan Marsh,” he said in a separate television interview over CNN Philippines.

Despite the panic and fear caused by the attack, Uy said the situation has since returned to “normal” in Datu Paglas as displaced residents went back to their homes after the military cleared the area of BIFF. He clarified that only one IED was recovered at the public market while there were three other unexploded ordnance (UXOs).

According to data from the military, a total of 1,934 families were affected by the encounter between the BIFF and the soldiers.