AT LEAST six suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were reported to have been killed in a firefight with government troops in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, on Wednesday, the military said Thursday.
Captain Napoleon Alcarioto, spokesperson of the Army's 602nd Brigade, said the information was based on accounts of some civilians.
On Wednesday morning, over 300 suspected BIFF members harassed the residents of Barangay Malagakit, Simsiman and Banucagon in Pigcawayan town and forcibly entered and destroyed their houses.
Some of the armed men occupied the Malagakit Elementary School.
The attacks led to a gunbattle between the BIFF and government forces.
Residents in the area, Alcarioto said, witnessed the armed rebels carrying their dead comrades as they withdrew from the area on board a motorized banca through the Liguasan Marsh in the northern area.
"We are basing our claim from the eye accounts of civilians being trapped and held hostage inside the Malagakit Elementary School, who were later rescued by our 34th Infantry Battalion forces," he said.
He said blood stains were found in the surrounding areas of the Malagakit Elementary School.
Aside from the fatalities, Alcarioto said the encounter wounded eight people, including two government militias.
As of 10 p.m. of Wednesday, a total of 1,201 residents were evacuated.
Alcarioto said the civilians who fled their communities during the firefight cannot yet return to their homes as clearing operation is ongoing.
"We don't recommend to civilians to go home as IEDs planted by the rebels are proliferating in Barangay Malagakit. The bomb experts are still in the area doing clearing operations," he said.
The Western Mindanao Police Regional Office has activated Task Group Pigcawayan following the latest BIFF attack.
The special task group led by Police Senior Superintendent Leonardo Suan, the deputy regional director for operation, will be composed of the regional command group and directorial staff.
Superintendent Ma. Joyce Birrey, Public Information Office chief, said the police have already started their investigation on the incident.
The Regional Public Safety Battalion has already augmented the Pigcawayan police for the conduct of intensified checkpoint in the neighboring barangays to pre-empt possible spill-over as well as the escalation of the incident. (SunStar Philippines)