Pope slams Mindanao killings

MANILA – Pope Francis condemned the killing of innocent Filipinos in Mindanao by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters on Christmas Eve.

In a telegram sent to Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Pietro Cardinal Parolin said the Pope was saddened by eight simultaneous attacks in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato, which killed 14 people on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The dead included nine villagers separately gunned down by BIFF insurgents and at least five rebels killed by government forces, said Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s Sixth Infantry Division.

The Pope also called on all Catholic faithful around the world to reject violence “in the name of God” as the breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front claimed that its attacks were part of a “holy war.”

“The Holy Father was deeply saddened to learn the senseless killing of innocent people in Mindanao, and he sends condolences to the families of those who lost their lives,” Parolin said.

“His Holiness prays that security and safety will be established for all people in the region, so that dialogue, tolerance and peace may enable each person to live free from fear,” the statement added.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao denounced on Tuesday the attacks staged by the BIFF.

Hataman said the attack was devoid of any sense of revolutionary zeal and principles.

“It was an act of terrorism. It was an attack against civilians, an attack against peace and development in Mindanao, and a cowardly act that deserves nothing but our collective condemnation,” Hataman said.

“We should reject this as we should not be cowed by this,” he added.

“In the face of this act of terrorism, we rely on each other for strength and courage. We rely on our security forces—the military and the police—as we are confident that the attacks will be contained and a spillover is prevented,” he added.

On Thursday, about 300 BIFF simultaneously attacked Christian villages in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat and three communities in Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao, killing eight civilians they took as hostages when government forces responded.

Four BIFF rebels were also killed when government forces chased the attackers in the mountains of adjoining towns of Esperanza and Abdullah Sangki. Four firearms of slain bandits were recovered by pursuing forces.

Army bomb disposal teams also defused four improvised bombs left by BIFF in and around the area where the civilians were killed.

Lt. Colonel Ricky Bunayog, 33rd Infantry Battalion Commander, said about 300 men carried the attacks and are now the subject of massive manhunt.

“We already warned the civilians in areas identified to be vulnerable to BIFF atrocities, I hope they will cooperate with the security sectors,” Petinglay told Radio DXMS-AM.
Almost simultaneously, separate band of BIFF attacked Barangay Simsiman, Pigcawayan, North Cotabato on Christmas Eve.

Led by Commander Alamada Abonawas, the BIFF fired a rifle grenade toward the house of Robert Lerado, village councilman of Barangay Simsiman, killing him on the spot, raising the death toll to 13, nine civilians and four BIFF.

After attacking villages in the borders of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, the BIFF also stormed the village of Malagakit, also in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, firing at a Catholic chapel where a midnight mass was ongoing. Churchgoers scampered for safety but nobody was hurt.

Also on Dec. 24, at 9 p.m. another group of BIFF stormed a detachment of 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion in Barangay Dapiawan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao. No casualties were reported.

Bunayog said government forces had difficulty retrieving the remains of slain farmers due to improvised bombs planted by BIFF before fleeing.

“One of the field commanders of the BIFF was killed. That is why they were so brutal on civilians,” Bunayog said.

Bunayog said the fatalities were all civilian farmers and not para-military troops as claimed by the BIFF.

Petinglay said the national highways linking Cotabato City to Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City to Davao remained passable and safe.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chief government peace negotiator, in a statement, expressed solidarity with the families of the slain civilians.

“We commiserate with the families of the nine civilians who were summarily executed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in separate incidents over the last few days,” she said.

“The BIFF’s sporadic attacks indicate an attempt to gain momentum for their bid to destabilize the situation in these areas and garner attention for themselves and their flagging cause,” Ferrer said.

The Palace on Tuesday affirmed the Pope’s call for peace and security though dialogue and tolerance, but said government troops were conductive “intensive operations to protect citizens from such attacks.”