Civilians arm selves vs BIFF

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Cotabato — Residents of a remote village in M’lang town in North Cotabato, majority of whom are Ilonggo settlers, have started arming themselves to protect their lives, properties, and livelihood from possible attacks launched by armed Moro fighters.

But the Ilonggos, contrary to reports, are not members of the Ilaga Movement, an extremist and pro-government, para-military group organized in the 70s to fight against Moro rebellion.

“No, we’re not members of the Ilaga. We are ordinary civilians who wanted to protect ourselves from our attackers, Moro inhabitants coming from nearby town of Kabacan in North Cotabato,” said Armando Tongcua, chairman of Barangay Tibao, M’lang.

On December 26, three of Barangay Tibao’s civilian volunteers and tanods (village peacekeepers) were injured when they engaged in a running gun battle with armed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Among those wounded were Tongcua’s brother, Nolly; Sonny Catague, barangay tanod who suffered fracture on his right arm after it was hit by a bullet fired at by the attackers; and Jomar Magarso, an armed civilian volunteer.

They were taken to the M’lang Specialist Hospital in Poblacion for treatment.

Tongcua said the attackers came from nearby Barangays Cuyapon and Lower Malamote of Kabacan and traveled to Barangay Tibao through pump boats.

Tongcua said they have to defend themselves because they believe nobody would.

“There is no Army detachment here. No police outpost. Every time the BIFF rebels attack us, it’s only us who would defend our lands, our properties, our lives. Nobody would, but us,” he explained.

Barangay Tibao is situated near the Liguasan marsh, believed a BIFF base.

They have been attacked and harassed many times, in the past, he said.

He admitted, though, the firearms they used are unlicensed.

“Paunsa makapa-lisensya sa amon mga armas? Pirting mahala man sad pud (How could we get the licenses for our guns? It’s so costly),” said the barangay chairman.

Tongcua said they already informed their local officials and local police about use of guns as their protection.

“Kabalo sila (town mayor and town police chief) ani tungod kay ang amon barangay usa man kaconflict area (They knew about this because our barangay is considered a conflict area”, he stressed.

Barangay Tibao has at least 35 members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) and more than a hundred from civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs) – all armed.

“Each house here has a gun. Ever since, our residents here would save money just to buy a gun. This is our shield, our protector,” he said.

The report on the arming of the civilians in Barangay Tibao in M’lang came after members of the Ilaga Movement in Midsayap town, also in North Cotabato, have publicly challenged BIFF to a “gun duel.”
“Kami ang harapin n’yo at ‘wag ang mga sibilyan,” (You face us and not the civilians), an Ilaga commander told BIFF in a recent media interview.

The Ilaga officer issued the statement two days after BIFF rebels held hostage during the midnightmass on December 24 hundreds of churchgoers from a remote village in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato.

Joseph Tapar, station manager of T-FM Radio in Pigcawayan and was among those held hostage inside the chapel, said they were used as human shields by BIFF rebels against the government soldiers running after them.

The hostages were later released, Tapar said adding that none of them was hurt.

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. called on authorities to keep an eye on the safety and security of the public as the country marks the 15th anniversary of the tragic Rizal Day bombings.

He said the security of transport hubs, malls and other public areas should be strengthened after the BIFF and the Abu Sayyaf launched separate attacks against the government’s military forces in Mindanao.
“While these attacks seem to be largely directed against the military forces we must not be complacent. We must not allow the bombings that occurred 15 years ago to happen again,” Marcos said.

The Dec. 30, 2000 bombings were perpetrated by Muslim extremists linked to the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah that claimed 22 lives and injured over a hundred other individuals.

Strings of explosions happened in Metro Manila: in Plaza Ferguson in Malate, Manila; in a gas station in Makati, in a bus in Cubao, in a cargo handling station at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and in the LRT coach at the Blumentritt station which caused the most number of casualties.

Marcos, chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government and sponsor of the Basic Law for Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) also expressed alarm over reports that the BIFF claimed their recent attacks were inspired by ISIS, who were behind the November terror attacks in Paris that left 129 dead and over 350 people injured.