A Philippine flag flown at half-mast at Fernando Air Base Tuesday as soldiers mourn the death of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force killed during an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters. The MILF claims the clash Sunday erupted due to lack of coordination, when the elite cops tried to capture Malaysian bomb expert Marwan. (MNS photo)

A Philippine flag flown at half-mast at Fernando Air Base Tuesday as soldiers mourn the death of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force killed during an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters. The MILF claims the clash Sunday erupted due to lack of coordination, when the elite cops tried to capture Malaysian bomb expert Marwan. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – The military is set to go after members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who figured in a recent clash with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Pagalungan town in Maguindanao, an official said Monday.

In an interview, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Jo-Anne Petinglay said they are assessing the situation since government troops were not involved in the clash over the weekend, but added that “we will go after the BIFF for sure.”

We are properly assessing the situation as of the moment kasi legitimate rin naman ‘yung lakad diyan ng MILF for the peace advocacy,” Petinglay said.

She added that the military is “looking into possibility of going after the BIFF at the soonest.”

However, she admitted, “Pursuing them is medyo difficult kasi sa marshy area ‘yung pinagtataguan.”

A commander of the MILF 108th base command was killed during the firefight on Saturday. Petinglay said they are still confirming the total number of casualties. No civilian was hurt or killed.

The BIFF is a splinter group of the MILF opposed to the peace negotiations with the government.

The clash was the third in a week, Petinglay said, adding it was not a continuing firefight since BIFF forces had several times retreated to the marshy area.

BBL info drive

According to Petinglay, commandos of the MILF were in the area for a peace advocacy campaign related to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Some residents there, however, are members of the BIFF.

Nagkaroon ng tensyon dahil ang MILF nag-conduct ng peace advocacy or activity na kung saan gusto nilang isulong ang mga provision, ‘yung information drive among their people, their supporters, kung anong nilalaman nitong BBL,” she said.

“Obviously the BIFF is not supportive of the ongoing peace process kaya gusto rin nilang manggulo siguro sa ginagawang advocacy,” she added.

However, Petinglay clarified that the clash was not related to the Mamasapano incident last January 25, adding that those involved in the recent clash were part of a long-standing rido or clan war.

Meanwhile, hundreds of residents of Pagalungan and nearby Pikit town in North Cotabato have left their homes following Saturday’s encounter, after barangay officials advised them to evacuate because of the growing presence of armed men in the area.

Petinglay said at least 1,300 people have evacuated as of Sunday night.

She said it is not advisable yet for residents to go back to their houses since authorities are still determining the details of the situation, as well as their action against the BIFF troops involved.

Sa ganitong pagkakataon, we are assessing the situation because of what happened over the past few days, nagiging sensitive po o nagpapanic po ‘yung mga tao the moment na may movement ng military na nakikita na hindi related sa Mamasapano incident,” she said. (MNS)