Cotabato City—Military and police troops are hunting down suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) terrorists who attacked the town proper of Datu Piang shortly before midnight Thursday.
Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, Army’s 6th Infantry Division commander, said they had secured the municipality after receiving calls for assistance from local officials around 11:30 p.m.
“We immediately responded after learning that they are only a bunch of policemen assigned to the municipal police office,” Uy, concurrent chief of the military-led Joint Task Force Central, told reporters in an interview Friday.
“We have controlled the situation,” he added.
He said military troops engaged the terrorists who withdrew later using the darkness of the night as cover.
He said the attackers shot houses and burned a police car but clarified that the Santa Catalina Church in Poblacion was not burned as mentioned in initial reports.
“They just burned a police car,” he said.
Uy said a report reaching them identified the attackers as those under the BIFF Karialan faction, a radical group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Datu Piang town in Maguindanao’s second district had Dulawan for its old name.
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police said it was now looking into reports that Capt. Israel Bayona, police chief of Datu Piang, Maguindanao, was the target of the attack by BIFF members.
“Our investigators would include that in the probe. All angles would be looked into,” PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana said in a media statement on Friday.
Earlier reports quoted Joint Task Force Central spokesman Lt. Col. Anhouvic Atilano as saying that around 50 suspected members of the BIFF and terrorist group Dawlah Islamiya attacked Barangay Poblacion, resulting in an encounter between the terrorists and government troops.
Usana, meanwhile, added that there were no casualties from the incident but a police vehicle was burned.
PNP chief, Gen. Debold Sinas, meanwhile, has alerted the Special Action Force to help in pursuit operations against those behind the attack.
“The police will file criminal charges against those terrorists responsible for the attack and burning of our patrol car, as we assure the Datu Piang residents of intensified security measures to prevent similar threats posed by violent extremists in the future”, Sinas said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay called the attack a “clear act of terror”.
“The burning of a PNP patrol car last night…is a clear act of terror of the BIFF and whatever is the motive behind it, we are still investigating it jointly with the PNP,” he said in a virtual media conference.
He added these attacks were not new as they have been receiving reports of such incidents in Maguindanao every now and then with such harassment being repelled by government security forces.
“So this calls for renewed vigilance actually not only on the part of the security forces but for everyone because addressing terrorism really is a concern of everyone so with this incident I urge each and everyone to cooperate, particularly the general public, our stakeholders and partners to please continue cooperating and working with your security forces in their area so that we could prevent another incident such as this,” Gapay added.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman said in a statement “Acts of violence, especially those that spring forth from terroristic acts, do not have a place in our democratic society.
“They should not derail our efforts toward achieving peace in Mindanao. We have fought tirelessly for the peace we now enjoy, and we will not allow terrorists to take that away from us.”
“What happened in Datu Piang is a hard lesson for all of us: that forces of evil do not sleep. They will come at a time when we least expect them. And they will stop at nothing to sow fear in all of us. This is why we have to be vigilant.”
A few hours before midnight on Thursday, netizens began posting messages, photos and videos of armed men attacking the town center of Datu Piang. Initial reports indicate that a police outpost and squad vehicle had been overrun and burned, and that the armed assailants were subdued by security forces hours after.
According to news agencies, alleged members of the BIFF staged the attack. Contrary to early reports, no church was burned during the incident and there were no reported casualties.
Hataman congratulated military and police forces for their quick response to an otherwise volatile situation, foiling what could’ve been another Marawi incident.