RETAKEN. Soldiers on board military trucks arrive in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters seized the town public market on Saturday (May 8, 2021) morning. Gunmen of the Islamic State-inspired group later abandoned the market after the Army launched air and ground assaults. (Photo from Ali BARMM - BTA Member Ali Sangki)

Army retakes Maguindanao town market seized by BIFF

COTABATO CITY (May 8, 2021)– Government forces have regained control of the Datu Paglas town market center in Maguindanao that the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) seized at dawn on Saturday.

Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar, speaking for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the BIFF gunmen, numbering about 200, withdrew and splintered into small groups after a brief military air and ground assault.

“At 10 a.m., we are now in control of the public market in Datu Paglas; clearing operations were still going on,” Baldomar said.

He said no casualty was reported on the government side, and could not say if the BIFF extremists had casualties.

The military launched air and ground assaults on the rebels’ position at about 9 a.m. until the latter withdrew toward the mountainous area of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

Baldomar said four improvised bombs found around the market site and beside the national highway were safely deactivated by the military’s bomb disposal experts.

In a phone interview after the incident, Abu Jihad, speaking for the BIFF, said the 200 gunmen belonging to the BIFF Kagui Karialan faction, had no plan to seize Datu Paglas town.

“Our men were there to rest and were about to return to our camps when soldiers arrived and started firing at us,” Jihad said in the vernacular.

The BIFF armed group was led by a certain Undo Sulayman, son-in-law of Kagui Karialan.

Sulayman, a resident of Datu Paglas, was reported to be at odds with local leaders.

However, Datu Paglas Vice Mayor Mohammad Paglas denied his family was not on good terms with Sulayman.

“They came on board five big trucks and told the village officials they just wanted to rest, so we allowed them because this is the fasting month of Ramadan,” he said.

Paglas described some of the BIFF rebels as “young”, about 15 years to 25 years.

At least 5,000 individuals have been displaced by the conflict and were staying at nearby public schools as military clearing operations continued at the town center.

“We are awaiting go signal from the Army before we will allow the families to return home,” he said.

Traffic along the national highway linking Maguindanao and North Cotabato reopened at 12 noon.