COTABATO City, Mar. 2, 2015—A prelate from Mindanao has pleaded with government and military authorities to avoid causing collateral damage in the ongoing clearing operations launched recently against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao and of the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) in Sulu.
In an interview with Catholic Radyo Veritas, Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo has echoed the Church’s appeal to government officials and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to ensure the safety of civilians and their properties in mounting military offensive in the conflict areas.
The prelate said several roads between Cotabato City and Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat had already been blocked due to the intensified clash between AFP and BIFF.
Bracing for evacuation
Colin, meanwhile, said the Cotabato archdiocese is already preparing for the possible evacuation of locals at risk of being caught in the crossfire.
According to a Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) article today, the AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. ordered troops to press the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF to downgrade the two groups’ capability to inflict harm on civilians.
Catapang reportedly ordered field commanders in Sulu and Maguindanao provinces to pursue the two groups without letup but to avoid collateral damage involving civilians.
“I want to significantly lessen the bandits’ ability to carry out violent attacks against civilians before I retire in July 2015,” PDI quoted Catapang as saying.
“We can protect the civilian populace by isolating them from armed groups, and we also need accurate information from the people themselves,” he added.
BIFF members are believed to be among those allegedly responsible for the deaths of 44 commandos of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s elite Special Action Force (SAF) in what has been dubbed the “Mamasapano Massacre” in Jan. 30. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)