AFP: 31 hostages rescued; 4 BIFF members, 1 militiaman killed in Pigcawayan clash

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 22) — The military said 31 hostages in North Cotabato were rescued from rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Wednesday.

The hostages, which include 12 minors, were held at Malagakit Elementary School in Pigcawayan town, where military and police clashed with an estimated 50 members of the rebel group.

“All the hostages are okay. Not one of them have been hurt, and thank God, among the soldiers no one was hurt, except for those who were hurt earlier in the anticipated attack that they did in one of our outposts,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesperson Restituto Padilla said. 

Four BIFF members were killed in the firefight, the military said, based on eyewitness accounts of the hostages. 

“The hostages themselves … saw that they carted away with the bodies as they made a hasty retreat,” Padilla said in a phone interview.

A member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), the civilian paramilitary unit of the Army, was also killed in the fighting, the military said. Two other CAFGU members were wounded.

Classes were suspended in Pigcawayan West District and Malagakit Elementary School remain closed.

“The area of the school … has been cordoned because there are a lot of IEDs that have been left behind by the enemy, and to render it safe for use once again by students and the community, we will have to ensure that each and every IED that was left behind is dealt with,” Padilla said. 

The military spokesperson added the the armed BIFF members retreated to barangay Simsiman at twilight, where “expected waiting for them are other members of BIFF who have also been monitored in the area.”

The incident happened after a “failed attempt” to attack a Pigcawayan barangay outpost at dawn, the military and police said.

READ: BIFF gunmen attack North Cotabato town

Police and military maintains the fighting is not a spillover of the war in Marawi, nor an effort by terrorists to establish a new front in North Cotabato.

Pigcawayan is around 200 kilometers from Marawi City, the battleground of government forces and terrorists for a month. The military believes the BIFF is supporting the Maute and other terror groups in trying to set up an ISIS caliphate in Mindanao.

Martial law has been in effect over Mindanao island since May 23.