BIFF leader nabbed in Cotabato

Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - March 31, 2015 - 4:08am

MANILA, Philippines - A leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) was arrested on Tuesday by security forces in Cotabato City, the military said.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said BIFF commander Abdulgani Esmael Pagao was nabbed by military and police forces in Campo Muslim in Barangay Mother Bagua at about 8:30 p.m.

Pagao was arrested by authority of a search warrant issued by Executive Judge Bansawan Ibrahim. A loaded caliber .45 M1911A1 pistol and a fragmentation grenade were seized from the suspect.

The arrest happened outside the so-called SPMS Box, an area in Maguindanao where government forces had wanted to constrict the BIFF rebels. SPMS Box stands for the towns of Salvo, Pagatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang admitted that Pagao had managed to get out of the SPMS box despite the presence of military troops.

“The area is very porous but they are being monitored,” Catapang said in an interview.

Pagao was turned over to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group for inquest proceedings after his arrest. He is believed to be one of the deputies of BIFF founder Umbra Kato, who is now bedridden because of a stroke.

Pagao’s arrest happened hours after the military ended its “all-out offensives” against the BIFF in Maguindanao.

Military officials said the operations were halted because the group’s membership has been depleted by more than half. Catapang previously claimed that 151 BIFF members were killed, 64 were injured and 12 were captured since the launch of the operations last month.

However, the main target of the operation, wanted Filipino terrorist Basit Usman, remains at large.

“The order of the president is to get Usman but we will continue (to run after him),” Catapang said.

“What is important is we were able to separate the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and the BIFF. We have reduced the peace spoilers,” he added.

Catapang said he wants security forces to capture Usman before the rainy season.

“It will be hard to operate in the area during rainy days,” the military chief said.

While previous military statements have labeled the BIFF as “terrorists,” Catapang remains hopeful that the group will abandon violence to talk peace.

“Hopefully they can also join us. We are willing to talk to them, if they want to. If they want peace talks, we can do that for as long as they do not harm or disturb peace in these areas,” he said.

ABDULGANI ESMAEL PAGAO ACIRC ARMED FORCES BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS BARANGAY MOTHER BAGUA BASIT USMAN BIFF CAMPO MUSLIM CATAPANG COTABATO CITY PAGAO
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