POLICE have filed charges of multiple frustrated murder and destructive arson against 135 suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) involved in the December 3 attack in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, head of the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry created by PNP chief, General Debold M. Sinas to investigate the incident announced yesterday.
“Charges for multiple frustrated murder and destructive arson were filed against Commander Salahudin Hassan and Kagi Arialan and 133 others were referred before the Maguindanao Provincial Prosecutor’s Office,” said Major Gen. Marni C. Marcos Jr., also the director of the PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management.
The suspects were identified as the heavily-armed men who tried but failed to attack and burn the Datu Piang Municipal Police Staton, municipal hall, Sta. Teresita Parish Church, town plaza and public market due to the commendable defense put up by the local police led by Captain Israel Bayaona.
Marcos said their investigation showed that around 9 p.m. last December 3, the gunmen launched their attacks in the municipality but were met with heavy resistance from the local police, delaying their plans and forcing them to retreat two hours later.
He added that the intelligence report sent by the higher headquarters about the terror plot apparently was not properly disseminated although the 26-strong local police managed to act on time. Although outnumbered, the local policemen with their 12 long firearms and 20 handguns stood their ground and repelled the attackers.
The BOI was chaired by Marcos and composed of Brigadier Generals Eden T. Ugale, Ronaldo E. Olay, Adolfo B. Samala and Oliver A. Enmodias. It looked into the incident which rocked the 2nd-class municipality with 25,600 population, 90 percent of them Muslims and the rest Christians. The mayor of the municipality is Victor Samama.
During the attack, the gunmen torched a 2020 model Toyota Hilux patrol vehicle issued to the local police. The Datu Piang MPS only has two patrol vehicles before the attack, one of them the 2020 model pick-up and the other a 2008 model pick-up, one unserviceable Mahindra Enforcer and one motorcycle. The burned patrol vehicle has been ordered replaced by Gen. Sinas.
Marcos said that prior to the incident, the local police arrested two BIFF members identified as Gialil Suldan and Baguinda Candado after they threw a grenade in front of the police station damaging three vehicles owned by local police personnel. The suspects who were all under Commander Kagi Bayan were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives but the cases against them were dismissed by the local prosecutor for lack of evidence.
The official said that before the incident, the Maguindanao provincial board also declared the BIFF and the ISIS-inspired Dawlah Islamiyah as ‘persona non grata’ in the province last November 24. It was followed by the killing of terror bomber Abu Suffian during a gunbattle with PNP Intelligence Group agents in Barangay Bagua 2 in Cotabato City. The suspect was believed to have masterminded the 2018 New Year’s Eve bombing of a Cotabato City shopping mall and a known participant in the May 2017 Marawi City Siege.
Marcos said they established that the local police put up defensive positions at the back of the church as the gunmen fired towards an Army detachment and the church. Police stood their ground and forced the armed men to retreat after around two hours of fighting.
Two Army V-150 armored personnel carriers rushed to the municipality after the fighting stopped.
“Despite the overwhelming odds and handicap of the Datu Piang policemen, their actions were very commendable as it resulted to the prevention of more damages particularly the burning of the church and the repulsion of the over 100 enemies ,” said the BOI chairman.
Marcos said that the BIFF launched the ‘purely terroristic act’ to show they are still a force to reckon with in Mindanao.
Sinas and the Datu Piang mayor and local residents have praised members of the local police force for successfully defending the municipality from the gunmen who tried but failed to storm several targets in the area due to the tight defense put up by the policemen.
The top cop said the situation has returned to normal in Datu Piang where additional troops from the PNP Special Action Force and the Provincial and Regional Mobile Forces have been deployed to augment the local police force. Upon the request of the municipal mayor, the PNP chief said they have also added 23 more policemen to beef up the entire strength of the Datu Piang police. Additional long firearms were also distributed to the local police which was also bolstered by the presence of a platoon of Army soldiers.
The PNP Chief said that following the incident, he has instructed the Maguindanao Police Provincial Office to restudy their security plans and conduct simulation exercises in different municipalities in the province to test the readiness and capability of their men as well as local government units and their ‘force multipliers.’
Sinas said that prior to the attack, the local police received various reports about the sighting of armed men reportedly out to hit targets in the municipality.
He said that the local church was targeted because it serves as a ‘symbol’ of peace and harmony between local residents.
While withdrawing past 11 p.m., the suspects used Molotov cocktails to burn the police vehicle.
Sinas said that the nearest Army unit from Kidapawan City waited for the morning to come since they could fall to ambush or hit improvised landmines planted by the gunmen. The soldiers also were aware of a possible ‘misencounter’ if they arrived at night.