MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Tuesday urged evacuees dislocated by the government's law enforcement operation against the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to start returning to their homes.
Catapang said evacuees driven away from their farming enclaves by the four-week face-off between different military units and the BIFF can now return to their homes since the Armed Forces had suspended its tactical offensives against the group.
Catapang, in a message before the launching of a footbridge project, said the government will, however, continue to initiate small-scale, commando-style operations against remnants of the group.
Army and Marine combatants took over the BIFF's eight hideouts in Maguindanao's neighboring Mamasapano, Salibo, Datu Unsay, Sharif Saidona and Datu Saudi towns in operations that started last March 1.
"We shall now have focused military operations," he said.
Catapang said smaller units of Army Rangers will continue the hunt for remaining members of the BIFF.
"This will prevent collateral damages and dislocation of civilians," he said.
The office of Hataman has since been spending more than P1 million a week for the food of the evacuees, whose houses and farms they abandoned for fear of getting trapped in the crossfire.
"Pwede na pong bumalik ang mga civilians sa kani-kanilang mga lugar," Catapang said.
Catapang said the Armed Forces had effectively weakened the BIFF in its all out law enforcement operation against the group.
The government's anti-BIFF campaign, which started four weeks ago, involved more than a dozen Army and Marine units and combatants from the 1st Mechanized Brigade.