MANILA (2nd UPDATE) ABS-CBN- More than 150 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are holding hostage several students and teachers of a school in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

BIFF spokesperson Abu Missry Mama claimed responsibility for the incident.

They launched an initial attack at 2 a.m. in Barangay Rangaban.

Sr. Supt. Renante delos Santos, the chief of police there, said the breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) moved towards the municipality center at around 7 a.m.

The group, allegedly led by a certain commander DM and commander Abas Kudanding, also supposedly harassed residents of nearby barangays in Malingao and Polomogen.

The military initially reported that the armed group held hostage only three school teachers of the Malingao Elementary School. They also supposedly confiscated their personal belongings, including cellphones.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda confirmed that BIFF fighters has released one of the teachers while keeping four more hostages.

He said AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala gave an update that a firefight between the military and alleged BIFF members has stopped.  

“Meron pong apat na hostages po. Ang nangyari po doon… may negotiations taking place right now according to Lt. Col. Zagala and doon po sa apat na hostages, isa po ay na-release na po. ‘Yung isang guro ay na-release na po… The negotiations done by the barangay chairman… Negotiations are underway. Wala na pong firefight ngayon doon,” Lacierda said. 

In an interview with ANC, North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendez said one has been wounded in the early morning attack. She has yet to get confirmation of the hostage-taking.

Delos Santos said the area is a known turf of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), but leaders of the group distanced themselves from the incident. They said they do not have control over the BIFF.

Asked if the attack has something to do with the BIFF’s frustration over the peace talks, Mendez said there are a lot of issues that could have triggered the incident.

Nonetheless, she said the local government has been implementing “localized approaches” for peace initiatives with the rebels .

Classes have already been suspended there.

Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez also said the executive judge of Midsayap has already ordered court employees to go home. – from reports by Dexter Ganibe, dzMM; and Lerio Bompat, ABS-CBN News Cotabato