COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Heavily armed men belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were reportedly in control Monday of a village grade school in Midsayap, North Cotabato with still undermined number of teachers and pupils held hostage.

An ongoing RMN-dxMY radio report said that shortly before 9 a.m. Monday, residents of Barangay (village) Malingao heard gunfire as government security forces responded to a distress call that Malingao Elementary School was under attack by BIFF gunmen.

BIFF is a breakaway renegade group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is negotiating a peace deal with the state.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said they are still closely monitoring the situation reminding troops to ensure the safety of civilians in captivity.

Hermoso said troops from the 40th Infantry Battalion are at work in coordination with paramilitary forces and the Midsayap police.

He said hours prior to the standoff in Malingao, a running gun battle between soldiers and BIFF rebels happened in nearby villages of Ragaban and Tunggal, both of Midsayap town.

Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, has claimed responsibility for the offensive, with the assurance that no harm would come to their captives.

“One hundred percent, they (the attackers) are our men. The BIFF offensive is our own and has nothing to do with the MNLF in Zamboanga,” said Mama of the Moro National Liberation Front siege that left thousands of residents in misery due to lost lives and properties.

Misry assured over RMN radio not to harm hostages unless they are armed with intention to retaliate.

“Although separate from the MNLF, we have the same battle-cry for the establishment of an independent state,” Misry said.

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