By Ali Macabalang
Buluan, Maguindanao – The embattled Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has reportedly joined forces with local drug lords, and has stepped up its collection of zakat, or religious tax, in remote villages, according to the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) here.
Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, PPOC chairman, confirmed the reports of the collusion between the BIFF and local drug lords as he pointed out that both groups have been reeling from incessant military and police operations against them.
In its meeting Wednesday, the PPOC disclosed that the BIFF has taken into its ranks shabu peddlers to augment the dwindling number of its forces, while gaining an additional source of funds with profits from the sale of illegal drugs.
The PPOC also said the drug traders have likewise turned to the BIFF for protection in the wake of the intensified anti-illegal drugs campaign of the government.
“It’s a sort of mutual interest,” a military intelligence official present at the PPOC meeting told the Bulletin, referring to the alleged fusion.
Mangudadatu urged his civilian constituents not to pay zakat to criminals, underscoring that the any religious tax that would be collected should only be for legitimate and peaceful entities in the Muslim community.
He asked police and military authorities in Maguindanao to protect the public from illicit schemes and harassment by the mixed forces of outlaws.
BIFF guerillas and their allied criminals could even resort to kidnap-for-ransom among villagers refusing to pay zakat, Mangudadatu warned.
Other participants in the PPOC meeting said some residents in BIFF-infiltrated remote villages of Datu Hofer, Shariff Aguak, Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi and South Upi, all towns in Maguindanao, have already complained of being “pressured” to pay zakat.
The military conducted “surgical” operations backed by airstrikes in such towns on Jan. 1, reportedly killing four BIFF combatants and wounding scores others.
The Army’s Sixth Infantry Division (6th ID) said the BIFF retaliated by torching 19 houses and killing a farmer at a Teduray village in Datu Hofer town on the day of the military operations.
The BIFF also planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in areas of the five towns.
One of the IEDs exploded on a patrol car on January 1, killing a policeman and wounding five other cops, according to Sr. Supt. Agustin Tello, police director of Maguindanao.
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s PPOC meeting revealed that 141 of Maguindanao’s 506 villages have been declared “drug-free” by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, while 272 others were on the verge of clearing.
Mangudadatu welcomed the report as “good news” for Maguindanao, saying the feat was one possible reason behind why illegal drug peddlers and BIFF combatants have fused forces for zakat collection.