By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) tagged the sporadic atrocities by extremist militants as main security concerns in the new geopolitical region during its first peace and order council (POC) meeting here this week.
A recent report from a BARMM ministry official also mentioned the possibility of using Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF) field personnel in Sulu to reach out to Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) combatants and possibly strike a “truce” aimed at giving the new autonomous governance the chance to bring about justice, peace, and equitable growth in depressed communities like Sulu.
Military and police officials took turns on Tuesday in briefing BARMM interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim about the extent of threats from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
The Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID) said Wednesday that 20 Daesh-inspired BIFF members were killed in the military’s continuing “surgical” operations in the areas of Salibu-Pagatin-Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak towns in Maguindanao.
The bodies of two of the fatalities, including an Arab-looking person, were recovered in Brgy. Inaladan, Shariff Saydona Mustapha town by artillery and airstrikes-backed troops of 40th Infantry Battalion on March 12, a 6ID statement said.
The statement named 17 of the slain BIFF militants as Abdul Karim Kadil, Yusop Lakiman, an alias Paks/Pagal, Yusop Bastardo, Musa alias USA, Dungadong alias Dong, Hamer Lakiman, Alladin Bagundong, Baser Abdula, Muhalidin Akob, Ansare Mukalir, Datokan Masala, Mutasir Manap, Kage Manap, Duang Ali, Yusof Kadir, and Mubarak Antoling.
The BIFF was founded by the late Ameril Umra Kato, an Islamist radical leader who broke away from the MILF after staging attacks in North Cotabato in protest against the Supreme Court’s voiding of the front’s 2008 Memorandum Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) with the Arroyo government.
Three factions have eventually sprung from the BIFF. One of them is led by Esmael Abdulmalik, otherwise known as Abu Toraife, and bomb-maker Salahuddin Hassan. The military blamed Toraife and Hassan, both Islamist radicals, for the spate of bombings in Central Mindanao and for harboring foreign bomb-makers, including the slain notorious Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
MILF leaders, including Chairman Murad, in statements after the passage of R.A. 11054 or BARMM charter in July 2018, said they would embark on local talks aimed at winning back the BIFF factions to the social mainstream. They were more hopeful of striking a truce with the two other BIFF factions.
At Tuesday’s POC meeting, Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, 6ID chief, told Murad that while the military was relentless in its surgical operations against the BIFF, battalion and brigade commanders have been working closely with the local government units in Maguindanao in community development activities designed to persuade BIFF members to return to the folds of the law.
Maguindanao mayors led by Governor Esmael Mangudadatu and military officials led by Gen. Sobejana had already facilitated the surrender of dozens of BIFF combatants in at least four symbolic ceremonies since 2018, the 6ID said.
Representatives of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) declared during Tuesday’s POC meeting here that similar persuasion and combat campaigns have also been intensified in addressing the ASG combatants in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
In Lanao del Sur, threats from the Dawla Islamiya or Islamic State-inspired Maute group have waned despite the underground movements of its new leader, Abu Dar, according to Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., head of the Marawi City-based Army’s 103rd Brigade, who also attended the meeting.