From the Manila Times (Jan 30): Army overruns BIFF camp, traps 100 rebels
MORE than a hundred members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been cornered by government forces following clashes in central Mindanao that left at least 41 people dead and dozens wounded.
The military was given by the joint action group of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) until Saturday to complete its mission to hunt down the BIFF, whose members broke into smaller groups to better elude government troops, a military official said on Thursday.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the BIFF members had fled to Reina Regente mountain at the boundary of Maguindanao and Pikit, North Cotabato province.
“They (BIFF) broke into smaller groups after a running gunbattle yesterday (Wednesday) and the army and police have overrun the villages of Bakat and Ganta at Sharif Saydona Mustapha in Maguindao,” Hermoso said.
Sharif Saydona Mustapha is a known BIFF stronghold. The group’s headquarters, training camp and center for manufacturing improvised explosive devices are all located in the town.
“There were running gunbattles because they splintered into smaller groups. There are still some sporadic fighting in [Brgy.] Bakat and they are still there,” Hermoso said.
The army official said one government soldier was killed while 13 others were wounded since clashes broke out on Monday.
Hermoso said the three Army battalions are more than enough to go after the BIFF.
He added that the Adhoc-Joint Action Group (AHJAG) has extended for 72 hours the military and police’s operation against the BIFF, which had broken from the MILF.
“We have requested for an extension and the AHJAG granted our request and this will last until Saturday if they (BIFF) surrender. If not, we will continue, but (that) depends on the situation on the ground,” Hermoso said.
He said the MNLF and MILF pledged to steer clear of the fighting and not take sides.
“We made close coordination with them and they have promised that their groups will not support or make alliance… but some of their members have relatives with the BIFF,” Hermoso said.
Former MILF commander Ameril Umbrakato formed the BIFF in 2012, and the group has since been involved in terrorist acts, including the sacking of villages and taking of hostages.
Malacañang on Thursday justified the offensive against the BIFF as part of the military’s duty to preserve peace in Mindanao.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said they want the hostilities to end soon through heightened cooperation between government troops and MILF fighters.
“We need to understand the situation. We also need to understand that the primary responsibility of our Armed Forces and the police is to ensure the safety of our people,” Coloma said.
“If there are sectors who would claim that the operations encroach their territory, the important question is whether the forces of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the police follow the accepted rules of engagement. Do they follow the important consideration of protection of human rights and against indiscriminate use of force?” he said.
Coloma was reacting to reports that MNLF forces in central Mindanao complained that government troops had entered their turf.
But Coloma said government troops have orders to strictly abide by the rules of engagement and protect civilians.
Coloma refuted the MNLF’s claim that they were left out in the negotiations.
“There was no move that intends to disadvantage or discriminate any particular sector because our objective is to have a peace pact. We do not want violence. But we need to defend the safety of the people with the end in view of having lasting peace,” he pointed out.
Government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the military operations “are geared at degrading the BIFF’s capability to continue to cause harm to the government forces, civilians and the peace process.”
“Over the last nine months, the [BIFF] repeatedly harassed our soldiers and terrorized local communities. They planted roadside bombs, sniped at our soldiers, took school teachers as hostages, and in one instance, even beheaded a civilian captive. A few days ago, in the midst of the fighting, they commandeered a private vehicle and forcibly used it as a roadblock,” she noted.
“Government and the MILF have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the operations will not spill over to involve MILF combatants or cause unnecessary or prolonged hardship to civilians,” she said.
Ferrer appealed the the BIFF to “put down their arms and be part of the process.”
As the fighting entered its third day, the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) vowed to support peace efforts in Mindanao.
In a statement, the PCEC congratulated the members of the government and the Muslim peace panels who demonstrated transparency, determination, and trustworthiness as they struggled with many difficult issues around the negotiating table.
“We pray that the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the Transition Commission would reflect the just and peaceful aspirations of all the Moro people, all the various tribes among the Indigenous Peoples, as well as the Migrants in Mindanao. We also pray that this BBL would pass the careful, responsible examination and deliberation in the House of Representatives using the lenses of justice, righteousness, and peace for all,” the statement said.
The 3-day capacity building activities was held on January 21-23, 2014 at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) Training Center, Crossing Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.
The participants comprising 43 officers were Peace - Building advocates from different areas in Mindanao as far as the island province of Tawi- Tawi. The objective of the training was to enhance participant’s existing potentialities and infusion of strategic and critical thinking methodologies as well as on essential topics designed for such undertaking.
Mr. Sakili stressed that it is a high time to transform the dreams to reality that necessitates persistency not complacency while challenges lay ahead. He urged his fellow participants to uphold their Faith and not to succumb to temptations when one is on top over the others. Serving the Bangsamoro people with modesty and humility are divine teachings and beauty in Islam.
Atty. Haron Meling, Chief Executive Assistant to Chairman Mohagher Iqbal of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) lectured on Ministerial form of Government, while Dr. Taugan Kikay, Team Leader of Sajahatra Bangsamoro discussed about political party. Mr. Nash Pulindao tackled the importance of advocacy among others.
On the other hand, Ustadz Sammy Alabat, BLMI Extension Services Officer, elucidated on the Islamic perspective and its applications. He emphasized the significance of Shari’ah (Islamic Law). All the resource speakers harmonized their topics with the proposed Bangsamoro Government and its pertinent mechanisms that suit the Bangamoro aspiration.
During session hour, Professor Yoshida Osamu, Research fellow of Hiroshima University and Meg Kagawa, Research Fellow of the Graduate School of Social Science arrived. They were on a Bangsamoro study mission to jumpstart another support for the peace building from the Government of Japan. They stayed for while and witnessed the flow of the training. They also had a meeting with BLMI officials headed by Executive Director Mahmod Ahmad. Prof. Mike Abdulah, BLMI Training Director facilitated the programs while other BLMI officers and staff were on hand to extend support.
During the closing program, the participants expressed their profound gratitude to The Asia Foundation (TAF) and AusAid which supported the BLMI Program and the BLMI Management. BLMI Community outreach programs/ consultations are also being undertaken and are supported by Conciliation Resources (CR) – EU.
BLMI Executive Director Ahmad in his closing message made a touching remarks by simply reminding the participants of their obligations entrusted to them and the mission directed by ALLAH. Changes of unhealthy habit and torpid mindset must be done to oneself first, internalized its wisdoms and share it to fellowmen with utmost dedication and sincerity.
The program ended with participants got enlightened and challenged to be more responsive and dedicated to the welfare and interest of the Bangsamoro.
BLMI has been making itself as working machinery for the Bangsamoro by bringing viable changes through conduct of capacity building, infusing knowledge and enhancement programs for the Moro future leaders and managers based on what is necessary and suitable to the Bangsamoro people in general.