From the Daily Tribune (Feb 5): BIFF chieftain slips thru military cordon
Supposedly bedridden and on the run as claimed by the military, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) founding leader Ameril Umbra Kato, along with his other commanders, escaped a military dragnet during the five-day government operation in Maguin-danao province that military claimed ended the BIFF threat.
Col. Dickson Her-moso, spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), said that Kato was at the BIFF camp in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha town when the military launched “Operation Darkhorse” last Monday.
“He (Kato) was there but we did not catch up with him. We recovered some of his things like improvised stretcher, medicines,” Hermoso said.
“He was moved out earlier at the height of the fighting…but Reyna Regente is a huge area,” Hermoso added.
Claiming that Kato is still bedridden, Hermoso said that his right hand man, Kagi Karialan, was commanding the BIFF.
Hermoso emphasized the need to account for Kato, who is wanted for leading widespread attacks in Central Mindanao since breaking away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“He violated the law, he should face the charges,” said Hermoso.
The military official, however, admitted that neutralizing Kato will not stop the BIFF from committing attacks.
“Leaders are just part of the institution, we treat the institution, the BIFF, differently, it’s a separate entity. It does not mean when you neutralized the leaders, it’s over…there will be replacements, like now when Kato is not capable of commanding, the next in command takes over,” said Hermoso.
The military launched “Operation Darkhorse” to serve warrants of arrest against BIFF fugitives like Kato and 19 others. It declared the five-day campaign as a success without a single BIFF personality arrested.
The government also claimed to have killed 52 BIFF rebels and wounded 52 others while not presenting a single body.
On the other hand, one soldier was killed while 13 others were wounded during the operation, marked by heavy artillery fire and close air support.
The military claimed to have over ran four BIFF encampments in the towns of Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Rajah Buayan and Datu Piang.
Another improvised explosive device (IED), meanwhile, went off against a military convoy in Maguindanao town where government security forces are still conducting clearing operations.
At the height of the military’s “Operation Darkhorse” last week, at least two IED attacks erupted in Datu Piang and Datu Saudi Ampatuan where two crewmembers of TV5 were among those wounded.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, in a text message, said that an IED exploded at around 2:05 p.m. along Barangay Tuka, Mamasapano town shortly after the troops of 46th Infantry Battalion (IB) and 12th Mechanized Company passed by moving toward Rajah Buayan area.
Zagala said that tailing the military convoy were members of the media and local government officials.
He said that no casualty was reported.
The military immediately sent elements of the Explosive and Ordnance Disposal (EOD) from the 1st Mechanized Brigade to clear the area of IEDs.
“They were with LGU and media who were advised to keep a safe distance while troops were clearing the route,” said Zagala.
“We condemn the continued use of IED which put even civilians in great danger. This is why we advise our people to be very vigilant and put utmost priority to their safety and civilians as we continue in our ongoing clearing operations in the area following the termination of the law enforcement operations in Maguindanao,” he added.
Zagala assured that the military is exerting all efforts in order to finally clear the area of these IEDS, believed to have been the handiwork of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) whose members were the subject of “Operation Darkhorse.”
Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also brushed aside Hermoso’s warning about the BIFF’s intention to launch an urban warfare after the military failed to contain them in Maguindanao.
“In all instances, it is a government responsibility to ensure the safety of the people, both in the rural and urban areas. There is no need to wait for the statement from a certain military spokesman,” Coloma said.
He said he can assure that the elements of the National Police and of the Armed Forces are always prepared to perform their duties.
Coloma added they have no frustration over the the five-day intensive bombings in Maguindanao but still some of the BIFF forces were able to escape from the attacks.
Coloma noted that despite the escape, the military was not negligent in doing intelligence work and was “proactive in their movements”.
“That is the continuing instruction of the President to them as their Commander-in-Chief, and this is implemented by the Chief of Staff and the major service commanders, and supervised by the Department of National Defense,” Coloma said.
On the status of Kato, Coloma said there is continued “intelligence operations and other necessary military operations that are aimed at neutralizing all enemies of the state, all criminals, and all outlaws because the government cannot tolerate threats to national and local security and threats to the lives and safety of our people.”
Coloma pointed out the military strategy in fighting the rebels, saying “the overarching strategy of the government is to establish the peace process.”
Coloma said the expenses of the military in the recent operation in Maguindanao was a peace process that would have “peace dividends.”
President Aquino, who met with members of the BTC headed by Chairman Mohagher Iqbal at the Presidential Palace, stressed the need for the BTC to be transparent and to reach out to all sectors concerned, including those initially resisting the new political entity.
In an interview, Presidential adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles told reporters that Aquino urged the BTC to fast-track the completion of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to ensure its passage and ratification with enough time to complete the transition tasks in time for the elections.
She said Aquino assured the commission of the national government’s full technical and political support, guidance and advice, as well as budget, and told them he would give as much of his own time as necessary.
The meeting between the BTC and President Aquino was described by Sec. Deles as “warm and relaxed,” where the members updated the President on the work they have been doing and the concerns they are facing.
BTC was created in December 2012 by President Aquino by virtue of Executive Order 120 mandated to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro region in 2016.
The 15- member commission were appointed by the President on March 15, 2013, eight of whom were recommended by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and seven were recommended by the government.
Last January 25, GPH and MILF peace panels signed the annex on Normalization and the addendum on Bangsamoro waters and joint cooperation that would pave the way for the signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB)..
Secretary Deles said the Bangsamoro Basic Law draft will be certified as an urgent bill by Aquino and indorse it congress for enactment into law and subjected to a plebiscite in the areas envisioned to be the new political entity’s core territory.