Deles: BIFF act to derail GPH-MILF peace process won’t succeed

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COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/06 August) – The “act of aggression” by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)  to derail the peace process between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will not succeed, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said, as panel members prepare to continue negotiations in Kuala Lumpur this week.

Displaced villagers take refuge in Crossing Salbo in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao on Monday, August 6, 2012. The national highway was closed to traffic following an attack by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on military detachments along Cotabato-Isulan highway on Sunday evening, August 5. MindaNews Photo by Pop Mañara Salahog /I-Watch Already, as of 3 p.m. Monday, 815 families have fled their homes and sought refuge in evacuation centers in Maguindanao, lawyer Zainuddin Malang, chair of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MINHRAC), said.  

In a press statement issued at 1 p.m. Monday, Deles said the “act of aggression” by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement or BIFM (known more by its old name, BIFF),  “is meant to derail the peace process” but she assured the public “that these incidents will not affect the substantial gains that we have carefully and persistently built with our counterparts, foremost of which is the ceasefire mechanism that continues to hold on the ground and kept the peace for our communities.”

Deles said the BIFM  “is not part of the MILF, and thus is not covered by any ceasefire agreement”

Zero skirmishes

There has been no recorded skirmish between the government and the MILF since January 1 this year, compared to eight last year and 14 in 2010, records of the GPH-MILF Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities show. A total of 1,661 skirmishes were recorded from January 2002 to June 30, 2010 under the Arroyo administration.

“We remain firm in our resolve to continue engaging the MILF in the negotiation table until we are able to reach an agreement to finally resolve the conflict in Mindanao and bring peace to our people who have suffered the most,” Deles said.

In the last talks in Kuala Lumpur on July 16 to 18, both panels expressed optimism that an agreement could be signed within the year.

Tengku Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator in the GPH-MILF peace negotiations, described the progress of the talks on July 17, thus: “on the same page now but different paragraph.” At the end of the talks on July 18, he said the panels were still on the same page but “moving closer to the same paragraph.”

“Small bands of armed men”

At least five military detachments along the highway in Maguindanao were attacked simultaneously at around 11:30 p.m. by what Deles said were “small bands of armed men led by Ustadz Carialan,” chief of staff of the BIFM.

Deles condemned the “unprovoked and senseless attacks” in the towns of Talayan, Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao; and in Midsayap in North Cotabato.

She said the attacks launched by the group during Ramadan “only demonstrate their disrespect for this holy month of our Muslim faithful, and their disregard for innocent lives that can be displaced or lost during their irrational assaults.”

“Definitely, our government forces are ready for necessary defensive actions to protect and ensure the welfare of communities should the perpetrators launch attacks again. Pursuit operations against Carialan and his men are being conducted to bring them to the bar of justice,” she said.

Maj. Gen. Ray Ardo, chief of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, ordered the closure of  the Guindulungan-Shariff Aguak portion of the Cotabato-General Santos highway to ensure the safety of  travelers while the military is pursuing the armed men.

Two MG-520 attack helicopters fired rockets on alleged enemy positions. Several dozes of 105-mm howitzers were also fired.

As of 3 p.m., the highway portion between Guindulungan and Shariff Aguak town has remained closed.

‘Bakwits’

MINHRAC’s Malang reported that as of 3 p.m., 815 families have evacuated as a result of the BIFF attacks and the military response.

He reported 156 families from the barangays of Kabingi, Iginagampong and Maitumag are now in the Pendililang Elementary School in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao; 178  families from Maitumaig, Quarry, Iginagampong and Kabingi at the Madrasah Lower Salbo also in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town; 143 families from Iginagampong and Maitumaig at the Temporary Learning Center; 289 families at the Municipal Gym also in Datu Saudi Ampatuan from the villages of Maitumaig, Quarry, Hill 224 and Lower Kabingi; and 50 families from Barangay Saniag in Ampatuan town.

He said “this will be expected to increase as many more residents are leaving their community and moving towards this place.”

BIFF spokesperson Abumisry Mama confirmed the attacks, claiming it was part of their retaliatory attacks against the military for the alleged killing of one of their comrades and their own sympathy attack for their comrades in Basilan who engaged in a firefight against the military there.

MILF spokesperson Von Al Haq told MindaNews they have “strictly advised our troops (Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces) to stay put in their position in order to prevent a misencounter (with the military).”

Edris Gandalibo, Deputy Governor for Muslims in North Cotabato province,  told MindaNews they are closely monitoring the movement of BIFF in Midsayap town and neighboring areas.

Alive but….

Kato, former commander of the 105th Base Command of the MILF,  is facing multiple murder cases in various courts for launching attacks in North Cotabato in 2008 after the botched signing of Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.  The attack killed several civilians and o displaced thousands of residents in North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces

Kato  resigned from his post in a letter to the MILF’s Central Committee in December 2009. He set up the BIFF in March 2010.

The MILF Central Committee on September 22, 2011 passed a resolution formally expelling Kato after a series of dialogues with him failed. But part of the resolution read that if Kato and his followers “make amends and be repentant,” the door of the MILF “is still wide open.”

Kato did not return to the MILF.

In November 2011, Kato was reported to have suffered a stroke.. He was also reported to have died, a report the BIFF spokesperson denied in late November. Mama said Kato was “still recovering from poor health but we can assure you he is alive.”

The media-savvy Kato, however, has not made any public appearance and has not granted any interview even if by telephone, since he was reported to have suffered a stroke in November.  Reports reaching the military said Kato is still alive but is incapacitated. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews with reports from Ferdinandh Cabrera and Keith Bacongco)

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