Biz group urges joint gov’t, MILF action against BIFF

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/07 August) — A business group in Mindanao on Tuesday urged the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) Front to jointly address the threat posed by the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

 

Ricardo C. Juliano, Jr., Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice president for Mindanao, stressed the need to employ the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) mechanism against the group formed by erstwhile MILF commander Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato.

 

AHJAG is a joint government and MILF mechanism in the peace process that seeks to interdict and isolate lawless elements that take refuge in or near MILF communities.

 

“The military and the MILF should act together in addressing this problem and it has to be done in a way that should enhance the peace process,” Juliano told MindaNews.

 

Kato formed the BIFF in 2010 and was formally expelled by the MILF last year.

 

He is no longer with the MILF and so the AHJAG mechanism should be applied to his group, Juliano said.

 

But Von Al Haq, MILF spokesman, brushed aside the suggestion of Juliano, saying the AHJAG mechanism “can only be used against criminal elements.”

 

Al Haq said the BIFF claims to be a political group and the “government did not also consider it as a terrorist organization.”

 

“The central committee of the MILF is very cautious in this aspect in order not to complicate the peace process,” he said on the phone.

 

Al Haq said that based on their monitoring, skirmishes still continued today in the towns of Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

 

At least 1,000 families have sought refuge at evacuation centers in Crossing Salbo in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, he added.

 

Col. Prudencio Asto, 6th Infantry Division spokesman, said the highway from Crossing Salbo to Cotabato City is still close to traffic to avoid endangering the lives of commuters due to continued pursuit operations against the BIFF forces.

 

He said the military is coordinating with the MILF through the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities to avoid a misencounter with the MILF rebels.

 

Al Haq said that MILF forces have been ordered to stay put in their positions in the wake of government pursuit operations against the BIFF elements.

 

On Sunday night, BIFF forces simultaneously attacked at least five military detachments in Maguindanao, rendering a portion of the Cotabato-Isulan-General Santos highway closed to traffic on Monday that stranded hundreds of passengers.

 

Also important to neutralize the BIFF is the political will of the government, Juliano said.

 

He said that as far as the business community is concerned, it does not fear an escalation of hostilities in Maguindanao “since the BIFF is just a small band of armed men.”

 

Emilio W. Escobillo, Jr., chairman of the Biocrest Multi-Purpose Cooperative and Transport Services, which operates the Husky Bus that serves the General Santos-Koronadal-Cotabato route, said on Tuesday they rerouted their buses to the Buluan-Kabacan-Cotabato highway since Monday afternoon just so they could bring the passengers to their destination.

 

Since the General Santos-Buluan-Kabacan-Cotabato route is longer than the General Santos-Koronadal-Isulan-Cotabato route, they added P60 to the normal fare.

 

The fare has increased to P340 per passenger to offset the additional fuel cost, Escobillo said.

 

He complained that land transportation agents of the government have allegedly threatened to impound their units for plying out-of-way.

 

Escobillo said the skirmishes put them in a situation where they have no other recourse but to use an alternate route to serve the commuting public.

 

PCCI’s Juliano, meantime, voiced confidence the fresh skirmishes between the military and the BIFF would not hamper the peace process.

 

Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, said in a statement on Monday that BIFF is not covered by any ceasefire agreement since it is not a part of the MILF.

 

“This act of aggression of the BIF[F] is meant to derail the peace process between the government and the MILF. We assure 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,” she said.

 

Deles said that the peace panels of the government and the MILF will conduct this week the 30th formal exploratory talks in Malaysia.

 

She noted that the “government remains 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.”

 

Ustadz Carialan, BIFF chief of staff, led the forces that launched the simultaneous attacks on Sunday night against the military installations, Deles said.

 

She said that government forces have conducted pursuit operations against Carialan and his men to bring them to the bar of justice. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2012/08/08/biz-group-urges-joint-govt-milf-action-against-biff/

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