Army chief: Maute group is no ISIS

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/23 March) — The armed group led by the Maute brothers that figured in last month’s clash with government troops in Lanao del Sur is nothing but a band of “guns for hire, bandits,  and extortionists,”  Army Chief Lt. Gen.  Eduardo Ano said on Wednesday.

Ano said the group was mistakenly hyped as ISIS or Islamic State of Syria and Iraq whe it clashed with government troops for two weeks in Butig town, Lanao del Sur last month.

“They were just a bunch of guns for hire, extortionists and bandits who wanted to be recognized as ISIS,” Ano told reporters.

Ano said the group numbering around 100 men, was decimated by the prolonged clashes with Army troops and have scattered in small groups to avoid prosecution.

He said the Philippine National Police is preparing to file criminal charges against the remaining members of the Maute group.

He said he is confident the group will not pose a problem during the synchronized national, local and regional polls in May.

Ano said they received reports the Maute group allegedly offers its services to some politicians in Lanao del Sur.

The Army said three soldiers and at least 20 members of the Maute group including its leader, Omar Maute and his two brothers were killed in last month’s fighting.

At the height of the hostilities in Lanao del Sur, hundreds of VHF amateur radio enthusiasts prevented further escalation of the conflict by going on air spreading information or dispelling rumors.

Ayub Saripada, public information officer of Saksi, the biggest amateur radio group in Lanao del Sur said their 1,000 plus members were monitoring closely the developments of the fighting when they learned that Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Abdurahman Macapaar aka Commander Bravo issued a crucial statement on February 23 that he and his forces were not involved in the fighting in Butig town and the ambush of a military convoy in Balindong town, all in Lanao del Sur.

In the videotaped interview, Bravo said the MILF was not involved in the fighting in Lanao del Sur. “Hindi po kasali dyan ang MILF” (The MILF is not involved there), he said.
Bravo also belied reports that he had joined the armed group responsible for the attacks. “Tapat po ako sa MILF dahil ang emir po ng MILF si Al Haj Murad Ebrahim ay ang sinsusunod ay si Allah at ang Prophet Muhammad” (I am loyal to the MILF because our Emir, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim follows Allah and the Prophet Muhammad), Bravo said.

“Bravo’s statement had a calming effect on a very tense situation. Everyone realized he was not breaking the ceasefire between the MILF and the government,”  Army Brig. Gen. Glen Macasero, head of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) said.

The MILF and Philippine government signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, after 17 years of negotiations. The peace process between the parties is on its implementation phase, which includes passing a Bangsamoro Basic Law. No basic law, however, was passed before Congress adjourned on February 3.

The expressed its “deep disappointment and grave dismay” over the non-passage of the BBL” but said it will “continue to uphold the peace process and ensure that all the gains will be preserved.” (Froilan O. Gallardo / MindaNews)