MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/02 October) – Now that renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front base commander Ameril Umra Kato has ignored the deadline for him to return to the rebel group, he is technically out of the coverage of the ceasefire between government and the MILF. With this, the military may now go after his Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters which has around 300 armed followers. But government needs to do a careful accounting of realities on the ground before dismissing Kato’s case as a purely law enforcement matter and sending troops against him.

It would fatal for government to presume that things between Kato and his former comrades in the MILF have completely gone down the drain. His departure from the MILF stemmed not from personal reasons – e.g. desire to gain a higher position – but from his displeasure over how the peace process had dragged for 14 years without any agreement in sight. And although he only managed to bring with him a small number of fighters, it doesn’t mean that his sentiment is not being shared by some of those who have chosen to remain with the mainstream organization.

From a purely military viewpoint, Kato appears to be in a disadvantaged position. However, the situation remains fluid with the GPH-MILF peace process having hit a snag with the parties still unable to resolve the question of what framework to use. Depending on the amount of patience and resilience of the parties the talks can go either way – move forward or regress into a situation where a tiny
spark may lead to a new round of hostilities. How the Aquino government eventually deals with the MILF’s demand for a Bangsamoro sub-state will likely shape the outcome of the talks – and determine Kato’s political fate.

With this scenario, the MILF leadership could not be expected to go all-out against Kato and the BIFF. They may have political differences now, but they’re mutually not eager to face each other in battle. In the event that the peace process collapses and the hawks in both camps gain the upper hand the MILF would need Kato. As can be noticed in fact, the Front has been careful in statements regarding Kato. It had to seek the advice of the Ulama Council before giving him the ultimatum [to return to the MILF] or lose the protection under the truce and the peace process. Note that the warning was issued in reference to possible government actions against him not to what the Front plans to do, if any, against him.
Then there’s the element of culture that in most situations tends to prevail over political and organizational considerations. Some MILF
fighters may have close relatives in the BIFF. As such, they could not be expected to seriously consider the thought of actually engaging the breakaway group in the field.
Knowing this complication, the military may opt to launch offensives against Kato without the participation of the MILF. But how can they be sure that, in one way or another, some MILF members would not find ways to come to the aid of their former comrades with whom they still feel some sense of affinity? The point is the divide between the MILF and the BIFF is just nominal at this stage. A lot will depend on how the negotiation unfolds. If the talks progresses and eventually results in a mutually acceptable peace agreement, everyone can dismiss Kato as a bad dream. But what if it fails? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])