Q and A with Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato (3): “We have only one destination”

Last of three parts

SOMEWHERE IN MAGUINDANAO (MindaNews/21 April) —  Since he set up the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF),  Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato said several persons have tried linking up with him, including Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari.

Although Misuari did not go to him directly, Kato claims he sent two emissaries, the first to say Misuari wanted to talk through mobile phone. He said when he asked what topic would be discussed, the emissary replied he know when Misuari calls. He said he could only think of two reasons why Misuari wanted to link up: to convince him to join the MNLF or so Misuari can announce that he and Kato have an alliance. “Hindi ko gusto ‘yun” (I don’t like that).

After a month, he said, another emissary from Misuari came to tell him that “habang hindi pa siya (Misuari) nakaupo sa autonomy gusto niya kayo tulungan.” He said he asked what help Misuari wanted to extend and was told, “yung kaso mo idelete niya (Misuari). Sabi ko hindi na kailangan yun kasi kahit wala kang kaso kung lumaban ka sa gobyerno, kaso yun” (your case would be dismissed. I told him that’s not necessary because even if you have no case, ifyou fight government, you have a case.”

Misuari, who signed the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with government and who served as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from September 30, 1996 until his arrest off Sabah in late November 2001,  could not be reached for comment.

Kato says he remains an MILF member even if the Central Committee declares him out of the MILF. He explains he is guided by the principles of the MILF founder Ustadz Salamat Hashim.

But he aired his grievances against the MILF leaders, his feeling of betrayal, his disgust over the  wayward ways of other commanders who, he added, could have stopped kidnappings and shabu peddling. He claims the MILF did not defend him before the government and even excluded him from the ceasefire agreement in 2009. He says he was not investigated by the MILF but he welcomes an investigation as he also welcomes independent groups to conduct an investigation into why he set up the BIFF.  He adds that while he and the MILF leadership may differ on some aspects, “we only have one destination, one direction.”


Q: The government peace panel last week consulted local officials in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces and government peace panel chair Dean Marvic Leonen said the President hopes a peace agreement could be signed within one year so that implementation can already begin within his term and that the Aquino administration does not intend to pass the problem on to the next administration.
A: Mabuti kung matupad. Gusto ko bukas tapos na hindi isang taon pa ngayon matagal pa yun. Gusto ko bukas magakaroon ng tamang kasunduan para matapos na itong problema. Pero para hindi tayo masipyat ba, to see is to believe.

Q: In the meantime, between now and April 2012 when the comprehensive compact is expected to be signed, there are fears that the BIFF will cause trouble, will be a spoiler.
A: We are keeping ourselves silently. Pero kung salakayin kami, kahit anong oras. Inshallah….  Pero sa amin lang na grupo ay gua-guaranteehin ko sa inyo ito, guarantee  na talaga wala kaming gagawin either within one month or after one month… pero…  kung salakayin kami, kahit anong oras. Pero kung  sumadya, wala sa amin yan.. .

Q: You have not closed the doors on your relationship with the MILF?
A: Now, even if you say we have taken different roads, what is important is we have only one destination. We have only one direction. We will not fight each other.. In fact, if tomorrow they are attacked by their enemies, we will reinforce… I don’t’ know about them but that’s how I feel. We cannot cut off our relationship, our brotherhood.

Q: Let me go back to what you said about ‘meaningful autonomy.’ What do you mean by ‘meaningful autonomy’?”
A: Even if the territory of Mindanao will not be separated form the territory of the Philippines.. that’s okay. What I mean by ‘meaningful autonomy’ is composed of five points. First, the military is out and the Bangsamoro forces will take care of the security of the region. But we will not ask soldiers who are from Mindanao or the civilians to leave. We will not ask them to leave because that is not just. Soldiers who are not from Mindanao can still come to Mindanao but within the area under an Islamic governance, let the Bangsamoro security take care of security. Second, the system of governance that should be set up is one in accordance with Islam. Third, that we be allowed to have foreign relations in terms of trade. For instance, every Ramadan, Saudi Arabia sends dates intended for Mindanao but the ships are stopped in Cebu. Fourth, Mindanao must have a share in the national wealth. Fifth, that the one who will handle governance is a Moro, not somebody from Luzon.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)