Q and A with Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato (2): “I am against never-ending peace negotiations”

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2nd of three parts

SOMEWHERE IN MAGUINDANAO (MindaNews/20 April) —  Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato wanted to know how he stood within the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) so he tendered his resignation as commander of the 105th Base Command on December 19, 2009.

Kato says he started wondering about how he stood with the MILF when the government declared its Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) on July 23, 2009 and the MILF responded with a Suspension of Military Action (SOMA) two days later.

He said the two parties agreed to a ceasefire but excluded him and commanders Bravo of Lanao del Norte and Pangalian of Sarangani from the coverage. He said the MILF should not have agreed to exclude them because “kung gamitin natin ang utak natin, dapat ako kasama sa ceasefire… kasi kami nakipag-gyera… But instead of including us, they considered me lawless. What does that mean? Foolish. Foolish. Kalokohan.”

Kato was referring to the government’s SOMO which said the Philippine National Police “shall continue to undertake its law enforcement activities to bring the three renegade MILF commanders and other lawless elements to the bar of justice. The AFP shall play a support role.”

He said the MILF’s agreeing with government to exclude them was like a declaration to the military to go pursue Umra Kato because he’s not part of the ceasefire. “It’s like the Central Committee was saying, okay, go after Umra Kato because he’s not included in the ceasefire.” The MILF’s SOMA expressed “reservation  to the provision of the… SOMO to the effect that the PNP, with the support role of AFP, will continue the manhunt operations against the so-called ‘rogue commanders,’” refering to Kato, Bravo and Pangalian.

“For this purpose, the concerned commanders are hereby directed to continue in defensive position mode and exercise the right to self defense when attacked,” the SOMA said.

By Kato’s account, he felt wronged by his organization, he felt he was being eased out of a post he did not apply for, and he summed up his feeling of betrayal as “instead of chain of command, it was change of command.”

Kato explained that these and subsequent events triggered his decision to set up the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Q: Did you raise these concerns with the Central Committee?

A:  It felt like the Central Committee gave the military the power to go after me because I was not part of the ceasefire. But everyone has the right to defend himself. .. That’s when I established the BIFF. Because it felt like they eased me out of the BIAF (Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces).

Q: The SOMO-SOMA was in July 2009. When did you form the BIFF?

A: After the SOMO-SOMA, andyan pa rin ako pero wala na akong mga ativities. Kasi hindi na sila dumaan sa akin. Dinirect na nila ang aking mga brigade commander, mga battalion commanders. Parang wala na akong karapatan, katungkulan. Siempre bawat isa, marunong tayong mag-observe. Parang wala na akong position…

Q: Were you not officially informed?

A:  I observed. I waited. About five months after the SOMO-SOMA, I felt like I was no longer part of the chain of command…  they were already issuing directives directly to my commanders. I discovered na talagang wala na ako. So I formally resigned December 19, 200.. to the Office of the Chief of Staff but I did not state my real reason for resigning. I just said I can no longer cope physically and mentally so you better change me. Automatic, they accepted my resignation. I was right in my suspicion that they really wanted me out. Because they should have done consultations first. …

Q: How long was your letter?

A: Short. I said I can no longer cope so you can change me.  Automaticaly they approved. So I was right in my observation that they wanted me out.  A petition was sent by my commanders and the village committees asking the BIAF leadership not to accept my resignation but the petition was not acted upon.

Q: When exactly did you set it up?

A: After my resignation. Around March 2010.

Q: But there were reports you went through an investigation and that disciplinary action was meted out on you.

A: It wasn’t an investigation. When the Malaysian facilitator expressed fears that my separation from the BIAF would become an obstacle to the peace negotiations, sinisikap nila paano ako makabalik. Sabi ko hindi ako katulad nga aso. Ang aso, tingnan ‘nyo ang nature ng aso pag sumuka kainin niya ulit yung suka nya. …Tao tayo….Four sets of emissaries were sent to me. The third batch asked me to sign some papers from the Office of the Chairman that I would abolish the BIFF because an organization cannot have two military forces, that I would abide by the policies of the Central Committee. Hindi ako pumirma kay baka makatulad ni (MNLF chair Nur) Misuari, sumurender sa gobyerno, di na ako makakilos sa sunod kay pumirma ka dyan. So I did not sign but told them to proceed (with your talks) because kung makita ko mismo ang agreement between the MILF and gobyerno, kung yun ang hinahangand natin, eh bakit hindi ako pipirma? Pero wala pa man akong nakita.

Q: You and your group are being viewed as a threat to peace in Mindanao.

A:  Peace is an easy word but so difficult to achieve. We need more sincerity. What is the root of the conflict? Government is trying to solve the problem of the Bangsamoro but is not looking at its roots. We’re being given rehabilitation, development but like a patient, if you need operation and you’re just being given medicol, is that sufficient?

Q: We are under a new administration. And the government peace panel chair said they want to solve the problem at its roots.

A: They’ve been saying that for many years now. The MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) proved government was just deceiving the Bangsamoro. Last February 9, they said 25 prisoners would be freed. Now it’s down to five but we were told this is still subject for review. What kind of negotiation is that? It’s difficult to trust government unless we see sincerity. Hindi agad tayo  maniwala sa kanila kung walang ebidensya. Sinabi ko sa mga pinapunta dito ng Central Committee, sabi ko sige na lang mag-usap na kayo. Kung makita namin na sapat na yun, ay sang-ayon na kami pero papirmahin mo ako na hindi ko pa nakikita kung ano bang pinagkasunduan, hindi ako pipirma kahit na mahulog pa ang langit ngayon. Eh tinatakot nila ako na bazookahin ng gobyerno.  Kahit na langit ipahulog ngayon…

Q: Ibig sabihin kung magkaroon ng pirmahan at kung maganda naman ang takbo, okay, sang-ayon kayo?

A: Oo. Oo. Respetohin. Lahat tayo gusto ng kapayaapaan.

Q:  The government peace panel during the consultations with local government units on April 13 and 14 said the common question being raised by various sectors in Mindanao and Manila is let’s grant we have an agreement with the MILF but there’s Umra Kato.  Will this not end up like the MNLF which has broken into several factions?  Will this be a never-ending negotiations?

A: Hindi kami nangangailangan ng negotiation. Kami kailangan namin ang resulta. Kahit na hindi kami magnegotiate, pero kung makita namin na yun ang hinahangad natin, okay automatic,  we will agree. Sang-ayon na kami.

Q:  I want to clarify this. You are being viewed as threat to peace. You will not stand in the way of the peace negotaions? Hindi kayo maging balakid?
A:  Hindi hindi. I am not against the peace negotiation pero against ako sa walang hangganan na negotiations.  (Last part tomorrow: “We have only one destination” )

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