Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato: “I am against never-ending peace negotiations”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 April) – Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato, the first chair of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) succumbed to cardiac arrest Tuesday dawn in Guindulungan town, Maguindanao.

Organizationally, however, Kato’s leadership in the BIFF was short-lived, having suffered a stroke in late November 2011 that rendered him physically incapacitated.

Kato, then 65, was reported dead but officials of the BIFF (later renamed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement with BIFF as armed wing), dismissed the reports. They, however, acknowledged that he suffered a stroke.

Since then, the already physically incapacitated Kato had not been seen or heard from and new leaders had taken over the helm of the BIFF, a group that reportedly has broken down into at least two factions.

BIFF spokesperson Abou Misry Mama confirmed reports that Kato succumbed to cardiac arrest Tuesday dawn somewhere in Guindulungan town, Maguindanao. He was 69.

Kato was born in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, taught Arabic in Lupon and Banay-banay in Davao Oriental in the 1960s, went to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s to take up Fundamentals of Religions (“not just Islam but all religions,” he stressed in an interview in April 2011) and after a month-long military training in Camp Abubakar in the mid-1990s, became commander first of the 206th Brigade of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), then 109th Base Command and until December 2009, the 105th.

He told MindaNews in an interview on April 16, 2011, that he set up the BIFF around March 2010, three months after he tendered his resignation as commander of the 105th Base Command of the MILF’s BIAF.

“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?” Kato told MindaNews then.

Kato said government has been saying that it wants to solve the Bangsamoro question but the Memorandum Agreement of Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which was already initialed but not formally signed on August 5, 2008 because the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order barring government negotiators from signing the document, “proved government was just deceiving the Bangsamoro.”

Critics of the peace process said there may be never-ending peace negotiations because after the MILF, the BIFF may want to negotiate with government again. But Kato said, “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” (We do not need negotiations. What we need are results. Even if we don’t negotiate but if we see that this is what we aspired for, then okay, automatic, we will agree).

Kato said they would not stand in the way of the peace negotiations of the government and MILF. “I am not against the peace negotiation pero against ako sa walang hangganan na negotiations.”

Kato also maintained he remained an MILF member even if the MILF Central Committee declares him out of the MILF. He explained he was guided by the principles of the MILF founder Ustadz Salamat Hashim.

Who was Kato and why did he leave the MILF and organize the BIFF?

Here are the links to MindaNews’ April 2011 interview.

Part 1: “Saan ako lawless?”

Part 2 : “I am against never-ending peace negotiaions”

Part 3: “We have only one destination”   (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)