Military scores victories but Moro groups say military option is no solution

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 March) — A series of military victories were announced this week by the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) against terrorist groups Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf but Moro civil society groups maintain the military option is no solution and that President Rodrigo Duterte, a Mindanawon with Moro blood, knows that.

In a press release emailed late Saturday afternoon, March 18, the WestMinCom said 47 members of the BIFF, including “foreign terrorists” were “neutralized” — 21 of them killed and 26 others injured — during “a series of deliberate and purposive military operations” on March 13 to 16 in Datu Salibo town in Maguindanao.

It said Brig. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, commander of the 6th Infantry Division and the Joint Task Force Central (JTF-C) reported “that 21 terrorists were killed and 26 were wounded in a series of air strikes and ground combat operations” in Datu Salibo,  Maguindanao while no casualties from among government troops were recorded.

The figure 21 killed is 11 more since late Saturday night, when the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, which is under WestMinCom, e-mailed a press release that “at least 10” BIFF members were “believed to be neutralized during the two-day focused military operation” in Datu Salibo and that “a local bomber and a foreign terrorist leader of Jemaah Islamiyah” were among those killed during the operation. It said one military personnel was slightly wounded.

The air strikes and ground operation, WestMinCom said, “were to hit the group of Muhammad Ali Bin Abdulrahman aka Muawiyah, a foreign terrorist; Salahuddin Hassan, a local terrorist and bomber trained by Muawiyah, and Esmael Abdulmalik aka Abu Toraype, founder of the Dawlah Islamiyah Maguindanao and an alleged BIFF “brigade commander.”

“Validations are being made on the ground on the persistent reports that these terrorists were killed in the well-planned, well-coordinated, and well-executed massive air and ground operations,” it said.

Mauwiyah, who carries a P2 million bounty for his arrest, was earlier reported by the military to have been killed in an air strike in 2012 but the military later retracted its statement.

In Lanao del Sur, four members of the Maute Group allegedly “notorious for high crimes” were arrested at 3 a.m. on March 16. Seized from them were three high-powered firearms, a pistol, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and drug paraphernalia, WesMinCom said in another press release.

Arrested were Pao Pangannga aka Pao Faizal, Alex Arex Bagul, Alisata Tumao Maute, and Saadra Macapanton Madayan, who are reportedly wanted for kidnapping for ransom, carnapping, extortion and illegal drugs in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, and are suspects in the Oct. 2015 ambush-slay of Police Supt. Abner Wahab Santos, then acting Marawi City police chief.

On March 14, WestMinCom also reported that a “notorious sub-leader” of  the Abu Sayyaf was killed “after resisting arrest” in his residence in Barangay Panglima Alan in Sitangkai. where he allegedly is “the key facilitator in the illegal drugs trade in Tawi-tawi.”

Seized were one M-16 rifle, five speedboats and five outboard motors.

Twelve persons, including a high-value target were also arrested in an anti-illegal drugs operation conducted by the Army’s 7th IB and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency on March 17 in Barangay Dalingaoen  in Pikit, North Cotabato where a million peso worth of shabu was seized, along with a cal.45 pistol, three carnapped motorcycles, P28,000 cash; and several cellphones.

WestMinCom chief, Major General Carlito Galvez, Jr., was quoted as saying that the military “has dealt a severe blow on the reported ISIS cell in Central Mindanao” and that “their bomb-making capability was seriously degraded if not negated.”

“More militarized”

Drieza Liningding, chair of the  Marawi City-based Moro Consensus Group (MGC) and an avid campaigner and supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte.

told MindaNews Saturday they were hoping for a big change under the Duterte administration  but the series of military operations has shown that “mas lalong na-militarize ang Bangsamoro and we did not expect that because the President is a champion of the Moro cause, he has Moro blood so mas of all people, siya nakakaintindi sa problema ng Bangsamoro.”

“The military option will never work,” Liningding stressed, adding “there is a solution that is more effective and that is the shift to federalism.

“Mr. President, you of all people should know that military solution will never work in the Bangsamoro. It will only worsen the situation and produce more extremists from our ranks,” he wrote on his Facebook wall on March 14.

“Looking at what is happening on the ground we could say we are more militarized (now) compared to the previous administration,” he said, adding that he continues to support the President and they want to help him “realize your Dream of Peace in Mindanao but not this way. Let us address the historical injustices before asking us to help address terrorism.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on January 3 urged the public to cooperate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to avoid any untoward incident or injury” as he declared the “all-out operations” against terrorists in Mindanao “in full swing.”

“I would like to inform my fellow Mindanaoans and Filipinos that operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against the Abu Sayyaf and other local terrorist groups are now in full swing. Your AFP will use its ground, air and sea assets against our enemies and leave them no room for escape,” Lorenzana said.

In a statement, Suara Bangsamoro appealed to Duterte to “take back the all-out war policy that has affected civilians” but (has) not truly resolved terrorism nor lessened the menace of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan and Sulu.”

Jerome Succor Aba, co-chair of Sandugo told a forum on Friday at the University of the Philippines in Diliman on the 49th commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre that “massacres of the Moro people continue even after Jabidah.”

“Today, it is Pres. Duterte’s all-out war which brutally killed Nurmayda Abbi, a one year old girl, Hadji Billamin Hassan and Nuruddin Muhlis on March 8 at Brgy. Tum-os Tabuan Lasa, Basilan.”

“We call on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to stop this all-out war. It is a menace to the lives of civilians including children who only want to live in peace. Pres. Duterte should pull out his troops in our communities,” Aba said.

Roots of conflict

Aba said a just peace “can only be attained by addressing the basic issues and resolving the roots of the armed conflict  faced by the Moro people and all national minorities.”

“Peace for the Moro people and the rest of the nation is eliminating national oppression,” he said.

Two new FA-50 fighter jets dropped bombs on the villages of Gawang, Tee and Andavit in Datu Salibo town around 2 a.m. on Monday. Hours after, two MG-520 attack helicopters and 105 howitzers provided support to ground troops that entered the villages.

Suara Bangsamoro said at least 300 families were displaced.

The military operations came barely four days after President Duterte warned governors and mayors from 12 of 27 Mindanao provinces that he would declare martial law if they do not help him prevent violence from “spinning out of control.”

The operations were also launched hours before the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) opened the 6th annual Bangsamoro week on March 13, with the theme “Bangsamoro: Revisiting the Past, Continuing the cause.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas /MindaNews)