Bangsamoro organic law softens BIFF rebels to yield

GEN. S.K. PENDATUN, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 10 Aug) – A Moro rebel leader’s recognition of the Duterte administration’s determination to end “historical injustices” in Mindanao drove him and his five followers to end the struggle and live peacefully with their families.

A young member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) hands over his rifle to 1st Mechanized Brigade commander Col. Robert Dauz and Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Zajid “Dong” Mangudadatu during surrender ceremonies in a makeshift hut near the highway in Midpandakan, Gen. SK Pendatun municipality in Maguindanao on Thursday (9 August 2018). MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

The signing by President Duterte of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) has softened the heart of Dido Malawan, 53, division commander of the 2nd Division of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“When President Duterte gave us the BOL, it convinced us to surrender because we have no more reasons to fight the government,” Malawan said. “The President want peace in Mindanao, that is also what we want so we decided to surrender,” he added.

Appearing meek and submissive, Malawan and his five followers turned in six high powered firearms that included two improvised caliber .50 Barrett sniper rifles, and two shoulder-fired rocket propelled grenades. They also handed over to Col. Robert Dauz, commander of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, an M-14 rifle and one caliber .30 bolt action Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle.

After weeks of backchannel talks, Malawan and his followers quietly emerged from the Liguasan marshland aboard a motorized banca carrying their firearms. They were met by local officials in Barangay Midpandakan, Gen. SK Pendatun, Maguindanao Thursday morning.

In simple ceremonies, Malawan lauded the provincial government for giving them the chance to surrender and to live normal lives.

Malawan cited the programs of Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, 33rd Infantry Battalion chief, and Maguindanao Rep. Zajid Mangudadatu, who provided electricity to the village, the first government service to reach the poor community.

Malawan said he was convinced on the sincerity of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Duterte government to end “historical injustices.” He said in the past, the Moro struggle was not seriously considered by the government, unlike under the Duterte administration.

Courtesy of Mangudadatu, the six returnees received P20,000 as initial livelihood assistance. The legislator said more livelihood packages are being prepared for them, among those a housing project from President Duterte.

Military and local officials are praying that the benefits earned by the six former Moro rebels would encourage other BIFF members, especially Gani Saligan, who are still in the jungles to come out and avail of the government amnesty program.

To prove the government’s sincerity in addressing poverty in poor communities, a P150-million road project that will connect Gen. SK Pendatun farm communities to other towns surrounding the marshland will soon commence.

Dauz said Malawan was right in saying there is no more reason to fight the government.

“Let’s get out of the box, we should renounce violent extremism and ISIS,” Dauz told the former BIFF rebel.

Mangudadatu said aside from the initial financial aid, the provincial government has livelihood program for the returnees.

“Beside, President Duterte is ready to offer housing projects for the returnees,” he said. As initial aide, he will provide the surrenderees motorized banca they can use in fishing the Liguasan marshland.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair, said during the presentation of the signed organic law in Cotabato city this week that the MILF will tap its members “with blood relations” to their relatives in the BIFF to convince them to join the Bangsamoro government.

Meanwhile, the BIFF, through spokesperson Abu Amir, denied they have members who surrendered and did not recognize Malawan as one of them. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)