BARMM seeks probe of Moro killings in South Cotabato

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 21 July) – The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has sought an inquiry on the killings of more than a dozen Moros in South Cotabato, a province outside the fledging Bangsamoro region, some in the hands of state forces running after alleged violent extremists.

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament in session. Photo courtesy of the Bangsamoro Government

In a recent resolution, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which governs the BARMM parliamentary government, expressed deep concern over the series of killings of Moros in the towns of Polomolok and Tupi, South Cotabato in the last two years.

Some of the killings victimized Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members, including Ustadz Mohammad Taha Abdulgapor, a professor of the Mindanao State University-General Santos City campus and a secretary to the board of directors of the Bangsamoro Development Authority, the MILF’s development arm.

Abdulgapor was shot dead on May 26 in GenSan while driving on the way home to Polomolok town. His wife was wounded in the attack.

“There is an urgent and pressing need to address these serious issues of killings of MILF personalities and other Moro civilian constituents in Tupi and Polomolok towns… to bring the perpetrators to justice and to provide the general community of Moros in the area with sustainable peace and security and to uphold their rights to be provided protection by the government,” the resolution, obtained by MindaNews from the BARMM’s Bureau of Public Information Tuesday, stated.

Parliament members Aida Silongan and Mohagher Iqbal, who served as MILF chief peace negotiator, authored the resolution adopted by the collegial body on July 16.

The authors cited that under Republic Act 11054, popularly known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the national government shall ensure the protection of the rights of the Bangsamoro people residing in communities outside the Bangsamoro region and undertake programs for their rehabilitation and development

Earlier, the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (MILF-CCCH) raised the killings of Moros in South Cotabato province to the front’s Peace Implementing Panel for proper action.

Last May 8, the Koronadal Provincial Committee of the MILF said in report that the “Bangsamoro constituents in the municipalities of Tupi and Polomolok are now in the state of fear and terrifying condition due to the series of killings, PNP (Philippine National Police) operations, arrests, searches and seizures in the area since 2017. The killings are mostly perpetrated by riding in tandem believed to be organized with blessings from higher authorities.”

“The PNP in the area is justifying their move in the guise of running after lawless elements to include ‘ISIS’ and consider all Bangsamoro involved in any Moro political and social programs and activities as lawless elements or involved in drug-related activities,” it added.

The BARMM government can help them by knocking on the door of the South Cotabato provincial government, particularly the municipality of Polomolok, on this alarming situation, otherwise, the MILF in South Cotabato is left with no other option but to resist the killings to the extent of using similar force, the provincial committee stated.

Parliament Speaker Ali Pangalian Balindong called on concerned authorities to conduct an impartial and full-blown investigation on the series of Moro killings to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“[We] strongly recommend to the GPH and MILF Peace Implementing Panels to convene and institute peace mechanisms and sustainable security for the protection of Moros in the area, including their rights,” he added.

Days after the BTA passed the resolution, authorities conducted an operation before dawn Sunday, July 19, in Polomolok town that killed another Moro personality.

Lt. Col. Lino Capellan, Police Regional Office-12 spokesperson, said Ben Usman, alias Tons Usman, a resident of Purok 2, Brgy. Lapu, Polomolok town, was killed after he allegedly resisted the arresting officers.

He was a suspect in a 2018 bombing in GenSan and allegedly affiliated with the ISIS-aligned Ansar-al Khilafah Philippines, the official said.

Usman was slain a day after the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 took effect on July 18. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)