BARMM gov’t nixes talks with Islamic State-aligned groups

Business operations remain normal at the public market of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao in this photo taken on 19 May 2021. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) occupied the public market on 8 May 2021 but there was no encounter with the military that erupted. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

BULUAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 27 May) – The Bangsamoro government will not negotiate with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed to neutralize to protect the gains of the peace process, an official said.


Naguib Sinarimbo, Minister of the Interior and Local Government (MILG) of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said “the BIFF, Dawlah Islamiyah and other Islamic State-inspired groups have declared that they will not go for a negotiation or dialogue.”


“We do not proceed from negotiations where the other parties have clearly rejected negotiations as an option,” he said during Monday’s 1st Bangsamoro Peace and Security Summit in Cotabato City.


Sinarimbo, also the BARMM spokesperson, urged the Islamic State-inspired militants to return to the fold of law or face the full might of the military in partnership with the MILF.


He said they are eyeing the creation of a “Joint Operation Center” composed of the military, the police, the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team and the MILF to neutralize the BIFF and other Islamic State-aligned groups in the region.


So far, he said that at least 157 BIFF members have been enrolled in the ongoing “Project Tugon,” the BARMM government’s intervention for those who returned to the fold of the law.


For this year, BARMM allocated livelihood assistance to 250 Islamic militants who will return to the fold of the law, particularly for Lanao del Sur and Sulu, where the remnants of the Maute Group and the notorious Abu Sayyaf operate, respectively.


Sinarimbo told MindaNews in a text message that at least 600 BIFF members have indicated their willingness to rejoin the MILF and undertake the decommissioning process since last year.


“We have taken this up with SND (Secretary of National Defense) and we are just awaiting the resolution of the warrants of arrests issued against some of them,” he added.

According to the Bangsamoro Information Office, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Major General Juvymax Uy, 6th Infantry Division (ID) commander, urged a speedy military operation against the BIFF in partnership with the MILF during a meeting with Sinarimbo.


The MILF and the Philippine government forged in 2014 the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), their final peace agreement after 17 years of negotiations, which paved the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro region.


Maj. Gen Juvemax Uy, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, inspects Friday (Dec. 4, 2020) the scene of encounter between troops from the 6th Infantry Battalion and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Datu Piang, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

The CAB provides for a comprehensive approach in strengthening peace and order, as well as addressing emerging security concerns in the Bangsamoro region, including the disbandment of private armed groups.


President Rodrigo Duterte, during a visit on May 11 at the 6th ID headquarters in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, appealed to the Bangsamoro government to help contain the BIFF, and warned of an all-out military offensive against the Islamic militants if they continue their terroristic activities.


Duterte issued the warning three days after the BIFF briefly occupied the public market of Datu Paglas in Maguindanao, leading to the evacuation of civilians and the closure of the highway for the security of travelers.


The military gained control of the situation in Datu Paglas, a banana-producing town, a few hours later.


At least four BIFF fighters were killed during a clash with the military some three kilometers away from the public market, while the militants were retreating.


If the problem with BIFF will remain unsolved, the President will possibly launch an all-out military offensive as part of his power, Sinarimbo said.


“What we are doing now is to use the power of the regional government and the mechanisms agreed within the peace agreement to enhance our partnership and solve the problem,” he added. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)