Local officials, military extend ‘hand of reconciliation’ to BIFF PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 06 April 2014 14:04

The guns of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been silent since February, something the military and local officials want to continue to forestall conflicts while efforts to establish the Bangsamoro political entity are underway.

Despite the fragile peace in towns where the BIFF operates, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, which has jurisdiction over flashpoint areas in Central Mindanao, particularly Maguindanao, remain on heightened alert, anticipating possible attacks amid the continuing public euphoria over the March 27 signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

The CAB, the final peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, aims to establish an MILF-led Bangsamoro political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao before the 2016 ARMM elections.

The spokesman of BIFF, Abu Misry Mama, had told reporters that their silence does not mean they have recognized and accepted the on-going GPH-MILF peace overture.

He said the BIFF remain firm in its rejection of the peace efforts, which only aims to grant self governance to Muslims in Mindanao under the international right-to-self-determination (RSD) doctrine.

Mama said they will continue to fight for Moro independence even after the GPH and MILF panels have bilaterally established the Bangsamoro political entity under Philippine sovereignty.

Ramil Dilangalen, appointed deputy governor of Maguindanao, said leaders of the BIFF have been invited to the provincial government’s April 6 “Peace-tahan kanduli” which local executives, representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and members of the GPH and MILF panels are to attend.

He said the purpose of the kanduli, which means thanksgiving banquet in the Maguindanaon vernacular, is to celebrate the signing of the CAB last month.

Dilangalen has clarified, however, that their invitation to the BIFF does not mean that the provincial government condones the group.

“Whenever we reach out to the group for its leaders to feel that we want peace through diplomatic initiatives, we are not condoning them, but merely protecting the tens and thousands of Maguindanao residents from getting trapped in conflicts. It’s the interest of innocent hapless non-Moro combatants that were condoning and protecting,” Dilangalen said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles has confirmed her attendance to the kanduli, to be held in Buluan town in the second district of Maguindanao..

Deles will lead, along with Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, the provincial government’s dispersal of farm animals, including water buffaloes and ducklings, and oil palm and rubber tree seedlings to thousands of Moro farmers during the day-long event.

One of the activities Deles will help launch is the grant of college scholarships to a thousand children of Moro peasants by the provincial government under its Maguindanao Program for Educational Assistance and Community Empowerment, which currently has more than 4,000 beneficiaries.

A big number of the incoming MagPEACE scholars are either children of active MILF guerillas, or are related both by blood and by affinity to members of the BIFF.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of 6th ID, said there is nothing wrong with involving the BIFF in the peace kanduli in Buluan and distributing to them farm animals and other agricultural inputs.

Hermoso said there is nothing illegal either with providing scholarship assistance to children of BIFF and MILF members.

“Our civil-military humanitarian thrusts, in fact, do not discriminate any group. We must all bear in mind that peace-building in Mindanao must not be an exclusive initiative. It must be inclusive and should involve all sectors, regardless of revolutionary ideals and identities and regardless of sectarian statures,” Hermoso said.

The 6th ID, according to Hermoso, will reiterate during the kanduli the appeal of its commander, Major Gen. Romel Gapuz, for the BIFF’s chieftain, Amiril Ombra Kato, to avail himself of free treatment for his hypertension, which had caused his paralysis, at the Camp Siongco Hospital.

The offer was first made by the now retired Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo when he was still 6th ID commander, after Kato, a Saudi-trained cleric, suffered a stroke after a long walk in the BIFF’s lair at the tri-boundary of Maguindanao’s adjoining Talayan, Datu Saudi and South Upi towns.

Hermoso said the 6th ID is elated with the fragile peace now in supposedly hostile areas where BIFF members reside.

“Credit would have to go first and foremost to the provincial government of Maguindanao, the joint GPH and MILF ceasefire committee, and all other foreign and local groups supporting the implementation of the GPH-MILF ceasefire in Maguindanao and surrounding provinces,” Hermoso said.