To derail peace process in Mindanao — PNoy
President Benigno Aquino III disclosed on Thursday that the government is now looking at three ‘desperate’ groups which had joined forces to spread more violence in the region.
This is the first time that Aquino spoke about a specific number of groups identified as Islamic militants since referring to “sectors” which he said were out to derail the ongoing peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the 22nd Mindanao Business Conference in Davao City, Aquino did not directly say that the groups were involved in the bombings, but noted that the breakaway rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters has stepped up its attacks on military detachments, while the Abu Sayyaf Group remained a threat with their kidnap-for-ransom activities and bombings and other acts of terrorism.
The President also did not mention the Moro National Liberation Front, which had voiced its opposition against the government’s peace talk with its rival group, the MILF.
Aquino said the attacks could be linked to military and police operations against the BIFF, a group led by disgruntled former Moro Islamic Liberation Front Commander Ameril Umbra Kato.
“There is a theory that all of these bombings are related to that, to lessen the pressure of ongoing follow-up operations against these BIFF elements,” Aquino said.
“Previously they were in some sort of a loose alliance, but now they are working together in a desperate bid to halt the peace process in Mindanao,” he added.
The president added that he was “not at liberty to tell you all of the details of the ongoing operations to neutralize or capture all of these people wanted by the government,” but added that security officials are making sure that there would be no “spillover” of the bombings in other areas.
A total of 16 people were killed in successive blasts in Cagayan de Oro City and Cotabato City on July 26, while 76 others were wounded, including seven soldiers during a roadside bomb attack in Mindanao on Wednesday.
The President said the government would institute a reward system for information leading to the arrest of the suspects behind the bombings.
He also appealed for “greater citizen involvement” to help security forces to prevent future attacks.
Malacanang, however, has yet to provide details on the reward system, as the President was still presiding a meeting with the Cabinet security cluster to discuss the situation in Mindanao.
In other developments:
• The military in Central Mindanao recovered more than 20 improvised bombs when they raided an ASG lair Wednesday. The raid also uncovered an ASG plot to sow more terror in Mindanao.
• The police and the military are bracing for more attacks from Muslim rebels as the Ramadan ends today through the Eid’l Fitr.
• Defense officials said they are doing everything to ensure that the violence in Mindanao would not reach Metro Manila.
The Aquino government hopes to sign a final peace treaty with the MILF before the President leaves office in 2016 that would create an autonomous Muslim government called the Bangsamoro and end decades of conflict that have claimed 150,000 lives.
Meanwhile, government forces raided an ASG-Jemaah Islamiyah lair Al-Barka town in Basilan, where they recovered more than 20 improvised bombs, bomb-making materials and mortar shells,
Army’s 10th Infantry Brigade commander Col. Carlito Galvez said the bombs are to be used by the ASG bandits in several areas in Central Mindanao, including Basilan.
The other reported targets are Isabela City, Basilan; Zamboanga City, Pagadian City, Zamboanga del sur and Ipil, Zambaonaga Sibugay.
A soldier was killed and three others were wounded during the raid, but Galvez said they were still verifying civilian reports that the terrorists suffered seven fatalities.
“In the information we received, at least three known ASG commanders were in the target place. They are Isnilon Hapilon, Puruji Indama, and Kair Mundos. Their group was there manufacturing IEDs because immediately after ‘Ariraya’ Ramadan) they will launch attack either in Tipo-Tipo or Unkaya Pukan or conduct bombings in Isabela City or Zamboanga City. So we conducted operations para maunahan sila kasi ang execution daw ng plano nila ay 8 o’clock ng umaga,” Galvez said.
As this developed, the military said they are bracing for more attacks by the BIFF.
“As usual, we’re on our toes,” Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division said in a text message.
Hermoso said they had also augmented their security forces in Muslim communities as they celebrate the Eid’l Fitr.
“We expect more bombings based on the relevant information we’ve been receiving and in order to preempt it, we augmented our intensive security watch on all Muslim communities. We don’t want any violence to happen similar to the Cotabato incident.”
As this developed, Moro National Liberation Front peace panel head Absalom Cerveza warned that MILF members going to the MNLF side and the “realignment” of BIFF with its mother organization, the MNLF, could “hamper the ongoing talks and induce a volatile situation in Mindanao.”
He added that he hopes the government could formulate a “realistic and acceptable” solution to the Mindanao problem, claiming that the Moslem community are united in pursuing an Islamic independence of Mindanao in parallel with the supposed creation of a Bangsamoro Republic” sponsored by former MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari.”
In Manila, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that every security measure is being done to ensure the bomb attacks would not reach Manila.
“We are doing everything in our authority to ensure that these attacks will not reach Metro Manila.
Gazmin said that the police have increased their visibility in the metropolis as part of government efforts to preempt such attacks in the wake of reports that some bombers are already in Metro Manila and are just waiting for their time to strike.
In Camp Crame, PNP Spokesman Sr. Supt Reuben Theodore Sindac said they had deployed 500 policemen to five police districts in Metro Manila to as additional safety measure against potential terrorists acts.
He added that the PNP and the AFP are in close coordination to secure airports, seaports, transport terminals, communication and power installations and other vital private and government structures against threats of terrorism.
Meanwhile, Metro Manila Police Director Marcelo Garbo Jr. advised the public not to panic in case pranksters spread bomb threat in their places.
Garbo said that the public should contact the following numbers (0915-888-8181, 0999-901-8181) or thru Twitter: @NCRPOReact; and Facebook: NCRPOReact in case of threats. With Florante Solmerin, Francisco Tuyay, PNA and AFP