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MILF used ceasefire to recruit, train rebs

Lawmaker warns fund could also be diverted

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has used a ceasefire to mount a massive recruitment and military training effort in anticipation that peace talks will collapse, and could use P8.5 billion in government funds to bankroll these activities, lawmakers said Wednesday.

Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said the MILF may have violated the ceasefire agreement by mounting massive recruitment and training activities in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Saranggani, Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, North Cotabato and Sulu.

“I want to know where the peace panel brought the P8.5 billion in DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program] funds for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. How much of the funding went to the MILF?” Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz demanded.

“I demand to know how much of the P8.5 billion allocation was used. It looks like the MILF was using government money to kill government forces,” said Dela Cruz, referring to the Mamasapano massacre that cost the lives of 44 Special Action Force commandos on Jan. 25.

Alejano said the MILF also engaged in joint military training with breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“Since last year, the MILF used the lull to strengthen and beefi up its forces and mounted massive recruitment and military training. They even did combined training with the BIFF,” Alejano said.

Alejano said the MILF conducted training monthly, sometimes with the BIFF, on the use of improvised explosive devices and sniper fire.

“They are doing all these while they are talking peace with the government,” Alejano said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said intelligence information supported Alejano’s claim, but said said the military would seek to verify the reports.

At a joint hearing of the House committees on public order and security and peace and order, chaired by Negros Occidental Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer and Hadjiman Hataman,  Alejano said the MILF was using the ceasefire to prepare itself militarily.

“The MILF continues to recruit and conduct trainings in preparation for the collapse of the peace deal and in case the Bangsamoro Basic Law is not passed by Congress,” Alejano said.

Peace panel chairman Teresita Deles said the peace panel did not receive any reports of recruitment or training, but said these activities would be a violation of the ceasefire agreement.

But she said casualties in the decades-long war with the MILF had been reduced substantially as a result of the ceasefire.

“For the past three years and as a result of the ceasefire agreement, there were only skirmishes with the MILF until the Jan. 25 incident,” she said.

In reply to Dela Cruz’s query, Deles said the Bangsamoro Transition Commission has so far spent P100 million, but said this did not go to the MILF.

The funds, she said, had been released by the Office of the Executive Secretary and were properly audited by the Commission on Audit.

Deles said the P8.5 billion in DAP funds for the ARMM did not go to the MILF but for the livelihood projects of the strife-torn communities.

Alejano, a former military soldier, lamented that when the BIFF were engaged in the firefight with government forces, the MILF reinforced the BIFF.

During the hearing, former SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas was asked how the SAF categorized the AFP troopers when they executed Operation Exodus in Mamasapano.

Napenas said the AFP soldiers were considered “friendly forces.”

“What about the MILF, how did you categorize them when you crafted Oplan Exodus?” asked Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, former AFP chief.

“Enemies, your honor,” Napeñas replied.

The joint hearing will resume next Tuesday.

In Zamboanga City, tension was high when MILF fighters sought to hold “a peace caravan.”

The MILF fighters, along with some 1,000 supporters of the Bangasamoro Basic Law, tried to enter the still volatile city for a peace caravan but authorities denied them entry.

The participants of the peace caravan aboard trucks and several small vehicles from Zamboanga del sur, Zamonaga Sibugay and Zaboanga del Norte congregated at the boundary of Zambonaga City and Sibugay at about 8 a.m.

They were blocked at a PNP-military checkpoint along the main highway leading into the city, however, on orders by Zamboanga City Mayor Isabelle Salazar-Climaco.

Climaco said the MILF and its supporters had no business holding a peace rally inside the city as they did not have a permit to do so.

She said leaders of the peace caravan should understand that some of the SAF troopers who died in the Mamasapano incident were residents of Zamboanga City.

Climaco said tension could further ignite if they would permit the MILF and its supporters because the residents are still reeling from the tragic effects of the Zambaonga siege.

More than hundreds were killed in five days of fierce fighting between fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and government troops in September 2013.

A number of foreign governments condemned terrorism and expressed hope that the peace process would survive the Mamasapano incident.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende commended the Philippine government and the MILF for “their unyielding commitment to the peace process.”

“It is now more important than ever to put every effort into the peace process,” Brende said.

Norway is a member of the International Monitoring Team for the peace talks and sits as vice chairman of the Independent Decommissioning Body in charge of the decommissioning process of the MILF forces and arms.

Australia, Canada, Spain, and Switzerland, previously expressed support for the Philippines’ efforts to achieve a just and  lasting peace in Mindanao as they extended condolences to the families and loved ones of the fallen policemen. With Vito Barcelo

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