THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Palace’s chief peace negotiator warned Sunday that disgruntled Moros are joining attacks against government troops over the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
MILF vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar admitted that the group could not control its members, and said those fighting with government troops in Butig, Lanao del Sur, were not bandits or terrorists, as the military has reported.
“Those are Moros, and they attacked because they are angry at the way the Philippine government is handling the peace negotiations—always promising [but not delivering],” Jaafar said in Filipino.
Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said the failure of Congress to pass the BBL caused the clashes between government forces and armed men in Mindanao.
“Certainly, the huge disappointment over the non-passage of the BBL provides more enticing, fertile ground for recruitment to radical, extremist thought and action,” Deles said in a statement.
Jaafar made his statements during a visit by Davao City Mayor and presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte to the MILF camp in Maguindanao.
“Butig is very near the MILF satellite office. The attacks there and other attacks similar to what happened in Lanao del Sur were not launched by terrorists. They are not terrorists or extremists. These people are not radicals,” Jaafar said.
Earlier, Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said the group of attackers was led by brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute, who supposedly have links with the Southeast Asian regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah.
There were also reports that the Maute group was being assisted by supporters of the Islamic State.
Lt. Col. Billy dela Rosa, commander of the Army’s 51st Infantry Battalion, said that they have overrun the stronghold of the Maute group at the heart of Butig town.
But Jaafar said MILF leaders would not be able to prevent its members based in nearby Camp Bushra and Camp Palestine from reinforcing Maute’s group because many of them are related.
“If a member’s uncle is in the battle, he won’t listen to us because blood is thicker than water. That’s what’s happening now,” Jaafar said.
Jaafar said the only way to stop the clashes in Lanao del Sur is for the government to implement the Bangsamoro government—which is what the BBL was supposed to do.
Before the fighting began in Lanao del Sur, the Palace said the quest for peace in Mindanao would continue even without the BBL.
On Sunday, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Resituto Padilla said 24 bandits were killed in the fighting, lowering the government estimate from the 42 earlier reported.
Tan earlier said the bandits suffered 42 casualties while the government had lost three soldiers.
But Padilla said the Western Mindanao Command had been told to be careful in releasing casualty figures, and said only confirmed deaths should be reported.
Padilla also said the number of residents fleeing the fighting was 2,500, not 8,000 as earlier reported.
On Feb. 20, armed men led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute tried but failed to overrun a military detachment in Butig town, prompting the Army brigade there to send more troops that employed tanks and artillery against the enemy.
Padilla said intermittent firefights continued to break out as the government forces pursued the bandits.
“Our troops have to fully clear the area not only of members of the Maute group but also from booby traps. We have to normalize the situation so the residents can go back to their houses,” Padilla said.
Massive clearing operations were being conducted in Brgy Bayabao and 14 nearby villages to free the communities of explosive materials laid by the Muslim rebels, he said.
On Sunday, sporadic firing could be heard from the outskirts of Butig town.
The surrounding villages of Bayabao saw week-long ground fighting and aerial bombardment directed against some 400-strong rebel band that launched a series of attacks on military posts.
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