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MILF faction threatened Cotabato, mayor says

A commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front warned that “there will be consequences” for those who voted against Cotabato City’s inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Mayor Cynthia Guiani said Thursday.

MILF faction threatened Cotabato, mayor says
Mayor Cynthia Guiani
This came after a deadly bomb attack killed two people and wounded 34 others near a mall in Cotabato on Dec. 31.

The blast came weeks before a Jan. 21 plebiscite that will determine the composition of the BARMM, the product of a 2014 agreement between the government and the MILF.

READ: Blast triggers travel warning

 

In an interview with the ANC news channel, Guiani said she had met with MILF commander Wahig Tundok to try to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict of bringing Cotabato into the BARMM.

But to the mayor’s dismay, Tundok said his MILF faction was “willing to risk everything just to get Cotabato City. That’s a threat. It scares the people,” Guiani told ANC.

The commander had issued the warning in an online video before the blast, showing the MILF group’s insincerity, the mayor said. 

“In that interview, he said that they will attain victory in Cotabato City even if it takes bloodshed to achieve it. He went on to add that they’ve long been accustomed to resorting to violence to achieve their objectives,” she said.

MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim condemned the attack as “an act of cowardice, inhuman, and atrocious.”

In a statement, Murad said: “We are saddened by the fact that this incident occurred at a time while we are in the thick of preparations for the plebiscite on the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law [BOL] on January 21, 2019.”

 The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a pro-Islamic State armed group that broke away from the MILF, is suspected of causing the explosion, authorities said.

Cotabato residents are likely to vote against their inclusion in the BARMM, Guiani said, citing consultations with various sectors that showed her constituents don’t want to join the regional body because of the way its advocates campaigned for it.

“If you cannot even start a good campaign by being kind to those people you want to vote for ‘yes,’ then how can you be nice to us when you’re already there, when you already have the vote?” she said.

The mayor urged her constituents to go out and vote and make their voices heard during the referendum on Jan. 21.

Meanwhile, the Palace said Thursday it was still safe to travel to Mindanao despite travel advisories issued by the United Kingdom and Australia.

“It’s natural for any foreign government, or any government for that matter, to be concerned for the welfare, the safety of their citizens,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.

Panelo said, however, that the bomb attack was an “isolated case.”

“In so far as the national Defense secretary is concerned, it’s very safe to travel in Mindanao,” he said.

Department of National Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said there is nothing new with the advisories since governments regularly issue them to their citizens who are overseas.

Andolong said governments simply want to remind their citizens to take precautions when traveling to countries where bandits and terrorists operate.

Earlier, UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised its citizens against travel to western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgents.

The FCO also advised against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao (excluding Camiguin, Dinagat and Siargao Islands) and to the south of Cebu province due to the threat of terrorism.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, meanwhile, advised its citizens to avoid travel to western and central Mindanao, to reconsider travel to eastern Mindanao, and exercise a “high degree of caution” when traveling to the Philippines. Macon Ramos-Araneta

The Philippine National Police said the situation in Cotabato City has now normalized and that its forces are currently focusing on preventing a repeat of the incident.

Senators on Thursday said the Dec. 31 blast in Cotabato City underscored the need to pass the bill strengthening the Human Security Act.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said current limits to martial law made it an ineffective tool to stop terrorism.

“The martial law we have now is a far cry from the old martial law of the 1935 Constitution. That was a tiger; now all we have is a feverish cat,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Senator Gregorio Honasan II said the Philippines had one of the weakest anti-terrorism laws in Asia.

But administration critic Senator Antonio Trillanes IV warned against giving President Rodrigo Duterte more martial law powers.

MILF faction threatened Cotabato, mayor says
Ghadzali Jaafar
“For as long as we have an abusive president, we should not give him additional powers. Because, surely, Duterte will use it against his own people, especially his political opponents. Besides, they already have martial law in Mindanao,” he said. 

READ: MILF denounces Cotabato mall blast; military sees terror hand

Topics: Moro Islamic Liberation Front , Cynthia Guiani , Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao , Al Haj Murad Ebrahim
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