Some 1k BIFF members rejoin MILF – Iqbal

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY

Some 1,000 combatants of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have rejoined the forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in a current trend the Bangsamoro interim officials touted as a breakthrough deserving no undue interruption to foster strides for stable peace in the new autonomous region.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF vice chairman and concurrent education minister in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), revealed the feat in a webinar sponsored Wednesday, Feb. 10 by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to tackle “impacts” of COVID-19 pandemic on children’s school studies.

Iqbal, who also chairs MILF panel implementing the peace accords with the government, hinted that the return of the 1,000 BIFF cadres to their “mother unit” came in batches following attraction campaign initiated by BARMM officials led by Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim sometime last year.

The latest batch of surrendered BIFF men involved 11 combatants who yielded to the government through the 6th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Charlie Banaag, it was learned.

Ebrahim, who is incumbent MILF chieftain, announced in a podcast with a Manila media worker last November that his emissaries have been holding back channel talks with two of three BIFF factions for their eventual return to their original front.

The BIFF was organized by the late Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato in 2010 after he bolted the MILF in 2008 because he disagreed with the MILF’s acceptance of autonomy instead of full independence. In 2008, after the Supreme Court nullified the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain signed by the Philippine government and the MILF, Kato led a contingent of MILF fighters in an attack against civilian communities.

After the death of Kato on 14 April 2015 from lingering ailment, the BIFF has since splintered into three factions, one of which has pursued the violent ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Iqbal hinted that fragile peace and security concerns in BARMM field communities are two factors that affect not only the plight of rural school children but also the movement of frontline workers in a campaign to contain the spread of the Coronavirus disease.

The BIFF three factions operate mainly in some towns of Maguindanao, the most populated component province of BARMM.

He said the combined efforts of BARMM and MILF leaderships in trying to win the BIFF back to the folds of law is also one of many factors that should be considered in their campaign for an extension in the Bangasamoro Transition Authority (BTA) from 2022 to at least 2025. BTA is the interim ruling body for BARMM. AGM

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