By Ali G. Macabalang
The leadership of the military’s Joint Task Force Central (TFC) and the 6th Infantry Division (6ID) has lauded troops and field units under its jurisdiction for sifting or dissecting villages in their areas of operations from lawless elements, especially terror-bound groups.
Maj. Gen. Juvymax R. Uy, TFC and 6ID head, has also sounded off his appreciation of the leaderships of battalions and brigades under his command for backing civilian authorities’ strides in persuading members of outlawed groups to lay down arms and return to the social mainstream amid “brightening chances” for meaningful peace and equitable growth in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Gen. Uy aired his commendation in a statement copy-furnished with the Philippine Muslim Today news on Feb. 16 as the 57th Infantry “Masikap” Battalion reported having scoured villages in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao and recovered assault rifles and ammunitions ostensibly left behind by lawless elements a day earlier.
In the statement, Lt. Col. Jonathan Pondanera, 57IB commander, said his troops recovered an M -14 rifle with 106 rounds of 7.6mm ammunition, three magazines and a bandolier, and a 12-gauge shotgun with ammunitions at Sitio Tupos, Barangay Bulayan in Datu Unsay town.
Datu Unsay is adjacent to the so-called “SPMS Box” constituting Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Saudi), Mamasapano and Shariff Saydona, all in Maguindanao, where combatants of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been holding out.
In past reports, police and civilian authorities including Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu averred that most if not all of the 80 suspects in the infamous 2009 “Maguindanao massacre” had allied with rebels in the “SPMS Box.”
Maguindanao belongs to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which also covers Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, the cities of Cotabato, Marawi and Lamitan , and 63 villages in five North Cotabato towns.
BARMM comprises Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces and the cities of Cotabato, Marawi and Lamitan as well as 63 villages in North Cotabato.
Parts of Lanao del Sur, where remnants of the Maute group’s Dawlah Islamiya operate, the whole of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and segments of South Cotabato and North Cotabato are under the jurisdiction of the 6ID-JTFC.
Last month, Gen. Uy ordered the launch of intensified surgical operations in the “SPMX Box” and in South Upi town, where suspected BIFF combatants allegedly allied with partisan civilians burned on New Year’s Eve 11 houses of Teduray tribesmen purportedly to drive them away from their ancestral lands
Intensified military offensives simultaneously with civil government’s attraction campaign have prompted at least 11 BIFF rebels to surrender to government authorities, through the 6th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Charlie Banaag, it was learned.
BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim told a Manila media worker via podcast last November that his emissaries have been holding 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 Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 208 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 Dawla Islamiya or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
BARMM Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal, who is also MILF vice chair, said in a recent webinar that fragile peace and security concerns in BARMM fields 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.
Iqbal said convergent military-BARMM-MILF strides have already won back some 1,000 BIFF combatants in what he hinted as another factor 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