with Ali G. Macabalang
President Duterte on May 11 flew to Maguindanao and asked local leaders in the Bangsamoro region to deny terror groups or elements of sanctuary in their communities.
He was referring particularly to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), some 100 combatants of which occupied for more than six hours the market area of Datu Paglas town in Maguindanao and prompted armed clashes with responding soldiers on May 8.
He said keeping bandits out of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) should be done to prevent him from ordering an all-out military offensive against the BIFF.
The BARMM and Maguindanao leaders should not take the Presidential call lightly, and be reminded how harsh such full-scale offensives have left thousands of Maranao families displaced and the city of Marawi in ruin after combined forces of the Dawla Islameiya (Maute group) and the Abu Sayyaf bandits laid siege in the city in 2017.
“This cannot go on. If they cannot be stopped and there will be an all-out offensive, that will be a problem. If I give the order, I will no longer withdraw it,” Duterte told military, police and civilian officials who received him on May 11.
“I’m begging you. Help me. Because otherwise, if I give the order for an all-out offensive, it will be bloody and it will be sad,” the President added.
During and before the Presidential visit, resident-officials including Maguindanao Rep. Toto Mangudadatu and Grand Mufti Mohammad “Abuhuraira” Udasan have taken turns in condemning the BIFF occupation of the town marker in the advent of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The BARMM leadership, according to a Rappler report, would submit to the President a comprehensive plan to quell decisively the threats and atrocities in parts of Maguindanao caused by the BIFF, especially those espousing the ISIS violent ideology.
The plan purportedly crafted by the BARMM cabinet involved two parts: Improved cooperation between troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and military to “defeat BIFF” and “massive development” in the area so that it’s people will support the government and not the BIFF.
The plan’s focal scope is SPMS Box in Maguindanao covering the four towns of Shariff Aguak, Datu Saudi Ampatuan (formerly known as Pagatin), Mamasapano, and Datu Salibo.
As I look at it, Duterte’s call cum warning, the local officials’ condemnations and the planned measures lack a basic element.
By basic element, I am referring to holding municipal and barangays officials “truly responsible” for the continued stint of BIFF bandits in their respective towns and villages.
The President or the BARMM government should suspend or replace elected town and barangay officials who shall fail to report to authorities the presence in their turfs of terror or bandit groups like the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf.
It is very unlikely for municipal or barangay officials to be unaware of the entry or presence of lawless people in their turfs. Their failure to report out the presence of such dangerous people should be interpreted as act of coddling.
And coddling lawless people or fugitives is punishable by law. One penalty is replacement or suspension.
It’s time to call spade a spade! AGM