By Ali G. Macabalang
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) officialdom has stepped up cohesion with military, police and local government units in addressing unabated threats of violent extremism, notably in the component province of Maguindanao.
The BARMM government hosted here on May 24 its peace and security summit, during which national and regional officials from the civilian, military and police quarters took turns in recommending a convergent approach against the sporadic atrocities of the Bangsamor Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in isolated areas of Maguindanao.
The summit came after President Duterte visited the headquarters of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao on May 11 and called on leaders within BARMM to contain the BIFF atrocities, or else he would order an “all-out offensive” that observers feared to be similar to the 2017 full-scale operations in Marawi City.
Duterte was ostensibly irked by the occupation by some 100 BIFF combatants of the market area of Datu Paglas in Maguindanao on May 8 for at least six hours. The rebels, reportedly belonging to the ISI-inspired faction of Mohiden Animbang alias “Kumander Karialan, left the area only after the military responded and fought them in running firefights.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Hajdi Murad” Ebrahim, alongside other local and national officials addressed the peace summit virtually. They have reportedly agreed for the Ministry of Interior and Local Government (MILG) to serve as focal agency in the formulation and implementation of convergent efforts in Maguindanao.
MILG Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, in a Facebook post, said: “We successfully conducted (on May 24) a Bangsamoro Peace and Security Summit to decisively address the conflict in Maguindanao and quickly transition to rehabilitation and development.”
The BARMM;s Bangsamoro Information Office (BIO) said that summit was attended by key national officials, senior officials of the AFP and PNP, 34 of the 36 mayors in Maguindanao.
The Maguindanao mayors have promised to take bolder actions against BIFF operations in their respective towns, local medoa reports said.
In a press conference following the summit, Minister Sinarimbo bared an agreed establishment of a regional “Joint-Operation Center” wherein representatives of the military, police, International Monitoring Team (IMT), and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “will be working tightly” to quell the BIFF atrocities, the BIO said.
Sinarimbo reportedly mentioned Secretary Lorenzana and Maj. Gen Juvymax Uy, 6ID chief, having recommended for a speedy building of partnership between military and MILF forces in addressing community security pursuant to the intents of Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and the MILF’s accords with the government.
The proposed military-MILF forces convergence is spelled out in the Normalization Track prescribed both in the BOL and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) of 2014.
Such a track requires the decommissioning of the MILF’s 40,000 members and their firearms. Due to the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic that stunted social movements and forced the national government to divert funds to fighting the viral disease, some 12,000 of the MILF members have been decommissioned.
Those decommissioned ex-combatants have reportedly been still waiting for the payout of 90 percent of the P1-million socio-economic fund package committed by the state to each of them to transform into peaceful and productive civilian life.
But before the advent of the pandemic, the government backed by an Independent Third Party team had already formed dozens of Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPSTs) composed of highly trained soldiers, cops and MILF ex-combatants to secure identified communities.
On May 19, the World Bank alongside the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) and the BARMM leadership launched the so-called Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund in what was believed to be a bold step to complete the decommissioning of the entire MILF membership.
Down in Maguindanao, Minister Sinarimbo has reportedly required LGUs in the province to also intensify the carrying out of life-enhancing projects amid assurance of funding support from the BARMM government as a long-ranged step to quell violent extremism.
Ideologues and leaders of the BIFF as well as the Abu Sayyaf usually recruit members in poor villages, with the use of persuasive narratives about mass poverty in the countryside.
In earlier huddles with the Philippine Muslim Today news, Minister Sinarimbo has admitted that “military action alone cannot solve violent extremism” and that massive infrastructure development in socio-economic concerns “must be done simultaneously.” (AGM)