By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Dozens of former combatants of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are gradually becoming social assets such as community emergency rescuers and economic entrepreneurs through civil-military cohesive efforts launched in the new autonomous region to win back constituents from lawlessness.
Over 300 BIFF armed members have rejoined the social mainstream since the creation in 2019 of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), 96 of them surrendering in batches this year alone, according to military accounts.
Five BIFF ex-combatants were reported as among 59 graduates of the Water Search and Rescue (WASAR) training held last July 27 to August 2 by the BARMM’s Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidents (READi) unit and the military’s 6th Infantry “Kampilan” Division (6ID), officials told The Philippine Muslim Today (PMT) news.
The transformation of the five former violent extremists into emergency responders to both natural calamities as well as human-induced disasters, which usually involved BIFF guerillas, had drawn public praises.
More sectors expressed elation after learning that two of the WASAR training graduates from the BIFF were siblings named as Mama and Mohammad, both of early 20s, who have been united after a decade of separation wrought by the deaths of their parents and their recruitment into terror-bound rebellion.
The Mama-Mohammad reunion was featured in a documentary produced by Cotabato blogger Ferdinadh Cabrera for the BARMM’s Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MILG), which administers the READi operations.
A report published on Aug. 13 and attributed to Brig. Gen. Roy Gallido, Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade head, said that
26 former BIFF combatants underwent a three-day in Tacurong City to acquire skills on various entrepreneurial skills under the BARMM’s “Tulong ng Gobyerno sa Nangangailangan” to TUGON program.
The TUGON program was conceived by the Office of the BARMM Chief Minister to hasten the return to mainstream society of former BIFF members through livelihood, psycho-social, education and other humanitarian interventions, MILG Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said in Cabrera’s documentary video.
The surrender in batches of BIFF combatants stemmed either from the intensified military surgical operations or local civilian authorities’ persuasive campaigns in towns mostly bordering Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces, it was learned.
Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of the 6ID and Task Force Central head, has reportedly expressed optimism that more BIFF combatants would rejoin the social mainstream with corresponding life-enhancing assistance from the BARMM governance and other state instrumentalities.
The BIFF was founded by Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato in 2010 after he and his 300 loyal followers bolted their mother unit, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in 2008.
When Kato died of lingering illness on April 14, 2015, the BIFF had eventually splintered into three factions, one of which is reportedly adhering to the ISIS ideology.
According to MILF and BARMM leaderships, there have been backchannel talks with the two other BIFF factions for their return to the folds of law and give the new autonomous governance a chance to take its course. (AGM)