Philippines: Bangsamoro Region Mayors to Help Govt Counter IS-Linked Militants

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
2021-05-27
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Philippines: Bangsamoro Region Mayors to Help Govt Counter IS-Linked Militants Philippine troops secure a highway after Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters temporarily occupied the public market in Datu Paglas, a town in southern Maguindanao province, May 8, 2021.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

A group of mayors in an autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines agreed to boost cooperation to fend off militants allied with the Islamic State group after President Rodrigo Duterte warned of an all-out war against the extremists. 

At a security summit earlier this week, the mayors signaled that they would help the military and law enforcement agencies monitor and combat militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), according to Naguib Sinarimbo, a spokesman for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Marop Ampatuan, the mayor of Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao province, said he and the other leaders would help the government “resolve the problem of terrorism by the BIFF soon.”

“Our village officials will hold meetings with their people to explain why it is wrong to join these groups,” Ampatuan told BenarNews on Thursday.

Officials would fan out to gather intelligence and turn it over to the authorities, while also launching a mass public information campaign against IS-linked groups, he said. 

“Most of the time, militants pass through our town’s remote villages and we are asking the help of civilians in monitoring their movement. It would help us a lot,” Ampatuan said.

The mayors, who held their closed-door security summit on Monday but released details later in the week, plan to ask leaders in the mainly Muslim region to counsel youths about the dangers of drifting into militancy, Ampatuan said. 

“A majority of the mayors supported the measure to increase cooperation,” Sinarimbo told BenarNews on Wednesday, adding that other majority-Muslim provinces in the south, such as Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi would hold their own security summits. 

Sinarimbo said the BIFF and other militant groups – the local chapter of Islamic State (IS), which is known here as Dawlah Islamiyah, and Abu Sayyaf – have “made a declaration that they will not go for negotiation or dialogue.” 

“We do not proceed from negotiations where the other parties have rejected negotiations as an option,” he said.

Meanwhile on Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law dividing Maguindanao province into Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur, the state-run Philippine News Agency reported. Both new provinces remain within the BARMM territory.

About two weeks ago, Duterte visited a military camp near Cotabato and warned of a possible all-out offensive against the BIFF if locals failed to control the militants. 

“The monkey wrench in the whole situation now is the BIFF and they continue to inflict not just small violence,” Duterte had said. “They continue to burn, ambush and detonate bombs, really full-blown terrorism.” 

The BIFF’s few hundred Muslim fighters split from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an armed separatist group, when MILF signed a peace deal with the central government in 2014. As part of the deal, the MILF controls the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

The BIFF is divided into several factions, including one which pledged allegiance to IS. Lately, fighters from the group have been involved in deadly clashes with government forces, officials said. 

Last week, a BIFF leader, Abdulatip Pendaliday (alias Commander Grasscutter), was killed during a clash in Datu Paglas town, also in Maguindanao. 

Pendaliday was believed to be involved in setting off roadside bombs targeting military convoys, according to Brig. Gen. Roy Galido, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade.

Earlier this month, troops drove out BIFF militants who took over the market in Datu Paglas. 

In 2017, the BIFF supported but did not send fighters to participate in the five-month siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi by militants linked to IS.

Since then, BIFF members have carried out a series of deadly bombings in the Mindanao region.

On May 14, MILF leader Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, who is the chief minister of the BARMM, told lawmakers that he and other leaders needed more time to control militants in the region.

Ebrahim, who is popularly known as Murad Ebrahim, had been asking the central government to postpone regional elections set for May 2022 and allow BARMM leaders to retain power until 2025. Under current law, the transitional government is supposed to relinquish power next May. 

Murad said the extension would allow BARMM leaders to establish reforms and stamp out the remaining militant groups. The leaders were appointed in 2019 by the central government in Manila and not by a vote. 

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