The observance of the just-concluded fasting month of Ramadan was marred by yet another incident of violence. It was supposed to be a period of peace when devotees are absorbed in performing their fasting obligations. In battles, a truce is normally observed by combatants during Ramadan in deference to the sanctity of the month. But the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a former military arm of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is now governing the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), continued its attacks, plunder and philandering of Muslim villages.
Muslim observers did not miss the irony. The BIFF, composed of radical Islamists of the MILF, claimed to advocate the return to pure Islamic fundamentalism of yore — Wahabbism and the kind similar to the zeitgeist of Prophet Muhammad. And yet they desecrate the holiness of Ramadan, which abhors violence.
Last week, the BIFF held hostage Datu Paglas, a roadside town of Maguindanao near the boundary toward the province of Sultan Kudarat. It paralyzed traffic connecting the cities of Cotabato, Marbel, General Santos, Sarangani and Davao. There was an exchange of heavy artillery fire between the Islamic fighters and government troops who came to the rescue of the besieged town. It took hours for the 100 militants, upon intervention by local leaders and officials, to withdraw, leaving residents in horror and trauma.
The sporadic rampage by the BIFF got the beef of the President. He visited Cotabato City, de facto capital of BARMM, to air his displeasure. He sought the help of the leadership of MILF and local government in solving the problem. Reading between the lines of the President’s speech, it looked like he is under the impression that the BARMM leadership is not flexing much its muscle to confront head-on their former comrades in arm, the BIFF. Military intelligence has since suspected that BARMM is not doing enough, perhaps because of kinship or past affiliations with members of the BIFF.
The President appeared to have lost his patience and gave stern warning to the Koran-quoting radicals that he might declare an all-out offensive against them.
The leaders of the MILF running now the BARMM must have squirmed or winced in their seat listening to the President. After all, they were expected to lead the campaign against lawlessness in the area of autonomy. What good is the grant of power of governance and the bonanza of favors if they cannot help secure the area?
One wonders though if this is BIFF’s way to humiliate the BARMM leadership before the President and the nation by showing that they have no control or influence over the area of autonomy. That will be a costly and bloody power play.
Are we seeing the emergence of stronger fighters for autonomy who will negotiate and demand for another kind of autonomous government they can also rule? It’s ridiculous, but naughty minds are playing with this scenario.
It’s a cycle. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fought the government and was awarded the Autonomous Government for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to run. From the MNLF, a disgruntled and breakaway group, the MILF, fought the government and was awarded the BARMM to run, too. Now, another breakaway group from the MILF, its former military wing, the BIFF, is wreaking havoc in Morolandia perhaps under the illusion that another kind of autonomous government will be awarded to them in exchange for a peace pact with government. It’s a crazy scenario.
In the meantime, the continuing violent campaign of the BIFF might have an adverse effect, nay, derail the bid of the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority for the extension of their term of office without election. Observers ask: What will extending their term bring when they cannot even help government contain criminalities in their claimed sphere of influence?
The MILF-led BARMM will have to show to government that it is doing more in the campaign for peace. It should avoid anything that will directly or tacitly link them with their former comrades, the BIFF.
They should summon their social and cultural influence in the area to rein in the BIFF. Otherwise, the rest of the Filipinos will suspect that Moros are just pulling the leg of government.
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