COTABATO CITY?North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol Sunday warned reviving the Ilaga movement could only turn the conflict in Central Mindanao from bad to worse.
In a statement posted on the province?s website, Piñol declared his opposition to the revival of the Ilaga, a dreaded group of armed Christian settlers whose bloody encounters with Muslim bands preceded the rise of the full-blown Islamic secessionist movement in 1972.
Piñol?s statement came barely three days after a band of some 300 armed men, among them former local officials, met with reporters in an upland area somewhere in North Cotabato and announced they were the ?Reformed Ilaga Movement.?
Piñol called for an investigation of the revival of the Ilaga, saying the Sangguniang Panglalawigan (provincial council) had also passed a resolution formally opposing its revival.
Over local radio dxMS here and dxND in Kidapawan City, Piñol called on those behind the reorganization of the Ilaga to desist. He said he would do everything to get the police and military organization to go after them.
?This will only worsen the situation in Mindanao,? Piñol said. ?We do not want a situation where armed vigilante groups would go on a rampage and kill innocent Muslim civilians.?
No to disbanding
But in Koronadal City, a spokesperson for the Reformed Ilaga Movement said they would not disband.
Spokesperson Mike Santiago told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the phone they were ?not beholden to politicians.?
?We don?t want to be influenced by certain (politicians). Our support mainly comes from the people?whether wealthy or poor,? he said.
Santiago said the Reformed Ilaga Movement would only take a defensive stance and would not attack Muslim villages.
?We heard the MILF challenging us to attack their areas but we will not do that because once we do, they will bring the fighting to Muslim communities and we will be held responsible for that,? Santiago said.
Support from Moros
Santiago said assaulting the MILF or any Muslim community was ?never in our agenda.?
He also claimed ?some Moro people support our cause.?
Piñol said there was no need to resurrect the group as the military and the police were doing their jobs of protecting the people.
Piñol was one of several Mindanao officials who objected to the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The government has since backed out of signing the agreement and hostilities between government troops and Islamic rebels have resumed.
But Piñol said he was not ?anti-Muslim.? He said he objected to the agreement because some areas of North Cotabato were included in a proposed Bangsamoro homeland without local leaders having been consulted.
North Cotabato?s official stand against revival of the Ilaga was backed by Davao del Sur Gov. Douglas Cagas, chair of the Southern Mindanao peace and order council, as well as the non-government organization, Promotion of Church Peoples Response (PCPR), based in North Cotabato.
Meanwhile, former North Cotabato Rep. Anthony Dequiña, whose family was involved in the formation of the Ilaga in the 1970s, distanced himself from the new group.
Earlier, Rep. Bernardo Piñol, younger brother of the vice governor, said some former North Cotabato officials were behind the resurgent vigilante group.
Founder of original group
Although Piñol declined to name the officials, Dequiña said he felt alluded to since his father, Nicolas, was one of the seven founders of the original Ilaga.
Aside from his father, Dequiña said the other founders of the group in the 1970s were former Mayors Wenceslao de la Cerna of Alamada, Pacifico de la Cerna of Libungan, Conrado Lemana of Tulunan, Esteban Doruelo of Pigcawayan, Jose Escribano of Tacurong?all parts of the then undivided Cotabato province?and Constabulary Capt. Manuel Tronco.
?I admit that my father was one of the founders but now I have nothing to do with its rebirth,? Dequiña said.
But the former lawmaker admitted some leaders of the Reformed Ilaga Movement recently came to see him to ask for advice.
?I told them, ?Do not take the law into your own hands. We have the police and the military to do the job,?? he said.
?I don?t want to open the wounds of the ?70s,? he said referring to the attacks that strained the relationship between Muslims and Christians.
?I told them to return to their lands, practice peaceful coexistence with our Muslim brothers, and not do anything that would compromise the Mindanao peace process.?
Dequiña did not identify the Ilaga leaders who consulted him. He said he did not know who was behind them.
?Probably these are the people who responded to the call of the times,? he said, but added that he was not justifying the revival of the group. Nash B. Maulana, Jeoffrey Maitem, Nash Maulana, Edwin Fernandez, Charlie Señase, Richel Umel and Orlando Dinoy, Inquirer Mindanao