International group calls on government to disband BIFF as elections near
KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato, Philippines — One of the world’s leading peacebuilding organizations warned that recent violence that displaced close to 10,000 families in Maguindanao province could escalate as the new Bangsamoro region gears up for its first ever elections next year.
The London-based International Alert (IA) called on both the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to avert the escalation of violence by working together to disband the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which used to be part of the MILF and is now aligned with the extremist Islamic State, which had been destabilizing the region.
“The military and the MILF will need to show greater resolve in neutralizing the BIFF and other extremist groups before the elections [in 2022],” IA said in a statement emailed to the Inquirer.
“For the MILF, it will mean disregarding kinship ties in going after the BIFF, even if it leads to internal fissures,” it added.
IA said the MILF had to play a crucial role in averting the escalation of armed conflict in Maguindanao since the province is its bailiwick.
On March 18, the military clashed with the Karialan faction of the BIFF and the Dawlah Islamiya–Turaife Group in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, displacing at least 9,347 families or 46, 735 individuals, according to the data gathered by the Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence team of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
IA said the firefight was the latest in the series of military and BIFF clashes that IA monitored since January this year, based on the reports from local contacts on the ground.
Francisco Lara Jr., IA senior peace and conflict adviser, said the clashes involving the BIFF-Karialan faction could be part of a gradual yet deliberate escalation of violence that might lead to a major political battle before or during the 2022 elections.
“Reports from our early response network reveal how some local politicians are orchestrating violent incidents in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and nearby towns to depict the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) as ineffective in improving the security in this conflict-ridden area and hence weaken the legitimacy and authority of the Bangsamoro transition government,” Lara said.
“Many politicians are interested in seizing control of the BTA and the BARMM if elections are held as scheduled in 2022. Others are aware that the MILF is also planning to field candidates against them in their local bailiwicks,” Lara added.
He also said that the violence from extremist groups like the BIFF and the shadow economies in drugs and weapons could combine and feed into the violence surrounding these upcoming political contests, IA said.
IA also said that despite the state’s crackdown, illegal drugs and weapons’ trade remained “robust” in the area.
Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said the BARMM and the military had been relentlessly exerting efforts to flush out the BIFF, with the help of the MILF.
“We are saddened by the resumption of hostilities triggered by the Islamic State-inspired group’s movement in the SPMS box,” Sinarimbo said, referring to the collective name for the four municipalities of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (now Datu Saudi Ampatuan), Mamasapano and Datu Salibo, which are strongholds of the BIFF. “The MILF forces, in coordination with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), are now engaging these Isis-inspired groups.”
Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, 6th Infantry Division chief, said at least 14 BIFF members died after four days of fighting. INQ
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