Bangsamoro gov’t: No talks with BIFF
BULUAN, MAGUINDANAO—The Bangsamoro government will not negotiate with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed to neutralize to protect the gains of the peace process, a regional official said.
Naguib Sinarimbo, minister of the interior and local government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said they had been eyeing the creation of a joint operation center, composed of the military, the police, the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team and the MILF, to go after the BIFF and other Islamic State (IS)-aligned groups in the region.
Sinarimbo, also spokesperson for the BARMM, said the BIFF, Dawlah Islamiyah and other IS-inspired groups had already declared they would not join any negotiation or dialogue with the government.
“We do not proceed from negotiations where the other parties have clearly rejected negotiations as an option,” he said during Monday’s Bangsamoro peace and security summit in Cotabato City.
Instead, he urged the IS-linked militants to return to the fold of the law or face the full might of the military and the MILF.
Records from the BARMM showed that 197 BIFF fighters had surrendered and received cash and livelihood aid from the government along with psychosocial intervention to help them cope with life in society’s mainstream.
Sinarimbo also bared that more than 600 BIFF gunmen last year had already indicated their willingness to rejoin the MILF and undertake the decommissioning process.
“We have taken this up with the (secretary of the national defense) and we are just awaiting the resolution of the warrants of arrests issued against some of them,” he said.
“As for those who have decided to come out and return to the fold of law, Project Tugon (Tulong mula sa Gobyernong Nagmamalasakit) will continue to be available. As of date, we have enrolled in this project a total of 157 (surrenderers), who have been given assistance by the BARMM,” Sinarimbo said.
For this year, the BARMM has allocated livelihood assistance to 250 militants who will return to the fold of law, particularly in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Sulu, where the remnants of the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf operate, respectively.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Maj. Gen, Juvymax Uy, 6th Infantry Division (ID) commander, had urged a speedy military operation against the BIFF in partnership with the MILF during a meeting with Sinarimbo, according to the Bangsamoro Information Office.
The MILF and the government forged in 2014 the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), their final peace agreement after 17 years of negotiations, which later paved the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro region.
The CAB provides for a comprehensive approach in strengthening peace and order, as well as in addressing emerging security concerns in the Bangsamoro region, including the disbandment of private armed groups.
In a visit to the 6th ID headquarters in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao province on May 11, President Duterte appealed to the Bangsamoro government to help contain the BIFF, and warned that if the group would continue its terror activities, he would launch an all-out military offensive against the militants.
The President’s warning came three days after the BIFF briefly occupied the public market of Datu Paglas town. At least four BIFF fighters were killed during a clash with pursuing troops.
“What we are doing now is to use the power of the regional government and the mechanisms agreed within the peace agreement to enhance our partnership and solve the problem,” Sinarimbo said.