Kato still calling the shots in BIFF, says spokesman
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) leader Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato still calls the shots in the group’s battles against government troops. This claim was made by the rebel group’s spokesman on Wednesday, in debunking reports that Kato has become paralyzed after suffering a stroke.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, said Kato has been commanding the entire movement, but Muhaiden Animbang alias Kagi Karialan has been directly commanding ground units in the recent clashes in Maguindanao.
“Kato is not there in the fighting, although he is still strong unlike the malicious statements of the military,” Mama said.
Animbang is the chief of staff for the BIFF, according to Mama.
Animbang, who is in his early 40s, studied in Saudi Arabia in his younger years.
Mama also brushed off the claims of the military that a major rebel camp was captured, explaining that it was the house of a BIFF official.
“The military torched his house including a Madrasah (Islamic school). These soldiers also destroyed our communal rice and corn farm. We built that farm so that we will be self-sufficient without asking help from businessmen,” Mama said.
Meanwhile, Absalom Cerveza, spokesperson of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) confirmed Wednesday that their forces in Maguindanao have joined forces with the BIFF.
“We still have a large number of fighters in Maguindanao. And because they were also subjected to military operations, they agreed to a tactical alliance with BIFF men,” Cerveza, spokesperson of the Nur Misuari-led MNLF faction, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.
He, however, could not say how many MNLF forces joined the BIFF.
“I am going to meet their leaders this weekend to find out more information. That’s what’s going to happen in other areas if the military will subject our men to offensives,” he added.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said they have started investigating Cerveza’s claims.
“But I think it’s just mere propaganda to get media attention,” He said.
The military carried out the weeklong operation Darkhorse against the BIFF, claiming it killed at least 51 rebels.
On the side of the government, one soldier was killed while 20 others were wounded, while eight civilians who were caught in the crossfire were wounded.
The MNLF-Misuari wing and the BIFF are opposed to the peace talks between the government and the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The BIFF broke away from the MILF in 2008 and has vowed to continue the uprising, claiming that the Malaysian-brokered talks would not lead to a separate Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.