Is BIFF the MILF’s ‘BFF’?
MANILA, Philippines – Questions have emerged about how the criminal Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) could have a camp within a territory controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which is talking peace with the government.
The answer may lie in the history of the BIFF, which had its origins in the MILF, specifically in its 105th Base Command—the same unit that clashed with members of police Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, on January 25, 2015.
During that clash, 44 SAF members—considered the elite force of the Philippine National Police (PNP)—were killed after reportedly being surrounded and pinned by MILF and BIFF forces.
In an interview with the Inquirer’s Arlyn dela Cruz, police Director Getulio Napenas said SAF men were sent to Mamasapano to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.”
According to Napenas, the SAF commander who led the operation, his men were divided into two: one was the strike team that captured Marwan and the other was the “blocking force” tasked to secure the escape of the first group.
Napenas said his men had already killed Marwan and were on their way out of Mamasapano when BIFF and MILF forces started to “[come] from all directions.”
The general said the 44 slain SAF commandos were part of the blocking force.
Initial investigation showed that the SAF men were surrounded by BIFF and MILF gunmen in a corn field, where they were pinned for 10 hours, with enemy snipers picking them off one by one.
Later, the MILF confirmed that the BIFF took part in the clash but denied working with the group.
Despite the denials by MILF leadership, many believe that they are not telling the truth.
Research by the Inquirer showed that the ties that bind the BIFF and MILF’s 105th Base Command are long and deep.
For starters, Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, an Islamic scholar trained in Saudi Arabia and the founder of the BIFF, was the former commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command.
In December 2010, Kato, who reportedly disagreed with the MILF accepting autonomy instead of independence from the government, broke away from the rebel group.
He then formed the BIFF, whose members also came from the MILF. At first, Umbra Kato claimed that 5,000 MILF members joined his BIFF, but government said he had only about 300 armed followers.
Despite his breakaway, Umbra Kato was still acknowledged as a member of the MILF until August 2011 when the latter declared him and his BIFF as a “lost command.”
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF political affairs chief, said they tried to bring back Umbra Kato but he refused.
Former affiliations are just the surface of the BIFF-MILF link, however.
In Maguindanao, blood and family ties determine loyalties and many members of both groups are either relatives or friends.
And based on local traditions, the enemy or one member of a family may become the enemy of the entire clan.
The enemy of one is the enemy of all.
Also, members of a family live close to one another to better help and—if needed—protect each other.
In a recent interview, Abu Misri Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, said the fighters of the MILF and BIFF are “all family,” apparently explaining why they have a camp in MILF territory and why the forces of both groups were one in pouncing on the SAF commandos.
Nonetheless, the MILF insists that there is no cooperation between the BIFF and the MILF.
“This information about a cooperation of the MILF with the BIFF is only speculation. There is no evidence. And all of our combatants are disciplined,” Jaafar said.
Despite the MILF’s denials, many choose not to believe.
Skeptics even doubt whether a peace pact could erase or cut the ties that bind Jaafar’s group with the BIFF and that they may be “BFF” or “Bound to be Family Forever.” CB
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