MILF: Umbra Kato’s group not acceptable

By ABS-CBN Central Mindanao

Posted at Feb 16 2011 12:31 PM | Updated as of Feb 16 2011 08:31 PM

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said it is as solid and strong as ever despite the emergence of a breakaway guerilla group.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said “we have fronts in the island provinces in the ARMM, Davao region, Northern Mindanao region, Southern Mindanao region, Central Mindanao region and even as far as Palawan and the Zamboanga peninsula.”

The recent breakaway of an MILF prominent figure, former 105th Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) leader Ameril Umbra Kato, put to question the capability of the leadership of the MILF to face the national government in the recently-initiated peace talks.

Early this year, Kato released a statement saying he has been neglected by the MILF leaders. Kato was dismayed over their decision to sit down in the negotiating table with the government despite the pending cases filed against him and Abdurahman Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo.

Kato said the MILF fighters who are with him right now are the true fighters for freedom. His group is called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“Bumuo ako ng BIFF kasi ang kasalukuyang BIAF-MILF meron na mga nagsa-shabu, may kidnapper. Hindi na sila napasok sa jihad. Naririnig ko sa ibang BIAF na hindi na kailangan makipag giyera para makuha ang kanilang hinahangad,” Kato said.

Allegations not true


Jaafar, however, said Kato’s allegations are not true.

He said disclosing false information to the public is not the right avenue to be noticed by the MILF leadership. He said they recognized Kato as BIAF commander but they are not in control of his emotions.

Jaafar explained Kato tendered his resignation during the last quarter of 2010 supposedly due to health problems.

After he left the 105th base command, he was assigned as head of the MILF’s Shariah Court. Jaafar said they were surprised on the pronouncement made by Kato and the creation of the BIFF.

“His creation of the BIFF is not acceptable to the MILF kasi iisa lang ang military arm ng MILF,” he said.

He confirmed that an emissary was sent to Kato before the February 9 resumption of peace talks.

“Our message to him is that we are willing to sit down and discuss with him all his sentiments. Hindi niya dapat ginawa ito. Pwede namang pag-usapan. Pwede naman siyang maresolve kasi this is an internal problem of the MILF,” he added.

Kato, however, noted he resigned from the front because he already does not have its support.

“Doon ko na-prove na hiniwalayan talaga ako, noong nagkaroon ng SOMO [suspension of offensive military operations] at [suspension of military action]. Hindi ako kinonsulta noong nagpalabas ng SOMA ang MILF. Sana bago pinalabas yon, ininform ako. Di nila ako pinapirma. Yong field commander, deputy ko, brigade ko lang ang pinapirma. Since nangyari yon kusang loob nalang akong nagresign” Kato said.

Peace talks

Meanwhile, Jaafar also cleared the issue that the ongoing GRP-MILF peace talks are beginning to bog down.

“Why would the government face us in the negotiating table if it is? This is the 20th exploratory talks we have had with the government,” he said.

During the recent talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the GRP-MILF peace panels both reviewed and amended the terms of reference of the international monitoring team and agreed to renew their mandate for twelve (12) months.

The parties also reviewed and amended the implementing guidelines of the ad hoc joint action group (AHJAG) and reaffirmed their commitment to continue joint efforts in coordinating the isolation and interdiction of criminal elements by renewing the mandate of the ad hoc joint action group for a period of twelve (12) months, effective March 1, 2011.

During the meeting, the MILF panel officially submitted a revised draft of the comprehensive compact agreement. The government peace panel requested time to review and submit its own proposals.

A source of ABS-CBN said that the proposed comprehensive compact agreement contains the following:

1. Preamble
2. Principles of Negotiation
3. Transitional Arrangement
4. Frame of Intellect Period
5. Bangsamoro Governance
6. Elections
7. Representation to the Central Government
8. Bangsamoro Basic Law
9. Bangsamoro Life and Safeguards
10. Administration of Justice
11. Transfer of Authorities

An ABS-CBN source said the existing ARMM will be included in the proposed Bangsamoro state, with a parliamentary form of government.
The parties agreed to meet again, tentatively, on March 29 and 30, 2011.

The rebel group has been struggling since 1960s.

Jaafar can no longer remember how many times the peace talks have been stalled. At least 5 people have held the post of chairman of the MILF peace panel since 1997.

Two major camps of the MILF were captured by the government in the all-out war in 2000 and in the Buliok Complex attack in 2003.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands of civilians have been evacuated because of the armed struggle in this part of southern Philippines.