Anti-Bangsamoro law radicals behind deadly Basilan blast?

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 01 2018 11:42 AM

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MANILA - At least 2 members of the academe floated Wednesday the possibility that radical groups opposing a new law granting wilder self-rule to Muslims in the south may be behind a car explosion that left 10 dead in Basilan province.

Tuesday's explosion occurred moments after soldiers and paramilitary troops at a checkpoint in Lamitan town flagged a van that was allegedly loaded with improvised explosives.

The incident comes just days after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law, allowing minority Muslims in the region to create a new autonomous area with its own political and economic powers.

Over the years, the peace process has ironically spurred the emergence of new radical groups that are dissatisfied with the approval or delay in agreements signed between the government and other Muslim groups, said Prof. Julkipli Wadi, chair of the University of the Philippines-Institute of Islamic Studies.

For instance, the Maute group, which laid siege to Marawi City for 5 months last year, was formed after the previous Aquino administration failed to pass an earlier version pf the Bangsamoro law, he noted.

The Bangsamoro law is among the requirements of the government's 2014 peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Under the measure, the MILF will lead the creation of the Bangsamoro region that will replace ARMM.

MILF's integration into the government may create a vacuum of power in areas under its control, which may entice other radical groups.

"Ito bang nangyari sa Basilan ay repleksyon ng ating mga pangamba na baka nga gagapangin o magpakitang gilas iyung mga radikal na grupo sa mga lugar na iyan?" he told radio DZMM.

(Is the incident in Basilan a reflection of our fear that other radical groups may encroach upon and show off in those areas?)

The restive south is home to the armed groups Abu Sayyaf, Maute, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and Moro National Liberation Front, among others, he noted.

Security expert Rommel Banlaoi, meanwhile, said the bombing was a sign extremists were bent on sabotaging a peace effort that had a chance of success.

"These pro-Islamic State militants will pose a tremendous challenge for the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law," he told Reuters.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the bombing attack, which it called "a martyrdom operation".

Authorities are not discounting Islamic State's pronouncement, but it would be easy for any armed group to claim the attack, which is still under investigation, said military spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo.

Vehicle bombings are extremely rare in the Philippines, despite decades of separatist and Islamist violence that have destabilized the Mindanao region and lured foreign extremists.

With a report from Reuters