Hefty rewards sought for capture of BIFF leaders

By John Unson, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 05 2014 03:21 AM | Updated as of Feb 05 2014 11:21 AM

MAGUINDANAO – The Army's 6th Infantry Division on Tuesday asked the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to offer hefty rewards for the capture of leaders of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the Army’s 6th ID, said even the closest relatives of BIFF leaders would surely help in their arrest if they carry bounties on their heads.

“But we can only recommend because the final say on putting up bounties for the capture of wanted people comes from the DILG, the PNP and Malacañang,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso said policemen and soldiers, as a rule, are not entitled to any reward if they arrest any person with a bounty.

“Appropriate bounties could be a carrot that we can dangle to entice the friends, relatives, and the barangay folks in areas where these wanted BIFF leaders hide to provide the police with information that would lead to their arrest,” Hermoso said.

The military terminated its operations against the BIFF on Sunday, saying the offensives have reduced significantly the capability of the rebels to launch atrocities in central Mindanao.

However, there are no indications that its leader, Ameril Umbra Kato, was killed or captured.

Thousands of villagers were evacuated during the weeklong military offensives against the rebels.

Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman gave assurance her department will continue to provide relief assistance to the evacuees.

Some 4,698 families or 23,490 people in North Cotabato are still staying in 24 evacuation centers, while 5,726 families or 28,630 persons opted to stay at their friends‘ or relatives’ houses in safe areas to avoid the conflict between government troops and the BIFF.

DSWD social workers are providing psychosocial services to distressed families in the evacuation centers to help them cope with the trauma they are presently experiencing.

To ensure the daily food needs of the evacuees, the DSWD has prepositioned P1 million in standby funds, 717 family food packs and other food and non-food items amounting to P5 million for augmentation to the relief resources of conflict-affected local government units.

DSWD also continues to repack relief goods in Marbel, South Cotabato.

On the other hand, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sent 100 tents for the displaced families while the United Nations World Food Program (UN-WFP) has provided food and other non-food items.

Meanwhile, authorities remain on alert against the BIFF.

The military said the BIFF remains a threat even after the rebels managed to split into smaller groups.

Suspected BIFF rebels triggered off a roadside bomb targeting a military convoy in Mamasapano town yesterday.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the explosion occurred at Barangay Tuka shortly after members of the Army’s 46th Infantry Battalion and the 12 Mechanized Company passed by the area.

No one was hurt in the explosion, which was witnessed by a 10-vehicle convoy bound for Rajah Buayan town.

The convoy, which consisted of two Simba fighting vehicles, three KM 450 military trucks, two vehicles owned by the local government and vehicles of ABS-CBN, GMA 7 and TV5, was about several meters away when the bomb went off.

On the other hand, three suspected BIFF gunmen were wounded in a brief encounter on Monday with security guards of a banana farm in Tulunan town in the province.

The bandits reportedly retreated and dragged their wounded comrades after sensing that they could not break through the perimeters of the Del Monte Fresh Produce banana plantation due to the heavy presence of the guards firing back.

Intelligence sources identified the wounded BIFF bandits as Mokamad Batua, Edris Sajid and a certain Muarif, who belong to a group based at the swampy border of North Cotabato’s M‘lang and Tulunan towns.

Senior Inspector Ronnie Cordero, chief of the Tulunan police, said the bandits pounded with anti-tank rockets and shoulder-fired 40mm grenades the surroundings of the plantation’s packing plant in Barangay Dungos as they fled in haste.

“No one from among the security guards were wounded or killed in the ensuing encounter,” Cordero said.

Authorities are not discounting the possibility the attacks were meant to get back at government forces that raided BIFF lairs last week.

“This explosion means that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will still need to continue its clearing operation to remove threats not only to soldiers (but to) the community itself,” Zagala said.

The PNP called on the media to exercise utmost caution during coverage in conflict areas.

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac issued the statement after the incident in Mamasapano.

“The media will always be entitled to degree or leeway or access to whatever activities the government has in the light of transparency issues,” Sindac explained. “The media will, however, have to abide by our security procedure (during police operations).”

Two television journalists who were accompanying the military in the coverage last Wednesday were wounded in a blast in Datu Saudi town.

They were among 10 people, including six soldiers, hurt in a bomb blast during the offensive against the BIFF.

The BIFF led by Kato and more than a dozen of his lieutenants, among them Karialan and Tambako, both Islamic preachers, are wanted for various criminal charges, including multiple murder, arson and robbery for attacking villages in central Mindanao for the past two years.

Kato began as chief of the 105th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but was booted out in late 2010 for insubordination and irreconcilable differences with the MILF’s central leadership.

The recalcitrant Kato, who studied Islamic theology in a religious school in Saudi Arabia as a government scholar in the early 1970s, launched the BIFF in early 2011.

The BIFF gained notoriety for banditry and its brutal enforcement of a Taliban-style Sharia justice system in areas where it operates.

Sources from the BIFF revealed Karialan is now acting as tactical leader of the group, with imprimatur from Kato, who suffered a stroke and became incapacitated in late 2011.

Combined combatants of the Army’s 601st and 1st Mechanized Brigades took over the BIFF’s largest enclave in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town last Friday, after a five-day operation.

Hermoso said Karialan and his subordinate-commanders escaped even before soldiers could reach their camp in Barangay Ganta.

“There is a need to raise rewards for the capture of these people. Certainly, with rewards being dangled, even the closest of their relatives will not hesitate to turn them in,” Hermoso said.

– With Alexis Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Rainier Allan Ronda