House warns of MILF 'creeping expansion'

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 25 2015 09:01 AM | Updated as of Mar 25 2015 05:01 PM

MANILA - The military should scour Mindanao for hidden camps allegedly being set up by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as part of the latter's ''creeping expansion'' in areas not under its control, the chairman of the House panel deliberating on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) said yesterday.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the 75-member ad hoc committee on the BBL, said the discovery of an MILF training camp in Iligan City early this month is alarming and does not augur well for peace initiatives set back by the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident.

“There has been significant loss of trust in the MILF after the Mamasapano incident and these reports of MILF training camps outside their region will add to that,” Rodriguez told The STAR.

Special Action Force (SAF) commandos on a mission to arrest high-value terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25 clashed with MILF guerrillas while leaving the village after killing Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan. The fighting killed 44 SAF commandos, 18 MILF guerrillas and five civilians.

Rodriguez said the MILF’s putting up camps or similar facilities outside areas under its control does not only violate the ceasefire agreement with government but also validates fears that the rebel group is taking advantage of some provisions in the BBL to expand its territory.

He said a provision in the BBL stipulates that 10 percent of the population of a contiguous area may call for a referendum for inclusion in a Bangsamoro autonomous region that the BBL seeks to create.

He said training camps or similar installations could be used to influence or even coerce residents in contiguous area into joining the autonomous region.

The House leader said several members of the ad hoc panel, including Iligan City Rep. Vicente Belmonte, are seeking the removal of such a provision on the grounds that it can cause instability.

He said the provision is now a contentious issue because of the discovery of the training camp.

“We call on the MILF to desist from putting up such camps or influencing people,” Rodriguez said.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should immediately dismantle MILF installations found outside the boundaries set by the ceasefire agreement.

The House leader also chided the military as well as the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process for failing to monitor and report the existence of the MILF camp in Iligan.

Rodriguez said he expects AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr. to report to the panel the existence of MILF training camps when the committee resumes deliberations on the BBL on April 27 to 30.

He said the committee plans to put the BBL to a vote by May. Leaders of the chamber said they aim to approve the BBL by June or before Congress adjourns.

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