Islamist militant BIFF's recruitment in Mindanao gains ground amid pandemic: Galvez

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 14 2021 05:47 PM

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) spokesperson Abu Misri (4th R) with fellow rebels meet with members of the media for an interview at their hideout in Maguindanao province on January 29, 2014. Mark Navales, AFP/File

MANILA — Recruitment of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has intensified amid the pandemic, Presidential Peace adviser Carlito Galvez, Jr. told Senators Friday, admitting that the government "failed" to foresee radicalization as an impact of the global health crisis.

"We failed to consider the impact of the COVID-19. During the COVID-19, marami pong nagsara na mga plantations (many plantations closed down). At the same time, it restricts the people from doing things to take their livelihood," Galvez, a military chief and now Presidential peace adviser, told the Senate's local government panel. 

"Because of this situation... many people now, on the verge of hunger, madali po silang ma-recruit (it's easy to recruit them) considering that these are the situations that worsened their livelihood," he said.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), opposing the latter's decision to pursue peace talks with the government that has led to the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity.

Galvez said the BIFF "exploited" the situation that made poor people more susceptible to recruitment. 

"Normally kasama dun ang some of the families ng MILF at also some of the families ng BIFF nawalan po ng trabaho (Normally this includes some families of the MILF and of the BIFF of lost jobs). Because of these hard situations brought about by the COVID-19, it also induces the members of the BIFF to exploit the situation and recruit," Galvez said. 

Asked by panel chair Sen. Francis Tolentino if the spike in recruitment was a "failure of intelligence," Galvez said it was not. 

"It’s not a failure of intelligence, but basically congruent disabling conditions in the Bangsamoro," Galvez said. 

The government is still working on the decommissioning of some 28,000 MILF combatants, which is part of the normalization process that should have been accomplished last year.

Galvez also underscored the need to extend the terms of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region's regional government for another 3 years so they can complete the transition process and avoid potential bloodshed.

"Nakita po natin na pagka nagkaroon po ng eleksyon, nagkakaroon po tayo ng malaking dibisyon (we see that whenever we have elections, there's a great division)... The BIFF and the terrorist group might use the elections that creates much division and rido (clan war) in the midst of the Bangsamoro," Galvez said. 

About 20 BIFF members over the weekend occupied a market in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao province in the Bangsamoro region, forcing residents to flee. BIFF members shot it out with soldiers, who later drove away the militants. 

On Wednesday, the military clashed with fleeing militants anew. Four BIFF members died in the encounter.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday issued a warning to the BIFF to stop its attacks on civilians.

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Duterte in 2019 ordered an all-out war against terror groups, following twin bombings in a church in Jolo, Sulu that killed around 20 people. 

— reports from Sherrie Ann Torres and Jauhn Villaruel, ABS-CBN News