Renegade MILF leader doubts PNoy’s commitment to peace

BETH FRONDOSO, Multimedia Contributor


CAMP OMAR, MAGUINDANAO— Ameril Umra Kato, the renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander, says the Aquino government doesn’t have what it takes to pull off a peace deal with the MILF.

Renegade MILF commander Ameril Umra Kato with his men (by Beth Frondoso)
He notes that the government’s promise to release 25 MILF prisoners, which was later whittled down to 5, has amounted to nothing. “Ngayon kahit yung lima wala.” he told Newsbreak in an interview. (Now, even the 5 have not materialized.)


The government, through spokeswoman Abigail Valte, has denied it ever promised to release 25 detainees. Government peace panel chairman Marvic Leonen clarifies that what the government promised was to review the cases of  the 25.
President Aquino is expected to include the ongoing peace talks in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday July 25, and convey his optimism in signing a peace deal with the Muslim rebel group.


“Paano tayo magkakapag-asa? Hindi na natin malaman kung sino ang puntahan natin na tauhan ng gubyerno na mag-alaga sa atin ng mabuti, magmula sa barangay captain, mayor, governor hanggang Presidente.  (How can we dare hope? We don’t know who could help us in government—from the bottom up—officials who will genuinely care for us, from the barangay captain, mayor, governor up to the President.)

Kato rejects Murad


Kato also clarifies what he meant when he said the group he created, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has never left the MILF.  “Ang MILF ay ang organisasyon ng Bangsa Moro. Kung tutuusin hindi iba ang aming layunin—freedom. Hindi ako lumabas sa MILF.” But he clarifies he is referring to the MILF established by the late Salamat Hashim.
He questions the ascent of Ebrahim Murad as chairman of the MILF Central Committee, saying the late Hashim had never named his successor to the MILF leadership. “May karapatan siya kung sinusunod niya ang mga patakaran ni Ustadj Salamat”. (He has a right as long as he remains true to the dictates of Ustadj Salamat.)

But unlike Hashim, Kato says, Murad prefers to stay in the urban areas.

He says that while Murad is the recognized leader, discontent grows among the ranks. “Hindi ko ni-reject ang organization, ni-reject ko lang ang leadership.” (I don’t reject the organization, I reject the leadership.)

Kato also criticizes the “endless talks” between the MILF and the government. “Sa Islam politics, kailangan makadalawa lang, hindi na makaabot pa sa tatlo.” (In Islam politics, negotiations should last as long as the second attempt and not reach the third.) He notes that the peace negotiations had been going on for 30 years, since the time of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Kato is not consistent in his position on  the peace talks, though.

In an interview with veteran Mindanao reporter Carolyn Arguillas last April, he said he will not stand in the way of peace negotiations. Now, in front of reporters on a cool July day atop the rolling hills of Maguindanao, Kato turns belligerent.

He says he will respect  a peace deal between the government and the MILF, but only if it grants “liberation” to the Moro people.

The MILF has long abandoned independence as a goal and is gunning for a “state-sub-state relationship,” a form of autonomy akin to federalism. It’s a strategy that combines the power of semantics with pragmatism—a rational, reasonable stance that sources say has earned the nod of the Aquino government.

Usual suspect Kato confirms widespread election fraud in Maguindanao under former governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. where ballot boxes were filled with ballots two days before election day. He narrates it was never reported because people feared for their lives

Kato takes pride in the fact that his group was the sole entity to go up against Ampatuan in the heyday of the warlord’s power. “Alam mo si Andal kahit wala kang kalokohan basta hindi ka sasaludo sa kanya, kalaban ka niya. Gusto niya parang Diyos siya.” (You know, even if you are not doing anything wrong, you become Andal’s enemy if you don’t bow to him. He wanted to be God.)
He notes how he had become the favorite scapegoat of the military, linking him to bombings, kidnappings, terrorists and drugs. Proof of this, he claims, is that no concrete cases have been filed against him over these allegations. As to the occasional skirmishes with the military, he says those can’t be helped, maintaining that he is just coming to the defense of fellow Muslims.
Deal breaker?


The site of the interview is a knoll, a part of Camp Omar according to Kato’s liutenants. It is crawling with men armed to the hilt. They are all wearing black t-shirts with “BIFF of the MILF” in front in bold yellow.


Kato claims he has three fully-manned divisions of about 5,000 men. With their renegade standing no longer in doubt, Kato claims he’s ready for any backlash, even if the BIFF has to go up against both the military and the MILF troops.He reiterates the split with the Central Committee is beyond repair. He reveals he has rejected no less than 5 overtures for him to return to the fold. “Kalokohan, dahil itinakwil na nila ako noon! Parang aso, matapos isuka ang kinain niya, kakainin ito ulit. Hindi naman ako aso.” (This is preposterous, they’ve already disowned me. A dog will eat its own vomit. I am no dog.)

How will the existence of Kato’s Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)  affect the peace negotiations?

The MILF has maintained that the Kato problem is “an internal matter” and they are dealing with it.
But an AFP document acquired by Newsbreak reports that Murad is losing control over its ranks, citing as examples Kato and the recent  sacking of former spokesman Eid Kabalu.  (Kabalu had supposedly negotiated with a local politician regarding his possible candidacy for ARMM governor.)
Government peace panel chairperson Marvic Leonen, in a  presentation in UP, recently discussed problems that could seriously affect the talks: “A power struggle within the MILF which causes doubt on the authority of the peace panel.”

Kato himself is aware of how his group may be a deal breaker in the negotiations. “Meron pa yan sulat na gusto pirmahan ko na  ako talaga bumalik na in the fold of the MILF Central Committee, pero hindi ako nagpirma. Kasi gusto ng GRP panel sa negotiation, kailangan makita ang final report na ako talaga nagbalik para matapos na ang negotiation. Yan ngayon ang paninindigan ng gubyerno bakit hindi sila nag-submit ng resolution last June.” (They asked me to sign a document that I had come back to the fold, but I didn’t sign. The GRP panel wants proof that I had rejoined the ranks before they conclude the negotiations. That is why they didn’t submit the resolution in June.)

Kato the warrior apparently knows where he stands.— Newsbreak

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