‘BIFF open to talks’

Karlos Manlupig
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama says they are disappointed they have been consistently treated by government as bandits

ASSISTANCE. Personnel from the ARMM government provide initial aid for families displaced by the ongoing hostilities. Photo by ARMM Bureau of Public Information

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Despite the ongoing hostilities between state security forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the rebel group said their doors are open for negotiations with the government.

BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama said that Islamic teachings have taught them that regardless of the existing bitter conflict, all parties must still be willing to talk and make amends with their enemies.

“We were taught that if our enemies will talk to us we must face them and entertain them nicely,” Mama said.

But Mama claimed the government has not exerted any attempt to initiate talks with the rebel group.

He added that the BIFF is disappointed they have been consistently treated by government as bandits.

“For years, the government has sent heavily-armed troops to our communities, forcing us to fight back,” Mama said.

Mama said they wanted a peace negotiation that is “straight to the point.”

Unlike the GPH-MILF talks, which lasted for years, the BIFF wants a negotiation that is “direct,” Mama added.

The BIFF is presently waging a rebellion to claim an independent “Bangsamoro Islamic State” which is free from the “control” of the Philippine government.

Equal rights

“We wanted a state where everyone is equal. No Muslim, no Christian, no Lumad. Everyone must have equal rights. No one is poor and no one is rich. Islam is teaching us to create a world without boundaries and exploitation,” Mama added.

But for Col Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, the BIFF should first face the criminal charges against them.

“We cannot negotiate with criminal elements. The BIFF must first face their criminal acts before the government can entertain them,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso explained that the charges against the leaders of the BIFF are criminal offenses and not political offenses.

North Cotabato governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said the ongoing law enforcement operation proves the sincerity of the government in achieving peace and order in the area.

“No one is above the law. The ongoing military operations are indicative of the government’s commitment to peace and justice. The skirmish between the military and the BIFF should not put to waste the gains of the peace process,” Taliño-Mendoza said.

‘Settle the conflict’

Meanwhile, Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the MILF, said it is up to the government to initiate talks with the BIFF.

“My perception is that the government is avoiding talks with the BIFF. But I may be right or wrong in this. Maybe the government is thinking that if they will talk with the BIFF that it would legitimize the existence of the organization,” Jaafar said.

Balay Mindanaw, a Filipino Mindanao-based and Mindanao-focused organization focused on transforming this poorest and most conflict-torn of the country’s region into a home for its peoples, said they are pleased with the developments on peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (READ: Gov’t, MILF agree on historic arms deal)

“However, we are also worried with the recent hostilities between government forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. As we continue to journey in attaining peace in Mindanao, the concern for the primacy of life is more crucial over quantitative accomplishments,” the Balay Mindanaw said. (READ: Soldiers attack MILF breakaway units)

The organization said efforts to bring peace in Mindanao “must be an inclusive process and that no one should be excluded.”

“We appeal to the government to reach out and settle the conflict without further bloodshed. And we are also asking the BIFF to open its doors and talk with the government,” the Balay Mindanao said. 

Balay Mindanaw added that peoples of Mindanao should be “more vigilant in protecting the gains achieved after years of hard work in pushing for the completion of the peace deal against spoilers or groups and individuals with selfish agenda.”

After 3 days of fighting, the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) said at least 1,000 displaced families were reported in the province of Maguindanao. 

  • Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha: 500 families
  • Bakat, Shariff Saydona Mustapha: 180 families
  • Damabalas, Datu Piang: 211 families
  • Reina Regente, Datu Piang: 150 families

Evacuees

Meanwhile, DSWD documented at least 796 families staying in 10 evacuation centers in Pikit, North Cotabato. About 913 families have sought shelter in the houses of relatives and friends.

MinHRAC is presently appealing for humanitarian aid for the displaced families. MinHRAC executive director Zainudin Malang appealed to the military and the BIFF to spare the civilians from the fighting.

A two-year-old girl and a pregnant woman were hurt in a bomb explosion at the public terminal in Datu Piang on Tuesday noon.

An artillery shell also landed near the evacuation center in Sitio Madtalbayug in Datu Piang on Tuesday evening, MinHRAC said.

Malang also appealed for help for the residents displaced by the hostilities.

“MinHRAC is calling on all parties to avoid hitting or harming civilians and their properties. It is also calling for aid agencies to attend to the needs of the civilians and make sure that no one is excluded from aid,” Malang said. – Rappler.com