Aquino to MILF: Surrender Abdul Basit Usman

Rappler.com
Aquino to MILF: Surrender Abdul Basit Usman
(UPDATED) Usman has become the most hunted Filipino bomber with a $1-million reward for his capture offered by the US government

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III is asking the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to surrender Abdul Basit Usman, one of two high-value targets of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force in their January 25 operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

While wanted terrorist and Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias ‘Marwan’ was killed, Usman got away.

In his address to the nation on Friday, February 6, Aquino said, “Kung nasa loob siya ng inyong teritoryo o nasa ilalim siya ng pangangalaga ng sinuman sa inyo, inaasahan kong isusuko ninyo siya sa mga awtoridad. Kung hindi, ay gawin ang lahat upang tumulong sa pagdakip sa kanya. At kung hindi pa rin maaari ito, ay huwag makialam sa aming pag-uusig kay Usman.” 

(If he remains within your territory, or is protected by one of your members, we expect you to surrender him to the authorities. If not, we expect you to do everything you can to help capture him. And if even this is not possible, do not interfere with our pursuit of Usman.)

“Magsilbi sana itong babala at paalala: Huhulihin namin si Usman, anuman ang maging desisyon ninyo, sino man ang kumukupkop sa kanya, at saan man siya nagtatago. Walang dapat magduda: Magkatuwang ang adhikain natin para sa kapayapaan at katarungan,” the President added.

(May this serve as a warning and a reminder: We will get Usman, whatever you decide, regardless of who provides a safe haven for him, regardless of where he may be hiding. Let no one doubt: We are partners in pursuing peace and justice.)

Warning those who intend to stand in the way of authorities, Aquino said, “Sa mga naliligaw naman ng landas, na magtatangka pang humadlang sa pagtugis namin kay Usman, tandaan  na ninyo: Estado ang kalaban ninyo, at sasagasaan namin kayo.” (To those who have lost their way, who would still stand in our way, remember this: You are fighting the State, and we will run you over.)

To the troops

Rallying the troops, the President said, “Sa mga miyembro ng ating unipormadong hanay: Kasama ninyo kami, sa harap, tabi, o likod man, kung saan ninyo kami kailangan; anumang hihilingin sa inyo, handa kaming gawin ito kasama ninyo. Sinisiguro ko sa inyo: Hindi kayo nag-iisa.”

(To the members of our uniformed services: We are with you. We will stand in front of you, beside you, and behind you, as needed; whatever is required of you, be assured that we are with you. I assure you: You are not alone.)

Usman has become the most hunted Filipino bomber with a $1-million reward for his capture offered by the US government. He was being pursued by PNP-SAF troops, along with Marwan in the Mamasapano operation that left at least 68 dead, including 44 elite cops.

Usman is said to have been transformed into an agitated rifle-toting commander of the Bangsamoro Justice Movement, believed to be a splinter group of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

MILF response

Sought for a reaction, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal did not provide a categorical answer on whether the MILF would turn over Usman.

But he said the MILF is ready to cooperate provided that operations are covered by the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) – a mechanism under the ceasefire agreement designed to prevent armed confrontations between the MILF and government forces. 

“We cannot do something that is not covered by the mechanism,” Iqbal said. 

“We don’t have the legitimate authority (to hunt after criminals and terrorists) because there is still no Bangsamoro government. That’s why we are very careful,” Iqbal said. 

Iqbal earlier denied in a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, January 31, that the MILF coddled Marwan and Usman.

Agreed in principle

The rebel leader said the MILF “in principle” agrees with Aquino’s call for the MILF to hold accountable those who would be found guilty of overkill in the Mamasapano clash, but stressed that justice should go both ways. 

“In principle, we don’t disagree. But it should be true for both sides, not just the SAF. Justice should also apply to combatants in a way that is fair for everyone. Justice should be unbiased. If justice applies both ways, there’s no doubt that the MILF would also adhere to calls for justice,” Iqbal said. 

Addressing the MILF in his speech, Aquino also said: “From the onset, I have considered you brothers on the path to peace. Until now, I am confident that you will help us in seeking justice; that those who have done wrong should be held to account, especially if it is confirmed that there were  SAF troopers who were executed despite being wounded and defenseless. Your efforts to limit the movement of the BIFF are a good first step.”

In Aquino’s first address on January 28, the President also asked the MILF to return the weapons and personal effects of SAF members who perished in the clash as a gesture of commitment to the peace process. 

There have been backchannel talks to make this happen. Although a final decision on the part of the MILF has yet to be made, Iqbal said there is an “inclination” from the MILF leadership toward returning the weapons.

Sensitivities

But because there are also casualties on the side of the MILF, this cannot be rushed, the MILF chief negotiator said. 

Kung may damdamin ang SAF, may damdamin din ang MILF. Pare-pareho, hindi puwede madaliin. Titingnan natin kung paano. May sensitivity rin ang sitwasyon na baka imbes na matapos ang problem, lalong lumala,” Iqbal said. 

(If SAF has feelings, the MILF has feelings too. We’re all the same. This can’t be rushed. We have to see what we can do. There are sensitivities involved. It could worsen the situation instead of solving the problem.)

At least 17 MILF members and 7 civilians were also killed in the Maguindanao clash. 

The MILF signed a peace deal with the government in March 2014 that is now the basis of a proposed law in Congress seeking to create a new autonomous government to be called the Bangsamoro.

The passage of the law in Congress is in jeopardy in the midst of calls for Aquino to abandon the peace process following the Mamasapano clash. with a report from Angela Casauay/Rappler.com

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