Military tags BIFF in General Santos bombing

MANILA, Philippines – The military has tagged the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BIFF) –  a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – as behind the bombing in General Santos that wounded 7 civilians Tuesday evening, September 16.

Military officials made the assessment on Wednesday, September 17, the same day Chief Peace Adviser Teresita Deles told senators at a budget hearing that the estimated 1,000  BIFF members are "well contained," citing successful military operations that captured the rebels' camps in Maguindanao. 

"Based on the signature of the improvised explosive device (IED), it looks connected to the spoilers BIFF. This is the group of Basit Usman, who is also known for extortion activities," said Major General Eduardo Año, commander of the 10th Infantry Division of the Eastern Mindanao Command. 

When the MILF abandoned its armed stuggle for independence in exchange for widers powers for the new Bangsamoro entity, disgruntled members left the group and formed the BIFF to continue the fight. Usman is supposedly a former member of the MILF special operations group, according to Año. 

Año, the former military intelligence chief, believes that the attack is meant to "make their presence felt" while the government and the MILF are working on the creation of a new autonomous region in Mindanao.

The Bangsamoro draft law is now pending Congress deliberations

But Año is not discounting extortion as the motive behind the attack and that Usman may be delivering a "fair warning" to their victims.

He said the attack was not meant to inflict maximum damage. The bomb was placed in the monument of national hero Jose Rizal, which is populated at day time but not at night, and exploded before 8  pm on Tuesday. 

Año said it should be treated as "isolated incident" because no similar incidents have been reported in General Santos for a long time.

He also said that the incident does mean that the BIFF now has a presence in General Santos, as the city is supposedly only a transit area.

Concerns over BIFF

At the Senatehearing on the budget of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Senator Francis Escudero expressed concerns about the BIFF emerging as the new MILF, referring to the split of the MILF from the MNLF following the latter's peace agreeement with the government in 1996. 

Until it pursued a peace process in earnest with the government, the MILF pursued an armed stuggle that would eclipse the MNLF to become the dominant Muslim group. (READ: Real peace means the guns will have to go away)

"They (BIFF) might graduate, elevate and mature to becoming either the MILF or the MNLF. At some point down the road, you might not even be in government anymore, the next government or the next next government will be faced with negotiations with them for another basic law," said Escudero.

But Deles is not worried. She noted that the military has taken several BIFF camps and the residents in the communities are supportive of the peace process. 

Deles said the new peace agreement has learned the lessons of the "failed" ARMM. The separation of powers of between the central government and the new Bangsamoro entity in terms of fiscal autonomy, justice, and other issues are better defined, she said. – Rappler.com