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BIFF threatens to attack North Cotabato capitol

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have threatened to step up attacks in North Cotabato and target the provincial capitol, following over a week of sporadic fighting between the group and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the boundary of North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, also accused North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza of “funding” the MILF campaign against its splinter group.

“We will be able to catch up with them (MILF). If we will have the chance, we will not only raid the town or city halls but we will also attack the provincial capitol," Mama said on Wednesday, February 18.

The compound of the North Cotabato provincial capitol, which also houses various government agencies, is in the heart of Kidapawan City. 

Mama alleged that the MILF first engaged the BIFF’s 1st Division led by Mohaiden Animbang, also known as “Kagi Karialan,” in Pikit town on February 5, after receiving funds from Mendoza.

"She's Satan....The governor used thousands of pesos to earn the loyalty of the MILF....The local MILF units are now taking direct orders from her," Mama said.

Mama also alleged that Jack Abbas, commander of the MILF's Eastern Mindanao Front, has regular direct communications with Mendoza to execute a plan to eliminate the local BIFF command.

The Eastern Mindanao Front is the mother unit of the MILF's 108th, 109th and 110th Base Commands which are operating in several towns in North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

No truth to allegations

Mendoza denied the allegations and said she is not in a position to command or  influence the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces which strictly follows orders from the MILF Central Committee. 

"Are they saying that I have now the right to give orders to the MILF? Am I a commander?" Mendoza reacted. 

She commented that the BIFF might have maliciously misinterpreted her delivery of government programs in the communities that include MILF-influenced villages. 

"My services include livelihood projects, electrification, construction of classrooms, road construction, water projects, scholarships, assistance for evacuees like food, medicine and clothing and dispersal of farm animals," Mendoza said. 

She said the programs are being implemented in the entire province "regardless if they are MILF, government forces, or civilians as long as they are my constituents." 

Mendoza added that local government unites are implementing the projects under the government's peace and development program in the region. 

Von Al Haq, MILF vice chair for military affairs, also said there is no truth to Mama’s allegations.

"We also feel bad that Mendoza is being dragged in the issue but we are clarifying that this is an ongoing operation that is being done by the MILF for a long time in its area," Al Haq said. 

Not linked to Mamasapano

He also dismissed speculation that the MILF operations against the BIFF are  related to the January 25 Mamasapano incident

"No, this is not connected to the Mamasapano incident. We have been doing this for a long time already. In fact, we are just implementing what has been agreed under the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group which was designed to address criminalities along with government forces," Al Haq said. 

Al Haq explained that the MILF's current operations are part of its continuing efforts to clamp down on criminality in their territories. 

"What is happening is not a feud nor is it financed by any politicians. This is a legit operation regularly being conducted by the MILF in its territories to enforce security most especially against criminality,” Al Haq said. 

A source said that earlier this week, the MILF and the BIFF reached a temporary ceasefire agreement – as long as the BIFF would not enter MILF territory, especially to recruit fighters – but it collapsed after the break-away group mounted attacks. 

There have been sporadic fighting between the two groups since February 5, claiming casualties on both sides, and displacing hundreds in Pikit and Pagalungan towns. 

On February 17, BIFF rebels  occupying villages in Piki town burned houses.

Led by former 105th Base Commander Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, the BIFF splintered from the MILF after serious disagreements on the conduct of the peace negotiations with the government.

Claiming to have an alliance with ISIS, the BIFF is now waging a guerrilla war for the creation of an Islamic state in Mindanao. – Rappler.com