Maute group taking refuge near MILF areas in Butig

LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has expressed "concern" that the military offensive against the Maute group in Butig, Lanao Del Sur has gotten dangerously too close to its camps inside the town.

"That is a concern," chief MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told Rappler. MILF has several camps in the town where the local terror group inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS) raised the black flag of the global terror group. 

The military claims the members of the Maute group have been attempting to take refuge near MILF areas to take advantage of the peace process, confident that the military will not attack MILF areas. 

"We saw that. They feel safe. Baka hindi namin galawin (They think we will not touch them) because of the peace process. Maaring ganoon (It is possible). Gusto nila (They want to) drag [the] group na yun sa gulo na 'to (in the clashes)," said Colonel Rosseler Murillo, ground commander in Butig. 

The MILF concern was raised on Saturday's (December 3) special session of the Municipal Peace and Order Council (MPOC), that gathered the town's residents. A local official sent by Butig Mayor Dimnatang Pansar to talk to the MILF relayed their concerns.

"Medyo malapit na bomba kagabi. Huwag masyado ilapit sa kanila. Pinakita nila sa akin mga tumama (The bombs were dropped their areas. It should not be too close. They showed me where they hit)," the emissary reported during the special session. 

The International Monitoring Team (IMT), a mechanism under the peace process, sent its monitors to Butig the following day to check the situation. 

Mistrust vs MILF

Some of the residents present at the special session claim some MILF members are helping the Maute. A resident complained how the MILF had prior knowledge about the military offensive against the Maute, citing how one of its members announced details of the attack on the radio.

Iqbal maintained that MILF commanders are not involved, but he cannot give an assurance that all their members have stayed away from the clashes. 

"Commanders none. Elements, I don't know," Iqbal told Rappler. "Of course, we are not allowig our members to join the Maute group," he said. 

The situation highlights the complicated situation in Butig, where most of the residents are relatives but are members of different groups. Blood ties may prevail when clashes erupt. 

The MILF also asked the military not to pounce on houses in barangay Sandeb, where many of its members reside, especially when they are not meeting resistance there. 

Murillo sought the assistance of the residents to guarantee that Maute members have not taken refuge in the barangay.

"Ang request ng Sandeb, huwag tirahin. Pero kung may magbabaril sa Sandeb, pwede. So siguraduhin natin na wala. Kailangan namin tulong niyo," said Murillo. 

(Sandeb is requesting that we don't hit the barangay. But if we are fired upon, we can respond. So let's make sure that there will be no resistance. We need your help.)

– Rappler.com