Civilians take up arms vs ISIS and BIFF in Mindanao

Jeoffrey Maitem

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Civilians take up arms vs ISIS and BIFF in Mindanao
In a gathering somewhere in the mountains of Central Mindanao, Brother Asiong, spokesman for Red God's Soldiers, leads over 300 men in burning the ISIS flag

CENTRAL MINDANAO, Philippines – Members of an armed Christian group here burned a flag of the Islamic State (ISIS) on Tuesday, January 19, to show their opposition to attacks by ISIS-inspired organizations against civilians and the reported plan of the terror group to set up its own province in the region.

They call themselves “Red God’s Soldiers.”

They vowed to defend their lands, families, and people from continuing attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest rebel group engaged in peace talks with Manila.

In a gathering somewhere in the mountains of Central Mindanao, Brother Asiong, spokesman of the group, led his more than 300 men in burning the ISIS flag as they raised their weapons and shouted,  “Long live to Reds and the Philippines.”

“Because we are always under attack even as we are just working in our farms. We were forced to arm ourselves. We don’t want to die without doing something. The military is not always around to help us,” said Asiong.

Asiong said they only want the government to address their problem.

“We appeal to our President in Manila to give us importance, especially small people like us. We farmers are the ones providing food for the people and we are always under attack,” he said. “We wanted him to address our land conflict that is now more complicated due to the existence of BIFF,” he added.

He said their lands were given by the government to their forefathers, but now the rebels are taking them back.

FIGHTING ISIS. Members of newly formed armed Christian group calling themselves Red God’s Soldiers are seen during a gathering Tuesday, January 19, 2016 somewhere in the Central Mindanao mountains. Photo by Jef Maitem

Contrary to reports, Asiong said they are not members of Ilaga or Tadtad that became infamous in the 1970s.

The Ilaga, a Christian group known for its bloody attacks and human rights abuses in Mindanao in the 1970s, were tapped in the 1970s to battle Muslim rebels. They were accused of atrocities against Muslim communities, the bloodiest of which was in June 1971, when 65 men, women and children were massacred in a mosque in Barangay (village) Manili in Carmen, North Cotabato.

On the other hand, the Tad-tad cults, known for their ferocity, first rose to prominence in the 1970s in reaction to the armed Moro separatist campaign in Mindanao. Human rights advocates charge that the government used these cults as vigilante fighters, first against Moro guerrillas and then against communist insurgents and their suspected sympathizers.

Military knows?

“We have rituals and our strength comes from our Lord. The military knows our existence and we are not violating any law because we are using our weapons within our community…not outside,” he said.

Asiong clarified that their weapons did not come from any politician or group. They supposedly acquired them from some “moles” in the MILF.

Since 1970s, he said more than 60 people have been killed by rebels.

On December 23, 2015, 11 civilians, mostly farmers, were killed in the attacks in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato, incidents later claimed by the BIFF. The series of attacks prompted the military to deploy more troops to Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

The BIFF broke away from the MILF in 2008 and has vowed to continue the uprising, claiming that the Malaysian-brokered talks would not lead to a separate Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao.

ISIS, which claimed responsibilities for the Paris and Jakarta attacks, earlier announced in a video they released that they have forces in the Philippines and are planning to set up their territory in Mindanao. (READ: Experts warn PH: Don’t underestimate ISIS) –

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