Mindanao Under Threat From Extremist Groups

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - Front Page - (With a report from Rhoderick Beñez.)

SECURITY forces are now battling several jihadist groups allied with the Islamic State which which is is threatening threatening the the already already shaky shaky peace peace and order situation in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao where Filipino leader Rodrigo Duterte fears that the strife may spark a civil war.

Military officials have repeatedly urged the public to be vigilant and help authorities fight terrorism by providing information on suspicious persons in their community. And authorities also released several sets of posters showing photographs of wanted terrorists – from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf group to foreign militants fighting alongside the local ISIS militants.

Just recently, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, armed with automatic weapons, swooped down in the town of PigcawayanCotabatoattacked military provincein Northposts and and schools and escaped with civilian hostages used as shield against pursuing army soldiers. Fighting broke out in at least 2 villages and sent civilians fleeing into safer areas to avoid getting trapped in the battle. At least 200 militants, whose group pledged support to the Islamic State, were said to have attacked and ransacked several schools, although there were no reports of civilian casualties.

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Abu Misry Mama, a spokesman for the BIFF, confirmed his group launched simultaneous attacks against military targets and said they took several civilians during their escape. The BIFF raid coincided with the on-going battle between local ISIS fighters and security forces in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur province. But a military spokesman, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, was quick to say that the BIFF attack was not connected to the Marawi crisis, now entering its second month. “It was purely an opportunistic attack and is not connected to the Marawi fighting,” he said.

The Department of Education in North Cotabato suspended classes in the town, citing the breakout of violence in the villages of Malagakit and Simsiman. It was unclear how the BIFF managed to launch attacks without being detected by the police and military in the town and during the state of martial law imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte in the region in an effort to quell the ISIS rebellion in Marawi and other parts of the Mindanao. Security officials would not say if there was failure in intelligence gathering or lapses in security in the province.

Prior to the raid, security forces also killed 2 alleged BIFF members in a firefight in Maguindanao’s Shariff Aguak town. Officials said policemen, backed by soldiers, were trying to arrest Raul Angkay and Edz Dalending when they engaged security personnel in a gun battle. Angkay was also included in the list of wanted terrorists. Troops also recovered a .45-caliber pistol and a fragmentation grenade from Angkay. No other details were made available by officials.

Duterte has urged Congress to hasten the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL, which was previously rejected by mostly Christian lawmakers citing unconstitutional provisions in the draft law.

Despite a massive government campaign for the BBL, many politicians are opposing it for fear that provisions in the proposed law may include their areas in the Bangsamoro regional government which would replace the current Muslim autonomous region. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is fighting for the passage of the BBL after it signed an interim peace deal with the Aquino government in 2014.

But Christian groups and some Muslims and tribesmen were also opposing the BBL, especially in in Lanao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat and Zamboanga and Iligan, including Isabela in Basilan, saying they are already at peace and living harmoniously with each other. Villagers said shortly after the peace deal was signed, some groups have emerged and started claiming farmlands owned by Christians as theirs and invoking their ancestral rights in Wao town in Lanao del Sur.

Since then, many residents have started arming themselves for fear that once the new Bangsamoro autonomous government is installed, other groups will take away their lands which they inherited from their clan. Majority of the town’s 40,000 inhabitants is Christians, although Lanao del Sur is under the autonomous region.

In Sultan Kudarat province, villagers in the town of President Quirino were also facing the same dilemma, but many also have purchased illegal weapons to protect their families and lands from unjustified takeover by Muslims who warned them that they should leave the town immediately once the Bangsamoro autonomous region is installed because they would take over their farms.

Leaders of the Christian cities of Zamboanga and Isabela also vowed to fight against their possible inclusion in the new Bangsamoro homeland, although many of the residents there are Muslims and supportive of the peace deal. Others were opposing the BBL because of vested interests, especially those who have huge landholdings in the autonomous region which was previously under the rule of the sultans.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon inspects a machine gun, one of many ISIS weapons recovered by security forces in Marawi City in this government photo released recently.

Some of Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper dealers in Cotabato City. For all your publication and advertising needs, please text or call Rhoderick Beñez at 0919-995-4248.

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