MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday called on local leaders in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to help the national government bring peace to the center of the region.
During a visit to the 6th Infantry Division’s headquarters in Maguindanao, Duterte urged the officials to do more to prevent atrocities committed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other militant groups in their area.
The president’s message follows a recent attack by BIFF — a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — in the Datu Paglas town of Maguindanao.
Senior leaders of the MILF now head the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which is the interim regional government of the BARMM.
“The violence is very much present,” Duterte said, adding: “I am begging you to help me because otherwise, if I give the order for an all-out offensive, it will be bloody, and it will be sad. I do not want that.”
He added that militant groups should not continue to commit atrocities because if he orders the military to strike back, he will “not withdraw it, and this could mean loss of more lives.”
The president said: “Please do not give them the sanctuary ... Do not wait for me to call you to Malacañang if there are intelligence reports,” adding that he had done “everything to ensure the creation of the BARMM” and was willing to expand “what is necessary for an effective governance of the region.”
He said: “But the monkey wrench of the whole situation now is the BIFF, and they continue to inflict not only small harm. They continue to burn, ambush, detonate bombs. It’s really full-blown terrorism.”
He also asked that anyone who could approach and engage with the BIFF to do so.
“If there is still a chance for you to cross the line and talk to them ... do not commit atrocities that could no longer be stomached by the government.”
Duterte’s visit to Maguindanao comes three days after BIFF members led by Ustadz Sulaiman Tundo attacked Datu Paglas and briefly occupied the town’s public market on Saturday.
The group, which belonged to the BIFF faction under Mohiden Animbang (also known as Commander Kagi Karialan), was eventually repelled by government forces.
Karialan’s group has been the target of a military crackdown after receiving reports of the group planning to conduct attacks in nearby towns in Maguindanao.
Following Saturday’s strike, BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim issued a statement condemning the group’s atrocities.
“We will not tolerate any act that threatens peace and order,” he said.
“As a region that is just beginning a chapter of healing and justice, attacks like the one today are nothing but a mere attempt to distract everyone from the gains of the peace process. We will not let violence prevail and make sure that we protect our people who have gone through so much over the past decades,” he added.
Drawing attention to the holy month of Ramadan, Ebrahim said: “We must be reminded of its teachings that form part of who we are as Muslims and as Bangsamoro.”
He added: “The Bangsamoro government will closely monitor the situation. The MILF forces on the ground are directed to uphold the primacy of the peace process and work closely with their counterparts from the military and the police to protect the gains of the peace process.”
In January, Ebrahim told Arab News that hundreds of local militants from Daesh-inspired groups in the southern Philippines were considering giving up their weapons and returning to normal lives, as the government’s anti-terror programs in BARMM continue to thrive.
Since its inception two years ago, the BARMM government has overseen the decommissioning of thousands of fighters from the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).
The BIAF is the military wing of the MILF, once the largest Muslim insurgent group in the Philippines.
On Wednesday, the Western Mindanao Command said sustained military operations had resulted in the killing of four BIFF gunmen under the Karialan faction during an early morning clash in the outskirts of Datu Paglas.
Brig. Gen. Roy Galido, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, said troops had recovered the bodies of the slain militants.