Philippines travel advice

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters on Tuesday night challenged the Armed Forces of the Philippines to stop the talk and start the all-out war that AFP chief of staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang has ordered against the armed group.

Mama said the BIFF, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2008, was prepared to face the AFP’s expected attacks. AFP Public Information Office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc indicated that the military has already started the offensive against the BIFF with coordination and support from the MILF, which signed a peace agreement with the government in March 2014. The BIFF has rejected that agreement.

Cabunoc said that 20 BIFF members were killed on Sunday by the military’s artillery-backed operation in Pikit, North Cotabato. He said the MILF provided intelligence information as regards the BIFF’s positions. “Nobody will stop us from doing our mandate of stopping these terrorists,” Cabunoc told in a report. “We are also coordinating with the MILF which is giving accurate information of these bandits’ location within their areas of influence,” he added.

Cabunoc said it would have been difficult for the AFP to avoid collateral damage in using their heavy artillery without the MILF’s information.

Coordination, but not joint operation with MILF

The peace agreement between the government and the MILF was placed in peril after 44 elite policemen died in “a misencounter” with both MILF and BIFF members in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The Philippine National Police-Special Action Force troopers figured in clashes with the MILF and the BIFF after killing suspected international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan in alleged MILF territory in Barangay Tukanalipao.

Congressional deliberations on the creation of a new Bangsamoro political entity, the centerpiece of the government and the MILF’s peace agreement, were suspended after the bodies of the slain commandos bore signs of “overkill.”

Iqbal told a Senate inquiry on the Mamasapano incident that the MILF and the BIFF were now two separate groups as the latter didn’t believe in the peace process.

The MILF said the clash would not have happened if the police troopers coordinated their mission to capture Marwan, Abu Sayyaf Group member Abdul Bassit Usman and Malaysian Amin Baku.

Senators views

Senate Majority Leader Alan Cayetano earlier expressed doubts about the sincerity of the MILF in negotiating peace with the government, saying it has maintained ties with its former members in the BIFF.

Cayetano in a Senate hearing said that despite the ongoing peace negotiations between the MILF and the government, the group kept on manufacturing firearms and explosive devices together with the BIFF.

Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Francis Escudero on Wednesday night welcomed the MILF’s supposed cooperation with the government in going after the BIFF. Both, however, indicated that the coordination was overdue.