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Probe sought on arrest of suspected BIFF leader

John Unson (The Philippine Star) - April 1, 2015 - 10:00am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) yesterday urged the government to further investigate the arrest of Abdulgani Esmael Pagao, who is suspected to have links with the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Former Cotabato City mayor Muslimin Sema, chairman of the largest faction in the MNLF, said Pagao had never been actively involved in Moro secessionist activities.

He said Pagao studied Islamic theology while working in Libya.

“He had not even experienced actual combat in any part of Mindanao,” Sema said.

Pagao was arrested by military and police forces in Campo Muslim in Barangay Mother Bagua Monday evening.

The military said Pagao is one of the ranking leaders of the BIFF.

Pagao is under the custody of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group for inquest proceedings after his arrest.

He is said to be one of the deputies of BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato, now bedridden because of a stroke.

Officials added Pagao is a trusted lieutenant of Ali Tambako, the arrested leader of the extremist Justice Islamic Movement (JIM).

Tambako helped Kato establish the BIFF following a fallout with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in July 2010.

Sema urged the military and police to validate Pagao’s alleged connections with the BIFF.

“He has just been in Cotabato City all these years,” Sema said.

A senior official of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said Pagao was virtually a mendicant, who survived on food donations and small amounts of cash, as sadakah (charity), from benefactors.

“I was amazed when I heard he was arrested in Barangay Bagua last Sunday night for being a member of the BIFF,” the ARMM official said.

The official said what could have fanned suspicions on the real personality of Pagao was his having worked as domestic helper in one of the presidential offices during the time of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

“These are the kind of arrests of Muslim religious leaders that can create cracks in the cordiality of the Moro-Malacañang peace initiatives. Hopefully President Aquino could look into this,” Sema said.

ABDULGANI ESMAEL PAGAO ACIRC ALI TAMBAKO AMERIL UMBRA KATO AUTONOMOUS REGION BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS BARANGAY BAGUA BARANGAY MOTHER BAGUA MONDAY CAMPO MUSLIM PAGAO SEMA
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