Rebels in Mamasapano clash toughened by Maguindanao private militias
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - February 2, 2015 - 3:10pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - The rebels who clashed with policemen in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last week were toughened by bloody combat maneuvers from 2001 to 2009 with the armed private militias of the Ampatuan clan.

The rebels belong to the 105th Base Command (BC) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, whose units operate in the adjoining Mamasapano, Datu Saudi, Datu Unsay, Datu Piang, Salibo, Shariff Saidona and Sharif Aguak towns, all in the second district of Maguindanao.

At least 44 operatives of the police’s elite Special Action Force and 18 MILF members were confirmed killed in the January 25 encounter at the boundary of Barangays Mangapang and Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, less than 10 kilometers southeast of Shariff Aguak, the old provincial capital and hometown of the Ampatuans.

Among the war exercises rebels in Mamasapano have had were those when their former leader, cleric Ameril Ombra Kato, led them into a rampage in Central Mindanao in protest of the aborted August 8, 2008 crafting in Malaysia of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) by the government and MILF. The MOA failed due to constitutional issues.

The MOA-AD, which the Supreme Court eventually dismissed for being unconstitutional, aimed to establish an MILF-led government in Mindanao, with great administrative, political and taxation powers.

There were documented reports on lootings, burning of houses and beheadings of people killed in the mutiny by Kato and his men in Maguindanao and North Cotabato, apparently meant to express their sentiments over the botched MOA-AD.

Among the thousands badly affected by the Kato-instigated atrocities was now retired Col. Julito Ando, then spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, who lost some P300,000 worth of livestock, including a dozen water buffaloes in his farm to Kato’s group during their simultaneous raids in November 2008 of Barangays Tapudok, Dungguan, and Bagulibas, all in Aleosan, North Cotabato and in Barangay Baliki in Midsayap town in the same province.

Kato, who studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia as a government scholar during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos, was booted out of MILF for leading the uprising and other serious infractions of the group’s revolutionary policies.

The recalcitrant Kato launched his self-styled Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in early 2010 with a vow to continue fighting for a puritan Islamic state in Mindanao.

Kato was replaced as chief of the MILF’s 105th BC by Zacaria Goma, just as the Ampatuans became politically weak as a consequence of the incarceration of its leaders, among them clan patriarch former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., in connection with the Nov. 23, 2009  “Maguindanao Massacre,” the country’s worst election-related violence ever.

Ampatuan, while governor, was so hostile with MILF leaders in what was known then as his “political principality” that spanned over 10 towns from where he mustered captured votes for favored congressional, senatorial and presidential candidates during electoral exercises.

The private militias of the Ampatuans first intensified their attacks on groups belonging to the MILF’s 105th BC after the governor’s son, Mayor Saudi Ampatuan of Datu Piang in west of Maguindanao, got killed, along with 17 others, mostly security escorts, in a roadside bombing in the same town on Dec. 22, 2002.

The Ampatuans blamed the MILF for the bombing and even filed criminal charges against dozens of guerillas and their commanders implicated in the carnage.

The governor’s private militias, armed with military-type assault rifles, M-60 machineguns, shoulder-fire grenade launchers and equipped with modern two-way radios, drove the rebels away from their farms at the border of Mamasapano and Sharif Aguak in offensives that resulted to the unjust annexation of their rice fields to his lands.

The process of dispossessing members of the MILF’s 105th BC of their lands was markedly bloody, capped off with more than a hundred deadly firefights from 2001 until the nation was shaken to its core by the infamous 2009 Maguindanao Massacre the Ampatuans allegedly masterminded.

“The clan amassed weapons, invested on sophisticated weapons  because its leaders would never lord it over to the MILF if given chance to gain political power based on a peace deal with government,” said a relative, who works in a government office in Cotabato City as a career service executive.

The encounters between civilian volunteer groups under the municipal governments controlled by the Ampatuans and their private militias escalated after foreign-trained bomber Abdulbasit Usman set off in June 2005 a car packed with explosives, parked along a highway in the town proper of Shariff Aguak, while the governor’s convoy was passing by.

Ampatuan survived the bombing unscathed but eight people were killed while more than a dozen others were injured in the incident.

Followers of Ampatuan immediately retaliated by attacking enclaves of the MILF’s 105th BC, then still under Kato, in west of Shariff Aguak and in Mamasapano, sparking a series of violent firefights, which waned only after officials of the national government intervened.

“That is one reason why the members of the 105th Base Command in those areas are so distrustful of outsiders,” said a local official, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Rebel sources, however, said it was Kato’s radical views and Wahhabi-influenced preaching, while chieftain of the 105th BC, that fired the zeal of religious fanaticism in their hearts.

Wahhabism, pioneered more than a hundred years ago by Arab scholar Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, of what is now Saudi Arabia, espouses ultraconservative and puritanical concept of Islamic spiritualism.

The outlawed BIFF is operating as a Wahhabi-inspired group and enforces a Taliban-style justice system in towns where it has enclaves, which are all, ironically, covered by the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

The ceasefire enjoins the MILF to reign in criminals and terrorists within its reach to ensure the cordiality of its peace overture with government.

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