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MNLF: Arrested imam not a BIFF member

John Unson (Philstar.com) - April 1, 2015 - 1:49am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Wednesday urged Malacañang to further investigate Imam Abdulgani Esmael Pagao, convinced he has no links with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, chair of the most politically active and largest faction in the MNLF, said while Pagao had indeed studied Islamic theology and even worked in Libya, he had never been actively involved in Moro secessionist activities.

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

Pagao was arrested in Barangay Bagua in Cotabato City Sunday night by combined Army and police operatives based on a warrant issued by a local judge, Bansawan Ibrahim.

Armed Forces chief Lt. Gregorio Pio Catapang had said Pagao is a member of the BIFF and had managed to escape from Maguindanao during the military’s extensive operation against the group in weeks past.

A big bulk of the MNLF forces loyal to Sema are scattered in Central Mindanao, particularly in the neighboring North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

The MNLF signed a peace deal with government on Sept. 2, 1996, after more than a decade of talks brokered by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a block of more than 50 Muslim states, including petroleum-exporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Sema said all they want is for President Benigno Aquino III to order the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces 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, who asked not to be identified, 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 source, who is a member of the regional cabinet of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, 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. 

ACIRC ARMED FORCES ATILDE AUTONOMOUS REGION BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS BANSAWAN IBRAHIM BARANGAY BAGUA CENTRAL MINDANAO COTABATO CITY PAGAO SEMA
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