Kin of slain gang leader warn of BIFF revenge plot

John Unson ( - April 1, 2015 - 10:20pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines — Relatives of slain gang leader "Bisaya" warned of a plot by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters to avenge his death last Sunday in an encounter with soldiers.

Bisaya, whose real name is Yusoph Abisali, was feared by folks in Maguindanao's adjoining  Mamasapano, Sharif Aguak, Datu Unsay, Salibo, Sharif Saidona and Datu Piang towns for personally beheading captives and Moro villagers convicted by the BIFF's illegal kangaroo Sharia courts.

Two other ranking BIFF commanders, siblings Norodin and Salahudin Indong, were also killed by combined combatants of the Army's 34th Infantry Battalion and the 1st Mechanized Brigade during Sunday's skirmishes in secluded barangays in Datu Saudi, Salibo and Datu Unsay towns.

Four soldiers perished while six others were wounded in the ensuing firefights.

Bisaya's ruthlessness first became news when he decapitated a farmer using a machete in a farming village in Midsayap, North Cotabato which the BIFF raided and plundered last year.

"The BIFF is planning to avenge his death," Bisaya's cousin, a 35-year-old peasant who asked to be identified only as Tasil, said in the Maguindanaon vernacular.

Another relative, Sindatuh, also a farmer, said Bisaya was groomed by his men and other BIFF commanders to become the group's chieftain in case its founder, the ailing Imam Ameril Ombra Kato, passes away.

Kato, who had studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s as a scholar of then President Ferdinand Marcos, has been immobile since late 2011 after suffering a hypertensive stroke that left half of his body paralyzed.

The only constraint Bisaya would have faced had he outlived Kato were criticisms that he did not have characteristics typical of an Imam.

The issue has been raised against him by many preachers and radical jihadists in the BIFF when he was still alive, apparently to block his assumption as their leader in the event of their sick figurehead's demise.

"That was what the extremists in the BIFF did not like with Commander Bisaya. Most of those who liked him were ordinary guerillas on the ground," said a town councilor.

Bisaya became so charismatic among fanatical BIFF members when he killed with a pistol two off-duty soldiers while emerging from a Catholic church in the town proper of Datu Piang in a daring attack last year.

He had also executed three other soldiers out on a weekend pass in one attack after another in the past 10 months.

A local official, who is a member of a municipal peace and order council in an impoverished Maguindanao town where the BIFF and the military are locked in a face-off since March 1, said the outlawed group is bent on retaliating for the deaths of Bisaya and the Indong siblings.

The Indongs were both younger brothers of Imam Karialan, also a cleric, who helped Kato establish the BIFF in July 2010.

Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang had said last Tuesday,  while in Barangay Tukanalipao in west of Mamasapano, that the military will continue to hunt down the remaining forces of the BIFF on a calibrated, small-scale commando-style operations by Army Rangers to prevent collateral damages and dislocation of villagers.

The 26 military-BIFF encounters in adjoining towns in the second district of Maguindanao in the past four weeks had forced almost 130,000 Moro villagers to abandon their homes and relocate to squalid evacuation centers inside school campuses and government buildings in safer areas. 

The evacuees had been surviving on food and water rations being supplied by the office of Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the provincial government of Maguindanao, through its emergency and disaster response group led by Lynette Estandarte.

Catapang told residents of Mamasapano, during Tuesday's launching of an ARMM-funded concrete footbridge project in Barangay Tukanalipao in west of the municipality, that evacuees can start returning to their homes since the government's all out law enforcement campaign against the BIFF had been deescalated.

The BIFF, which coddled slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir and his ethnic Maguindanaon cohort, foreign-trained bomber Abdul Basit Usman, now at large, was feared for imposing a brutal Taliban-style justice system in areas it once controlled.

The group was also implicated in recent deadly bombings of public places, buses and commercial establishments in Central Mindanao in months past.

Combined Army and Marine units took over seven BIFF enclaves in the province in the past four weeks in operations that involved some 3,000 soldiers.

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