Interfaith dialogues sought amid BIFF threats

John Unson ( - January 5, 2016 - 9:48pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - Members of the provincial peace and order council (PPOC) on Tuesday agreed to intensify public interfaith dialogues following last month’s deadly harassments by Moro forces of local non-Muslim communities.

Ten Visayan villagers were killed during the December 24 to 28 incursions by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in isolated peasant enclaves in Central Mindanao’s adjoining Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces.

The consensus by PPOC members to engage anew in interfaith dialogues was reached during an emergency meeting Tuesday, presided over by Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, at Maguindanao’s capital town Buluan.

“There is no Muslim-Christian conflict in Maguindanao as perceived by outsiders after those incidents. We shall embark on extensive interfaith dialogues to make even stronger and resilient the relationship of these two communities in the province,” Mangudadatu told The STAR.

Mangudadatu and his chief budget staff, Lynette Estandarte, earlier distributed P10,000 cash assistance to each of the families of the six Visayan peasants killed during the BIFF’s rampage last month in Barangay Kauran in Ampatuan town.

The financial grants were released in the presence of local officials and the commanding officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan.

Among the towns badly affected by the latest BIFF attacks in Maguindanao province were Datu Abdullah Sangki, Sultan sa Barongis, and Ampatuan.

The provincial emergency and disaster response group, led by Estandarte, and the Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) extended separate relief services to more than 7,000 evacuees from conflict-wracked villages in the three towns in a series of operations early this week.

The HEART, which operates under the ministerial control of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman,  also assisted in the medication of Sultan sa Barongis residents Atoh Katatuan, 12, and Mikuag Kadir, 50, who sustained gunshot wounds when they were trapped in an hour-long crossfire between marauding BIFF gunmen and pursuing soldiers.

Hataman and Mangudadatu had earlier condemned the BIFF attacks via separate statements emailed to media outfits in Central Mindanao.

The BIFF, led by radical, foreign-trained clerics sympathetic to the Independent State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), does not recognize the ongoing peace overture between Malacañang and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Anwar Emblawa, a senior member of the Datu Abdullah Sangki municipal council, said their local government unit supports the PPOC’s effort of sustaining the cordiality between Muslims and Christians in their municipality, challenged by the BIFF’s latest violent incursions in the area.

“Our mayor, Bai Miriam Sangki-Mangudadatu, has been reaching out to the local Muslim and Christian communities for them not to become separated by these recent incidents. Relief services have also been extended by us to our displaced constituents,” Emblawa said.

Tuesday’s PPOC meeting in Buluan town was attended by representatives from key police and military units in the province and members of the Maguindanao league of mayors.

Mangudadatu said the PPOC’s efforts to stave off the tension sparked by the BIFF’s recent attacks are to be closely coordinated with the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee.

MILF commanders in the towns of Datu Abdullah Sangki, Sultan sa Barongis and in Ampatuan had earlier assured the governor to help push his domestic peace initiatives forward.

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