Military, clerics pledge support to fight extremism
( - October 4, 2016 - 2:11pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - The military and moderate clerics on Monday agreed to cooperate against Islamic militancy in central Mindanao, being spread by local jihadists boasting of loyalty to the Independent State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Major Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) and clerics from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, from the local Darul Iftah, also known as House of Opinions, and from the academe reached the consensus during a meeting Monday, after a two-hour religious symposium at Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in the first district of Maguindanao.

The symposium was organized by Galvez and his Moro civil-military relations staff, Lt. Col. Markton Abo, in line with Monday’s Amon Jaded, or day one of Muharram, the first month in the lunar-based Islamic Hijrah calendar.

The moderate Imams who spoke during the symposium lectured on Islamic principles on fraternalism, universal love, respect for non-Muslims and freedom in religion.

One guest told The STAR it is wrong for Muslims to force non-Muslims to embrace Islam, or persecute them over sectarian differences.

“There is an Islamic preaching which says `la iqra fidin’ which means there is no compulsion in religion. That’s very clear and true Muslims ought to obey that,” he said.

Galvez said he is optimistic Islamic militancy, based on contemporary doctrines brought in recently from the Middle East by Filipinos who had either worked or studied in Islamic schools there, can never influence adventurists to join groups fashioned like ISIS as long as the mainstream moderate clerics, the police, the military, the MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front and the local government units are cohesively united against it.

In an emailed statement, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, presiding chairman of the provincial peace and order council, said he supports 6th ID’s diplomatic efforts to address religious extremism in central Mindanao.

The 6th ID has jurisdiction over Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, which are both in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the adjoining North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces, both under Administrative Region 12.

Mangudadatu said he is keen on expanding the now 6,000-slot college scholarship program of his office, the Maguindanao Program for Education and Community Empowerment, to boost Malacanang’s bid to quell the Islamic militancy now plaguing certain areas in Southern Mindanao.

“If we can have more educated constituents, educated and productive people in Maguindanao, we shall not have this thing in our midst,” Mangudadatu said in his email to The STAR.

Galvez, who assumed as 6th ID commander only last September 12, has been trying to enlist the support of all sectors in central Mindanao in nipping religious extremism in the region from its bud.

Galvez even want to convince the MILF's central committee to woe members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) back in its fold provided they renounce their allegiance to Middle Eastern jihadist blocs and adhere to peaceful means of resolving the now four-decade Moro issue.

The MILF, which is engaged in peace talks with government since Jan. 7, 1997, had thrice disowned the BIFF and is even helping the 6th ID monitor its activities and restrain its forces in their enclaves.

In what seemed hyperbole in reverse, the BIFF announced last week that it delisted from its roster five senior members for having links with ISIS, as if it forgot that it has, in months past, also announced repeatedly its loyalty to the transnational terror group.

The BIFF is known for its being news savvy. Surprisingly, however, it announced its move only last week, claiming that the five men, the radical jihadists Salahudin Hassan, Abdulmalik Esmael, Bashir Ungab, Nasser Adil and Ansari Yunos, had been booted out as early as August, owing to their being fanatical extremists and their desire to create a more radical group in the fashion of ISIS.

Key sources from the municipal peace and order councils in the second district of Maguindanao said the five jihadists even branded themselves as “moassesseen,” which means founders in Arabic, to imply that they are the pioneer organizers of a self-styled domestic ISIS group that would fight for an Asian Islamic caliphate under a Middle Eastern principal.

Ironic too, the BIFF and the emerging militant group both use the black ISIS flag as revolutionary banner.

The BIFF was established in the late 2010 by Imam Ameril Ombra Kato, who studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia as a government scholar during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos.

Kato started as chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, but bolted due to irreconcilable differences with his superiors and eventually organized the BIFF, whose revolutionary objective is to create a puritan Islamic state in Mindanao.

He died in 2014, about two years after half of his body was paralyzed as a result of a hypertensive stroke while hiding in his hinterland lair surrounded by Maguindanao’s  Datu Saudi, Guindulungan, South Upi and Datu Unsay towns.

Among the guests in Monday’s Amon Jaded symposium at 6th ID’s Harmony Hall in Camp Siongco were Thoks Upam of the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, Islamic theologians from the ARMM’s regional Darul Ifta and Muslim officers from different Army units in central Mindanao.

The MILF’s ceasefire committee works with a counterpart government panel in resolving security issues besetting areas covered by the group’s 1997 interim ceasefire accord with Malacañang.

In a message during the symposium, Galvez, who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1986, explicitly mentioned the need for multi-sectoral cooperation in pushing forward the Mindanao peace process which aims to put a negotiated closure to the Mindanao Moro rebellion.

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