CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Feb. 13, 2011â€”A prominent leader of a Maranao civil society organization (CSO) said the Philippine government and MILF should take Kumander Katoâ€™s breakaway from the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a challenge to make the peace process work.
Hadji Abdullah â€œLaxâ€ Dalidig, chairman of the Islamic Movement for Electoral Reform and Good Government (IMERGG) based in the Islamic City of Marawi, Lanao del Sur province, said that Ustadz Ameril Umbra Katoâ€™s departure from the BIAF-MILF should be viewed as a challenge that should compel the government and the MILF in making the peace negotiations work.
Kato had reportedly formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) with over a thousand armed guerrillas after a falling out with the MILF, led by Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim whom he alleged to have abandoned the Frontâ€™s original demand of independence.
Kato, in his early 70s, joined the MILF in 1993 five years after the late MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim returned from Pakistan in 1987. He was the former commander of the 105th Base Command of the BIAF, armed wing of the MILF.
He led the attack of North Cotabato in August 2008 after the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which the two previous peace panels hammered out after years of negotiations. The Philippine Supreme Court later declared the MOA-AD as unconstitutional.
â€œKatoâ€™s breaking away from the MILF, for me, is a challenge to the Aquino administration to have a comprehensively inclusive peace process,â€ Dalidig said.
Dalidig said that he believes Kato to be still loyal to the MILF but has broken away from the Front over suspicion that the Aquino administration is insincere in its peace negotiations with the MILF.
He also said that Abdurahman Macapaar alias Kumander Bravo, commander of the 102nd Base Command of the BIAF, will most likely follow Katoâ€™s lead in breaking away from the BIAF-MILF.
Bravo, a native of Kauswagan town, Lanao del Norte, led the siege of the Kauswagan Municipal Hall on March 15, 2000, two days before former President Joseph Estrada declared an â€œall-out warâ€ against the MILF after conferring with then Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief-of-Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes, who recently committed suicide after he was implicated in massive corruption in the AFP.
Like Kato, Bravo also launched an attack on Kolambugan town in Lanao del Norte following the botched signing of the MOA-AD in August 2008.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal admitted during the opening of the 20th formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 9 and 10 that Katoâ€™s breaking away from the Front and formation of the BIFF is a threat to the peace process.
â€œTo be frank with all of you here, Kato is indeed a problem, I repeat, but if we are truthful to ourselves and to the facts surrounding why he had been a problem is because of the betrayal of the previous administration (not its peace panel) in not signing the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5, 2008.â€
Iqbal said that Kato was one of several BIAF-MILF commanders â€œwho do not believe in negotiation.â€
â€œBut we managed to let him toe the line for so long, until the present Philippine dispensation came into power. Ramadan passed, the month of October passed, November passed, December passed, but it was only on January 13 when the two peace panels finally met. This is not blaming anyone, but I am just highlighting here that these delays are giving him more ammunition to prove his thesis that he is right, that negotiation is useless, because the government is not sincere. It is very difficult to argue with those who take an opposite view right at the start,â€ he said.
President Aquino had promised at the start of his administration that he will re-start the peace negotiations right after the Ramadan 2010, which started on August 11, 2010 and ended on September 9, 2010.
Katoâ€™s departure from under the MILF and organizing another armed group raises serious concerns in the MILFâ€™s ability to deliver on any commitment that it will be able to negotiate with the government, said government chief peace negotiator Marvic Leonen.
It will also â€œendanger the ceasefire mechanismsâ€ of both the government and the MILF, he added. (Bong D. Fabe)