Southern Philippines: 3 Injured in Fresh Bombings

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
2021-04-30
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Southern Philippines: 3 Injured in Fresh Bombings An armored personnel carrier patrols in Maguindanao province following an improvised bomb blast, April 29, 2021.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Pro-Islamic State Filipino militants carried out more attacks in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, injuring two pro-government militia members and a civilian, the military said Friday.

Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) carried out the attacks because they oppose a peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a former rebel group which controls an autonomous region in the south, according to officials and observers.

“We have three more casualties in attacks by these terrorists,” regional military spokesman Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar told BenarNews. 

He said BIFF militants detonated a homemade bomb on Friday morning along a road near a residential area in Kitango, a village in the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan. The blast injured a civilian.

One day earlier, militants exploded an improvised bomb that targeted a group of pro-government militia, injuring two.

The violence began Wednesday when a pair of explosions killed two women and injured six people, including four soldiers in the remote area of Maguindanao province.

The military identified the women as Bahria Alon, 40, and Lagabai Mohalidin, 24, who were traveling with BIFF spokesman Abu Jihad were killed when a bomb he was carrying prematurely exploded, adding Jihad was able to escape.

The blast forced at least 549 families to evacuate their homes for safer grounds, local disaster officials reported. 

Attacks aimed at peace effort

The BIFF attacks were meant to derail the establishment of a joint peace and security team (JPST) – composed of police, military, and former MILF fighters, Baldomar said. The main job of the team is to pursue fighters linked to Islamic State (IS), including the BIFF. 

The formation of the team, which is to serve until 2022, was part of an effort by the Philippine government and the MILF to sustain the peace process. 

“Despite the violence since earlier this week, we have finally set up the JPST in Kitango,” Baldomar said. “Our enemies have been opposing the establishment as their movement will become limited.

“Our troops now are concentrating along the road, but we can still provide support in flushing out militants if needed,” he said.

A conflict monitoring group said the hostilities showed the failure of efforts linked to the peace deal between the government and the MILF.

“These clashes are the result of the serious flaws and fractures in the normalization agreement that is fueling non-stop violence and conflict in the region,” said Francisco Lara Jr., a senior adviser to International Alert Philippines, the local office of the London-based NGO that focuses on peace-building and conflict resolution efforts in hotspots worldwide.

“The normalization process is in bad shape – a complete mess based on what we’ve heard from those directly involved in it,” he said. “Those implementing it and those enabling its failed processes ought to stop now, take stock and reverse its disastrous policies and processes or share the blame for its tragic effects.”

He called the JPST a part of the normalization process that should have led to the decommissioning of all the MILF’s firearms.

As of last year, only about 30 percent of the estimated 40,000 firearms held by MILF members were surrendered and destroyed. Officials have said the former rebels have more firearms in their armory than claimed officially.  

Behind schedule

In a report issued earlier this month, the International Crisis Group noted that the normalization process was behind schedule.

“Two years into a three-year transition period mapped out in a 2014 peace agreement, progress toward these goals, which the deal describes as ‘normalization,’ is lagging,” the report said.

“There are plenty of armed groups in the Bangsamoro that might exploit the moment’s fragility. A loss of momentum could also threaten what are currently reasonably peaceful relations among the majority Moro Muslims, Christians and other ethno-religious groups,” the report said.

Analysts and observers said some MILF members maintain ties to other militant fighters, including from the BIFF. The clashes were preceded by a meeting between the BIFF and one MILF commander ostensibly to discuss the joint monitoring team, Lara said, citing his own sources.  

“Whether the meeting took place or not, the important issue here is that the military is being unfairly blamed for the violence and is being subjected to the ceasefire protocol by the same peace partners who now hold the reins,” Lara said, referring to the MILF-controlled Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

Since January, International Alert has recorded more than 66,000 people displaced because of armed clashes in the towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Salibo, Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak, and Shariff Saydona Mustapha, all in Maguindanao province. 

Philippine authorities have blamed the BIFF, which splintered from the MILF and declared support for the IS, for the attacks.

In January, BIFF militants carried out two roadside bombings in the south that killed three and injured scores of people. In 2019, the group carried out a series of bomb attacks in the south targeting a market and a restaurant that injured more than two dozen people.

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