Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters [BIFF]
The term "Bangsamoro" measn literally “Moro Nation". It has always referred to Muslims, with the word “Moro" taken from the Spanish for Muslim (Moor). The Moro National Liberation Front [MNLF] signed a peace pact with government in 1996 but some of the members later left the group and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF]. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is a breakaway group that has been disowned by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The 300-strong Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters [BIFF] is headed by foreign-trained guerrilla Omra Ameril Kato, a former MILF commander who is opposed to the peace negotiations between government and the MILF. The BIFF broke away from the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008 after the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
For over 40 years, various rebel groups in the Republic have periodically fought against Government forces. The purported objective of many of these rebel groups is to effect the separation of the traditionally Muslim portions of Mindanao from the Republic. The original Muslim separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front (the “MNLF") has existed since at least the early 1970s and has splintered twice, leading to the formation of the MILF in 1976 and the Abu Sayyaf in 1991. Despite this fragmentation, the original MNLF persists to this day. However, armed conflict in recent years has primarily been between the Government and Abu Sayyaf, the MILF and communist rebels.
In 2003, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (“AFP") launched sustained military offensives against the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group, which the Government held responsible for a series of bombings and raids in the southern region of Mindanao and elsewhere. Leaders of the MILF, which is today the largest Muslim separatist group in the Philippines, condemned the attacks and denied that they target civilians. The United States and the United Kingdom have issued advisories against travel to Mindanao, where rebel groups are most active.
Since 2008, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and rogue elements formerly associated with the MILF have also clashed with the AFP in the Mindanao provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga, Zamboanga Sibugay, and the Sulu Archipelago. On October 15, 2012, the MILF and the government signed a Framework Agreement, which calls for the creation of an autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro," replacing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The agreement provides the potential for peace between the two parties, but how it will affect and influence other armed insurgent and criminal groups is still unknown. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a MILF splinter group, continues to confront AFP and other groups in Mindanao.
While MILF signed a peace agreement with the government of President Aquino in March 2014, BIFF which is believed to have just a few hundred fighters, refused peace talks, preferring to continue its decade’s long campaign to set up an Islamic State in the southern Philippines. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) put up detachments at the former camps of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) overrun by the military during the February 2014 “Operation Darkhorse" in Maguindanao to prevent the rebels from re-establishing position in the area.
The chance of a lasting peace in Mindanao seemed bleak, as efforts to convince Ameril Omra Kato, leader of the renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, to support the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement remain futile, Mohaqher Iqbal, the chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels, admitted 10 February 2014. Iqbal, speaking during the inauguration of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) main office in Cotabato City, stressed the MILF has been trying to establish a bridge that would pave the way for the return of Kato to the main guerrilla forces. “We have been trying to win him back because we are inclusive, but our efforts failed," Iqbal told Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II who were special guests of the program.
Muslim militant guerrillas in the Philippines pledged their support to the Islamic State organization that controlled large amounts of Iraq and Syria, terrorizing locals and carrying out mass executions of those not willing to join them. In clips uploaded on YouTube in August 2014, two militant Islamic groups from the south of the Philippines, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf rebels are giving their allegiance to the Islamic State.
Abu Misry Mama, a BIFF spokesman, confirmed to AFP by telephone that a video had been uploaded Wednesday. “We have an alliance with the Islamic State and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," he said referring to the jihadist group’s leader. Misry said his group had no plans to impose the strict brand of radical Islam imposed by IS in the Philippines. “But if they need our help, why not?" he said.
The Philippine Army in Cotabato City said it now considered the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as bandits and terrorists after the leaders of the group publicly admitted that they support the international terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division inspector general Col. Dickson Hermoso said the military will continue to remain on guard against the terrorists after BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama announced that they have allied with the dreaded ISIS militants. "The BIFF has no legitimate revolutionary ideology but plain and simple banditry and terrorism," Hermoso said.
He said the rebel group had been making difficult the lives of Maguundanao people. The inspector general said that aside from terrorizing civilian communities, the BIFF members are also into illegal drugs as evidenced by shabu paraphernalia recovered by pursuing government forces every time the bandits attack Army detachments in Maguindanao.
The Philippine military said 30 March 2015 it was ending a month-long offensive to pursue a Muslim rebel faction in the country's restive south. However, troops would continue to pursue scattered faction members. The Armed Forces of the Philippines said its forces killed 151 rebels and injured 65 members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters over a four and a half week period. It also arrested 12 fighters as part of the offensive in Maguindanao province on Mindanao island.
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