MILF role in Philippine police deaths gets mixed reaction

ZAMBOANGA CITY - The involvement of the Philippines former largest rebel group in the death of 44 police commandos has drawn mixed reaction in the country's south -- some emotional and indignant, some angry, while others remain hopeful a process engineered to bring peace to the region can still move forward.

Some interviewees told The Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that they saw the deaths as a warning of the chaos that would return if the government turns its back on the deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) while others said that the violence was evidence that the group was not yet ready.

John Unson, the Mindanao correspondent for the Philippine Star newspaper, said that the incident highlighted that the MILF continued to harbor "terrorists or bombers."

Unson wrote Wednesday: "It is only now [in the wake of the killings] I realized... not one terrorist, or hardened criminal did the MILF make to surrender."

"There were [many] cases of kidnap victims rescued, but the abductors have not been surrendered [by the MILF]."

Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas has said police "maneuvered inadvertently into an area controlled by the MILF without advanced coordination" while trying to apprehend two men who figure highly on the United States most wanted list. An MILF splinter group, meanwhile, claimed Wednesday that one of the men reported killed wasn't even in the area of the raid at the time. 

Meanwhile, Zamboanga City entrepreneur Jorge Duqillo told AA that it was crazy to think that police would try and coordinate operations with a group that is harboring "and even using an international terrorist."

"These combatants easily change patches from MILF to BIFF... same dogs just different collars," he added.

The firefight reportedly involved members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) -- which has vowed to sabotage the peace process between its one time master and the government and to continue fighting for full independence for the region.

Rene Joaquin -- another native of the majority Christian city in the heart of Muslim Mindanao -- told AA that Zamboangans would never get along with Moros -- the ethnically indigenous Muslims of the Philippines who comprise around 9 percent of the population.

"They do not consider themselves Filipinos and they will never lay down their arms unless they are taken forcibly from them," he added.

Meanwhile, the family of one of the slain policemen told the Philippine Star on Wednesday that they learned of his death through the wife of his killer.

On dialing Jed-in Asjali's phone in hope that he was not involved in the clash a woman answered and said “My husband killed the owner of this phone."

"It was a painful way of learning about the death of our loved one," a family member told the newspaper.

Asjali’s younger brother -- who has applied to join the police commando force -- rebuffed claims that the carnage was down to a "misencounter."

"From what we learned, my brother and his company have already reached the area, they had accomplished their objective, and they passed by the BIFF camp," he said. "However, upon their return, they were attacked. There was a clear trap set by the rebels."

"The government is being fooled because all the while [the MILF] still have control over the BIFF and [both] are staying in just one camp."

The Facebook account of the editor of local tabloid Zamboanga Today took the allegation a step further.

"MILF, MNLF and Abu Sayyaf are BFF," the post from JV Faustino read, suggesting that the two rebel groups were in league with their more notorious cousins.

"Peace talk? That's bullsh*t... now the MILF have new guns taken from the slain SAF troopers," Kay Ganza, a local newspaper layout artist, told AA.

Former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph "Erap" Estrada said in an interview with ANC News that the incident shows the MILF can't be trusted.

"You can never trust the MILF. That is what I believe in... I experienced it," he said, highlighting a time he "tried to reach" then-MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat early in his term as president.

He said that the Moro leader had told him: "If the president wants to see me, he can come here to Mindanao and choose the place, whether in Davao or Zamboanga City."

"Who are you to tell the president where to see you?" Estrada said he had asked himself.

Mindanao journalist Ali Macabalang offered a voice of reason Wednesday, telling AA that the incident highlighted the need for Congress to pass Bangsamoro Basic Law -- a culmination of the efforts between MILF and the government to bring peace to the south.

The chair of the process has said that the MILF are technically still "rebels" until the deal is signed and their firearms have been decommissioned, he told AA.

"After that, let's see if the trend remains the same. Let's give everybody the benefit of the doubt."

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