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Duterte: MILF, MNLF may have armed Maute

The Maute Group may have acquired its huge stockpile of weapons from other rebel groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), President Rodrigo Duterte said over the weekend as government troops continued their operations to drive out islamists in Marawi City.

Duterte admitted that the government knew that Muslim rebels were stockpiling firearms and ammunition in Marawi City but authorities did not intervene because of the peace negotiations with the MILF and MNLF.

"It was not a question of failure on the part of government. It was not a failure of intelligence. It is because we have adopted a very soft policy toward the rebels. These rebels carry firearms. And since we are thinking of getting [a]peace [deal]with the MNLF and MILF, the deal with arms, we really took it for granted," Duterte said when he visited the 401st Infantry Brigade in Butuan City.

"But we know these [firearms]are high powered because we never knew at that time who is the real enemy. Are these just warring politicians? Clan war? Between private armies of politicians? It turned out Maute members were bringing the firearms surreptitiously and we were not able to know how many ammunitions did they have," the President added.

"All the while, the Maute group, with the connivance of the politicians there, the warlords…they were stockpiling. That's why they don't run out of M-203 bullets. The government will fire one, and they will fire back five. It's like Maute has an endless supply to fight the government," Duterte said.

Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list said it is possible that the Maute Group could have gotten its powerful weapons from the MILF.

"The statement of the President is partly correct according to my information. There were reports in the past that the MILF manufacture their own weapons and even sell them to other rebels and politicians. I believe this did not stop during the peace talks and even after the peace agreement was signed," Alejano, a former Marine captain who fought MILF rebels, told The Manila Times.

He was referring to the peace agreement signed between the Philippine government and the MILF in March 2014 under the Aquino administration. The peace agreement resulted in the creation of a proposed Bangsamoro law that was supposed to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and establish a new Bangsamoro Region that will enjoy fiscal autonomy and be governed by the Bangsamoro Parliament.

The measure was not passed because of the killing of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015 by MILF rebels and other armed men.

"I raised this issue during the proposed Bangsamoro bill deliberations in the last Congress. I said partly because weapons could be bought in the black market and considering our porous borders particularly in the south and some corrupt government officials, these arms and ammo could easily be smuggled in the country," Alejano said.

As the siege in Marawi entered its second week, the MILF and MNLF offered to help government troops fight the Maute members.

A statement issued by MILF chairman Al Haj Murad said the rebel group is willing to extend humanitarian assistance to the civilians affected by the fighting.

The MNLF also said its fighters are ready to battle the terrorists in Marawi.

Duterte assured soldiers fighting the Maute Group in Marawi that even if the enemy appears to have an endless source of ammunition, government forces will never lack weapons.

"I assure you [soldiers], you will never run out of weapons…in everything you need. I won't let you down," the President said.

Military knew

Political analyst Ramon Casiple said Duterte was right in saying that there was no failure of intelligence on the part of the government because the military was aware of the entry of firearms and ammunition in known MILF areas.

He said the military knew of the movement of weapons in Mindanao but it assumed that the firearms were for the MILF, not the Maute Group.

Casiple explained that the government was not being "soft" on the MILF for allowing it to stockpile firearms because of the ceasefire agreement.

"That is the problem with ceasefire, it only prevents combat, but parties can continue to build up their forces and beef up their armaments. It is also true with the New People's Army (NPA)," he said.

Casiple said the MILF does not consider the Maute Group as an enemy.

He explained that the MILF is very loose and there are other groups that are friendly to the organization including the Maute, which is also an ally of MILF commander Abdullah Macapaar alias "Commander Bravo."

"The MILF has no reason to be anti-Maute, and they also don't have an obligation to the government to report what the group has been up to," Casiple added.

Since the MILF has not yet signed a peace agreement with the government, it has no obligation to provide information to the government although it can help if its wants to.

[Source: By Llanesca T. Panti, The Manila Times, Manila, 19Jun17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 20Jun17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.