The recent decision of the MILF to declare Ameril Omra Kato and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) as not part of the MILF is an interesting development in the conflict in Mindanao. The obvious immediate implication is that Commander Kato, the BIFM/BIFF are not anymore covered by the ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the Government. What Government will do now that it has been officially informed that Kumander Kato and the BIFF/BIFM are not part of the MILF is going to interesting. Will they serve the warrants of arrest issued about the actions done in 2008? Will they launch offensives against the BIFF/BIFM now that they can be considered an armed insurgent group outside the peace process? The MILF’s response will also be crucial. Will they now partner with the Government to arrest Kato? Will there be joint operations between the MILF and GPH against Kato under the mechanism of the AHJAG? The issues may be clear on paper but they are more complex on the ground.
Some other implications are:
Pushes the MILF not settle for anything less than substantial. The MILF will be now be wary more than ever in accepting Government’s “doable” offers. My sense is that if pushed to the wall, i.e. Government insisting a hardline position on their “3+1” solution, MILF would rather put the negotiations on “hold” (not break the talks but let it drift) and wait for the next panel or next administration rather than sign an agreement. This is clearly logical because a weak agreement will “delegitimize” them in the eyes of the Bangsamoro people and consequently, will legitimize Kato and the BIFF/BIFM by proving that they are correct in viewing the negotiations as not bearing fruit. If the Government and the MILF sign a “non-responsive” agreement, i.e. a fruit of “let’s-do-what-is-doable” attitude rather than real problem solving, Commander Kato’s movement will gather strength and more adherents.
Places independence back on the table. As far as Government is concerned, one of the clear gains of the peace process (from the MNLF to MILF) has been to contain the negotiations within the limits of territorial integrity and one Philippine country. Philippine Government has failed to see and seize on this opportunity. Now, Kumander Kato and the BIFM/BIFF place back the option of independence as a viable solution to the problems of the Bangsamoro.
Offers a wider range of options. While the development can be seen as a “split” and therefore a weakening of the MILF as an organization, the development can also be seen as further refinements of options within a continuum. There are now five (5) options available to those seeking a resolution of the Bangsamoro problem: Autonomy (Government), Autonomy (MNLF), Substate (MILF), Independence (BIFM) and Islamic State (Abu Sayyaf Group).
Is this a trend? An interesting idea would be whether this development will become a trend. Is the trend towards the splitting of big and centralized formations with clear command structure and leadership into small, multiple, leaderless, autonomous armed organizations? The thesis is that the frustration and fatigue over the failure of the formal peace process to come up with durable solutions will push super-empowered individuals and small tight groups to take on a more aggressive (perhaps more violent) means of action. Right now, there are at least 4 groups advocating the Moro cause vis-a-vis the Philippine State: MNLF, MILF, BIFM, and ASG. If this trend continues, there will be no one to talk to even if we wanted to talk. And the solution most probably, if you can call it that, would be perpetual war.xxx