A lawmaker has questioned failure of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to cut supply lines of armed groups in Mindanao in southern Philippines despite the military knowing about existing enemy camps and their locations.
Sen. Francis Escudero on Friday noted that even before the government started peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the AFP had pinpointed not only the locations of the camps but also the routes used by the rebels to move supplies.
“One of the basic requirements in any conflict is tracing and cutting the supply lines of the enemy but why is it during the conflict with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), MILF and even the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BIFF) we never heard anything about the interception of firearms, munitions and bombs by our security forces?” Escudero asked.
The senator wondered why the military and the police in areas of conflict in Mindanao have not resolved the problem despite having access to right equipment and intelligence capability.
Escudero raised the question after Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, recently disclosed that his group has sourced weapons from the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Iqbal, a television interview, said the MILF used to have two other sources of firearms–smugglers and its own gun factory.
He, however, added that they do not have the factory anymore, citing the MILF signing a peace agreement with the government last year.
Iqbal said they bought firearms from the AFP and the PNP only during the Arroyo administration.
Escudero said while he is not interested in looking at involvement of military and police officers in the alleged sale of weapons to the rebel groups because it would divert the attention of Congress from the real issue, the AFP and the PNP should start focusing on finding ways to stop entry of firearms and other equipment into the lairs of armed groups.
According to the senator, the Mamasapano clash that led to the killing of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) men is a clear indication that the MILF and private armed groups have a huge supply cache or a steady supply of guns, ammunition and other needed equipment that could enable them to go head-to-head with government security forces.
Escudero said the PNP-SAF men involved in Oplan Exodus, which was launched to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, were not able to sustain the fight that lasted for more than 10 hours because they ran out of bullets, giving the MILF, BIFF and other armed groups the advantage.
The lawmaker pointed out that if these groups lacked a steady supply of ammunition, they would not have the courage to face the police commandos who entered their area.
Escudero said the AFP lacks focus in its campaign against the private armed groups in the country because military chief Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. only ordered an all-out offensive against the BIFF after it was reported that the group also joined the MILF in slaughtering the SAF commandos.
He added that the offensive should have been carried out earlier, considering that the BIFF has no existing ceasefire agreement with the government.
Because the group is responsible for launching attacks against civilians and government security forces in Mindanao, Escudero said, it is only right for the BIFF to be listed as terrorist.
The Justice department, the senator added, should start the process to have the BIFF classified as a terrorist organization because in that way the MILF could help the government go after the BIFF.
“Why is the government taking so long to classify the BIFF as a terrorist group? Dahil ba iniisip natin [Is it because] sometime in the future kakausapin din natin sila [we will also talk to them]?” Escudero also asked.