COTABATO CITY: Residents of Lanao del Sur are fearing that once Commander Bravo of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is booted out by the MILF Central Committee for being abusive as shown by his allegedly heinous offenses and major violations of the MILF’s ceasefire agreement with the government, he might go on a rampage in their peaceful community.
Commander Bravo, whose real name is Abdullah Macapaar, and his men figured in another alleged atrocity last week that again challenged the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the MILF and the government.
Bravo’s men reportedly attacked the villages (barangay) of Bualan and Debarosan in the town of Balindong, Lanao del Sur, last week after conducting an “anti-narcotics operation” in the provincial capital, Marawi City.
Bualan residents, resisting the intrusion, armed themselves and fired at Bravo’s forces as they approached the village, killing three of them.
It was reported that the gunfight left a number of villagers also dead.
Still, the attackers burned a house there and destroyed another with shoulder-fired grenades, forcing some 500 families to flee.
Maranao local leaders led by Regional Vice Gov. Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and officials of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) immediately defused the tension to restore normalcy in the village.
The IMT, composed of military personnel and policemen from Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia, as well as and non-uniformed conflict resolution experts from Norway and Japan, has been helping enforce since late 2003 all interim security agreements between the MILF and the government.
Balindong Mayor Benjie Bagul and the ARMM regional vice governor were able to convince the Bualan villagers to drop their weapons.
Lucman cited former Lanao del Sur congressman Benasing Macarambon Jr., MILF representative Janati Mimbantas, local datu Acmad Lao and Lanao del Sur Vice Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr. for the restoration of peace and order in the affected villages.
Senior MILF leaders have neither confirmed nor denied speculations that their Central Committee has decided to kick out Commander Bravo.
They hinted, however, that their superiors were embarrassed by Bravo’s latest offense, preceded by his having violated their ceasefire agreement with the government in earlier offenses that could affect the Mindanao peace process.
“The MILF is doing something to address that issue,” an MILF leader said.
Bravo’s group allegedly had carried out in the past three years unauthorized “law enforcement” in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Marawi City by abducting people whom they would later prosecute in clandestine Shari’ah courts.
Lucman, a member of the ARMM’s Inter-Agency Regional Peace and Order Council, said Balindong residents, armed with assault rifles, agreed to let their local government unit and the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee address last week’s deadly incident.
The ceasefire committee, composed of representatives from the MILF, the police and the military, is helping maintain law and order in conflict- affected areas covered by an interim truce signed in Cagayan de Oro City in July 1997 by government and rebel negotiators.
“We did not take sides. We made the residents of Balindong understand that our concerns are the safety of civilians and how to prevent escalation of hostilities that can dislocate more people. We want a peaceful closure to this,” Lucman said.
The hostilities in Bualan and another village, Debarason, was an offshoot of the arrest in Marawi City last week of Junaira Abdulrahman-Hadji Usman by Bravo’s men on mere suspicion she is into large-scale trafficking of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.
Members of the Municipal Peace and Order Council in Balindong, located in the 2nd District of Lanao del Sur, said Usman was known to them as a peace-loving, law-abiding resident who has never been engaged in any illegal activity.
Some relatives of Usman, among them her sibling, Abdulrahman, incumbent village chairman of Bualan, immediately held Bravo’s son in one of the villages they control politically for a swap, after learning of the abduction of her sister in Marawi City.
Bravo’s men immediately attacked Barangay Bualan, sparking a bloody firefight that was stopped only when a villager named Abdullah, son of Alim Pangalian Solaiman, who is second vice chairman of the MILF, was killed in the crossfire.
Solaiman, an Islamic missionary who graduated in the Middle East, was not in any way involved in the conflict, according to ARMM officials.
Bravo’s followers scampered away carrying their dead and wounded companions when they sensed that responding local officials, backed by policemen and soldiers, were closing in.
Residents of Balindong want Bravo and his followers who figured in the incident delisted from the official roster of MILF members by the MILF Central Committee for them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.