THE government should look into the purported links between the Maute terror group and Muslim rebels in Mindanao before it pursues peace negotiations with the latter, lawmakers said on Tuesday.
Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said the government must find out if the connections between the Islamic state-linked Maute group and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) still exist.
“If the government is pursuing peace talks, we should trust our counterpart,” Ejercito said in an interview.
The senator was reacting to the admission of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) of strong links between the Maute terrorists that attacked Marawi City and insurgents in Mindanao.
AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla Jr. said on Monday the Maute terrorists could have obtained their weapons from relatives who were members of the MILF or MNLF, echoing similar statements by President Rodrigo Duterte last Saturday.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson shared the view, saying the AFP should dig deeper into the possible links between the Maute and the bigger rebel groups.
Lacson, who heads the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, noted that the Maute and other rebel groups have the same objectives.
“Hence, tactical alliance is not farfetched,” Lacson pointed out.
Ejercito said he would not be surprised if the MILF and MNLF had assisted the Maute group, pointing to the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano massacre that led to the killing of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos.
He noted that members of the MILF took part in the killing of 44 SAF troopers who were tasked to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir.
“I have been against tapping them (MILF) in this crisis in Marawi,” Ejercito said.
The MILF had helped secure a corridor for refugees and relief goods out of Marawi City.