Could the Bangsamoro be haven for ISIS in the future?

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I realize I could be labeled an alarmist by that question, but for the sake of our nation’s future we have to confront it, and answer it as objectively as possible.

If Congress, because of its P21 billion pork barrel this year, doesn’t care that the planned Bangsamoro bill could dismember the country, I do hope they’d care if the existence of such a state created a haven for the global jihadist war.

Maybe, maybe not. But what precautions are we, as a nation, taking that the Congress isn’t?

Bangsamoro

This is especially so as the jihadist organization – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – has quite suddenly become a powerful force, leaving a trail of blood and decapitations in that part of the Middle East. (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, refers to that region consisting of Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and part of southern Turkey).

The rise of ISIS is yet another indication that the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies—to avenge the 9/11 attack on New York by Osama bin Laden—has become a monumental disaster for the world. Indeed, terrorist Osama bin Laden would have been ecstatic that his 9/11 terrorist attack has been successful in its strategic aim: To provoke the US into a war against two Muslim nations so that it would be seen as a war against Islam as a religion and that around the world would seek martyrdom in a jihad against the West.

As an editorial on the website of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) put it: “The ISIS is overflowing with volunteers from all over the world, including those from the United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia.”

Already, reports of Muslim migrants or second-generation migrants in the UK and Australia joining the ISIS emphasize how that organization has attracted Muslim militants even in rich countries. It probably now dwarfs the Muslim International Brigade that joined the Afghans against the Soviets in the 1990s.

A photo of a white boy not yet in his teens, son of an Australian ISIS fighter, shows him gleefully holding the decapitated head of a Syrian government soldier. A British female medical student is seen in a similar gory pose. And, of course, there are those videos of a hooded ISIS fighter with a British accent sawing off with his knife the necks of an American and a British captive in the act of beheading them.

All these have seared the public mind with what I was told just a few years back, the emerging horror story of the 21st century: The US’ Iraq invasion and later Islamic rebels’ victories against strongmen in the Middle East have unleashed an Islamic jihad against the West never before seen.

That radical Muslims in the country—of the same sect, Sunni, as the ISIS militants— have always had international connections is without a doubt. Both the Moro National Liberation Front and its break-away group the MILF would have been defeated decades ago if it had not been aided, financially and organizationally by Malaysia. This Asian neighbor had the most brilliant strategy predicting it would be a Muslim insurgency in Mindanao that would make the Philippines give up—as it has de facto done —its claim on Sabah.

With this socialist bent that communist leader Jose Ma. Sison succeeded to some extent to implant in him, MNLF chair Misuari received substantial support from Libyan “Islamic-socialism” leader Muammar Ghaddafi.

The late MILF chairman Hashim Salamat on the other hand established close links with his schoolmates, the Islamic Al-Azhar in Egypt, some of whom, especially after 9/11, became jihadist ideologues. Quite ironically, Muslims going to the Middle East as OFWs reportedly have even been targets of jihadist brainwashing by terrorist groups there.

I was the first journalist to visit, in 1996, the MILF’s headquarters called camp Abubakr in Maguindanao. Staying there a few days, several MILF soldiers regaled me with their war exploits in the mountains of a country where at night, as they narrated, “you can see your pee freeze as it falls on the ground” — Afghanistan. MILF fighters were sent in batches to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets in the 1980s in a Muslim international brigade—of which, of course, the most prominent, or notorious member, turned out to be Osama bin Laden.

Veterans of the Afghanistan war, in fact, have created an elite group in the MILF, many of whom command its battalions. Even as the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao —Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi Tawi, which will also fall within the Bangsamoro territory—had a Manila-controlled police force and had several armed forces camps, as well as an entire army division, it had become, especially Sulu, the safe haven of jihadists in the past two decades.

In the 1990s to early 2000, it was the Abu-Sayyaf group, also known as al-Harakat al-Islamiyya, that sowed terror in Mindanao. It wasn’t ISIS that was the first to video beheadings as an instrument of terror. It was the Abu-Sayyaf that sent similar videos of decapitations of marines to the media in 2000. Even last year, the Abu Sayyaf posted a gruesome 15-minute video of their seven civilian hostages being decapitated as they shouted “Allahu Akbar.” Cadres and clerics of the region-wide Jamaiya Islamiya, alleged to be directly linked to the Al-Qaeda, had been roaming in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur as religious preachers.

The Jemaah Islamiah intends to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Southeast Asia, just as the ISIS wants to set up such a state in Iraq and the Levant. Breakaway groups from the MNLF and the MILF, according to military sources, have in the past several years touched base with Middle Eastern jihadist groups, and have received funding from them. In fact, the Abu Sayyaf, now headed by Isnilo Hapilon and an unidentified leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a break-way group from the MILF have recently posted videos on the internet declaring their allegiance to the ISIS.

Former President Fidel Ramos, a former military man with extensive intelligence contacts here and abroad, had reported: “At least a hundred of our young Filipino-Muslims have infiltrated Iraq (and joined ISIS) where they get training and they can launch jihad when they come back to the Philippines.”

There were news reports that the MILF “vowed to stamp out the ISIS ‘virus’ if it spreads to the Philippines.” It turns out that that report was drawn solely from an editorial written by “The Editorial Desk” in the MILF’s website.

It wasn’t even a condemnation of ISIS atrocities: “The MILF condemns barbarism and savagery whether done by other groups including the ISIS or even by its own members.” The article even had more words condemning “the evil machinations of Western Countries,” which, it hinted inevitably, resulted in the creation of an ISIS.

The article even noted: So far neither MILF chairman Ibrahim Murad nor the Vice Chairman, Ghazali Jaafar, has condemned the ISIS, not even its atrocities. But even if they do, our experience shows that they and others like them have absolutely no control over other Islamic groups.

Both the MNLF and the MILF had been condemning the Abu Sayaff, and other Islamic groups, yet the military had been complaining that when pursued, these groups simply go to the MNLF or MILF territories.

If Islamic terrorists have managed to find safe havens in the ARMM, what more in the proposed Bangsamoro, as its territory would be entirely under the control of its own police, under the command of its chief executive, the Chief Minister.

Article XI of the bill for the Bangsamoro Basic Law specifies that “the Bangsamoro Government, through the Bangsamoro Police, shall have primary responsibility over public order and safety within the Bangsamoro territory. (emphasis mine)”

That even the Republic’s armed forces will have no business in the Bangsamoro is implied in that article’s section 16, which provides that the “Chief Minister may request the President to call upon the Armed Forces of the Philippines” to engage in operations in its territory.

“May request.” If he doesn’t, the armed forces cannot enter the Bangsamoro territory.

Have our negotiators Teresita Deles and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer even heard of ISIS?