The ties that bind MILF and Maute group

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 03 2016 11:03 PM

LANAO DEL SUR - A Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander in Lanao del Sur has admitted there are family ties between members of the MILF and the Maute group, which has been blamed for the violence in Butig town.

The MILF has been well entrenched in Butig for decades. This is where they buried the late founding Chairman Salamat Hashim and the late Vice Chairman for Military Affairs Alim Abdul Aziz Mimbantas.

Butig is also the center of power of the MILF in Lanao del Sur. Nine units and base commands are located in Butig.

Now, Mimbantas' brother, Jannati Mimbantas, is commander of the North Eastern Mindanao Front.

Mimbantas said that when the military started its offensive against the Maute group, the MILF had to move to safer ground because the main camp of the Maute group was just a kilometer away from MILF's Camp Bushra.

"Kahit hindi kami ang tinatamaan, parang tinatamaan kami, kasi talagang malapit lang talaga. During the bombing, the attack dun, akala namin aabot talaga. Pero may ceasefire tayo," he said.

Since all of them are from Butig, the MILF and the Maute group have family ties either by blood or marriage.

For instance, Omar and Abdullah Maute, the leaders of the Maute group, are first cousins of Azisa Romato, wife of the late Vice Chairman Mimbantas.

Jannati Mimbantas said members of the Maute family are educated and they saw no signs of them turning extremist.

As a matter of fact, Omar and Abdullah Maute once became part of the MILF.

"Noon, noon talaga. They kept asking, 'How long matatapos yung negotiation ninyo?' 'Kailan maa-approve yung BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law)?' Baka ito pa ang dahilan na hindi sila nakapaghintay," Mimbantas said.

TIES RUN DEEPER

But according to a source of ABS-CBN, the ties between the two groups run deeper.

Allegedly, the late Vice Chairman Mimbantas had a daughter who was married to Sanusi, the Indonesian national said to head the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah in Mindanao.

Sanusi was the trainer of Omar and Abdullah Maute.

The foreign terrorists were also said to have been coddled by Jannati Mimbantas himself.

All these allegations, Jannati Mimbantas denied.

But among the 60 Maute fighters who died in the fighting, one was found wearing an MILF uniform.

Mimbantas insisted that as an organization, they took no part in the fighting.

He said he could not answer for the MILF who decided to help their relatives under military attack.

"Kahit sino, pwedeng magsuot ng uniporme ng MILF. Baka MILF talaga yan na hindi nakatiis dahil close relative nila yung mga nag-fight diyan," he said.

According to the source, a nephew of Mimbantas himself died in the fighting, something he again denied.

LOOK: PH flag raised at Maute terror group's main camp

'BBL'S FATE COULD LEAD TO MORE MILITANT GROUPS'

But the question now floating is this: how can government trust the MILF as a negotiating partner when it cannot prevent its members from fighting the government when their relatives are on the line?

Mimbantas said these people are more of exceptions to the rule.

"We have our ceasefire with the Philippine government. We stick to the peace process. Kahit ano mangyari, kahit relatives namin, we stick to the peace process," he said.

Mimbantas does not call the Maute group "terrorists" despite the fact that they were attacking towns and were found espousing the beliefs of the Islamic State (ISIS).

But the MILF warns that if the BBL is delayed any further, more groups like the Maute group will surface.

"Basta hindi maipasa yung BBL, hindi ma-figure yung Bangsamoro, hindi mga Khalifah Islamiyah, hindi mga ISIS, hindi mga Jemaah Islamiyah, hindi BIFF, hindi Abu Sayyaf lamang... Marami pang grupo na lilitaw diyan," Mimbantas said.

AFP BANKING ON MILF'S SINCERITY

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), for its part, said it is aware there are peace spoilers out in the area but it is banking on the sincerity of the MILF.

"The way they have been cooperating with the Armed Forces for the last few weeks, especially during this fight, we see a semblance of pure sincerity on their part," AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told ANC Thursday.

"We strongly support the peace process that the government has been pushing. Our men, women and all the people behind the security sector are pushing for that kind of arrangement. But whatever form or substance the government may finally approve, and to which all parties will agree to, will be part of the challenges we have to face, particularly in the next few months as we transition from this administration to the next.

"But we are optimistic, based on what we have been going through, that things will turn positive because of the increased support we get from people, especially from residents of this area," Padilla added.