A MORO warlord who broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front because of its peace tack with the government died early Tuesday morning, leading the military to wish that his death would also lead to the dissolution of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Ameril Umbra Kato, founder of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and its BIFF armed wing died of cardiac arrest at his mountain stronghold in Barangay Kateman at Guindulungan, Maguindanao around 2 a.m. Tuesday, according to MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
According to Brigadier General Arnold Quiapo, commander of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Kato’s health has been frail for some time and suffered a stroke in November 2011 and another one only last April 7, 2015.
“But before this he had gone through several seizures before,” Quiapo said.
Kato, believed to be 68 or 69 years old, broke away from the MILF in 2008 and staged attacks on government facilities and civilians. He formed the BIFF in 2010 and once claimed to have 5,000 fighters but the government said that he had about 300.
Recently, the government launched a month-long offensive against the BIFF and the military claimed to have killed 163 BIFF men with scores of others wounded.
The military also captured BIFF commanders Mohammad Ali Tambako and BIFF finance officer Abdulgani Esmael Pagao alias Abdulayman Pagao and killed BIFF commander Yusof Abesali, alias Bisaya, and two other still unidentified commanders.
With Kato’s death, Iqbal called on their former comrades who broke away with Kato to return to the MILF and help forge a final peace agreement with the government, but he clarified that “only those who have no criminal cases filed in courts” will be accepted back to the MILF.
Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brigadier General Joselito Kakilala said the death of Kato further weakens the BIFF as an armed group.
“Kato’s death is demoralizing to his followers [and] that would lead to their dissolution,” Kakilala said.
Iqbal agreed that Kato’s death is a big loss to the MILF “unless a successor immediately assumes leadership. But if there is none, they are history.”
Military sources said the BIFF also lost more men when Tambako, one of its most experienced fighters, formed the Justice for Islamic Movement to protect the foreign terrorists hiding in BIFF controlled areas. Tambako was captured in General Santos City.
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