The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have intensified recruitment efforts to its ranks amid the coronavirus pandemic, Presidential Peace adviser Carlito Galvez, Jr. told senators Friday, admitting the government "failed" to foresee radicalization as an impact of the global health crisis.
"We failed to consider the impact of the COVID-19. During the COVID-19, many plantations closed down. At the same time, it restricts the people from doing things to take their livelihood," Galvez, a former military chief and now presidential peace adviser, told the Senate's local government panel.
"Because of this situation... many people now, on the verge of hunger, it's easy to recruit them considering that these are the situations that worsened their livelihood," he said.
The BIFF is a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), opposing the latter's decision to pursue peace talks with the government that has led to the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity.
Galvez said the BIFF "exploited" the situation that made poor people more susceptible to recruitment.
Asked by panel chair Sen. Francis Tolentino if the spike in recruitment was a "failure of intelligence," Galvez said it was not.
"It’s not a failure of intelligence, but basically congruent disabling conditions in the Bangsamoro," Galvez said.
The government is still working on the decommissioning of some 28,000 MILF combatants, which is part of the normalization process that should have been accomplished last year.
Galvez also underscored the need to extend the terms of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region's government for another three years years so they could complete the transition process and avoid potential bloodshed.
About 20 BIFF members last weekend occupied a market in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao province in the Bangsamoro region, forcing residents to flee. BIFF members shot it out with soldiers, who later drove away the militants.
Meanwhile, military authorities said an Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) member was killed after the group clashed with military forces in Indanan, Sulu.
The Joint Task Force Sulu, in a statement, said the ASG clashed with the 2nd Special Forces Battalion at around 7:55 a.m. in Barangay Kagay.
The body, identified as Arab Undo, is under sub-leader Ella Nasirin, according to Lt. Col. Benito Ramos.
JTF-Sulu commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales said all troops in Indanan are on high alert while special forces pursue the remaining members of the group.