The Manila Times has carried a report that the faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) based in Basilan had officially affiliated with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The article was based on a video released by the group, showing more than 30 armed militants led by Isnilon Hapilon, also known as Abu Abdullah, declaring their loyalty to the ISIS.
Substantially, there is nothing very threatening in this developing story, because they have been claiming this for months. There is nothing fresh either in it except, if true, that so-called four Malaysian fugitives namely, Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, Amin Baco and Jeknal Adil, are with them. These foreign elements give the situation more coloration and complexity. But the ASG has been with us for almost 25 years and the report that Indonesians, Arabs, and Malaysians are with them is no news at all.
However, what cannot be ignored is its long-term impact on the peace and order situation in the region. If the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) does not pass Congress, the equation in Mindanao will change radically. There will be widespread frustration, which is a fertile reason to recruit people especially the youths to fight the state. The MILF, as a consequence, will lose much of its popular appeal or legitimacy and maybe even some of the debates. Those who promote the use of brute force or terror to solve the conflict in Mindanao or simply to advance their questionable “Islamic” agenda will be afforded wider latitude in their advocacy.
Consequently, with the MILF fallout, the government will lose a very reliable partner, which even the international community openly admits and declares. It is a trust and confidence that was not built overnight but for 17 long years since 1997.
The MILF has many plus factors to bring into this partnership with the government. It is like organizing a corporation wherein the parties have to infuse-in capitals including assets; and in this case, the MILF has the following: A popular organization and vast manpower resources, a functional political and military organs, and the full support and backing of most of the ulamas (learned persons in Islam) in this country. The truth is that from ISIS to the ASG and to other so-called Islamic radical groups in Mindanao, including the BIFF, they use Quranic verses and symbols to give legitimacy to their so-called jihadic struggles. But the MILF is singularly blessed with most of these learned men affiliated to its fold. The most prominent and influential figures in the list were the late Sheikh Salamat Hashim, the main founder of the MILF, who provided clear ideological lines and direction to the MILF-led struggle; Sheikh Abdulazis Mimbantas, a full-blooded Maranao; Sheikh Abukhalil Yahya, a full-blooded Tiduray; and Sheikh Abdulrahman Bides, a half-blooded Ilocano and Maguindanao.
Of course, even without the BBL, the MILF will still pursue the pacific ways for the settlement of the conflict in Mindanao. But the fervour and intensity might change in many aspects. More concretely, it depends largely on who is the next president and administration. But surely, we will continue to assert and tell government to fully comply with its obligations pursuant to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) by enacting a law, now called BBL, to establish a genuine autonomous entity for the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao.
In short, there will still be life even after the non-passage of the BBL, but perchance that life is one of survival in a harsh and hard situation.