It also ordered rebel forces to arrest and take drastic actions against kidnappers in areas where the MILF is actively operating. It was the second order in seven years that the MILF told rebels to fight kidnappings-for-ransom.
Police and military authorities have accused rogue MILF members of either coddling kidnappers or themselves involved in the nefarious activities in Mindanao to raise fund for the purchase of weapons or finance their secessionist campaign.
“The Central Committee of the MILF directs its freedom fighters comprising the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces to arrest and take drastic actions against the perpetrators of this heinous crime until these criminal activities are neutralized and stopped in MILF areas,” said an MILF order signed on Monday by the Front’s chief of staff, Sammy Al-Mansur.
“Anti-kidnapping task force is hereby organized for this purpose. For strict compliance and implementation,” it further said.
The order was also signed by Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s vice chairman for political affairs.
Authorities said Moro rebels were behind the kidnappings of wealthy traders, including an Italian priest, Luciano Benedetti, in Zamboanga del Norte province in 1998. Benedetti, 52, was held for nearly 10 weeks until he was freed in exchange for a huge government ransom.
Kidnappings-for-ransom has become a lucrative business for rebels and criminal syndicates in Mindanao, where many areas are underdeveloped and job opportunities are scarce. Sometimes criminal gangs kidnapped civilians and hand them over to rebels in exchange for a cut in the ransom. Poverty has been blamed for many kidnappings in the South.
In February 2002, the MILF also issued a similar order after Manila sought its help in running after kidnappers in the southern Philippines. President Gloria Arroyo, who opened peace talks with the MILF in 2001, also signed a truce with rebels.
And in 2004, the MILF forged an agreement with Manila that paved the way for rebel forces through the ad-hoc joint action group to help government hunt down terrorists and criminal elements in areas where the rebel group is actively operating.
But peace talks collapsed in August last year after the MILF accused Arroyo of reneging on a preliminary Muslim homeland deal. The Supreme Court said the agreement which was initially signed in Malaysia in July 2008 is unconstitutional.
Since then, fighting between military and rebel forces continue. The MILF said it will not resume peace talks unless Arroyo honors the ancestral domain deal. Arroyo is to step down next year without any significant deal with the MILF. (Mindanao Examiner)