'Peace-loving' Muslims included in Calida terror list – expert

MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida has included "peace-loving" Muslims in the list of ISIS terror cells in Mindanao he submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) to support the government's martial law declaration in the region.

Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said in an interview with ANC on Tuesday, June 20, that Calida should "rectify" errors in the list, among them, tagging the "Balik-Islam Group" as an ISIS cell in the country.

"One of my major problems with the listing is the identification of the Balik-Islam Group. Balik-Islam Group in the Philippines is very peaceful, very democratic, and very tolerant and linking them with ISIS is in fact providing them an injustice. So that has to be clarified and rectified," Banlaoi said.

He added that Balik-Islam is not a formal group per se, but is a "general term used to describe all Muslim converts in the country."

Banlaoi said that while there are Muslim converts in the country who "have indeed pledged allegiance to ISIS, a majority of Balik-Islam followers" are moderate, peace-loving, tolerant, and democratic.

"It should be clarified why Balik-Islam Group was put in the list of this so-called ISIS sleeper cells in the country," he added.

Banlaoi also noted a "double entry" of some groups in the list, among them, the Abu Sayyaf and the Al Harakatul Islamiyah Battalion, when they are "the same group, not separate."

"Abu Sayyaf Group is the original name of Al Harakatul Islamiyah Battalion," he said, adding that deeming the two as separate entities is like categorizing as separate groups ISIS and Daesh, the other name ISIS is known by.

Banlaoi added that the Rajah Solaiman Islamic Movement is "no longer an active group" and has transformed itself into the Syiful Khilafa FI Luzon. Both are listed as separate entities under Calida's list.

"If this list is based on intelligence sources, I am very, very terribly worried on the way we gather intel information. Because there are inaccurate listings of those groups. So we need to rectify and put in the proper context the nuances of these groups," he said.

Banlaoi also said there is no question that the other groups in the list "have the intention to really attack Mindanao and are very eager to mount violent incidents in the name of ISIS."

All of them, he said, are part of a larger group, the Dawlat Al Islamiyah Waliyatul Masrik, which is also listed as an ISIS cell in Calida's list.

Calida listed down the ISIS cells in his memorandum filed with the SC on Monday, June 19, to supplement the government's defense of President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law. (READ: SUMMARY: SC oral arguments on martial law in Mindanao)

The Solicitor General had claimed that the supposed ISIS cells combine forces with 4 major ISIS-inspired groups – the Maute, Abu Sayyaf from Basilan led by Isnilon Hapilon, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines (AKP), and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). – Rappler.com