MANILA – Rumors have circulated over the past few days about the alleged death of Ameril Umbra Kato, the former renegade commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and subsequent leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM).
Reports claimed that lawyer Michael Mastura, legal counsel of the MILF and senior members of the MILF peace-negotiating panel, have confirmed Kato’s death due to complications from hypertension. But the reports were denied later on.
According to luwaran.net, the website of the MILF Central Committee on Information, Kato, 76, is still alive but has suffered a stroke after his recent meeting with Nur Misuari of the defunct Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Quoting sources, the website said Kato is now bedridden and could hardly speak, despite efforts by doctors to contain the paralyzing effects of the attack. It added that Kato had suffered so much stress after some of his commanders protested his meeting with Misuari.
It further said that Kato likewise became frustrated by the unauthorized sale of the computer disc documenting his meeting with Misuari.
Kato is facing at least 84 multiple murder cases in various courts for allegedly launching attacks in North Cotabato in 2008 after the botched signing of Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain leading to the deaths of many civilians. The attack also displaced thousands of residents in North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces. Many believed that Kato has around 300 to a thousand fighters under his command.
In a sunstar.com.ph report, BIFM spokesperson Abu Misre denied that Kato suffered a stroke and had hypertension.
According to the report, Kato is in good health and recuperating at a private and exclusive hospital. Kato is reportedly recording a steady blood pressure of 140/80. Laboratory tests were also done on Kato, among them was a Complete Blood Count, and “found no problem with his health.” His blood sugar also reportedly registered 6.2, which is reportedly within the normal range.
The report added that it was asthma, which caused Kato to faint while he was resting along a riverbank in Camp Al Farouk, a BIFM sub-camp within Camp Omar.
Kato reportedly became unconscious for around three minutes and when he regained consciousness, Kato walked back home. When he arrived home, BIFM Chief of Staff Sheik Mohidin Animbang offered to bring Kato to a hospital.
The medical staff attending Kato has reportedly talked to the BIFM leaders, but they still did not allow other people, even the members of his family, to see and talk to Kato.
Kato’s reported death or even disability has spawned controversy as it puts a spot on the possible vacuum of power. Many fear that there might be new leaders that could take over the BIFM who are not as principled and yet, more aggressive than Kato.
Kato’s death and disability will bring new problems and issues to the peace in Mindanao. Kato is one of the pioneers of Muslim secessionist movements in the region and his death could mean change in BIFM’s character and principles. This change must be put in context to the whole peace agenda, in addition to the upheavals caused by terror groups in the region.