By Francis Allan L. Angelo
WILL the Ilaga vigilante group have its second coming and fight Muslim rebels who went on a rampage in Mindanao lately?
For convicted priest killer and former Ilaga leader Norberto “Kumander Bucay” Manero Jr., such a scenario is very possible if members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continue to sow violence.
Manero arrived in Iloilo City the other night to visit the wake of the Lt. Colonel Angel Benitez who was killed in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte Monday morning.
Manero, a native of Brgy. Madong, Janiuay, Iloilo, once led the Ilaga group, composed mostly of Ilonggos based in Mindanao, which fought off Muslim rebels in the 1970s to the mid 1980s.
Manero and seven others were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for the brutal murder of Italian priest Fr. Tullio Favali. Favali, then parish priest of Kidapawan, North Cotabato was shot to death by Manero and his gang April 11, 1985 in La Esperanza, Tulunan, North Cotabato.
The gang boasted of killing Favali as an example to other church people accused of supporting the revolutionary movement.
Manero, who supposedly ate the brains of Favali, was pardoned and released from jail early this year.
In several radio interviews, Manero said it is possible that the Ilaga group will emerge from the doldrums and avenge innocent Christians who died in the hands of MILF members.
He added the Ilaga are ready to regroup to avenge the slain Christians.
“If the MILF does not control the situation, the Ilaga can always rise,” Manero said in Hiligaynon.
Manero, however, did not confirm if he will return to his old group and lead the fight against the MILF rebels.
Yesterday, a photograph of armed Ilaga members led by a certain Kumander Toothpick was seen in a national daily.
Malacañang has warned the Ilaga or any vigilante group to refrain from joining the fray with the MILF lest they face criminal charges.
The Ilaga group, according to popular accounts, was born in the 1960s primarily to protect Christian settlers against Muslims resisting the government’s settlement program.
The group was organized by the so-called Magnificent Seven, a group of seven Ilonggo mayors in Mindanao. However, the Ilagas became as notorious as their Moro adversaries. Among the noted personalities associated with the Ilaga were Leonarda “Kumander Inday” Lacson, Manero’s wife, and Feliciano Luces alias “Kumander Toothpick” who was from Antique.
The Mindanaoans branded the “Ilaga” (Hiligaynon for “rat”) as an acronym for “Ilonggo Land Grabbers Association.”
In the 1972 elections, Col. Carlos B. Cajelo of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo — who nurtured the Ilaga Movement, defeated Datu Udtog Matalam as governor of Cotabato in Central Mindanao, and served as the longest elected governor of the province for 12 years.