BEFORE Ameril Umbra Kato died, police have counted the times they have not seen him in their encounters with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a police official said on Tuesday.
Philippine National Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said that for years, police ground commanders in Mindanao have noted that in their encounters with the BIFF Kato was conspicuously absent.
But while he is physically absent in the group’s attacks, Cerbo said Kato would remain the “symbolic leader” of the BIFF, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Kato succumbed to heart stroke on Tuesday in his hideout in Guindulungan, Maguindanao. His death is believed to be a huge blow to the armed group that was involved in the January 25 Mamasapano, Maguindanao clash that killed 44 policemen, 17 MILF men and three civilians.
“His absence doesn’t render him irrelevant to the BIFF. Since he was the group’s leader for a long time, he still has considerable influence (to the group.) We cannot downplay his influence,” Cerbo said.
Although multiple Inquirer sources have confirmed that Kato’s passing, the PNP said the intelligence community will validate these claims.
“Kung totoo ito, maganda for the PNP considering na siya ay hinahanap natin at tinutugis as leader ng BIFF. If totoo ito, we will rectify our records ng kalaban ng state,” he added.