Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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‘When will this war come to an end?’

Constant gunfights, bombings make fleeing homes regular task for villagers in Maguindanao towns

SHARPSHOOTER Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc (standing) supervises an Army sniper during an operation against Islamic State followers in Maguindanao. —PHOTO FROM 33RD INFANTRY BATTALION

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao — Lisa Bayon, 49, of Pamalian village in Shariff Saydona town this province, knows what war looks like.

“When I saw military trucks and tanks rolling toward our village, I knew war was about to happen,” she said, recalling the day she fled her house when soldiers and Islamic State (IS) followers from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) clashed anew.

War has been a constant presence where Bayon lived.

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At an evacuation center here, one question stuck in Bayon’s thoughts. “When will this war end?” she said.

“We are in this situation as evacuees almost every year,” Bayon said.

“I am tired of fleeing, I want peace,” she added.

Hunt for IS

Bayon is among 6,294 persons who fled villages in Shariff Saydona when soldiers started a relentless hunt for IS followers among members of the BIFF, a renegade Moro rebel group that broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front over differences in peace talks with the government.

Many other evacuees were from two other villages in the town.

As she had done in previous evacuations, Bayon had to define her priorities.

“I made sure my children are safe but some of our valuables were left behind,” she said, though worrying about losing the stuff she left in her house.

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Her husband returned to their house to guard it and tend to work animals that were also left behind.

Normal life

Emma Ali, head of the Maguindanao social welfare office, said her office had listed at least 30,290 evacuees from the towns of Shariff Aguak, Shariff Saydona, Mamasapano, Datu Saudi-Ampatuan, Datu Salibo and Datu Paglas in the province.

Evacuees Kadiguia Silongan and Wahida Ahmad, of the village of Malingao in Shariff Aguak, had the same question as Bayon’s.

“When will this war come to an end?” Ahmad said.

“We flee every now and then,” she said.

Ahmad said villages would know it’s time to flee “when we see tanks and helicopters above us.”

She said as soon as she saw helicopters hovering above her village, she picked up whatever valuable she could and packed it into a pedicab, her vehicle of flight.

“We are always ready,” she said. “But I hope this will stop,” she added.

Bayon said she had evacuated at least six times in her life.

“Our clothes and other valuables are already in sacks ready to be loaded should war break out,” she said.

Farouk Rocky Romancap, Shariff Aguak municipal social welfare officer, said most of the evacuees from Shariff Aguak had already received food and nonfood aid.

Overwhelmed

Romancap, admitting he was overwhelmed by the number of people fleeing the fighting, said social workers set up a community kitchen in evacuation sites and ensured the supply of safe drinking water.

“There are just too many of them,” he said.

He said Shariff Aguak officials gave aid to those who were not from the town.

“Disaster response recognizes no boundaries,” he added.

Evacuees Bayon, Silongan and Ahmad don’t know when they can return to their homes.

“Nobody knows,” Silongan said. “As long as there are still explosions in our villages, we will stay here,” Silongan added.

Twenty-one BIFF fighters, two soldiers, including an Army lieutenant, had been killed, and 15 other soldiers and militiamen were wounded since fighting erupted on Sunday.

Protecting civilians

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, 6th Infantry Division (ID) commander, said the hunt for the group of Abu Turaife, the BIFF leader who swore allegiance to IS, would continue even up to the marshlands of Maguindanao.

Sobejana said all Army units in Maguindanao were under strict orders to protect civilians in the course of the hunt for the IS followers.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, 6th ID spokesperson, said no civilian had been hurt in the ongoing military operations.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, head of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, appealed to displaced families for understanding.

“It’s our duty to protect you,” said Cabunoc, whose battalion clashed with IS followers who tried to take over the town hall of Datu Paglas.

“We did our best to ensure that your abandoned homes were not destroyed,” he said in front of evacuees, admitting at least 10 houses were damaged during the operations.

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TAGS: biff, Islamic State, Lisa Bayon, Maguindanao clashes, Maguindanao evacuees
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