COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Some 2,000 families or about 10,000 people fled to the town center of Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao, following clashes between armed followers of two town village chiefs on Sunday.
The latest violence in the restive province was brought about by a dispute between Duma Ugayan and Jerry Macalay, village chairs of Malipodok and Baital, respectively, according to Zamzamin Ampatuan, Barangay Poblacion chair.
Ampatuan, also chair of the town’s village chiefs association, said the affected families were from seven villages adjoining Malipodok and Baital.
He said the clashes only stopped when soldiers from the 1st Mechanized Brigade arrived.
Ampatuan said the root of the dispute between the two village chiefs was still unclear as of Monday, but initial information had indicated it was triggered by fight over territorial and political control.
“We are still in the process of verification, which we expect to obtain during the peace meeting,” he said.
Lt. Col. Marvin Licodine, commander of the 45th Infantry Battalion, said military intelligence records showed that Ugayan was once a fighter with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MNLF signed a peace accord with the government in 1996 but its members were never disarmed.
A military source said firearms – whether legal or illegal – have remained common among influential residents of Maguindanao, who have been engaged in disputes.
Buayan Mayor Jacob Ampatuan said social workers had been deployed to the affected villages to assess the needs of the evacuees.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said disputes between families have to be addressed through the courts and not in the battlefields.
“We will never grow and enjoy life unless we learn to forgive and allow the justice system to work. Unity and reconciliation is the call of the time,” he said as he appealed to warring factions to shy away from violence.