COTABATO CITY—Soon, workers wearing protective gear would scour at least 21 Mindanao areas for unexploded bombs and land mines in a campaign being launched by a Geneva-based group with the help of the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The campaign, led by the Geneva-based Fondation Suisse de Déminage (FSD), will receive a P29-million funding from the European Union, according to the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PBCL) in a statement.
Alfredo Ferrariz-Lubang, the national coordinator of PBCL, said in the statement that the campaign’s main objective is to keep people safe from unexploded bombs or land mines in areas where these weapons had been left behind by past battles between government soldiers and MILF rebels.
Civilians had been killed or maimed by unexploded bombs in areas in Mindanao that had become battlegrounds for soldiers and rebels.
In April 2009, a farmer was killed in Barira, Maguindanao, when he was plowing his farm and accidentally hit an unexploded bomb.
In March 2009, three children died and five others were injured when they hammered a mortar shell that they found in a rice mill in Buldon, Maguindanao.
Both towns are near Camp Abubakar, the MILF’s main camp, which came under heavy government bombardment in 2008.
In December 2010, a teenage boy was wounded after he accidentally hit an unexploded bomb while cleaning his family’s farm in Barangay Buliok in Pikit, North Cotabato.
Buliok is also the site of heavy fighting between government troops and MILF rebels in 2008.
Describing the project as “delivering peace dividends through the reduction of explosive remnants of war,” Lubang said FSD and its volunteers will identify and clear suspected hazardous areas in 21 towns.
The task could be enormous as it involves scouring 450,629 hectares with a population of more than 800,000 people, said Lubang.
People may have to be moved out of their homes during the campaign and, Lubang said, FSD is also preparing a program to help those who will be displaced.
The benefits of the campaign, however, are also huge, said Lubang. He said at the end of the campaign, at least 67,594 ha of land will be freed from unexploded bombs and turned into productive farms again.
This would benefit at least 122,000 people, he said, increasing the potential for livelihood of the cleared areas.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair, said the Moro group sees the campaign as an important part of the transition to peace under a framework agreement that government and MILF earlier signed. Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao