Friday, February 23, 2018
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Maguindanao ‘lumad’ take up arms to fight IS-inspired BIFF gunmen

Tenduray people crowd an evacuation center. —EDWIN O. FERNANDEZ

MAGUINDANAO—Saying they have had enough of the atrocities of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), some members of the Teduray communities on Mt. Firis, which straddles three inner towns here, have started taking up arms.

They know that their indigenous weapons, such as spears, machetes, bows and arrows are no match to the powerful automatic rifles of the pro-Islamic State (IS) militants but Teduray men in Datu Hoffer, Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi Ampatuan towns say they need to protect themselves and their families.

“Just to get even, when they (BIFF) harass us again, we have armed ourselves. This is the only way to defend our ancestral lands,” said Roel Ingan, a 50-year-old corn farmer, in Filipino.

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BIFF gunmen have been attacking Teduray communities on Mt. Firis since Christmas, killing a number of Teduray men and forcing some 2,000 people to flee.

Unsafe for civilians

Some of the evacuees, including Ingan, have left the evacuation centers only to relocate to other areas as their communities remain unsafe for civilians.

“I cannot understand why the BIFF wanted to take Mt. Firis from us, we have not done anything wrong against them. They should spare us, we are living here peacefully,” said Ingan, who has since resettled his family at Sitio Bagong in Barangay Maitumaig in Datu Unsay town.

Ingan said he and 61 other neighbors from Sitio Macon in Barangay Limpogo had started to rebuild their lives.

“We go to Macon during the day to farm and harvest some of our produce and then go back to Bagong before sundown,” he said.

Rogelio Daingan, 53, a village councilor of Barangay Limpogo in Datu Hoffer town, said they decided to put up a defense—even if they only used indigenous weapons—because they had nowhere to go.

“This is our land, we have nowhere to go if we are driven away from here,” Daingan said.

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Danilo Samson, 48, also from Macon, said they were thankful to their Maguindanaoan friends because they had been alerting them about the movements of the BIFF.

He said when the first warning of the gunmen’s presence came on Dec. 24, they immediately gathered their families and brought them to safety.

But like his neighbors, Samson said this was not the time to run again. He said they would now fight to defend their communities.

“We would rather die here than allow anyone to take it from us,” Daingan said.

Building foxholes

To protect their families in the event of another attack, Daingan said every new shanty they built had foxholes.

“If we hear gun bursts, our children know where to go,” Daingan said, pointing to a 2-meter by 2-meter foxhole under his makeshift home in Bagong.

Ingan said they had already approached the military so they could be recruited as militiamen but they had not received word from them.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu earlier said he had also sought the help of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to protect the Teduray communities on Mt. Firis.

Mangudadatu said he believed that the MILF, through the joint ceasefire committees, could help protect the Tedurays from  BIFF atrocities.

Sacred sanctuary

“During the last few weeks, we have witnessed what have happened in Mt. Firis. I really feel pity on those who are affected, our brothers and sisters  ‘lumad,’” the governor said.

“That area really belongs to them (Teduray). That is their most sacred sanctuary …  Let us give them importance,” he added.

Mangudadatu said he had also asked the mayors of Datu Hoffer, Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi Ampatuan to attend to the needs of the Teduray people.

“It is such a small place and yet we have failed to give them much-needed help,” he said.

In a recent meeting, the governor also urged local officials of Datu Hoffer, Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi to help convince BIFF gunmen to stop attacking the Teduray.

He told the officials in a recent meeting: “I don’t believe that you (mayors) don’t know them. You know the BIFF commanders. Commander Bungos and the other commanders have been there for the longest time … Why did we allow them to grow bigger?”

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