Guns now silent but Maguindanao del Sur folk still afraid to go home
COTABATO CITY—Despite the green light issued by military and police officials, majority of the 3,405 families displaced by the infighting among former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters still refused to return home.
Many are on a “wait-and-see” attitude after the Maguindanao police advised the more than 17,000 people from the adjoining towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Salibo and Shariff Saydona Mustapha to return to their respective communities.
They fled their homes on April 5 after members of the MILF’s 105th and 118th base commands clashed in Barangay Dapiawan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
When hostilities ceased upon the brokering by local officials, Army and police officials, including MILF ceasefire officials, the evacuees returned home only to flee again on April 21 when the warring groups resumed fighting over a land dispute that blossomed into a “rido” or clan war.
Most of the displaced families sought shelter at Dapiawan Elementary School.
On Monday, Police Col. Ruel Sermese, Maguindanao del Sur police director, and Lt. Col. Glenn Manansala, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Battalion, oversaw clearing operations after the warring parties again agreed to a cessation of hostilities.
“It was a long-standing ‘rido’ involving MILF leaders. Their fighting had been recurring,” Sermese said.
During clearing operations, soldiers discovered a pistol, a fragmentation grenade, magazines for ammunition, five mortar canisters and hundreds of empty shells for various calibers of guns.
Brig. Gen. Oriel Pangcog, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, said these were turned over to local police while soldiers and bomb experts continued to scour the periphery of the communities where the skirmishes broke out.Pangcog added that soldiers were deployed in the villages of Dapiawan, Madia and Elian “to serve as peacekeepers.”
“Some of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) still refused to go home because many of them want soldiers to stay in their communities as assurance that the warring rebels will no longer do it again,” said Ameer Jehad Ambolodto, head of the Maguindanao del Sur Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
“Some are on a wait-and-see attitude,” he said, adding that an estimated half of the evacuees had returned to their villages only to go back to evacuation centers due to rising floodwater following heavy downpour Monday night.
Ambolodto was saddened by the turn of events, saying many had celebrated Eid al-Fitr while in evacuation centers. “When they returned home, rising floodwater pushed them back to the evacuation centers,” he added.“[It’s] double whammy, they fled due to armed hostilities and fled again because of floods,” he added.
The Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission (BHRC) has strongly condemned the hostilities, urging the warring groups to immediately stop fighting and protect the security of civilians.
“As Muslims, both armed groups should adhere to the teachings of Islam, which promotes peace, compassion and respect for human rights. The BHRC reminds them that the recent conclusion of the month of Ramadan highlights the importance of unity, brotherhood and peaceful coexistence,” it said.Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Resty Sindatok, citing reports from village officials, said at least eight fighters were killed in the hostilities.
Tiyakap Kalilintad (Care for Peace), a Moro organization working for peace in the Maguindanao provinces, reported that guns were silent in Datu Saudi Ampatuan since Tuesday.