Evacuees start to return home in Maguindanao | Inquirer News

Evacuees start to return home in Maguindanao

/ 12:04 AM March 24, 2015

COTABATO CITY—A number of families displaced by the military’s all-out offensive against two breakaway Moro rebel groups in Maguindanao province had started to return to their villages, local officials said on Monday.

Mayor Benzar Ampatuan of Mamasapano town said the local government, with the help of the military, had declared some villages that are not directly affected by the fighting to be safe for residents.

“We are still assessing the situation on the ground. Less than 100 families have returned home. Others would stay in their houses during the day but, to ensure their safety, returned to evacuation sites at night,” Ampatuan told reporters here.


Residents are back in five of nine villages that were deserted by civilians when the conflict started on Jan. 25, he said.


But an official of the humanitarian arm of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said the agency had not documented cases of displaced families returning to their homes.

“Until now, there has been no return yet of the IDP (internally displaced persons), though we are already coordinating with local governments, the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the [Philippine National Police] to determine which areas are already safe,” said lawyer Laisa Alamia, ARMM executive secretary and chair of Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-Heart).

She said some residents had returned to Datu Hoffer town but were forced to go back to the evacuation sites when military operations reached their villages.

Kamlian Kamsa, a resident of Barangay (village) Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town, said he would occasionally return to his village to check his house and cornfield. “I am slowly harvesting corn but when I hear gunshots, even a single one, I and my children will quickly return to [the town center of] Mamasapano,” he said.

“We really would like to return to our communities; our livelihood is there. Here, we are unproductive,” Kamsa said at an evacuation center in Barangay Libutan.

But Abdulah Kabir, 65, a resident of Barangay Nunangan in Talayan town, also in Maguindanao, said it was not safe to return home at this time. “I have been to this situation more than a dozen times since martial law time,” he told the Inquirer.


“Many of us know, through experience, that as long as soldiers are still in the community, fighting is inevitable,” he said. “As long as [military vehicles and tanks] are still near our communities, it is not yet safe [to return home].”

Capt. Joan Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said military officers would meet with local officials to discuss whether to allow more than 123,000 evacuees in 15 Maguindanao towns to return to their villages.

Petinglay said the operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is now on its second phase, which included the deployment of troops in villages and camps formerly controlled by the rebel group.

Kamsa said there had been no major military action in their village since Tuesday last week, which was confirmed by Petinglay. “If this continues, we will start the development phase of our campaign,” she said.

But the officer said there were reports that many of the rebels who are targets of the military drive were staying in evacuation centers. “We cannot identify them anymore as enemies, except if they carry guns,” she said.

“We already appealed to the public, especially those in the evacuation centers, to provide information to our men. However, we cannot force them [to share information] because these [people] are also their relatives,” she said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the fighting between government forces and armed groups in Maguindanao has forced more than 120,000 people to flee their homes.

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The UNHCR and other UN agencies in Mindanao are working closely with local authorities to monitor the conditions of displaced people inside and outside evacuation centers. Jeoffrey Maitem and Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao

TAGS: Maguindanao, Mamasapano, News, Regions

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