Maguindanao town fears BIFF, Christian militia sparking violence over land
DATU ABDULLAH SANGKI, Maguindanao, Philippines – Local leaders and residents have expressed fears that two armed groups from other areas could ignite animosity between Muslims and Christians, similar to the martial law situation here in the 1970s.
Former Vice-Mayor Datu Ali Camino urged local authorities and civil society groups to intervene, initially with an independent fact-finding mission to prevent a religious-based conflict that could be “ignited by outsiders.”
Camino was referring to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) from other areas, which claimed responsibility for the December 24 killings in three sub-villages here and in Ampatuan town, and the reported massing-up from another province of the dreaded Pulahan group, a pro-government militia organized during martial law.
Camino said prior to the Christmas Eve killings of 11 farmers in Sitio (sub-village) Paitan in Barangay Banaba here, and in Sitio Sabadoan, Barangay Kakal in nearby Ampatuan town, armed skirmishes took place last October between BIFF and the Pulahans.
Residents said the areas were too close to Barangay Durian, the common boundary of the two Maguindanao municipalities with Esperanza town in Sultan Kudarat.
Municipal Councilor Anwar Emblawa said 15 families of Moro farmers were “installed” in April 2015 by the Municipal Agrarian Reform Office (MARO), as beneficiaries of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in the area.
Emblawa said that when the beneficiaries assumed possession of the 40-hectare land in Banaba, they were accompanied by police and military authorities along with the MARO and other agrarian reform officials to prevent conflict with neighboring non-Muslim farmers.
Sammy Maulana, secretary-general of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS), said what put a “religious color” into the conflict was that the BIFF attack took place on a Christmas Eve, which he described as “condemnable” and which has worsened the situation.
Until the December 24 attack, it had been a case of land conflict, since it started with the killings Penda Pangalam, 55, and his nephew Abubakar Maton, 17, in August 2015 allegedly by armed Pulahan men.
The Pulahans came from another province, purportedly to help local non-Moro residents oppose the awarding of Christian settlement lands to Muslim farmers, said an initial report by the CBCS, a federation or tri-people (Muslim-Christian and Indigenous People) non-government organizations.
In October 2015, five members of the group were killed in a clash with suspected BIFF guerrillas in Barangay Banaba, residents recalled.
Maulana said a fact-finding mission should also culminate with an interfaith dialogue. Some alumni of the Notre Dame of Dulawan High School, Maguindanao’s only Catholic school, in Datu Piang town volunteered to help facilitate an inter-religious dialogue to help prevent a situation of a religious-based animosity.
Sources at the Maguindanao Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO), who declined to be named for lack of authority to speak, said the disputed area formed part of the Edcor Settlement, covered by territories declared public land by the American colonial government, before it was subjected to CARP.
They said the office had conducted a “series of dialogue with the affected parties, Muslims and Christians, prior to the awarding of the pre-patent land titles,” adding that they were not privy if any representative from the Pulahans were involved.
“But it may not be far-fetched that they (Pulahans) were misinformed and that what they knew is that the 40-hectare land given to the Moro tillers were squatted by its present occupants,” one of the sources said in Filipino. SFM
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