The clashes in Midsayap, North Cotababto, between government troops and MILF guerrillas may have ended but evacuees still live in fear and uncertainty. Many of them have not been able to rebuild their homes and recover the properties that, according to them, were destroyed and looted by soldiers.
By CJ Kuizon
MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato — Ten-year-old Abdullah has been having sleepless nights. Early in March, in a village in this town, government soldiers took him at the height of an armed encounter with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). That experience traumatized him deeply.
The little boy was understandably terrified. He wanted to tell the soldiers that he wanted to go home but he spoke only Maguindanaoan and the soldiers could not understand him. He wanted to just run but was afraid that his captors would shoot him if he did. He was fortunate that a soldier who happened to be a Maguindanaoan understood his plea and told his comrades to release the boy.
Abdullah, who asked that his real name not be used, has not told this incident to his mother. It was only after this interview that he agreed to reveal his experience to her.
The boy was just among the thousands whose lives were affected by the encounters between troops and the MILF in the first week of March. In just one skirmish, according to reports, 17 villagers were killed.
Although the clashes have stopped, many of the 4,000 families that were displaced are reluctant to return to their homes in the villages of Mudseng, Nabalawag, Tugal, Kadingilan, Kadigasan, Lomopog, Sambulawan and Kapinpilan.
The soldiers were sent to these villages supposedly to help settle land disputes that have, in the past, resulted in rido or violent feuds among clans. The military and the MILF had been dragged into violent conflicts as a result of past clan wars. In March, the government created an inter-agency task force to help resolve the disputes.
“We are optimistic that the results of the inquiry of the Inter-Agency Task Force will put an end to the land conflicts in Midsayap,” Brig Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, chairman of the government’s ceasefire committee, said.
But according to residents, sending in the troops from the 6th Infantry Division only made the problem much worse.