Data from the provincial Department of Social Welfare and Development reveals that 309 families or 1,108 individuals fled and are now seeking temporary refuge in the different evacuation sites in Batulawan village and in Poblacion Pikit.
By ALEX D. LOPEZ
PIKIT, North Cotabato, Philippines — Hundreds of families from the remote areas of Dalingaoen village in this town are compelled to leave their homes and livelihoods following threats that their place might be attacked by armed men allegedly led by Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato.
Kato is the leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) that seceded from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2009. His group is said to be responsible for the series of attacks against villages in Maguindanao province since Monday.
Data from the provincial Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reveals that 309 families or 1,108 individuals fled and are now seeking temporary refuge in the different evacuation sites in Batulawan village and in Poblacion Pikit.
A local leader, who requested anonymity, of Sitio Sawa in Dalingaoen told davaotoday.com that residents have received information on the planned attack of Kato’s men. They started packing their things and decided to leave immediately when they heard gunshots last Sunday evening.
A mother of five said that clashes in previous years taught them a lesson.
She narrated that her family failed to evacuate earlier when words spread that Kato’s group would attack some villages in their town. When the actual clashes happened, she and her family were trapped in their village.
“Mas mabuti na yong maaga pa mag-evacuate na kami. Mahirap na maiwan doon sa Sawa baka biglang dumating ang mga armado (It’s better to evacuate this early. It’s not easy to be left behind in Sawa, armed men might suddenly arrive),” she said.
According to the DSWD, food provisions were already given to the evacuees by the local government of Pikit. The province is now preparing to augment help should the resources of local LGUs are no longer sufficient to aid the displaced families.
In Patadon village, Matalam town, Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza called on the people of her province to be ready and vigilant during a press briefing, Wednesday.
She didn’t discount the possibility that the atrocities in the nearby Maguindanao province might spread in North Cotabato.
“The provincial leadership is ready to respond especially to the residents that might be affected if the clashes would escalate here,” she said.
On Monday, the AFP and BIFF clashed in Maguindanao Province’s Sharif Aguak, Talayan, Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay. Also, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in front of a paramilitary detachment in Tinibtiban village in Pikit town while another IED was recovered by bomb experts in Midsayap town.
No one was hurt though during the explosion in Pikit. But authorities here said that the incidents could be part of Kato’s diversionary tactics.
In a separate statement, Rodelio Ambangan, Chairperson of the Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement (MPPM) said everytime that armed conflicts occur between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the MILF, civilians in the affected areas are faced with the possibility of being caught in the crossfire and massive displacement.
He added, like the previous clashes, thousands are forced to leave their homes, properties and livelihood, and to “live in uncertainty and insecurity in the evacuation centers.”
The MPPM said that because of “unaddressed root causes of conflict, the recurrence of armed conflict and violence is inevitable and always displaces thousands of the civilian population” affecting the women, children and the elderly.
The MPPM called on the AFP and the BIFF to pull out their troops from the civilian communities. (Alex D. Lopez/davaotoday.com)